Pharyngula

We are such bad boys

I wish I hadn’t missed this when it come out a few years ago. A professor of sociology and comparative religion asked why women were more religious than men, and he ruled out socialization and cultural differences somehow, to come to a surprising conclusion.

“We looked for an obvious simple explanation, but nothing worked except physiology,” said Stark. “People studying crime also have looked at socialization and they can’t find a reason that explains the gender difference except a physiological one. Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.”

Did this guy just compare atheism to murder and rape?

So not believing in Jesus is just like sticking a knife in someone?

Don’t cross me, man. I’m dangerous.

Comments

  1. #1 Ric
    May 16, 2008

    That is about the most retarded argument I’ve read since… the last time I read anything written on Uncommon Descent.

  2. #2 Brian English
    May 16, 2008

    So not believing in Jesus is just like sticking a knife in someone?

    Unlikely, but believing in Jesus is partaking in the ritual sacrifice of a god-man and loving it. :)

  3. #3 Zifnab
    May 16, 2008

    You know, I had half a desire to defend that comment – basically arguing that when you give up religion, you put your “soul” on the line in the same way that you put your life on the line when you risk getting caught for a more secular crime.

    But then I re-read it a couple times and… that’s just… no. That’s dumb. I can’t believe someone would fail so hard at an analogy. *sigh*

  4. #4 Mike Fox
    May 16, 2008

    My dad can beat up your dad.

  5. #5 BT Murtagh
    May 16, 2008

    What exactly is shortsighted, risky and impulsive about simple rationality?

  6. #6 zer0
    May 16, 2008

    Rodney Stark wins… at failing.

  7. #7 Jason
    May 16, 2008

    PZ – you missed a gem in that article!

    “Stark said lower rates of male religiousness is a form of risk-taking behavior just as criminality is, and men are far more likely to commit crimes than women.”

    My thoughts? Prove it. What is being risked?

  8. #8 Reginald Selkirk
    May 16, 2008

    Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.

    While impulsiveness might explain behavior, I don’t see how it could influence belief in the same way.

  9. #9 Zeno
    May 16, 2008

    A grown-up professor of sociology wrote that? Wow! Maybe I should have believed that college kid who claimed that his Fresno State philosophy professor taught him that there is no morality without religion:

    I learned that it is meaningless for an atheist to claim to be moral without some interacting force, namely a loving God.

    Yes, we nonbelievers are free to do whatever we want! Ha, ha, ha! Beware!

    The truth about atheists

  10. #10 djlactin
    May 16, 2008

    Well, giving the guy a (n undeserved) break. Maybe being an atheist IS risky in some segments of society…

  11. #11 Moses
    May 16, 2008

    That makes no sense. Becoming an atheist is about shedding pre-programing that you weren’t born with over a period of time as you work through the deprogramming process. I know for some, like myself, it was brutally fast from yes to no, but there was still a lead up process where I was struggling with reconciling the back-ground information.

    Maybe he’s just full of shit and is projecting his own desires on the process. Or, maybe, it’s like the Kinsey Reports on sex thing. Men claim more partners than they really have. Women claim fewer. For decades everyone believes until one-day somebody realizes that in very-closely balanced population, the genders need to be almost the same in partner count and everyone has a laugh about it.

    As was seen in the Kinsey case, the entire study was ruined by self-reporting bias where men slightly puffed up their partners and women drastically reduced theirs. However, unlike the sex thing, there’s no participatory population to check the result so the very real biased self-reporting (of which women in our society are demonstrated the bigger liars then men against “negatives” and for “positives”) could remain unfounded.

    I think the difference could far more easily be explained by gender reporting bias than some non-causal, counter-intuitive reason than impulse control. Unless, of course, you might have an axe to grind and would like to grind it in the backs of atheists.

  12. #12 MissAgentGirl
    May 16, 2008

    hmmmm….2000 years of an oppressive patriarchal religion, I just don’t see any reasons why more women might submit to it… Now where’s my berka?

  13. #13 Sigmund
    May 16, 2008

    Isn’t this just another way of phrasing Pascal’s wager?

