There Goes Another One….

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….


  1. I suspect that there is more to what makes a generous child than this one study reveals about religious families. My personal observations of various families shows that those that are exclusively tied to a religious group tend to be generous with their own kind but not to outsiders.
    Children raised in such families would learn early on that only the people they and their family knew and associated with were worthy of their generosity. Nothing would be spoken, but the actions of the parents would speak volumes. Thus the children who are raised in families that see themselves as members of the entire human society would see generosity toward strangers equal to any generosity toward a member of a group.

  2. Thanks Prof. Maybe all the judgmental attitudes of the religious folks contributes to this.
    “My God can beat up YOUR God” theology does not help anyone.
    I am up early headed to Unity this AM. They are more thought based and into the USEFUL Nature of this material and not in how to beat up on and judge others.

  3. It is good to be agnostic. When agnosticism graduates to atheism it is in danger of being a egotistical creed! Giving, grace, kindness–good stuff.

  4. Patmcc says:
    ” ‘My God can beat up YOUR God’ theology does not help anyone.”

    Agree…..especially since, knowing that I am forever both, have long ago put away My boxing gloves.

  5. In the early days of aristocracy people aligned themselves with kings who were powerful. Kings with the biggest, best equipped, fiercest warriors so that if push came to shove, as it often did, they had the best chance of emerging with more resources, not less. They typically paid dearly for that protection but the consequences of inadequate protection were more dear.

    This was merely the European flavor of tribalism.

    Back during the times that fostered religious thinking that concept moved from the real world to the metaphysical. Align with a powerful God even at great expense.

    Now that religion is more a luxury it still serves the useful purpose of making adherents feel associated with a superior tribe with a powerful leader. Many of those adherents live in comfort knowing that the most powerful of kings, whose power extends beyond life and earth, has their back, all for the price of reasonable behavior on their part here and now, including a generous attitude towards their tribe.

    Other tribes however must be viewed with suspicion, even disdain.

    Some people believe that here and now is the whole ballgame. They believe that humanity is our tribe. That we individually, are part of an immortal collective species. That everlasting life is not in life’s cards so if you are going to be part of a bigger more permanent thing the opportunity is how you network; connect with others; help the human race.

    Based on this the results of the study under discussion are not surprising.

    There is no evidence for supporting or denying a metaphysical King much less any particular one. So we each have to assume what is most comfortable for us. Generally a fine practice for everyone but with a caveat. How you treat all others here and now. No matter your choice of tribe and King liberals don’t believe that it entitles you relative to others. Conservatives typically believe otherwise.

  6. While this study consisted of a small group, it does seem to have a good cross-section of religions in our country.

    The results do not surprise me at all.

  7. I am in agreement with Theresa…I think there is more to this than just religion. I just completed my SPEA degree in nonprofit management and in many courses the discussion was how influential religious teachings were in philanthropic endeavors for a society. Now, there does seem to be some perversions in whatI learned as compared to what some of my evangelical peers have learned. My mother was the daughter of a United Church of Christ minister (very liberal religion) and switched to Methodist (fairly moderate) and my dad was raised Catholic and is active in the Catholic church.

    In Terre Haute where I grew up a fair number of my peers were members of nondenominational, Pentecostal, and Southern Baptist and many definetely had an error that they were far better and that it was only their way was the way to worship and somehow the rest of us were sinners.

  8. sorry….air instead of error….I hate spell check on this computer. Always assuming something else…

  9. Somewhere recently I saw a short video of a Harvard Business School professor (maybe) whose thesis was that a non-Christian society is unaffordable because of the resulting need otherwise to massively increase law enforcement. I’ve tried and failed to re find it.

    Hmmmm. The only reason that we choose legal behavior is the carrot of heaven or the stick of hell?

    I’m thinking, not in my case. Or most people that I know.

    One reason that I’m honest is that I can afford to be. Another is that in my experience people who are reliable in their dealings with others are happier. Another is that reliable associates make for progress and that’s my eternal reward. That’s what I want to leave here believing that I left for those after me – a progressed and progressive human race.

    I don’t believe that’s unusual.

