Those nerds over at Marginal Utility have been analyzing some interesting data — the results of the General Social Survey have been released, and you know those guys. Give them a file full of numbers and they go nuts.
Here’s an interesting correlation. They compared general beliefs about scientific issues, in this case on the idea that humans evolved from other animals, with classes of religious belief, from hardcore fundie up to those militant agnostics and wishy-washy nonspecific unbelievers. The results were predictable.
In this graph, the blue bars are good, they mean the respondents in that religious group answered correctly that humans evolved from other animals. The purple bars are bad, that means the group insisted on giving the wrong answer.
Notice the sudden shift: the fundamentalist/moderate protestants have a majority that gets it all wrong, while the liberal protestants/Catholics have a majority that get it right. Then the Jewish/liberal others and nonbelievers do much better, but even the best of the bunch are only up around 60-70%. And overall, less than half the country gets the question right, and the people who reject evolution edge out the people who accept it.
Obviously, the message of this graph is that we’ve got to get everyone to convert to Judaism.
No, wait—there’s another variable to consider: education. Here are the same data, filtered to include only those members of each group who have had some college education. The numbers go up everywhere except for one benighted group.
The axes are scaled differently, so you have to inspect the numbers carefully to compare the two graphs, but look! With a little college education, a Catholic becomes about as smart as your average unbeliever. The liberal Jews and the unbelievers soar up to 80%…OK, 80% still isn’t great. It means the average grade has shifted from a C to a B, but we take any improvement we can get. And also, to my relief, the nonbelievers win! I won’t have to learn Hebrew after all!
Look over on the left, though. The fundamentalists haven’t budged in the slightest—on this subject, they are completely refractory to education. What isn’t in the data is whether that is because that group maintains its beliefs by sending their young off to bible “colleges” which reinforce erroneous ideas, or whether it’s because people who start off as fundies and get a college education then stop being fundies. It’s probably a combination of both.
One thing that isn’t obvious in a percentage chart is the absolute numbers—so I pulled out the n values for each of these groups to get an idea of the numbers we’re dealing with, and to see how likely these various groups were to get a college education (or, in another way of looking at it, how extensively filtered the second graph is relative to the first for each group.) This is rather interesting, too, and has one item that surprised me.
|Religion||n||n (college)||% college|
The biggest single religious group in this sample were the fundamentalists, and they are, of course, also the group most likely to get the answer wrong. They are also the group with the smallest percentage of college attendees; they aren’t even trying very hard to get educated, and when they do, as we see in the second chart, it doesn’t matter.
Now the surprise: the non-religious are the third largest category in the sample (it’s a bit artificial, though, since the protestants are split 3 ways), and are almost 18% of the population. They also have the second smallest percentage of college attendees. That’s a bit unexpected. It implies to me that “none” might be kind of a grab-bag category, though—although it also defies the stereotype of the godless as snooty college professors, and instead says there are a lot of ordinary folk who sensibly reject organized religion.