  14. #14 Stwriley
    May 16, 2008

    I don’t know what’s worse, that Stark’s argument is itself so astoundingly wrong on every level or that a journal that calls itself “The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion” would print something that is so logically and methodologically flawed.

  15. #15 Taz
    May 16, 2008

    Obviously if someone truly doesn’t believe god exists, they wouldn’t perceive any risk from being an atheist. This jackass is saying that there are no real atheists. We all believe in god, we’re just being defiant.

  16. #16 matt
    May 16, 2008

    I prefer to flip that around and say that maybe women are more stable, social people who are afraid of upsetting social norms. After all, men don’t hold as many social grudges but I know my lady friends can be quite vicious about each other sometimes (not always). My mom in particular is all about the status quo. She’d probably mentally break down and give me a blank stare if I told her I was atheist.

  17. #17 CalGeorge
    May 16, 2008

    Wikipedia:

    One of Stark’s hallmarks is writing with respect about the religions he studies.
    [...]
    Rodney Stark: [...] Atheism is an active faith; it says, “I believe there is no God.” But I don’t know what I believe. I was brought up a Lutheran in Jamestown, North Dakota. I have trouble with faith. I’m not proud of this. I don’t think it makes me an intellectual. I would believe if I could, and I may be able to before it’s over. I would welcome that.”

    Poor guy. Maybe if he prayed a little harder…

  18. #18 Bartholomew
    May 16, 2008

    Splice this with Medved’s piece from the other day and we can see that atheism is actually in American DNA…

  19. #19 Susan
    May 16, 2008

    women were more religious than men

    Yet another study proving I’m actually male. This happens all the time.

  20. #20 qbsmd
    May 16, 2008

    I once read an article claiming that most people who are raised religious become less so in their teens and twenties, but then become more religious after having children. It also claimed that that effect is stronger in women. I don’t seem to have it bookmarked, but maybe someone here has seen it.

  21. #21 reason
    May 16, 2008

    mmm…
    I read the whole newspaper report hoping it would be better, but it isn’t. Obviously they haven’t considered the evidence too closely, because if what they are saying is true then criminal men would also be less likely to be religious. But my understanding of the evidence is that the opposite is the case. My guess is that women are more convinced that their feelings are correct (their intuition?), and so are more easily lead into religion. Men are just naturally more sceptical. This could still be physiological, but just not the same particular physiological component.

    I wonder if you test the same sort of thing with other primates (to avoid the conditioning assumptions). Are male primates less likely to fall for magical explainations of observed events and seek natural explainations? There could even be an evolutionary explaination with males being more expendable and so more willing to expend effort and take risks trying to find the real explaination for novel phenomena.

  22. #22 Petter I
    May 16, 2008

    I wonder what his conclusions would have been if he haden’t been religious himself. It would maybe have been an interesting study then.

  23. #23 Richard
    May 16, 2008

    What is the percentage of atheists in prison in the US? Less than 1% isn’t it?
    One might also ask what percentage of Christians have selective hearing when the Ten Commandments or “love thy neighbor as thyself” are being preached to them.

    Just another “opposite day” in Jesusland I presume.

  24. #24 Monika K
    May 16, 2008

    I can’t believe this came out of the UW! An obvious test of this nonsensical hypothesis is to see whether religiosity correlates with criminal behavior. Oh wait, someone already did this – religiosity positively correlates with criminal behavior, if you look at our prison population. Maybe atheists are just better at getting away with it. Let’s look at what else this idiotic journal publishes.

  25. #25 JimboB
    May 16, 2008

    This is worse than a book called “The Atheist Syndrome.” The book’s author tries to make the case that atheists are all psychologically impaired because of bad relationships with their dads; which in turn leads to paranoia, loss of appetite, and bed-wetting.

  26. #26 ungtss
    May 16, 2008

    So why do women tend to be more religious than dudes? If (as I’ve heard PZ say many times), atheism is an exercise in rationality, and women tend not to be atheist (empirical fact), does that mean women are less rational than dudes?

    That’s not a conclusion that will lead to popularity.

    And if (as I’ve heard from many other sources) religion is inherently patriarchal and oppressive to women, why do women tend to be more religious than the dudes who could benefit from the oppression?

    What’s the explanation, from the “atheism is so obviously right you’d have to be stupid to disagree with us” camp?