  10. I am a member of a church, but as I have told many pastors, “I didn’t leave my brain at the church house door.” As latter day animalists who cannot explain our beginnings (only via Darwin how it went from wherever it started with single cell mitosis to the multicellular world today in living organisms) who have anthropomorphized both a super God and poly Gods with even an elected God (Zeus) in recorded history, we are at a loss to explain the creation of our predecessors, so many of us have chosen to believe in some creative power in itself inexplicable that did the job, or started it. Such a happening, if one, is beyond the reach of the scientific method in reaching objective truths and thus our perpetual arguments that a belief in a God or Gods is subject to scientific proof is a waste of time. I can’t explain why the “laws of nature” work, either, or why the pull of gravity works per Isaac Newton. I know it works from observation and experience, but I don’t know why it works, and neither do scientists – hence the under-reach of the system. Voltaire and others have suggested that if we didn’t have a God we would manufacture one. Perhaps, but that is commentary on the human condition prone to manufacture managerial charts, a corporate exercise. but what if there is one, and one stripped of all the pretentions of right and wrong attributed to such a creative powerhouse by medieval monks, ancient Greeks and other human societies, and what if such a creative force is not involved in sin and evil but just is – the ultimate super scientist? I am aware of the responses of Einstein to a couple of questions in this connection. One was whether he believed in an afterlife. His response: “No, one life is enough.” He was then asked if he believed in God. His response: “Yes. I am not smart enough to be an atheist.” Scientists, take note.

    I think a belief in the existence of God and the attributes various religions with their monks and others (including the shaman class of TV preachers) have heaped on Him as His motives in creating us and His plans for our earthly lives and the ones following are two different things. I do not presume to know His motives, if any, and I think one can “believe in God” and not believe those who interpret such motives for us with their pomp, ceremony and rituals. I don’t think belief is God, in other words, means that one is religious. That’s another realm, and one in which I apply scientific methodology, hence my statements to pastors of my church. I believe some of what my pastors say and reject some of what they say and thus employ the same tests I would use with advice from a financial advisor or claims by politicians. I agree with Einstein: I am not smart enough to be an atheist. As a present day animalist in both a bow to science and philosophy I rather must say and ask, “Here we are. How come?”

  11. Jerry: I really enjoyed what you wrote.

    You and I are, hopefully, very early examples of the human race and who knows the wonderful things that humanity will someday know? My regret is that I won’t know the end of the story.

    Assuming we can always squeak by disaster and not kill each other all off, there’s a long run of exploration ahead. Someday what humanity will know will make what we know now seem very primitive.

    Will we need to name it? We always have but perhaps knowing it will cause merely accepting it as reality; what just is.

  12. I was mentally debating about this study being scientific and how much credit to give it; it seemed to me that there were too many other factors to consider. I found a post on Facebook; “The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World” published this week in Current Biology.

    Academics from 7 universities around the world took part in the study – United States, China, South Africa, Turkey, Jordan and Canada. Approximately 1,200 children, ages 5-12 were studied. Approximately 1/3 were non-religious, the rest were chiefly Christian and Muslim.

    “Overall, our findings contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others.”

    I see this lack of altruism and kindness in the adult Republicans in Congress and those presidential nominee wannabes who spout Christianity as being the foundation of this country and what they believe to be the need to “return to our roots”.

  13. What’s really is funny is how the kids who utterly bomb science and math end up as liberals in life, while the kids who are really good at science and math overwhelmingly become conservatives.

    You can see this aptitude reflected in college majors. Conservatives becomes engineers and accountants, with lots of math; liberals become social workers or community organizers, with full math avoidance.

    Despite being awful in school and utterly hopeless in math and science, liberals think themselves qualified to speak on something as complex and math intensive as climate.

  14. One other question please Gopper. I’ve asked before but nobody seems to know. What’s the common belief among conservatives that defines them vs liberals? If you had to place people on a conservative liberal spectrum with one question what would it be?

  15. A liberal is best defined as a person beset with global, universal, permeated conditions of frailty, wimpiness, weakness, cowardice.

    If the tests are too hard for the wimp, dumb the tests down so the wimp doesn’t look so bad.

    If the sports are too tough for the wimp to play, dumb the sports down and add women to the sports so the wimp doesn’t look so bad and feel so out of place.

    If the wimp is too incompetent or scared to drive, declare war on cars, and paint bicycle “trails” on top of the roads.

    If the wimp can’t land a job in the private sector, create government jobs for the wimp, and impose quotas on the private sector so the wimp can get hired. When enough wimps are hired into the private sector, the wimps will only hire other wimps. Get enough wimps into a company, and you get a “human resources” department.

    If the liberal is scared of modern society, invent “global warming,” and declare war on progress so society is forced to regress to a primitive and slower state in which the wimp is comfortable.

