Here’s what the the radically secular and leftist UK Guardian had to say about a recent study:
Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.
Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.
They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.
“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.
“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”
Now, whenever I read studies like this that trumpet how great secularism is, I always look more closely to see how they define the terms. Usually, what’s been done is that the study will define the “good” behavior as “leftist” behavior. For example, “punitive” might mean “judging something morally wrong”, which the secular left regards as bad. So, if your starting point is feelings of compassion, moral relativism, non-judgmentalism, then yes – religious people will look bad.
Anyway, here is a response to the Guardian’s article, and the study they cite, from statistician William Briggs.
Here’s how to you can replicate their study at home. First, define altruism. Go on, I’ll wait.
Have a definition in mind? I’m sure it’s correct and matches everybody else’s definition in precise detail, details like no-greater-love, supreme sacrifice, kindness, patience, love, and so on, right? Well, maybe not, but never mind. Instead, think about how you would quantify your definition. Quantification makes your definition scientific. Science means unquestionable truth.
Was your answer about quantification the “Dictator game”? Like this (from the Supplementary description)?:
[C]hildren were shown a set of 30 stickers and told to choose their 10 favorite. They were then told “these stickers are yours to keep.” Children were instructed that the experimenter did not have the time to play this game with all of the children in the school, so not everyone would be able to receive stickers. Children were finally shown a set of envelopes and informed that they could give some of their stickers to another child who would not be able to play this game by putting them in one envelope and they could put the stickers they wanted to keep in the other envelope. Experimenters turned around during the child’s choice and children were instructed to inform the experimenter when they were finished. Altruism was calculated as the number of stickers shared out of 10.
Yes, this scientifically captures every possible nuance of the scientific concept of altruism, doesn’t it? Science science science science. Science. It must be science! Scientists wrote this, peer scientists reviewed it, and scientists nod sagely when reading it.
Now define “religiosity” for kids. I’ll wait again.
Have it? Ha ha! That was a trick question. The authors never assessed the “religiosity” of kids; they did it for the kids’ “caregivers” instead. How? The authors asked parents to name their religion. They also asked parents questions like “How often do you experience the ‘divine’ in your everyday life?” They took pseudo-quantified answers from these and combined them scientifically with a quantification of religious attendance and derived a complete scientific quantification of “religiosity.” This was assigned to each kid in the study.
One of my friends in academia who publishes studies with regression analysis writes:
[I] Don’t buy all of his critiques of regression analysis but he is dead on in that the operationizing of the variables in that research is poor. I would also add that the regression model is underspecified.
So that’s two scholars who deal in statistics who don’t like the study. Sociologist Dr. George Yancey also responds to the study’s methodology in detail over at The Stream.
So here are my thoughts: first of all, children typically are little monsters, and they do not understand religion enough to act consistently with it until much later. So it’s a mistake to look at the religion of the parents and assume that in most cases, the children will have accepted that and be operating from that worldview. Second, if you were judging my religiosity at age 12 by talking to my parents, I would not have been considered religious at all, except I was. Third, giving stuff away to strangers is the secular left’s definition of altruism. Earning things through work and then sharing with people you actually know is what conservatives consider “altruism”. The study didn’t ask about how many stickers the religious kids shared with their friends and family when they got home. Conservatives tend to not want to hand out goodies to strangers through some unknown intermediary like big government. We prefer to give to people we know or through private organizations we know. Government is known to waste money on nonsense.
Hypocrisy on the left
There’s a lot of hypocrisy on the secular left. On the one hand, they want to give away lots of taxpayer money to the poor, on the other hand, they personally give far less in charity to the poor. I.e. – they are very generous with other people’s money – especially when they can brag about it to others to appear generous. But in their personal lives, they are often much less generous about giving away their own money. In fact, Arthur Brooks did a study of non-religious and religious people and charitable giving, and he found that the religious people gave away much more than the non-religious people.
Take a look at this video to understand how secular leftists think about “morality” and giving away money:
So, yes – they may sound generous when they are talking about spending someone else’s money, but they themselves are not generous. And that’s not unexpected, since secular leftists believe that this life is all they have, and there is no objective moral standard, nor any accountability to a Creator / Designer when they die. How will you generate a robust notion of generosity, when your story of origins is “survival of the fittest”? You can’t.