Bogus atheist social sciences: Christian's 40 Times more likely to go to prision?


I am starting a series on bogus atheist social science. I find a whole passel of atheists, some academics, some not, trying to do their own studies, all of which suck. Their aim is to show that religion is bad for society. This is a fools errand as a ton of good data shows otherwise. But here is one example. I think you really have almost no chance of doing good social science if you can't read a statistical table.

Boyd, not so swift

One attempt at this bogus atheist social sciences is a site by Boyd Swift. Swift, thought he would be a wrote the bureaus of prisons for stats, but unfortunately he doesn't know how to read a table.

His table demonstrates different percentages of religous faths among in mates. I will not reproduce the whole table, but Christians show up as:
Catholic............... 29267.......39.164%


So based upon this statistic Boyd makes his conclusion. Now what is interesting is the sats at the bottom that are not on the table:

Total Known Responses 74731 100.001% (rounding to 3 digits does this)

Unknown/No Answer 18381

Total Convicted 93112 80.259% (74731) prisoners' religion is known.

Held in Custody 3856 (not surveyed due to temporary custody)
---------------------------- Total In Prisons 96968

What is this information actually telling us? In the table he lists "athiests" along with all the others. Its' a tiny number. But then below there's a number of those:

"Unknown, no answer."

the letter he quotef from sent to him by the Bereau of prisons says:

The Federal Bureau of Prisons does have statistics on religious affiliations of inmates. The following are total number of inmates per religion category:

Obviously, this the percentage of inmates who put "atheist" in the blank asking them for their religious affiliation. this is not a record of all inmates who don't believe in God, but of those who were either smart asses and put "atheist" to the religion question as a sarcastic joke, or who are ideological enough to think of atheism as their actual religion!

you have this larger number listed below which is not even part of the table, because the table only measures those who listed atheism as their religion. The larger number is for "unknown or no answer. what is that number?

Unknown/No Answer 18381

out of:

---------------------------- Total Convicted 93112

So in other words, the actual number of atheists is about a quarter as high as the Christians. It's not this tiny 0.something percent, it's actually pretty high.
atheists have reading comprehension problems, I've noticed this for a long time! I'm always finding that atheists misread evdience. This guy cant' read a table! He either purposely distorted it or was just too stupid interpret statistics intelligently.

Atheists (at least people who no religious affliation) make up almost 20% of the whole.
That's in addition to those who check other affiliation. not all of that 93,112 are Christians, only 75% or so.
About 20% of all inmates could be atheists, but that's of the whole not counted in the 75% of those who checked affiliation. So they have to be added to Moslims, and other faiths as well.

Of course no attempt is made to measure depth of belief among those inmates who say they are Christians. No attempt is made to say weather or not these are strong believers or just people who say "I don't know what I believe, but my parents were Presbyterian, so I guess I am too."

The atheist assumption is that religion is a like a disease and if you catch it does back things to you, so they don't see any need to think deeply about what people actually believe, or even to example any kind variables that might complicate the issues.

Swift, in breaking down Christian stats says:

Now, let's just deal with the nasty Christian types, no?

"Judeo-Christian Total 62594 83.761% (of the 74731 total responses) Total Known Responses 74731

Not unexpected as a result. Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%)."

Of course he's forgotten that he's not dealing with the whole population and has to as the 24% not Christian religious people to the 20% of the whole who didn't answer. that's gonna through off his circulations by a factor of several

Here is the analysis of Chris Price, a friend of mine and member of the CADRE apologetics group:

Priceless comments

CADRE Comments, Oct 16,2007

First, I note that when atheists are trying to emphasize their numbers, they include agnostics and nonbelievers and skeptics among their ranks. But when they want to deemphasize their involvement in negative social characteristics, they take a more limited approach to the data. This study only mentions atheists, not unbelievers, irreligious, unbelievers, skeptics, etc. So, you may think there are more “atheists” in the United States than the data supports. Most stats at, for example, puts the number of “atheists” at less than 1%.

Second, atheists tend to be more privileged than the rest of the population, especially the prison population. They are predominatly white, more educated, and middle class. These are typically the result of birth, which is not something for which their atheism can claim credit.

Third, the study tells us nothing about the timing or strength of religious identification. There is a strong motive to “clean up your act” in prison, complete with visits by prison chaplains and evangelists working to reform the inmates. Add to this the fact that religious conversion may be a good way to signal to others—such as the warden or parole board—that the inmate has reformed, there are ample reasons to find increased religious identification among inmates.

Fourth, your review of the data is oversimplistic. For example, you ignore the fact that Protestants make up a much smaller percentage of the prison population (35%) than they do the population at large (53%). Mormons make up about 2% of the population, but are a negligible portion of the prison population. Now, this may also be linked to other issues such as income, race, or education levels.

...Actually, if you compare church attendance (and thus exposure to the preaching of Christian values) you get plenty of improved morality. This article by a self-styled "secular liberal" who is also an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia admits that "surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people."*

The article Price sites is The Third Edge


JONATHAN HAIDT: who is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Prices comments are "priceless," but its worse than he thought. He assumes the atheist is fudging by just not including unbelievers and those who have no opinon as atheist, as they usually do. I think it's that this guy didn't understand what the stat tables were telling him in the firrst place. I've seen other atheists make this very same mistake. There was, about eight years ago, someone who tried the same trick on Secular Web with British prison stats.

counter data
there's plenty of it:

* [] Sixth through twelfth graders who attend religious services once a month or more are half as likely to engage in at-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual excess, truancy, vandalism, drunk driving and other trouble with police. Search Institute, "The Faith Factor," Source, Vol. 3, Feb. 1992, p.1.

