Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Atheism and crime

In Breaking the Spell, Daniel Dennett claims that atheists are as law-abiding as believers.

The MIDUS study asked people their religious affiliation and if they had ever been in jail. The results (sample size = 2,183):


Percent ever in jail

Atheist 0.0
Agnostic 17.4*
No preference 13.0*
Spiritual 17.6*
Has a religion 4.8

*significantly higher than people with a religion


Zero of 18 atheists report any jail time. By contrast, agnostics, spiritual people, and those with no religion have significantly higher rates of incarceration. On the various measures of functioning that I've studied, the squishy middle categories often have the worst numbers.

UPDATE: Keep in mind that the current trend is toward more people having no religious preference (but still believing in God) or saying they are spiritual rather than having a religion.

While we're at it, MIDUS gives us another estimate of the percent of Americans who are atheist. The survey asked people to describe their religious affiliation, and "atheist" is one option. Only .8 percent of participants gave that answer. (The study was conducted 2004-2006.)

20 comments:

pat said...

You would expect atheists to have less crime because atheists are a bit smarter than believers and brains correlate negatively with at least violent crime.

I'm an atheist and I sometimes get tired of all the silly nonsense that believers seem to attribute to us. First of all the Abrahamic religions are the only ones in which morality is thought to come from a deity.

America was founded by a group of men who studied the Roman Republic scrupulously. In the Empire they developed the Emperor Cult where Julius and Augustus were identified as divine. But in the Republic there was plenty of concern about morality but not from religion. The gods which they largely adopted and adapted from the Greeks were not a particularly well behaved and moral group. Jupiter liked to seduce young women in disguise. He might be King of the Gods but mortals weren't likely to be accept the authority of his notions about good and evil.

Romans got their morality largely from philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius or from politicians like Cato or Cicero.

Hindus, Jainists, Buddhists, Shinto, and Confucians also are all concerned with morality but none of them think it comes only from a single deity. Yet otherwise sensible people assert that if you don't believe the Ten Commandments is a divine message then there is nothing to keep you from murder.

The other thing that often bothers me is that the media always portrays atheists as trouble makers who want attack traditional Christmas displays. There are such people of course just as there are extremist bible thumpers. But the reality is much different.

I don't believe Jesus was divine but I do think his message of peace and tolerance has been good for us. I understand that his "Sermon on the Mount" ideas were more or less mainstream Pharisee teachings.

As a conservative I oppose rapid change. Real change right now is a prescription for blood in the streets. I expect that Christianity may very well fade away - or maybe not. I'm not interested in hastening its demise. Christianity is just fine with me. I don't see the point in extirpating all of its symbols either. That is not American. In the French Revolution they tried to get rid of everything religious and the result was blood in the streets. In America we only changed as much as we absolutely had too.

Albertosaurus

pat said...

You would expect atheists to have less crime because atheists are a bit smarter than believers and brains correlate negatively with at least violent crime.

I'm an atheist and I sometimes get tired of all the silly nonsense that believers seem to attribute to us. First of all the Abrahamic religions are the only ones in which morality is thought to come from a deity.

America was founded by a group of men who studied the Roman Republic scrupulously. In the Empire they developed the Emperor Cult where Julius and Augustus were identified as divine. But in the Republic there was plenty of concern about morality but not from religion. The gods which they largely adopted and adapted from the Greeks were not a particularly well behaved and moral group. Jupiter liked to seduce young women in disguise. He might be King of the Gods but mortals weren't likely to be accept the authority of his notions about good and evil.

Romans got their morality largely from philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius or from politicians like Cato or Cicero.

Hindus, Jainists, Buddhists, Shinto, and Confucians also are all concerned with morality but none of them think it comes only from a single deity. Yet otherwise sensible people assert that if you don't believe the Ten Commandments is a divine message then there is nothing to keep you from murder.

The other thing that often bothers me is that the media always portrays atheists as trouble makers who want attack traditional Christmas displays. There are such people of course just as there are extremist bible thumpers. But the reality is much different.

I don't believe Jesus was divine but I do think his message of peace and tolerance has been good for us. I understand that his "Sermon on the Mount" ideas were more or less mainstream Pharisee teachings.

