Unlike science, which goes where the evidence and analysis indicate and is anti-mythical in nature, religion is inherently dogmatic and opinion based, with myths being integral to the system. One of these myths, widely held by nearly all theists as well as many skeptics of the supernatural, is that science cannot be used to address and answer many core issues of religious belief. In this view rational, objective science and faith-based religion are separate magisteria that are equally legitimate thought systems, and that cannot profoundly comment upon one another. As popular as this view is – in part because it offers a politically correct means of avoiding awkward conflict between the scientific and religious realms – it is demonstrably false.
Not only can science easily detect the existence of a creator intelligence under a wide variety of circumstances, it can describe its basic characteristics. If, for instance, there were no evolutionary order to the appearance of organisms in the fossil record, and living organisms had radically different genetic systems and body forms that precluded their being related to one another, then it could only be concluded that life was specially created by a super intelligence. Also determinable is the time span of its creation. If astronomy, geology and radiometric dating demonstrated that the universe and our planet were just a few thousand years old, and that a great flood had engulfed the planet, then the Bible Genesis account would be verified.
The application of statistical scientific methodology to the sociology of religion has become less controversial in recent years, but it remains a sufficiently delicate subject that major questions of great import to the public at large remain seriously under researched. For centuries religious forces have claimed that a good deity exists, and that it is imperative for the citizens of nations to follow the instructions provided by their moral creator if they are to avoid societal collapse into godless nihilism. Despite the often strenuous advocacy of this claim, a comprehensive analysis confirming its truth has never appeared. Of late it has also become common to assert that religion is such a universal human condition that it is not in decline in the US, or the world. It remains as popular as it is scientifically unjustified to believe that people believe in the gods either because it is a transcendent truth, a connection with the living supernatural creator, or because it is a psychological response to the fear of death, or is the evolutionary result of a "God gene."
Most discussions in the popular and advocacy literature and punditry on both sides is conversational, anecdotal, casual and consequently of little utility. The level of error is so high that the public debate is more misleading than informative. There is a corresponding need to reset the rules so that those who wish to engage in the debate over these matters are required to be more rigorous and analytical in their arguments and methods.
One reason I have been discontented with the nonrigorous state of the conversation, is that I am the sort who likes to know how things really work. Over the years I became increasingly frustrated that so little was being done to actually answer the big questions about faith and society that had me scratching my head. Others, such as Yale researcher Paul Bloom, and noted skeptic Michael Shermer, have commented on the improper scarcity of research. Much of the investigation that is conducted is of a narrowly targeted to address specific academic questions of limited interest to the public. It was also odd that no one had bothered to produce a sociological tool as basic as it is obvious, a comprehensive cross national comparison of societal and financial conditions in modern countries. The apparent absence of research has been doing serious damage in that it is leaving the body politic without the fundamental information it needs if it is to make well informed choices about the future course of national societies. It was perplexing, what was stopping experts from doing the work needed to address the key problems – what does the mass premature death of humans tell us about the morality of any creator, were the Nazis godless like some contend or was Hitler a faithful Catholic as some others believe, why do so many people believe in the supernatural in the first place, why are the French and Swedes so irreligious, and what does the data actually tell us about the hypothesis that religion is good for societies? Shortly after the turn of the century I began to dabble at testing the last premise. The results we so intriguing that I figured someone else must have already done the work, and I was wasting my time. A literature search and queries to sociologists affirmed that no one had done so (one sociologist said he wished he had thought of the idea). I decided it was up to someone, i. e. me, to make the effort, and to do it in the manner that maximizes the benefit to the public.
The publication procedure is to conduct rigorous statistical research and analysis in order to test, and when it proves scientifically feasible to answer, major yet neglected questions about religion and secularism, and present the results to both academics, and to the public so that citizens can have the information they need to better determine their opinions on these issues. The questions examined range from philosophical theology, to the pragmatic interaction between religiosity with science, society, psychology, economics, and politics. This broad range of coverage stems from the premise that it is all interconnected -- one factor influences another and then another. The method involves publishing the research in peer reviewed and academic journals to establish its technical legitimacy. These journals are usually religious or neutral in nature in order to minimize charges of bias. I also prefer to publish in open access online journals that the public can access, in accord with the idea that getting information out to the public is at least as important as the academic side of the field.
The results verify that scientific statistical methods can be used to examine and solve many religious issues. The publication of a scientific investigation of the moral nature of the hypothesis of a monotheistic moral creator in a theological journal directly proves the ability of science to test the truth of faith-based claims. The sociological methodology has been to examine via comparative statistics what people actually do in terms of belief and activities under differing social and economic circumstances, this is superior to trusting raw survey results because respondents may lie either consciously or through self delusion. No matter how logical it may seem, a hypothesis is not accepted unless it conforms to and explains the observed patterns better than do alternative scenarios. I have been particularly pleased that the comparison of socioeconomic conditions and religiosity in today’s prosperous democracies has produced the key information needed to solve many of the core questions about popularity and mental basis of faith over history, and in the process refuting many common legends and conceits. The conclusions produced by the research to date include the following.