  27. #27 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Susan…
    It doesn’t say that. It says you deserve more respect than us males do, having the courage to reject magical thinking is harder for you.

  28. #28 Toni
    May 16, 2008

    I assume it’s a bad quote. In the social context, men are more willing to take social risks for greater (social) gain in the end – positive example would be enterpreneurship, negative criminal behaviour as in the quote. In this sense, men are happier to resign from their religion, as they are willing to risk the social stability in order to gain freedom of thought.

  29. #29 Curt Cameron
    May 16, 2008

    I don’t find the link to risk-taking as surprising. After all, if you’re born religious, even starting down the path to question your religion is seen as risky behavior. We see now that we’ve made the trip, that the risk wasn’t really there, but you have to think about it from the theist’s POV. Most are not comfortable with questioning their faith because of the risk it entails to their soul.

    What I did find offensive was this statement:

    “Recent studies of biochemistry imply that both male irreligiousness and male lawlessness are rooted in the fact that far more males than females have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses, especially those involving immediate gratification and thrills.”

    Atheists are atheists because we can’t inhibit our impulses?!? WTF?

  30. #30 Eric
    May 16, 2008

    @Rodney #13:
    That was my first thought too. It’s considered risky because… what, there’s an infinitesimal chance that one of those religions might be true, and we’re taking the risk of going to one of the millions of proposed hells (with corresponding millions of contradicting conditions for entrance)?

    Man, I am such a risk-taker. I walked outside today even though there was a chance that a while and a flowerpot would materialize out of thin air this morning and fall on my head. No female would ever do anything that risky.

  31. #31 Katharine
    May 16, 2008

    Susan, I had the same exact thought.

    I hate it when assholes generalize from a group to an individual.

  32. #32 Bruce
    May 16, 2008

    Well, it looks like the sociologists have figured us out. I’m not inclined to rape and murder (had a long night) but I could be up for some pillaging later in the day, say around 4 pm. Anyone want to come along?

  33. #33 Serena
    May 16, 2008

    Maybe women are more religious because we’ve been emotionally, mentally, and physically beat down by these belief systems.

    Some of us don’t even know we have an option much less the self esteem to choose.
    I see God as the ultimate abusive boyfriend.
    “You know I don’t mean to hurt you baby. I’m just trying to let you know that what your doing is a sin. Don’t worry your pretty little face about it, it’s not for you to understand. You just leave that to me and do as I say.”

    Asshole.

    Is it only dangerous to be an nonbeliever towards Christianity? If were just hedging our bets we may as well get serious about it.

  34. #34 Jenny K. Dean
    May 16, 2008

    It is a fact that going from belief, or at least practice, to declaring yourself an atheist is dangerous. You may not think that atheists worry about their soul, but it is a hard thing for some people not to wonder about. Regardless, when everyone you love is worried about your afterlife and crying over it, that hurts. It strains relationships.

    Being an atheist was the one thing that made me a rebellious teenager and it made me a bad person in many people’s eyes. Then when I got my first job, a supervisor asked me which church I go to. His eyes got so wide when I said that I was an atheist. These little bits of social pressure add up and girls (especially in religious families) are not raised to be independent, so it takes a lot of guts to develop that on one’s own.

  35. #35 Chris Nowak
    May 16, 2008

    Psychological gender differences are ridiculously overrated…so many “scientific” studies come out every year, evaluating differences in men and women and conclude that obviously there must be a difference in our biology. When in reality, socialization has a HUGE role that is often ignored.

    My theory is that its because many principles of religion (unconditional love, forgiveness) support many women’s socially constructed role of “caretaker”. Of course, that role was probably socially constructed in the first place because of physiological differences. I see this because I see the women who most embrace the “caretaker” role tend to be the most religious – of course, this is just personal observation.

  36. #36 K
    May 16, 2008

    So why do women tend to be more religious than dudes? If (as I’ve heard PZ say many times), atheism is an exercise in rationality, and women tend not to be atheist (empirical fact), does that mean women are less rational than dudes?

    Flawed reasoning. Your “empirical fact” is no more fact than you being Mickey Mouse.