As a conservative I oppose rapid change. Real change right now is a prescription for blood in the streets. I expect that Christianity may very well fade away - or maybe not. I'm not interested in hastening its demise. Christianity is just fine with me. I don't see the point in extirpating all of its symbols either. That is not American. In the French Revolution they tried to get rid of everything religious and the result was blood in the streets. In America we only changed as much as we absolutely had too.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Both religionists and atheists have staked out a clearly defined position complete with some non negotiable absolutes.

They think and know what they think.

That is clearly different from the squishy middle.

Anonymous said...

On a cross cultural level, more atheistic and disbelieving nations are not more crime prone.

On a generational level, atheism and disbelief don't increase with increasing crime rates.

The different trends within society might be different of course.

Anonymous said...

"On a cross cultural level, more atheistic and disbelieving nations are not more crime prone."

100 million victims of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, etc. etc. would beg to differ, if they were still around to share. That is 17 holocausts, but who is counting?

I would think it safe to say that atheistic nations have been singularly horrific, Sweden being the exception that proves the rule. Sweden and its ilk exude a politically correct intolerance that I would find suffocating, so I don't look to them as model societies either.

Anonymous said...

I lived nine years in the former Soviet Union (Russia and Central Asia). The levels of corruption in these formerly atheist states would embarrass a congressman. I think the only reason atheism is associated with low crime in the States is that it is something of a boutique religion, espoused by people who are not particularly prone to crime at any rate.

JayMan said...

I recently discussed this very topic on my own blog.

Let us HBD'ers not forget what is at the root of behavior. Religion (or lack thereof) is a byproduct, not a source.

Anonymous 10:45 has got the gist. Atheists who have solid (and often defensible) beliefs in their atheism (an oxymoron in this instance) are going to be more intelligent, on average, than those who are lackadaisical about their lack of religion. I suspect that much of the increase in "non-believers" comes from this group, those loosely attached to religion in the first place. Keep in mind Charles Murray's Fishtown.

Anonymous 12:25, that is such a strawman. Yes, the Nazi and Marxist regimes professed to be atheistic, but one can call their ideological dogmas religions. Of course, again, religion isn't a cause of behavior, but a symptom of the forces that generate behavior.

Jim Bowery said...

How do atheism and ethics relate?


The effect of ethics on labor market success: Evidence from MBAs

Andrew Hussey,
Department of Economics, Fogelman College of Business & Economics, University of Memphis, 423 Fogelman College Admin Bldg., Memphis, TN 38104-3120, United States


This paper empirically investigates the link between ethics, earnings and gender. Using a self-reported measure from a longitudinal survey of registrants for the Graduate Management Admission Test, we find that ethical character is negatively associated with males’ wages. For females, however, this relationship does not hold. In addition, using measures of the degree to which ethics is emphasized in business school curricula as an indicator for enhancement of individual ethical standards of graduates, we investigate variation in the returns to an MBA degree. We find that the larger the degree to which males report that business education enhanced their ethical character, the lower their wages, holding other aspects of their education constant. For females, however, enhanced ethics through business school is positively and significantly associated with returns to the MBA degree. More objective measures of ethics emphasis in business school curricula provide further support of these findings.

Dan said...

JayMan ridiculously called the deaths of 100 million under atheistic regimes a strawman. I wonder how many deaths would be needed in JayMan's world to constitute a substantive argument? A billion? Two billion?

Jayman, with the mind of a small child, is apparently unable to even distinguish among belief systems, as if Christianity to JayMan's limited cognition is the same as Islam is the same as Communism.

No, Marxism is not a religion. It is precisely a lack of one, dogmatically enforced. The goal of Marxism is to eradicate religion, as Jayman would understand if he had even a twelve year old's understanding of history.

The fact that the world's strictly atheistic societies have lined up almost perfectly with the world's most murderous is not a concidence at all. Almost all religon (and Marxism is not one) teaches that murder is very sinful. People should not commit murder because there are eternal consequences on your soul, or the next life in the case of Buddhism or Hinduism.

The concept of sin doesn't even make sense or have meaning to an atheist.

Why should an atheist do what's right, beyond legal or social consequences? Why should an atheist do what's right when nobody is looking or when yiou can get away with doing wrong? What does 'right' even mean to an atheist? Beats me...

I was an atheist for some years and I could never answer those questions...

Anonymous said...

