Apparently, according to a survey published today, religious societies are worse off than non-religious ones. From the article:
Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.
However, this falls into the exact same trap of bad science that pro-scientists all too frequently bemoan. For starters, it’s neatly smoothing over the difference between correlation and causation. It’s not entirely implausible that the causation is in fact the other way round – social problems and the suffering they cause will mean more people resort to religion, both for spiritual reasons and for the social bonds it forms – a hypothesis which is ignored. Secondly, once you actually read the article in question and look at the data, you’ll see many of the graphs produced are highly scattered and correlation is quite weak – no statistical tests of correlation are provided (in fact, the author explicitly avoids them). In many cases they are a close-knit jumble of points, and the only point which clearly matches the hypothesis is the United States. This perhaps suggests that religion is not the most relevant variable to consider here, and instead America’s problems are unique and specific to that country.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not especially pro-religion – I’m an atheist, and believe very strongly in a secular state that does not promote or favour any religion at all. But I do find it disturbing that in the attempt to rescue science and rationality from the jaws of fundamentalism, supposedly pro-science people are willing to throw out rationality and jump on to any old rubbish that is published.