  37. #37 Eric
    May 16, 2008

    Damnit. “Whale.” “Whale.” Not “while.” I can type, damnit, I swear.

  38. #38 Reed A. Cartwright
    May 16, 2008

    I’m pretty sure that if the Christians hadn’t done away with all the female gods with temple prostitutes, you’d see more men worshiping at the town temple than you do today.

  39. #39 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    My guess is that since women are socialized to please others WAY more than men, they’re far more likely to espouse society-pleasing religious beliefs, as the backlash for not doing so is likely to be harsher than for men.

    But then, maybe we’re just all irrational ninnies. (eyeroll)

  40. #40 Dennis N
    May 16, 2008

    Historically, more men go to college than women. This leads to new ideas and a less sheltered life. I imagine that since it is more even now, we’ll see the men/women atheism stats level out.

  41. #41 Colugo
    May 16, 2008

    A perhaps better approach is to note that there is more variance within men than within women. Human (and mammalian, and vertebrate) male reproductive success has higher variance than female RS due to differential potential related to lower baseline physiological and time investment in reproduction. Some males are polygynists or serial monogamists with many children while others fail to reproduce altogether. This promotes not only high risk / high payoff strategies for males in general, but also finding alternative reproductive (mating and paternal) strategies. Some species have distinct morphs; human males form continua. One example of higher variance in human males is intelligence. Another is height.

    Faith affiliation can be thought of as part of a reproductive strategy. So it might be expected for there to be both more male atheists and more male fanatic cultists.

    Of course, there might be flawed assumptions in this model.

  42. #42 Paul W.
    May 16, 2008

    If we take the members of the National Academy of Science as representative of top scientists, non-theists are about 100 times as likely to become top scientists as theists. Nontheists do almost an order of magnitude more than their share of top science, and theists do more than an order of magnitude less than their share.

    (About 10 percent of the population is nontheistic, but 93 percent of the NAS is. Wow.)

    Atheist’s poor impulse control seems to make them about 100 times more likely to go to college, go into science, get through grad school, land a job as a working scientist, establish a research program, and excel at discovering scientific knowledge.

    Maybe poor impulse control isn’t such a bad thing.

  43. #43 joe
    May 16, 2008

    Here’s a better possible explanation.

    Women in typical patriarchal society feel less secure in breaking ‘rules’ because they have at least anecdotal evidence that their punishment is harsher and their rights are more easily taken away.

    Atheism resembles crime in that it involves breaking ‘rules’. However the difference is that the rules atheists break are irrational and stupid.
    I think that research on rule-following and punishment in primate societies is a very interesting topic of research right now, and it might shed some light on why people continue to believe in and enforce some really stupid rules.

  44. #44 kirk
    May 16, 2008

    Obviously he has never sen any of the studies that show a disproportionate amount of people in prison are Christian. Seems like 70-80% Christian versus .2-.3% Atheist. Now who’s the criminal, a-hole!

  45. #45 reason
    May 16, 2008

    There is another possible reason of course. Women are more closely socially bonded than men, and so if shared beliefs are part of that bonding (women are always so insistant about “listening” – meaning something more than hearing) then that could be the cause. I would like to see some attempt to test various hypotheses here. The one he chose seems to founder as soon as you look at the evidence.

  46. #46 kirk
    May 16, 2008

    Obviously he has never seen any of the studies that show a disproportionate amount of people in prison are Christian. It seems like it was 70-80% Christian versus .2-.3% Atheist. Now who’s the criminal, a-hole!

  47. #47 Jeremy
    May 16, 2008

    I always thought that women statistically performed more crimes than men, but men were more likely to “go big”, and thus get caught more often. Does anyone know about this?

  48. #48 Flex
    May 16, 2008

    Ungtss wrote, “why do women tend to be more religious than the dudes…?”

    First you have to prove that assertion. Which means defining what it means to be religious.

    Being religous means far more than believing in the sky-daddy. In fact, I suspect that plenty of people partake of the social aspects of religion without ever even considering the idea that the sky-daddy is nonsense. They still call themselves religious.

  49. #49 S. Scott
    May 16, 2008

    Being a woman, I can understand where the view that women are more religious than men comes from – but I don’t understand how a man can come to that conclusion.