100 million victims of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, etc. etc. would beg to differ, if they were still around to share. That is 17 holocausts, but who is counting?

Well, whatever that is, it isn't *crime*. Any more than wars of religion (which are overstated by Dawkins et al and I'm not saying are equivalent, just using as an example) or the Lord's Resistance Army or the Jihadis are crime or criminals.

I lived nine years in the former Soviet Union (Russia and Central Asia). The levels of corruption in these formerly atheist states would embarrass a congressman.

I somehow doubt they were *less* corrupt when they were officially Russian Orthodox and Muslim...

Why should an atheist do what's right, beyond legal or social consequences?

Because other people and their welfare genuinely matter (hedonic altruism) or because some things are just wrong (deontology).

Not really a problem unless you're a psycho who has no empathy and is only motivated to do good by "the bottom line" of whether he gets into paradise or not...

Dan said...

"100 million victims of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, etc. etc. ...

Well, whatever that is, it isn't *crime*."

Ahem! Cough, cough...

These weren't just black boxes that magically killed like an unfortunate virus. Countless millions of moral decisions, both active and passive, were made by countless millions of people in these countries over years and decades. This is extremely damning of the moral fabric in those places and times.

There are theories about how morality is supposed to work absent something underlying it, but when the rubber meets the road, consequences have repeatedly been just awful.

pat said...

I think many here are too quick to link atheism with political murder. If that link were real and consistent you would expect that at times when there was more religion then you would expect these times to be particularly pacific and calm. But that doesn't seem to be so.

For example in the seventeenth century the Catholics laid siege to Magdeburg. They killed every man, woman, child and dog inside. They felt justified because those were all Protestants.

Shortly thereafter the Protestants killed every man, woman, child and dog in Drogheda.

This kind of low tech murder is actually more deadly than a nuclear strike or a Nazi death camp. There is every reason to believe that had either side in the Thirty Year's War had the technology of the Nazis they would have replicated every Nazi atrocity.

America was founded in the light of the Thirty Years War atrocities. Freedom of religion was a doctrine that attempted to avoid the kind of nearly permanent religious warfare they saw in Europe.

The Founding Fathers were worried about religion not atheism.

Albertosaurus

Dan said...

"I think many here are too quick to link atheism with political murder."

Apparently to some committed atheists, the massive murder counts under Marxism, repeated over and over again in virtually every Marxist state in history, simply don't count. How convenient. As long as you have the state as an accomplice, murder is okay?

"If that link were real and consistent you would expect that at times when there was more religion then you would expect these times to be particularly pacific and calm. But that doesn't seem to be so."

Comparing crime before the industrial revolution to crime after is a fool's game. All societies were Malthusian then. Of course crime is higher in a Malthusian world.

"For example in the seventeenth century the Catholics laid siege to Magdeburg. They killed every man, woman, child and dog inside. They felt justified because those were all Protestants."

Thirty years war... cute... gotta dig 400 years into the past for that one, and it's not even in the top 10 human disasters. And we all know it was much more about political power than religion per se. Protestant and Catholic were the fracture lines of a political power struggle in Europe.

What societies in peacetime have opted to murder large portions of their populations over and over again? One kind stands out by itself.

"The Founding Fathers were worried about religion not atheism."

That's why the founders wrote freedom of relgion into the constitution? Indeed much of America was colonized by religious refuges.

The founders afraid of religion? Please. Just, please.

'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'

JayMan said...

@Dan:

Why do religious people resort to personal attacks whenever they think someone criticizes their religion?

Religion is any belief system you have to take on faith—doubly so if it is organized, with a clear hierarchical leadership—triply so if it has an in-group/out-group exclusivity to it. When you can't rely on logical inquiry based on empirical evidence to sustain a belief, then you're in territory of religion.

Nazism and Marxism qualify. Christianity is no different from these or Islam or Norse Mythology, in this regard. Don't think that your faith is exempt from being faith just because it's yours.

Of course, I don't expect to change your mind, for the reasons I talk about on my blog. But for the benefit of readers, I'll respond to your claims.

"The fact that the world's strictly atheistic societies have lined up almost perfectly with the world's most murderous is not a concidence at all. Almost all religon (and Marxism is not one) teaches that murder is very sinful. People should not commit murder because there are eternal consequences on your soul, or the next life in the case of Buddhism or Hinduism."

