Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chuck Colson and Christian Demographics: Revealing More than He Intends

Colson has an interesting article discussing the different fertility rates for conservative Christians vs liberal nonChristians in the United States, a difference of between 40% and 80%, depending on how the groups are defined. Colson supposes this to be an encouraging sign for his fellow conservative Christians, and I suppose it is. It is also quite a disappointment for those of us hoping for a more rational society of the future. However, what caught my attention is the lynch pin assumption in Colson’s reasoning, a fact so devastating to the idea of Christian truth that it is remarkable to me that a conservative Christian would admit it:

” tend to grow up to worship the way their parents do. In a generation or two, we are going to have a bumper crop of conservative citizens. Candidates who appeal to Christians will win more elections simply because of demographics.”

Yes, indeed they do. The religion of one’s parents is the single greatest predictor of one’s religion. And while this certainly supports Colson’s population argument, it completely exposes the intellectual weakness of religion. For if one’s views on religion are so highly correlated with one’s parents views, and given the wide range of religious views around the world, the question begging to be asked is: what then of all the claims that one’s religious views are based on any sort of reasoning or evidence? How can one’s views on something claiming objective, nay, eternal truth, be determined by genetic lottery and have value?

Consider, for example, a society who believed one should never wear red hats, that this represented an eternal truth anyone can come to accept. Now consider their neighbors, who also believe one should never wear hats of a certain color, because of their search for the eternal truth of hats, except that the color they forbade was blue? Imagine that 95% of Red Hattists had Red Hattist parents, and 95% of Blue Hattists had Blue Hattist parents, etc. Doesn't this lay waste to the insistence by some that they reasoned out their views on hats, and just happened by sheer coincidence to draw the same conclusions their parents did? Clearly the various Hattistisms are mere social convention, rather than some sort of universal objective truth. How is religion different?

As Richard Dawkins revealed in an entertaining speech, when one looks at science around the globe, many consensuses can be found on many issues, even in our areas of ignorance. For example, the prevailing theory of the killer of the dinosaurs is the impact of a comet approximately 65 million years ago. But imagine if only the people in the US thought that, but Canadians thought it was the rise of the mammals, Africans believed it was the ice age, and Asians that it was solar flares? That is how religion looks, and that’s why Colson’s analysis is hardly something to celebrate.
He also ends with a rather disturbing comment that one would think impossible in this day and age:

”For the last half century, Western industrialized nations, fearing overpopulation and despoiling the planet, have made slowing population growth one of their top priorities. So now we are in the middle of what one observer calls a ‘global baby bust’—except, that is, among devout Christian families, those who take seriously the biblical mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ It shows that when Christians live out the biblical worldview, we not only survive, we thrive. “

Uh, sure Bob, you’ll get to dominate an overpopulated despoiled planet. Congratulations. And when you are asked why you didn’t do anything to deal with those problems, you can point to your Bible and whine that there is nothing in there about any of our modern problems. I’m sure that will make it all right. Or maybe, just maybe, instead of relying on the words of ignorant desert tribesmen writing before we even knew 1/3 of the world existed, we could recognize now that there is nothing in that book, or any ancient tome, to aid us in our battles against the problems of population, disease, extinctions, asteroids, climate change, resource depletion, and all the other threats to our very existence. We can turn instead to more enlightened ways of knowing for our guidance. We can put our trust in replicable experiment, rather than blind faith. Better a few live Christians than a lot of dead ones.


Ian said...

While it seems to be common sense that people tend to follow the religious practices of their parents, I'm not convinced that it's true. Yes, people tend to follow the religion of their parents - I'm sure one of the best predictors of religious affiliation is one's parents' religious affiliation. But is it also a predictor of the particular flavour of religion? I attend a very liberal church in the south, and it seems to me that most people came from fundamentalist homes in other denominations. I'm also curious about the predictors for atheism are. Are atheists more likely to come from non-religious homes, or have religious liberals for parents? Since atheism involves far more of a choice, I'm guessing that parental beliefs are a far poorer predictor. While what he has to say makes sense (because it's what one expects to hear), something tells me that Colson isn't working off any data. At all.

ScienceAvenger said...

Going from a fundamentalist Christian home to a more liberal Christian church might seem like a big change, but not from the perspective of a Hindu. It's all a matter of precision of definition of "religion" as to how much predictive power there is.

Regardless of how much we magnify or generalize the picture, just casual geographic observation seems to justify Colson's assumption. It's not as if India were dominantly Hindu one year and dominantly Baptist one generation later. The leaves don't fall far from the tree

Anonymous said...

While I think it interesting that I have always heard that one will follow in the footsteps of their parents when it comes to religion. I find it even more interesting to note that the author says that us pesky Christians have lived up to the be fruitful and multiply bit...which would indicate that Christians have more babies than non-Christians.

Which if that were the case then we should see a rise in the number if Christians or professed Christians...however we have actually seen a decline in the professed Christians from 1990-2000 census data.

Sorta shoots a hole in that theory don't it?

Chris said...

Human evolution will likely not (unfortunately) expose religion for what it is: a crutch invented by ourselves out of fear of death, anxiety and the unknown. Rather, our evolution will be cyclic as opposed to linear. This theory assumes the possibility that micro-evolution can be indicative of longer term trends. Does the current religious resurgence in the U.S. (i.e., various school districts wanting to insert intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution in the classroom) illustrate the possibility that scientific theory and data could all be cast aside – perhaps as a casualty of some upcoming global civil-religious war?