    Child birth really has such an extreme/profound effect on how you view everything in life – I don’t know if it has the same effect on men.

    Maybe some of you dads can let us know.

    I guess the maternal instinct is being confused with “God”.

  50. #50 Selcaby
    May 16, 2008

    The article isn’t just talking about atheists, it’s talking about people who are “less religious”. That covers people who do believe, but don’t do anything about it. For those people I think the argument could work. Compare statistics about men being less likely to go to the doctor because problems with their health apparently don’t bother them as much.

  51. #51 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    women are always so insistant about “listening” – meaning something more than hearing

    Are you referring to actual women, or sitcom characters?

  52. #52 Carlie
    May 16, 2008

    I’d say it has more to do with the role of women in society and the role of the church in society. Women were traditionally made to be the gatekeepers of the family, responsible for the upbringing and societal integration of the young’uns. At the same time, the church was put up as the best way to make a society coherent and righteous. Put those together, and women are forced to be the religious ones by default. If society makes them in charge of the moral worth of children, and society declares that the church is the seat of morality, then women are the ones forcing everyone to go to church every week.

  53. #53 Matt Penfold
    May 16, 2008

    Well it seems pretty clear that Stark has trouble thinking.

    Here is then opening to an essay he wrote claiming there is not valid theory explaining the origins of species:

    “I write as neither a creationist nor a Darwinist, but as one who knows what is probably the most disreputable scientific secret of the past century: There is no plausible scientific theory of the origin of species! Darwin himself was not sure he had produced one, and for many decades every competent evolutionary biologist has known that he did not. Although the experts have kept quiet when true believers have sworn in court and before legislative bodies that Darwin’s theory is proven beyond any possible doubt, that’s not what reputable biologists, including committed Darwinians, have been saying to one another.”

    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ideas/050210darwin.html

    I can only hope he understands sociology better than the understands science. Somehow though I doubt it. His head is obviously just something he used to put his hat on.

  54. #54 Michelle
    May 16, 2008

    The only reason I can come up with is that we women are maybe more overly careful. Or scarridy cats. Ouuuh hell, dunt wanna go there. I dunno. But I’m godless and I’m not sticking a knife into anyone.

    …Unless this is GTA. Is this GTA? Can I steal your car and roll you over with it? Please?

  55. #55 The Good Doctor
    May 16, 2008

    I sent the author of the study an e-mail (his address being at the bottom of the page) to show him the error of his ways.

    Clearly the man should have looked at previous studies that suggested women are more likely to believe in things like astrology and ghosts than men are. No offense to the free-thinking women who read this blog of course!

  56. #56 Hematite
    May 16, 2008

    Women (or anyone) who attend church don’t necessarily believe. I find it easy to believe that women are more likely to participate in the social aspects of churchgoing.

  57. #57 ajay
    May 16, 2008

    Obviously he has never seen any of the studies that show a disproportionate amount of people in prison are Christian. Seems like 70-80% Christian versus .2-.3% Atheist

    Well, obviously that just proves that atheists are more competent criminals. You’ll never catch us, copper!

    In answer to the original post – I think he’s right. In a highly religious state like the US, atheism is indeed a risky choice, and I’m quite prepared to believe that women are more risk-averse than men. I bet there were more male than female anti-Party dissidents in the USSR, for exactly the same reason.

  58. #58 Molly, NYC
    May 16, 2008

    People–men and women–go in for religion when they think they don’t have other options; it tends to attract the powerless. That’s why people are likely to pray when they’re really screwed, and why missionaries target the miserable and poor, and why some people think that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” (It’s also why it takes a certain degree of courage to admit that there’s no God out there who has your back.)

    So who’s got more power in this culture, men or women?

  59. #59 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    No offense to the free-thinking women who read this blog of course!

    As long as you don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there’s a biological reason for it, none taken!

  60. #60 Seraphiel
    May 16, 2008

    This trend could have a lot of other factors that aren’t being considered.

    For example, in many of the most dominant religions, women are trained to be subservient, to respect imposed authority (from invisible monsters as well as their families), and in general treated (at best) like walking incubators. Islam is by far one of the worst offenders in this category, but several strains of Christianity display similar levels of misogyny.