It is literally impossible for a moral, powerful and competent creator deity to exist, and for core Christian doctrine to be correct. This is because the extraordinary amount of human suffering statistically measured by the death of immature humans caused by disease, reproductive defects and other natural causes – the Holocaust of the Children -- has been as maximal as possible, and only a small percentage of adult humans have been able to make a free will choice regarding their eternal fate. The host of theological absurdities that result from the failure of a creator to protect the innocent children further wrecks Christian doctrine. It follows that there is no godly basis for the pro-life movement because there is no evidence that a god favors life over premature death. Nor is religion able to provide a moral basis for individual or societal morality, a fact confirmed by the actual conditions present in the most successful modern nations.
Only the least godly democracies enjoy the best overall socioeconomic conditions – as measured by the uniquely comprehensive Successful Societies Scale – in history, the much more Christian US is the most dysfunctional 1st world nation according to major indicators. The primary factor driving the strong correlation between high rates of popular secularism and better societal conditions is the tendency of high levels of economic prosperity and low levels of income disparity and poverty that are created by secular progressive policies to accidentally but consistently suppresses mass religiosity. The religious right tends to oppose effective progressive socioeconomic policies in favor of the socioeconomically Darwinistic dysfunctional policies that favor popular religiosity. No socioeconomically successful and highly religious nation has ever existed, and the antagonistic relationship between benign conditions and the popularity of religion probably make it impossible for one to come into being.
Even the US is experiencing the secularization process that has already deChristianized other advanced democracies, disproving the belief that American religion is so stable that it is integral to the national character. This effect is primarily driven by the corporate-consumer culture that encourages material values and lifestyles over religious piety and devotion. The ironic alliance between American theocons who tend to oppose Darwinian science and the Darwinistic corporate interests under the aegis of the Republican Party is correspondingly self destructive for the former, although theocons lack a viable alternative strategy.
Secure prosperity and the consumer popular culture combine with modern science that allows and encourages nontheism to form the Triple Threat to Western Faith that is overwhelming western churches that lack the resources to mount an effective counter effort.
That majorities in some western nations are atheists and agnostics demonstrates that religion is not nearly as universal and integral to the human condition, or vital for running societies, as are the language and materialism without which civilization would not be possible. It also follows that fear of death, genetics, and a profound connection with the supernatural are not primary causes of popular religiosity. For most people religiosity is a superficial psychological response to a dysfunctional and insecure socioeconomic environment in which invented gods are petitioned for aid and assistance. Because of the casual and optional nature of popular faith, religious devotion and activities are easily cast off when the middle class feels sufficiently secure in their prosperity. The example of the most secular democracies suggests that the percentage of a national population that remains so strongly interested in religious devotion that they continue to attend religious services a few times a month is in the single digits.
Popular nontheism is similarly superficial and casual in most disbelievers. This conclusion is an example of how the results of the scientific methodology used by this and other objective researchers can be discomforting to the nontheist cause. That it is apparently impossible for a 1st world nation to both strongly support evolutionary science and be highly religious also challenges a widespread presumption of the proevolution camp.
The casual nature of mass religiosity and popular secularization means that the level of these opinions is not largely determined by a grand struggle of ideology and ideas in which the side that has the better arguments and/or PR campaign wins, it is the daily lives experienced by the majority of the population that is most critical. This means that the provision of universal health care that greatly enhances the financial security of the majority does much more to boost secularism than do the efforts of the atheist community, and once in place progressive polices cannot be effectively countered by religious forces. It also follows that religious organizations cannot successfully perpetuate themselves in terms of sustaining the overall religiosity of a population.
Written by feudal tribal patriarchs rather than an ethical designer, the Biblical God of both Testaments is not moral because it causes, orders or approves of a host of immoral actions. Among them genocide, ethnic cleansing and murder involving the death of adults and children, often on a mass scale, plus looting and theft and terror based slavery, as well as torture, autocracy and misogyny. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are not able to provide a moral basis for individual or societal morality.
Many but not all of the ills that have afflicted humanity in recent centuries including imperialism, anti-Semitism, racism, industrial slavery and apartheid were developed in Christian societies well before evolutionary biology, and subsequently contaminated the scientific thinking developed in the Christian west. Racial bondage was developed and defended in the American colonies largely by Protestants, who then constructed the Jim Crow apartheid culture in which torturous lynchings were a weekly popular spectacle – all the states with laws against teaching evolution were lynching states. Some of the same states also passed eugenics laws that were widely approved by Protestants on both sides of the Atlantic. An invention of the Catholic church, anti-Semitism was further developed by Martin Luther and American theocons such as Henry Ford. These opinions and actions inspired Hitler, who felt he was doing the work of the Christo-Aryan God.
Although religion has its dark side, it is not at fault for all human ills. An example, suicide bombing as a form of anti-civilian terror was initiated in the 1970s by the Tamil Tiger rebels of Sri Lanka who were not theistic in doctrine. The tactic was subsequently adopted by Islamic extremists.
Although scientific research by myself and others (Zuckerman, Norris, Inglehart and Bruce among them) are solving many of the questions surrounding belief and nonbelief in the supernatural, many questions remain. Such as why a large minority of well educated, science oriented persons with secure incomes continuing to ardently believe in deities despite the lack of compelling evidence?
Gregory S. Paul