Data vs. Republicans

Of course it is so patently ridiculous to anybody who knows anything about the actual world that our epidemic of gun violence has to do with a lack of religiosity by Americans.  I mean, come on– so, so stupid.  Alas, Mike Huckabee and other Republican politicians have said exactly this.  But, I appreciate Sociology professor Philip Zuckerman going all social scientist and showing us just how stupid this is:

The interesting thing about this hypothesis is that it is easy to test. You’ve got an independent variable (faith in God) and a dependent variable (gun violence). The hypothesis put forth by Huckabee and other Christian moralizers comes down to this: When a given society has a higher amount of faith in God, the rate of gun violence should be correspondingly lower. Conversely, the lower the amount of faith in God, the higher the rate of gun violence.

But social science finds the exact opposite correlation.

The facts show that strong faith in God does not diminish gun violence, nor does a lack of such faith increase gun violence.

Here’s one crystal-clear example: Faith in God is extremely high in the Philippines. One study found that the country “leads the world” in terms of its strength of faith in God, with 94% of people there saying they have always believed in God. Comparatively, the Czech Republic, is one of the most atheistic nations in the world, with only about 20% of Czechs believing in God. According to Huckabee’s hypothesis, violence and murder rates should be much worse in the Czech Republic and much better in the Philippines.

But the reality is different: The murder rate in the Philippines is nearly 10 times higher than it is in the Czech Republic, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

This same correlation holds true for nearly every country in the world: Those with the strongest rates of belief in God — such as El Salvador, Columbia, Honduras, Jamaica, and Yemen — tend to experience the most violence, while those with the lowest rates — such as Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand and Australia — tend to experience the lowest levels of violence. [emphases mine]

Are there exceptions? Yes. For example, New Zealand experienced a horrific mass shooting in March. Norway did as well, in 2011. But when looking at averages and correlations over time, the statistical relationship they reveal is unambiguous: Huckabee’s hypothesis doesn’t hold water.

By any standard measure, the safest countries in the world are highly secularized nations like Iceland, Denmark, Canada, Slovenia and South Korea — where faith in God is very low. And the most dangerous countries include fervently faithful places such as the Central African Republic, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela and Belize — places steeped in faith in God.

But the analysis can also be applied closer to home, to the 50 states. According to the Pew Religious Landscape survey, the states with the strongest levels of faith in God include Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Those with the lowest levels of belief in God are Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. And, as expected, when it comes to homicide rates and violent crime rates in general, the least faithful states in America tend to experience far less than the most faithful.

Of course, there are many different reasons that some nations — or states — have higher rates of violence. For instance, higher rates of gun ownership have been tied to higher rates of domestic homicides. Factors like economics, politics, culture and a host of other aspects of social life also play their part.

But that’s the point. People’s relationship with the divine doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with it. Huckabee’s hypothesis needs to be rejected not only because it is statistically incorrect, but because it’s also inhumane: By blaming mass shootings on a lack of God-worship, he is implicitly asserting that the many victims of gun violence, well, deserved it.

Of course, when has the modern incarnation of the Republican party ever let a little something like overwhelming empirical evidence get in the way of what they want to believe.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to Data vs. Republicans

  1. homeys44 says:

    One of the lamer social science studies I’ve seen…..which is saying quite a lot. Setting aside whether South American drug cartel members are faithtful Catholics or not……I am pretty sure that young mass spree killers are overwhelmingly atheist. I’m not saying that thats what drives them to kill people, but seriously…..can sociologists look into it, instead of doing the “look, bad Honduran Christians kill eachother too!!”

    • Steve Greene says:

      Damn, the mental gymnastics you must go through every day to pretend that you are motivated by truth-seeking and data and yet ignore the obvious explanatory factor– gun policy!– as if religion actually has anything to do with this (which is, really, the point).

      • homeys44 says:

        I didn’t say that religion was a major factor, its just that atheism among these spree killers almost certainly wasn’t a plus….so why would a sociologist bother to argue this? And then to deflect and somehow imply that drug gang members are really devout Christians, Just lame.Unfortunately, liberals refuse to critique even the most ridiculous social science….so long as it agrees with them,

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