Thursday, March 26, 2009

Atheism, acceptance of evolution, and atrocity: When it was in the theaters, I wasn't interested enough in Ben Stein's Expelled to go see it, but I saw that it was available online at Netflix.com. It was more stimulating than I expected, and it made me wonder if there was something to the idea that atheism and belief in Darwin were associated with various forms of barbarism. My sense of the historical record would lead me to say no--I mean, haven't elites in all developed countries accepted the science--but you folks know I like data.

The General Social Survey asked the following questions: 1) confidence in the existence of God, 2) likelihood that humans evolved from animals, 3) political orientation, and 4) favoring abortion for any reason. I chose the last one because it is an attitude in favor of a barbarism. To approve of abortion at any time for any reason would include killing a baby right before birth because at the last minute Mom decided she couldn't afford an iPhone if she had to buy diapers.

I doubted that mere adoption of atheism or acceptance of evolution would lead one to accept any kind of abortion; I suspected that a liberal worldview might explain any correlation. To assess this, I estimated a logistic regression model with abortion attitude as the dependent variable and the other measures as predictors:


Logistic Regression Coefficients, DV = Favoring abortion for any reason

Liberalism .302**
Skepticism about God .294**
Acceptance of evolution .383**

**p < .01, two-tailed test

Atheism and belief in evolution both significantly predict favoring abortion on demand, independent of the influence of a liberal worldview. I don't like to admit it, but some of the people who seem to be most devoted to Darwinism and atheism are neo-Nazis, and many of them have adopted barbaric attitudes. When, in an online debate forum, I was told that an autistic family member of mine should be euthanized, I wanted to reach through the Internet with a switchblade and slit the guy's throat. Some readers, I'm sure, will suggest that I examine the correlates of a real atrocity like denying racial preferences to less qualified minorities--the American equivalent of gassing Jews.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

This only makes sense if we are to accept your presupposition that abortion is barbaric.

luis said...

I must be quite an odd-ball then, pro-life atheist that I am.

luis said...

...and my Yoda-like syntax was unintentional. Sorry

Jason Malloy said...

It is pretty interesting that abortion is more closely associated with evolution than either atheism or liberalism. Of course, I don't think your "barbarism" interpretation is correct. Is it generalizable in the way it would need to be? Is there a barbarism "factor"?

I plugged in every other kind of violence question in the GSS, and none of them were associated with evolution, including: is it OK to hit people, do you support the death penalty, and is it OK for a policeman to beat someone that curses at them.

Questions involving war and animal testing could not be tested, and the GSS has no questions about torture, but I think we can safely say that we would've found much the same thing.

On the other hand, I plugged in pro-science measures other than evolution and found the same relationship with abortion over liberalism and atheism, e.g:

Do we trust science too much?

Liberalism .392**
Skepticism about God .244**
Trust in science .430**

Do scientists pry where they shouldn't?

Liberalism .271**
Skepticism about God .298**
Scientists don't pry .753**

That's certainly interesting since abortion isn't really a scientific question, but there you go: Pro-science attitudes are a stronger predictor of abortion friendliness than religiousness and political identity.

Ron Guhname said...

Jason: Very interesting. One thing I've noticed is that medical professionals seem to develop a callousness toward things like abortion or mercy killing.

As you can see in my next post, I was also thinking about other indicators of barbarism and looked at the death penalty too.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

This should be no surprise.

Abortion is, de facto if not de jure, a method of voluntary eugenics. The American left used to be for involuntary eugenics early last century because of the influence of Social Darwinism and conservative Christians were generally oppossed to both the theory of evolution and eugenics.

I don't see how leftist atheists cannot logically support at least voluntary eugenics. Afterall, if you don't believe in God, then why wouldn't you support eugenics from a purely materialistic/Utilitarian viewpoint?

If you go to the genetic future blog, there are links to articles from liberals arguing for mandatory genetic screening of embryos for diseases because to allow unhealthy children to be born is a form of child abuse and aborting unhealthy embryos will also save the taxpayer money.

http://scienceblogs.com/geneticfuture/2009/03/arguments_against_routine_scre.php

http://scienceblogs.com/geneticfuture/2009/03/allowing_children_to_be_born_w.php

I saw video of Robert Wexler defending Nancy Pelosi's assertion that abortion reduces medical costs and that's why funding for planned parenthood was originally included in the stimulus bill.

It would be interesting to see if the left starts to support more explicit eugenic policies like paying welfare dependents to use longterm birth control if the left ever falls out of love with minorities.

Anonymous said...

"It would be interesting to see if the left starts to support more explicit eugenic policies like paying welfare dependents to use longterm birth control if the left ever falls out of love with minorities."

Never happen.

Jason said...

You really want to reduce support for abortion? Learn from my mom's mistakes. She's three for three on raising strongly pro-abortion children.

Don't get volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center. Don't stay involved in the lives of women you convince not to get an abortion. Under no circumstances allow your kids to see the consequences up close. There are worse things than a merciful death before consciousness is even attained.

A woman who would abort her kid for an iPhone should.

Outland said...

Inductivist,

I have a question.

My mother died of cancer back in '98. She was devoutly Christian.

Still, her stomach cancer was slowly destroying her inside organs. You should have seen it -- or actually not -- she turned yellowish, threw up fluids I never knew where in our body and lost ever more weight, even though she was always skinny. Man, I still have problems thinking sensibly of all this.

The thing is, she chose mercy killing. Now, I can understand that some people believe it to be suicide or disapprove, but if she wouldn't have, some of her stomach organs would have 'exploded'. This was a certainty. I don't think anyone would wish someone such a fate.

Now, personal anecdotes or experiences are a poor way of approving general laws and trends. But, since then, I just can't see euthanasia as barbaric.

Anonymous said...

"Never happen."

I hate it when people respond to thought experiments this way.

Will Dwinnell said...

Anonymous wrote:
This only makes sense if we are to accept your presupposition that abortion is barbaric.

More specifically, the notion termed "barbaric" was approval of abortion "at any time for any reason", which was described as including "...killing a baby right before birth because at the last minute Mom decided she couldn't afford an iPhone if she had to buy diapers."

silver said...


Now, personal anecdotes or experiences are a poor way of approving general laws and trends. But, since then, I just can't see euthanasia as barbaric.


What is barbaric is allowing someone to pointlessly writhe around in unbearable and unrelenting pain. And if that's what God wants then the Gnostics were right: he is the the Demiurge.