  61. #61 chancelikely
    May 16, 2008

    To be fair – leaving your church could be fairly described as a risky behaviour. I think Stark’s analysis is nonsensical when it comes to belief itself, but may be on the money when it comes to outward expression of that belief. If this is the case we should see closeted atheists skew female.

  62. #62 Tushar
    May 16, 2008

    I’m not sure if this has already been posted but here goes:

    http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ideas/050210darwin.html

  63. #63 CrypticLife
    May 16, 2008

    He phrased this rather badly. Before reading his article, I’m going to give him some slight benefit of the doubt.

    Atheism IS a social risk. It’s breaking a social rule. And males break social rules more frequently than females (breaking social rules can be a good thing as well as bad — it tends to irritate elementary school teachers, but can produce breakthroughs).

    It’s possible, I suppose, that he inadvertently phrased it negatively. If so, he is guilty of being stupid rather than reprehensible.

  64. #64 Tushar
    May 16, 2008

    Ah! I’ve just noticed that Matt Penfold had already pasted that link.

    Apologies!

  65. #65 dinkum
    May 16, 2008

    Meh. The guy’s a sociologist. Any discipline requiring distinct courses in scientific method is a bit on the shady side anyway.

  66. #66 ungtss
    May 16, 2008

    Here’s a simple poll on church attendence: shows a 12% gap in weekly church attendance between men and women.

    http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/church_poll020301.html

    Of course it’s not a perfect measure of religiosity, but it’s a start.

    Explanations I’ve heard include: “Women are beaten into submission through threat of punishment,” “Women are more into the social aspect of religion due to their increased preference for socializing …” “women are hesitant to break social norms …” and my favorite, “It’s no more true than that you’re mickey mouse.” (truly a brilliant act of reasoning there).

    All of these explanations key in on stereotyped weaknesses of women. Too weak to think for themselves. Social rather than rational. Afraid of violating social norms.

    I’m hearing a lot of sexism against women in here. I find that disturbing.

    I have an alternate hypothesis: Maybe organized religions are actually tuned to the needs of women today, moreso than they are tuned to the needs of men. This doesn’t speak to intelligent, rationality, strength of conviction, or independence from social pressure. It also explains why women express a genuine DESIRE to go to church. It also explains why men shy away from it.

    Any takers? Or are we going to stick with “women are beaten down, social, peer-conscious and less than fully rational?”

  67. #67 Mike Saelim
    May 16, 2008

    And he has an AOL email address. Therefore, anything he says doesn’t matter anyway.

  68. #68 Alfonso Armenta
    May 16, 2008

    Not believing in fairy tales is risk-taking? How about the risk that many believers take of wasting their entire lives and the lives of others on the basis of faith?

  69. #69 Dennis N
    May 16, 2008

    ungtss, at #39 I wrote:

    Historically, more men go to college than women. This leads to new ideas and a less sheltered life. I imagine that since it is more even now, we’ll see the men/women atheism stats level out.

    Your response?

  70. #70 ajay
    May 16, 2008

    I’m hearing a lot of sexism against women in here.

    The “in here” in this sentence presumably means “inside ungtss’ head”…

  71. #71 Nullifidian
    May 16, 2008

    “Recent studies of biochemistry imply that both male irreligiousness and male lawlessness are rooted in the fact that far more males than females have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses, especially those involving immediate gratification and thrills.”

    Yeah, not going to church, not giving my money away to pious frauds with bouffant hairdos, and never believing in any deities is a wild, thrill-a-minute, roller coaster life, let me tell you.

    If that professor makes a bigger effort at affirming religion, there’s a chair of sociology at Liberty University in his future.

  72. #72 CrypticLife
    May 16, 2008

    No, read the article — he is NOT just stupid. He really means to denigrate atheism, and is a vicious bigot.

    His explanation is men have less ability to “curb their impulses”. Even if this is true, it serves as a poor explanation. I didn’t become an atheist on a whim. I don’t stay an atheist on a whim. Becoming an atheist did almost nothing to change my morality.

    This isn’t just a bad argument. It’s bad science. People like him are a cause of despair to those who’d like to see a truly scientific study of psychology.

