Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Religiosity as indicator of education system performance

Posted by Dave Bath on 2012-04-29


Increase analytical thinking in individuals and religious belief drops – so at a group level, increasing popularity of the more credulous sects suggests our education system is failing.  But don’t expect that indicator of education system performance to be used by politicians.
 

Scientific American has an interesting article "Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief" (2012-04-26) – which seems pretty obvious, but the experiments looked at how analytical training attacks the cancer of religious thinking at the level of the individual.
 

This is trickier than tracking it at the level of a society, but I think the results would hold at the group level, with lower sky-fairy fandom the result of a better education system.
 

While forcing people to actually think about statements of sky fairies, by presenting the questions in a difficult-to-read typeface, or even, just getting them to think about thinking in general, by showing them either Rodin’s "The Thinker" versus a generic statue (in this case, a classical Greek discus thrower), made mild believers answer as mild unbelievers.
 

In the "Big Picture" then, an education system that makes people more analytical and reflective, surely part of what a humane education system should be doing (rather than a system designed to churn out good little economic production units), should make people less religious.
 

Despite higher retention rates at all levels, religiosity, either by looking at attendence at more charismatic churches, or by the increasing power of the "right wing" even in "thinking" churches like the Anglicans, or even by the decrease since about 1990 in the Australian Census of those saying "no religion", religiosity is increasing.
 

This strongly suggests that our educational systems, even though having increasing contact time with students, is producing a society less capable of analytical thought, and/or less exposed to thinking about thinking.
 

Who benefits from a population that is less analytical, less capable of asking awkward questions?  Not just the religious sector, but the major political parties and commercial interests will be able to sway voters more easily, using the Dark Arts of propaganda and advertising rather than facts or reason to take advantage of the citizenry.
 

Why would the politicians, with the real constituents donors, and who like being able to make back-room deals to determine policy rather than rely on evidence and an informed citizenry, want the general voter to be able to think?
 

So don’t expect the education systems to produce a smarter population any time soon, and expect susceptibility to dogma and propaganda, either political, economic or religious, to keep rising.
 

Still … the research points to a useful indicator of what our education systems are actually doing.  Pity that indicator is heading in the wrong direction faster and faster.


See Also:

  • Homepage of Ara Norenzayan, one of the paper’s authors.
  • Hompage of Will Gervais, the other author
  • Supporting online material for Gervais, W. M. & Norenzayan, A. (2012). Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief. Science, 336, 493-496.
  • Creating Consilience (chapter on evolution of religiosity by Norenzayan and Gervais in a more general text)
  • "Is rationality the enemy of religion?</a?" ("Muse" blog at "Nature" 2012-04-26) takes a critical look at the experiments, and suggests caution to my comments above: "The problem is that it is nearly impossible to devise any investigation of ‘religious belief’ per se, because it takes so many forms and rarely consists of a coherent and consistent set of principles, even in a particular individual. It is like trying to study what makes people ‘artistic’ or ‘nice’."


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