Church attendance is a primary factor in preventing substance abuse and repairing damage caused by substance abuse.* Edward M. Adalf and Reginald G. Smart:* "Drug Use and Religious Affiliation, Feelings and Behavior." * British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 80, 1985, pp.163-171.* Jerald G. Bachman, Lloyd D. Johnson, and Patrick M. O'Malley:* "Explaining* the Recent Decline in Cocaine Use Among Young Adults:* Further Evidence That Perceived Risks and Disapproval Lead to Reduced Drug Use."* Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 31,* 1990, pp. 173-184.* Deborah Hasin, Jean Endicott, * and Collins Lewis:* "Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Patients With Affective Syndromes."* Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol. 26, 1985, pp. 283-295. * The findings of this NIMH-supported study were repilcated in the Bachmen et. al. study above.

* [] Church attendance lessens the probabilities of homicide and incarceration. Nadia M. Parson and James K. Mikawa: "Incarceration of African-American Men Raised in Black Christian Churches." The Journal of Psychology, Vol. 125, 1990, pp.163-173.
*The presence of active churches, synagogues, or mosques reduces violent crime in neighborhoods. John J. Dilulio, Jr., "Building Spiritual Capital: How Religious Congregations Cut Crime and Enhance Community Well-Being," RIAL Update, Spring 1996.
*[] Church involvement is the single most important factor in enabling inner-city black males to escape the destructive cycle of the ghetto. Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer, eds., The Black Youth Employment Crisis, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p.354.


Steve Solis said…
" Bogus atheist social sciences: Christian's 40 Times more likely to go to prision?"

I love it when atheists borrow from the Christian worldview to make a moral claim.

My answer would simply be, "So."

So what if that stat was momentarily true! If there is no God, then what's the big deal? We're just responding to our chemicals in our brain cells. We're just molecules-in-motion so what's the big deal? That's the way we've been wired.
Peter said…
J.L. Hinman,

You should check the UK prison religious stats. Those are more favorable to the Christians. The UK has larger atheist population and the percentage pretty much matches the prison population.

"That's A Great Question",

I love when Christians claim that atheists 1) "borrow a worldview" 2) "borrow from a Christian worldview" and 3) "borrow to make a moral claim"
Layman said…

Couldn't have said it better myself!
Anonymous said…
Atheism, atheists correct me, is simply a lack of a belief in God or gods. Ironically, there is no part of this that suggests that it is integral to Atheism to avoid putting "Catholicism" on your questionnaire as your Religious Affiliation.

It seems that a fill-in form is entirely ineffective in locating the population of atheists. In fact, it seems entirely impossible to ever pinhole the intersection of atheists and people-who-tend-to-lie-about-religious-affiliation -on-questionnaires-and-surveys.

Now we have to go beyond mere atheism, and think around the definition. Well, you can lack a belief and not know the Atheist definition, thus a less informed person might describe themselves as a "skeptic" or Religious Affiliation: "None". It always needs noting that convicts tend to have less education--and some say, lower IQs. Thus they might be very well unaware of many formal classifications they would fall into.

Another irony is that the author of this "study" ends up putting stock in the categorical identification abilities of someone who likely has a meager education--if not low IQ--not to mention that he or she is a criminal!

JL, you are likely on track with this. It is very likely to indicate whether a visiting pastor, priest, imam, or shaman should bother to visit you. Inmates that don't want to be bothered by anybody, put "atheist".
Anonymous said…
"Unknown/No Answer 18381

out of:

---------------------------- Total Convicted 93112

So in other words, the actual number of atheists is about a quarter as high as the Christians. It's not this tiny 0.something percent, it's actually pretty high."

You interpret "Unknown/No Answer" as meaning "atheist"? Seriously? That's stupid as hell. Atheist means atheist and unknown/no answer means one of two things:

1. that people refused to answer the question, for whatever reason. We have no reason to think that atheists would be less likely to answer the question than anyone else.
2. That people don't know what religion they are, whatever that means. Since being an atheist has nothing to do with not knowing what religion one is, this also doesn't work. Atheists know what religion they are, or aren't.

Your logic is terrible.
Anonymous said…
I've got to agree with "ric". You have absolutely no reason to assume that the "no answer" group is of a significantly different ratio than those that did answer. Blindly assuming that it's of a completely different ratio just because you want it to be is far more "bogus" logic than anything else you mentioned.

Even if you (incorrectly) assume that none of the "no answer" group are Catholics, that still means that Catholics made up 31.43% of the prison population in 1997. The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey showed that only 24.5% of the US population is Catholic. This means that even with your baseless assumption, Catholics are still almost 30% more likely to be in prison than chance. See the US statistics here:
American Religious Identification Survey

Funny how you ignored that fact, huh?

Your comment that "atheists have reading comprehension problems" is most ironic considering how absurdly you misread "unknown/no answer" as equalling "atheists". I do agree with you on one point though, "you really have almost no chance of doing good social science if you can't read a statistical table."

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