  73. #73 Paul W.
    May 16, 2008

    I don’t recall the particular measures, but IIRC men tend to show higher variance on a variety of mental traits, including intelligence.

    They’re more likely to be unusually intelligent or unusually unintelligent, more likely to be authoritarian or anti-authoritarian, etc.

    As far as I know those things are not well-explained by poor impulse control. (If they were, that would be an interesting result.)

    So given that the majority is religious, it’s not really surprising that there are more men who are atheists. I think—but don’t know—there are more men who are extreme religious wackaloons as well.

    And if poor impulse control is what causes atheism, I’m really curious how so many atheists manage to become scientists and especially top scientists. Either poor impulse control is good for your scientific ability, or there’s something about atheism that makes you 100 times as likely to become a top scientist despite poor impulse control, or the minority of atheists with good impulse control are doing even more than 100 times their share of top science.

    Go figure. :-)

  74. #74 Heather
    May 16, 2008

    I wonder how much of it has to do with men being traditionally more involved in the sciences? Many scientist are atheists; many scientists are men, therefore you will have a disproportionate number of male atheists.

    In my family, it’s the man who believes.

    I do think the social aspects also have a role in this. Women do seem to enjoy hanging out at church a bit more than men – although there are some exceptions!

  75. #75 brokenSoldier
    May 16, 2008

    It seems to me that – even if you could prove that women are more religious than men, which is doubtful – in a patriarchal society, the male gender is the one who is afforded the most leeway in straying from societal norms. Women in such a society are actively made to conform, while some males have the authority and societal weight to stray from conformation. Since religious belief in this country is definitely a societal norm, being an atheist is still considered socially stigmatic, and as such men have more freedom of expression when it comes to their beliefs. But, in saying that, it doesn’t explain how males are more religious per se, but simply how males are more free to express their doubts about their beliefs than women are ina strictly patriarchal society.

    But, of course, all that was speculation – much like the original article – and I didn’t even need a sociology degree to come up with that.

  76. #76 ungtss
    May 16, 2008

    Historically, more men go to college than women. This leads to new ideas and a less sheltered life. I imagine that since it is more even now, we’ll see the men/women atheism stats level out.

    Interesting hypothesis — could be tested, at least in part.

    For my part, my (female) fiancee is just as educated as I am (terminal degree), and I’d say we’re equally religious, although in different ways. I’m into the philosophical/analytical/historical side of it. She’s into the worship side of it.

    Consequently, she likes to go to church much more than I do, but I like to discuss and debate.

    That’s why I think the “churches are keyed more to the emotional needs of women than to the needs of men.” Go into any church or college bible study and you’ll see more women than dudes. And (according to many church-attending women), the dudes that go to church tend to act like more women.

  77. #77 SC
    May 16, 2008

    No True Sociologist would ever write such a ridiculous thing. :)

    It’s worth noting that, historically, many women who have been active in religious organizations have also been more active publicly in general. For example, in the 19th century, this was one of the few avenues in which women could participate in the public sphere (and thus in movements like anti-slavery, etc.). Same goes for spiritualism/feminism. Thus religion gave them some cover to engage in risk-taking behavior. Which is not to say that they were just using religion instrumentally – the relationships are far more complicated than that – but it is something to consider.

    There’s an interesting and relevant article at the Social Science Research Council’s site “Is Race Real?” by Roger Lancaster about the supposed risk-taking gene:

    raceandgenomics.ssrc.org/

    (They’re all interesting, but this one is most relevant here.)

  78. #78 Flex
    May 16, 2008

    ungtss wrote, “I’m hearing a lot of sexism against women in here. I find that disturbing.”

    I find it disturbing that you automatically assume that church attendance means religous.

  79. #79 ungtss
    May 16, 2008

    I find it disturbing that you automatically assume that church attendance means religous.

    Please read what people write before responding to it. I specifically said it wasn’t a perfect measure, but was a start. Do you disagree with that? I later said that I think my fiancee are equally religious, even though she likes church much more than I do.

    Read and think next time. It’ll help you out. Thanks.

  80. #80 CrypticLife
    May 16, 2008

    ungtss,

    There’s nothing inherently bad, weak, or irrational in being social. If your explanation is that religion is more tuned to the needs of women (which isn’t the worst starting point), you have to say HOW they’re tuned to the needs of women.

