Thursday, 4 March 2010

Why can't theists do this?

A short while ago I noticed on biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci's Rationally Speaking blog in his Massimo's Picks post the following link, prefaced with "You knew this, right? Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds. This was a press release claiming that 
More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.
As interesting as this was, I wondered if it:-

(a) was actually as statically significant as it claimed since
Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.
Such a  small difference requires a high sample size to have a p value of at least 0.05 (anything less is unacceptable and p=0.01 would be far better) and neither the error bars, sample size not p values were provided.

(b) Is IQ a suitable surrogate measure for "intelligence" to capture this difference?

(c) Were the question design in the opinion survey sufficiently well balanced to avoid bias?

Well I had not time to ponder  those questions or google for answers but considered this, as presumably did Massimo, sufficiently amusing and provocative to post in my micro-blog (my faithlessgod twitter feed), I most certainly thought it was of interest to the  followers of my feed.

Well my twitter feed automatically posts to my personal facebook status and I received a comment from Tim McGregor the founder of Skeptics in the Pub Brighton (a group I had wanted to form last year but had no time, so well done to Tim for actually making this happen). 

He pointed to a post by P.Z Meyer's Pharyngula blog entitled Stop patting yourselves on the back over this study in which he was both scathing of bloggers who had just jumped on the bandwagon by uncritically assuming it was good science and he was also scathing of the study itself, including such gems as:
And then to claim that these differences are not only heritable, but evolutionarily significant…jebus, people, you can just glance at it and see that it is complete crap.
Now I think both Tim pointing this article out to me and PZ's article itself responding in this way is excellent and what I expect of an honest and ethical approach to any evidential claims, in even if, and especially if, it appears to be in one's favour. Articles in one's favour are no excuse to drop one's standards.

Hence the question which is the title of this post. I repeatedly see theists make empirical claims about how religion benefits society when there is a wealth of empirical evidence, certainly of a correlative nature that contradicts these claims. It seems they can find no contrary equivalent evidence in their favour and so in response, if they just do not just happily ignore this evidence, promote a variety of dubious opinion survey based social psychology studies, which whenever investigated (at least the ones I have seen) are of poor methodological design such as low statistical significance, small sample size and/or with unbalanced questions formats which fails to control for biases.

Now I am, of course, only addressing this to those theists who do just jump on the bandwagon and uncritically promote these studies  or uncritically agree with them. Where are the theists who say "hang on a second, as much as we like the conclusions, the study being celebrated is highly questionable?" (Or "crap" possibly). I had undertaken to follow a few Christian apologist blogs for a while. All the ones I followed all too uncritically accept any argument in their favour, however dubious.  I no longer follow such blogs as they are too tedious, predictable and boring, as well as being disturbingly immoral - particularly promoting and defending bigotry - to boot.

So the question is are there any committed theistic bloggers out who do critically challenge evidence in their own favour, as PZ admirably did to this study? Such bloggers I would be interested in reading. Does anyone know of any? Are there any takers?

POSTSCRIPT: Since I have submitted this to some blog carnivals I thought it only fair to take out specific references to one theist blogger, since it was outside the main thrust of this argument to just highlight one such blogger. (I also typo checked  it and slightly changed the emphasis of some points at the same time).


odrareg said...

About benefits of religion to society, you must take one particular religion and one particular society, and not be into generally all religions and the whole of mankind.

But the way you write, you show your attitude of proceeding with a big self-assurance that you are critically scientific and theists are not, and your language shows it.

Please watch your language.

Now, tell me, is the lot of women better off nowadays in a Christian society than in societies which today are still not influenced by Christian values?

Now, just watch your language when you react to my comments.

odrareg said...

I like to ask faithlessgod where does nature come from?