Oh, come on, you say. Religious belief helps us to deal with problems in a dysfunctional society… or so this favourite little religious meme assures us. But is it true?
Besides, how can anyone scientifically correlate religious belief to an unhealthy society? Surely the data must be cherry picked!
Well, Jerry Coyne (WEIT), the author of this paper published at Evolution, has collected a rather convincing stable of studies that does most of the arguing on his behalf. Granted, he is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, so he does have an agenda to promote a better understanding of evolution. But the numbers are quite clear: great swaths of Americans will not accept evolution. Jerry wants to know in particular why American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This paper answers the question with an inescapable conclusion: religious belief.
What can be done to change this deplorable condition – what Jerry calls a “national embarrassment” – of believing in anti-scientific religious belief over a robust scientific explanation that works for everyone everywhere all the time?
The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America.
Okay, if contrary religious belief is the problem, how can this grip be loosened?
Through difficult social change.
The reasons to correlate religious belief with a dysfunctional society are laid out clearly and succinctly drawing on dozens of recent studies. The data is compelling. I urge all readers to download the pdf and read this short paper for themselves, to see just how overwhelming are the various avenues of correlation, to think seriously about how and why this “disgrace” has come to be, what sustains it, what personal responsibility we share in pretending it’s not an ongoing problem accompanied by real life ramifications for our collective society. Don’t reject it out of hand because it disagrees with your religious beliefs. Think about it first.
We have to stop pretending religious belief is an accumulative good or something valuable enough in itself that its public face must be accommodated. It’s not and we shouldn’t. It is a problem that breeds and excuses social inequity.
Concerned as he is with the problematic low level of understanding why evolution is true, Coyne concludes,
Ultimately, the best strategy to make Americans more receptive to evolution might require loosening the grip of religion on our country. This may sound not only invidious but untenable, yet data from other countries suggest that such secularism is possible and, indeed, is increasing in the United States at this moment. But weakening religion may itself require other, more profound changes: creating a society that is more just, more caring, more egalitarian. Regardless of how you feel about religion, that is surely a goal most of us can endorse.