I think I’m beginning to figure out why so many ostentatiously pious people reject science and empirical data. (And yes, Ben Carson, one of the examples I’m looking at is you…) It’s because those darn scientists keep telling us stuff we don’t want to hear.
And now, they’ve done it again.
It’s frequently argued that we need religion because–to use religious language– it leads people to “love their neighbors as themselves,” to be generous and giving. The accuracy of that assertion was recently tested by Jean Decety, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. The results of his study have just been published in Current Biology. As the Economist reports,
Altogether, Dr Decety and his colleagues recruited 1,170 families for their project, and focused on one child per family. Five hundred and ten of their volunteer families described themselves as Muslim, 280 as Christian, 29 as Jewish, 18 as Buddhist and 5 as Hindu. A further 323 said they were non-religious, 3 were agnostic and 2 ticked the box marked “other”.
Decety and his collaborators used a variety of measurements to assess the religiosity of participating families, and arranged for the children to play a version of what is known to psychologists as the dictator game—an activity measuring altruism, that involves the willingness of the children to give up “stickers” that they have been awarded.
The upshot was that the children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample), showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3. Moreover, a regression analysis on these groups of children showed that their generosity was inversely correlated with their households’ religiosity. This effect remained regardless of a family’s wealth and status (rich children were more generous than poor ones), a child’s age (older children were more generous than younger ones) or the nationality of the participant. These findings are, however, in marked contrast to parents’ assessments of their own children’s sensitivity to injustice. When asked, religious parents reported their children to be more sensitive than non-believing parents did.
This is only one result, of course. It would need to be replicated before strong conclusions could be drawn. But it is suggestive. And what it suggests is not only that what is preached by religion is not always what is practised, which would not be a surprise, but that in some unknown way the preaching makes things worse.
Happy Sunday morning….