    If the wimp can’t get a date and is stuck finding companions with his own sex, destroy marriage so that the wimp’s social arrangement is just as accepted as real marriage.

    “Microaggressions,” “triggers,” “safe places,” “gender equality.” “tolerance,” and it goes on.

    Behind seemingly every idea a liberal holds is weakness, wimpiness, frailty.

    Conservatives have a lot of cowardly, frail, hiding behaviours, too. Conservatives’ love of the police, the military and their desire to impose heavy societal order and authority reveal their insecurities and weaknesses.

  16. Sounds to me like in your mind there are two kinds of people in the world. Liberals and Neanderthals.

    Makes me proud to be a liberal.

    I hope you find your cave some day.

  17. Except your “neanderthals” hold all the math, science and technical jobs that make the world run.

    The world doesn’t need sensitivity officers, or racial liaisons but it does need people who can design, maintain and operate John Deere combines.

  18. This is interesting. A denier of science pretending to be a scientist. Weird.

    Here’s why you would never make it in my world – the world of applying science to real world manufacturing processes.

    You have to be evidence driven. You have to be educated. You have to be logical. You have to be collaborative. You have to be methodical. You have to be driven by what works, not by ego. You have to be curious. You have to focus.

    Believe me you’re way short in all of those areas.

    Stick to your hunting and gathering. At least you’ll feed yourself.

  19. Marv; Pete is obviously doing such a great job because he isn’t as religious as Gopper and is therefore a more altruistic and kind human being. Pete; I am complementing you.

    daleb; Gopper is a professional doomsayer, spreader of distortions of truth, misquoted and misguided stands on issues he has no comprehension of. In other words; Gopper’s profession is being a Republican.

  20. Be honest with yourself, pete, and save me your platitudes.

    You know full well that whatever job you’ve been doing for 20 years, I’d be better than you in a couple of hours.

    Whatever you think you’re good at, I’d find your errors and the places where you didn’t consider alternatives, and make improvements on your work after a few hours on the job. All this without ever having worked a minute in your field.

    I should do whatever it is you do, because it doesn’t look that hard.

  21. Gopper,

    Pete has told us his background. It’s very strong.

    I can understand why some of us want to be candid. But, you’re making a complete fool out of yourself, if you don’t tell us why you can beat Pete: “in a couple of hours.” “All this without having worked a minute in your (Pete’s) field.”

    What you’re telling us to believe is like someone telling us they are a better passer than Andrew Luck, the Colt’s quarterback, but they won’t tell us if they’ve ever thrown a football or even gone to a football game.

    My, still sane, conservative friends would be aghast at your comments.

  22. Marv, join the real world, instead of being on the loser team.

    I’ve seen who becomes liberals. It’s never the winners. That’s how I know he’s easy to knock off his box.

    You’re making yourself look like a wimp and a loser because you don’t understand such basics.

  23. Marv, a qualification: There are some people who call themselves liberals because they use it to get rich. These people are solely concerned with money, and they use liberalism to advance their economic interests.

  24. Gopper,

    “Marv, join the real world, instead of being on the loser team.”

    I don’t know about your team, Gopper. But I believe I know who is a winner and not a loser.

    Being a loser is not why I was voted Co-captain of the winning(est) team in Penn history.
    That goes back all the way to Benjamin Franklin the founder.

    At R.O.T. C. summer camp at the end of my junior year I was voted #1 Cadet out of four schools: University of Pennsylvania, Texas A&M, University of Texas, and California State Teachers College.

    Back in 1980 while in Dallas, I formed the first mixed sports management company: Victory Sports Management with my best friend and Kenny Houston, who is still remembered by most as the greatest free safety in NFL history.

    Roger Staubach the NFL Hall of Famer, who no one in their right mind would call a loser and I were political partners in the 80’s along with two African Americans in Dallas. The four of us lead the landmark voting rights victory for: one-man, one-vote .

    I could go on an on with all of this, Gopper. How about Telling us all about ONE of your wins as a winner? And by the way what team was that?

  25. Groper is probably a social worker in a new age drug rehab with an associate’s degree in art who hates his job, and thinks that a quadratic is an extinct animal. Can’t fool me.

  26. So, did I understand this right? The children’s propensity for fairness was measured by their willingness to give away something of “value” that they have earned? What a warped notion of fairness

  27. Gopper,

    You still haven’t answered my question: “How about telling us all about one of your wins as a winner?”

    Joking about Ben Franklin and football isn’t an answer. You know I wasn’t joking.

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