You must realize that that is complete rubbish. Is that what goes on in Muslim societies? How about sub-Saharan Africa?

"The concept of sin doesn't even make sense or have meaning to an atheist.

Why should an atheist do what's right, beyond legal or social consequences?"


You do realize that the concepts of "right" and "wrong" are human inventions, yes? A system of rules governing behavior is necessary for a social species. Even then, as HBD'ers should well know, what is considered moral varies from group to group. After all isn't that the crux of what HBD'ers discuss, especially with respect to other groups, like say Muslims? What we embrace as "right" is what is currently fashionable in modern Western society. An atheist is moral for the same reason that most people are moral: they are compelled to because it is their nature.

"I was an atheist for some years and I could never answer those questions..."

It's not too late to go back...

Dan said...

JayMan --

I haven't even addressed what is true or not, although I have my opinions.

My point is that I would not want to live in a society dominated by atheists, just based on what I have empirically seen.

Yes, Marxism has been overwhelmingly more murderous than even what you've gotten in Subsaharan Africa or Islamic theocracies. Simple math.

But Mr. I-know-all-about HBD, you should know that an apples-to-apples comparison wouldn't pit Marxist China against Sub-Saharan Africa. When an apples-to-apples comparison is done between the USSR and Western Europe or America, or between North and South Korea, the differences are grotesque.

No, Marxism is not a religion, as much as Reverend Dawkins may teach his pupils that it is. There is no divine in Marxism, no religious belief in any normal sense. It is based on materialism, which is precisely a denial of all that is divine.

This business about groups is contrived expressly for the purpose of distancing aggressive atheism from many bad things it has been mucked up with.

"You do realize that the concepts of "right" and "wrong" are human inventions, yes?"

Thank you for making my point. A society where a few people believe that can function pretty well. A society where most people believe that, not so much.

You are interested politically incorrect speech. Does it trouble you that politically incorrect speech is literally becoming illegal in places where atheism is ascendant? Think about it: Canada, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany... Freedom of speech and thought fared badly as you know in eastern Europe, China, the USSR for much of the 20th century.

That's just it: if there are no absolutes, then certainly an absolute right to free speech is an early casualty.

"It's not too late to go back..."

Why? Religious people are happier, for obvious reasons.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/152723/religious-americans-enjoy-higher-wellbeing.aspx

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/301/are-we-happy-yet

But the biggest problem of all with a society full of atheists is that atheists have astonishingly low birthrates, far below replacement.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100010450/a-nightmare-for-richard-dawkins-statistics-show-that-atheists-are-a-dying-breed/

http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/faith-equals-fertility

As you say, you undestand HBD. By proselytizing atheism in the west, you hasten the decline of western people. Thanks, bro...

pat said...

Anonymous fisked my earlier comment. I should probably just drop it but I'll fisk back:

Apparently to some committed atheists, the massive murder counts under Marxism, repeated over and over again in virtually every Marxist state in history, simply don't count. How convenient. As long as you have the state as an accomplice, murder is okay?

Who the hell are these committed atheists? What does that even mean? As I tried to point out I don't push non-belief. I favor tolerance. If you don't believe in God, you shouldn't be talking about Him all the time. People who want to tell other people what they should think, are people I avoid. I don't think Dawkins or Hitchens are right to label religion as a universal source of all human trouble. God just doesn't come up as a topic of conversation in everyday life very often.

Comparing crime before the industrial revolution to crime after is a fool's game. All societies were Malthusian then. Of course crime is higher in a Malthusian world.

I'm sorry, but the Age of Religion was simply before the Industrial Revolution. Most people identify the thirteeth century (The Golden Century) as the peak of religious belief in the West. Conventional historians note that relgion has been waning in the West since then. The tempo of non-belief increased in the nineteenth century with Darwin. In developed countries it currently looks as if religion will continue to fade as a public or political concern. Or maybe not. Everything may reverse, but it doesn't look that way today.

Thirty years war... cute... gotta dig 400 years into the past for that one, and it's not even in the top 10 human disasters. And we all know it was much more about political power than religion per se. Protestant and Catholic were the fracture lines of a political power struggle in Europe.

