Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Dawkins gets his bus ad exactly wrong:  The New York Times informs us that Richard Dawkins, A. C. Grayling, and the British Humanist Association have supported a campaign that has raised more than $200,000 to advertise the following on 800 buses across Britain: "There’s probably no God,” the advertisement says. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

They may nor may not be right about the first part, but it looks like they're wrong on the second part.  The World Values Survey asked 2,042 Brits about their religious attendance and their satisfaction with life. Both questions were on scales from 1 to 10, 10 being the most churchgoing and the most satisfied.  Let's look at percentages for the top three and the bottom three:

Percent giving a particular answer

Most satisfied with life--10
Those attending more than weekly 18.9
Those who never or rarely attend 11.3

Satisfied with life--9
Those attending more than weekly 30.1
Those who never or rarely attend 14.8

Satisfied with life--8
Those attending more than weekly 31.2
Those who never or rarely attend 24.3

Most unsatisfied with life--1
Those attending more than weekly 0.0
Those who never or rarely attend 1.3

Unsatisfied with life--2
Those attending more than weekly 0.0
Those who never or rarely attend 1.5

Unsatisfied with life--3
Those attending more than weekly 0.0
Those who never or rarely attend 4.1

The advertisement should read, "Stop worrying and stop enjoying your life."


Anonymous said...

Correlation does not equal causation.

Ron Guhname said...

It sure as hell beats a claim on the side of a bus.

Brian said...

Well, ignorance is bliss.

Jewish Atheist said...

Church attendance is probably beneficial regardless of beliefs, so that may not be the best variable to pick. Still, I'm prepared to believe that religion is slightly correlated with increased happiness (and health, etc.) That doesn't make it true.

Some of us would rather have the truth than a happy lie.

Or, as Shaw said, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.”

Dallas said...

The majority of people in the "Those who never or rarely attend" category most likely still believe in god, so this doesn't say anything about atheists. If you want to make conclusions about atheists' satisfaction with life, then you need to compare "those who believe and attend", "those who believe and dont attend", and "those who dont believe and don't attend" (and "those who dont believe who attend", if you can find a significant enough amount).

This data tells us that religious people who are more active in their religion are more satisfied, but it can't tell you about people who don't believe in god because 'not going to church' and atheism are not the same thing. I've seen this mistake a lot.

Ron Guhname said...

Dallas: It's not a mistake--it's a limitation of the data. There are also atheists who attend church.

I'm using non-attendance as a proxy since I have nothing better to use. How well it measures atheism in Great Britain, I'm not sure. At least I'm not making an empty assertion like the bus ad does.

The GSS tells us about happiness in America. In sample of 10,924 people, 34.1% of people who know there is a God are very happy; it's 30.3% among those who don't believe.

Dallas said...

Considering how atheists are a minority in the US who are highly disapproved of by the general population, I think it should be expected that their general happiness might be lower than those of believers. I'm interested in whether or not there are similar correlations for happiness as it comes to other minority groups though, to check that assumption.

Whether or not believing in god makes people generally happier is a complicated issue to quantify, but even if it does, that wouldn't be very surprising either. As your other commenters have already stated: "ignorance is bliss," "Some of us would rather have the truth than a happy lie," etc.

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