The Thirty Years War should be relevant to all Americans because it was on the minds of the Founding Fathers. I didn't have to dig that up. Everyone who helped craft the First Amendment knew about the Treaty of Westphalia. There were no atheists in the Constitutional Convention in the fully modern sense but Washington, Franklin and Jefferson were deists - a popular label for non-believers before Darwin.

The founders afraid of religion? Please. Just, please.

Since you asked so politely, I'll try to respond. Several states were poised to create "established religions" under the Articles of Confederation. Maryland would probably have chosen Catholicism and Massachusetts some Protestant sect. Rhode Island would go another way yet. The result would have been that there was no hope for national unity. Yes, the Founders were afraid that sectarian differences would permanent obviate the possibility of a single nation.

You continuously equate atheism with communism - hardly fair or logical. Yet you bristle when someone ponts out the obvious historical fact that there have been some very nasty believers also. You don't want to examine the consequences of belief in the past. You also seem to conflate all religion with Christianity. I don't think it makes much sense to attribute the murderous practices of some Africans with atheism.

I'm resolutely opposed to communism, also socialism or even simple Democrats. A lot of my fellow Republicans are real in-your-face bible thumpers. I don't care. I think the connection between virtue and any one set of beliefs is complex and tricky. Ghandi wasn't a Christian and Savonarola was. Being Christain probably makes you a better person but it is hardly determinative.

Whoever you are Mr. Anonymous you seem to be filled with bitterness and hatred. That works against your pro-religion message. Please note I don't have a pro-atheist message.

Albertosaurus

JayMan said...

Dan,

"But Mr. I-know-all-about HBD, you should know that an apples-to-apples comparison wouldn't pit Marxist China against Sub-Saharan Africa. When an apples-to-apples comparison is done between the USSR and Western Europe or America"

Ah, but that's just it: those aren't apples to apples comparisons. Those groups have different ideological leanings in good part because of their recent evolutionary history. Hence they are more like apples and pears, keeping with the analogy.

Irrelogisity in general appears to be a product of higher IQ. All of the higher IQ societies are considerably less religious than the lower IQ ones.

The crux of the point I'm making, as I've pointed out on my blog, is that people's bad behavior stems not from the fact that they believe in a religion, but from the nature of the people. This, includes the atrocities of the Fascist and Marxist regimes.

""You do realize that the concepts of "right" and "wrong" are human inventions, yes?"

Thank you for making my point. A society where a few people believe that can function pretty well. A society where most people believe that, not so much.


Well, that's basically because most people are too dumb to feel a sense of right and wrong without the social/internal pressure of religious doctrine.

Would I be happy if this were a world where most people were irreligious? Sure, but I know that that's never going to happen. Not unless the intelligent, well-behaved, and secular folks became the dominant group in the population—which also isn't going to happen any time soon.

Think about it: Canada, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany... Freedom of speech and thought fared badly as you know in eastern Europe, China, the USSR for much of the 20th century.

Hey there's a reason I'm in America. That said, that's a red herring. The lack of freedom of speech in these places has nothing to do with their low religiosity.

Why? Religious people are happier, for obvious reasons.

Are they obvious reasons? Actually, this is a good thing to research. People with higher IQs are more likely to have depression/anxiety disorders, among other things. And of course, people with higher IQs are less likely to be religious. I'd like to see if the association between religiosity and happiness holds if we control for IQ.

"But the biggest problem of all with a society full of atheists is that atheists have astonishingly low birthrates, far below replacement."

Indeed, however that may be related to IQ (with respect to the global population, anyway; within America religiosity does seem to be related to fertility). Yet this may not necessarily be a bad thing. As highly K-selected peoples, higher IQ groups may be more inclined to curtail their fertility when resources become limited (in this case expensive) thanks to crowding. Perhaps this is part of a negative feedback loop of sorts: once the population begins to decline, and space becomes available (and hence cost of living decreases), perhaps fertility will again increase. Of course, lower-IQ/high-fecund immigrants would upset this process, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Ooh wheeee! this thread has taken an interesting turn.

Lemme throw this little wrench in here.


Do you think the atheist regimes on average killed more of high IQ people than low IQ people among them?

Is the resulting fitness of those populations now higher or lower?

Anonymous said...

God bless Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot for their glorious reigns on the world.

They truly were His angels.

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