    As soon as you do this, you’ll get right into the “sexist” explanations. What are the needs of women to which you refer? Are women’s needs so uniform? Why don’t men have these same needs to the same degree?

  81. #81 Umbo
    May 16, 2008

    Don’t “cross” me….hehehehehe…….no crucifixation (defined as having an inordinate amount of reverence for a torture device) here I take it. :)

  82. #82 aiabx
    May 16, 2008

    Yeah! I’m BAD! I’m BAD, mofo! Every time I enact the atheist asacraments, it stabs Baby Jeebus in the heart!

  83. #83 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Blaming society for being hostile to women, and not women themselves for sex-related differences is sexist now? Well shit, i’m sure behind the times. Good thing there was a dude there to straighten me out.

  84. #84 David
    May 16, 2008

    and he ruled out socialization and cultural differences somehow,

    By waving his magic(al thinking) wand?

  85. #85 DiscoveredJoys
    May 16, 2008

    I’m going out on a limb here, saying that there is a sex difference, which is expressed in different ways in different cultures.

    Men tend to get together to do a common thing (hunt, watch football, drink, shoot the breeze), but women get together to establish and maintain their social position. Which is why they are always comparing clothes, hats, children etc, and read magazines about how to lose weight, improve looks and so on.

    Now obviously this is not a hard and fast gender determined set of behavious, merely a tendency. In the UK we have a TV program called “Songs of Praise”, transmitted from a different church each week – the congregation attend from other churches in the vicinity too. There are roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in the congregation, but many fewer adult males than women (especially the really old, I gexpect the old men are all dead). My guess is that the women are ‘showing off their social status’. The church is not so much a place of religion, but a lek for the female of the species…

  86. #86 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    By waving his magic(al thinking) wand

    I’ve never heard that term for it before. ;-)

  87. #87 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Men tend to get together to do a common thing (hunt, watch football, drink, shoot the breeze), but women get together to establish and maintain their social position.

    Jaw hits floor. I guess you used your magical thinking wand to determine that, huh?

  88. #88 PZ Myers
    May 16, 2008

    You have to be really careful in interpreting those prison statistics. It’s a group of people in a dangerous and stressful position who are under pressure to form groups for their own safety, and there are also programs in prison that give privileges to the religious, and so there’s an element of compulsion in their religiosity. There may be many criminals who are atheists who find it expedient to adopt a religion while in jail.

    I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider how this might be relevant to sex differences in religiosity in a patriarchal culture.

  89. #89 ungtss.presidium.org
    May 16, 2008

    There’s nothing inherently bad, weak, or irrational in being social. If your explanation is that religion is more tuned to the needs of women (which isn’t the worst starting point), you have to say HOW they’re tuned to the needs of women.

    As soon as you do this, you’ll get right into the “sexist” explanations. What are the needs of women to which you refer? Are women’s needs so uniform? Why don’t men have these same needs to the same degree?

    I didn’t say it was bad or weak to be social. I said that it would be bad/weak for a person to sacrifice their intellectual integrity by becoming religious simply because they need friends. In other words, rather than thinking rationally and achieving the peak of reason known as atheism, women sacrifice their minds to the nonsense of religion because they want to be part of a club. I find that sexist.

    Personally, I think religion is complex and nuanced enough that both men + women can find meaning in it. But I think women tend to find more meaning in the relational, worshipful, social, service-oriented, communal side of religion; men, in the other hand, tend to be drawn more to the theological, historical, analytical, philosophical side.

    But churches, of course, are full of relationship, worship, social gatherings, and communal experience. While those are all perfectly legitimate, and a large part of religion historically, they tend to appeal more to women than to men.

    And I think that the hard facts of religion today (at least in the Western World) show that it is, in large part, keyed to women and more communication/emotionally oriented dudes.

  90. #90 David Marjanovi?, OM
    May 16, 2008

    Splice this with Medved’s piece from the other day and we can see that atheism is actually in American DNA…

    Can I hear a ?????!?

  91. #91 David Marjanovi?, OM
    May 16, 2008

    No, I can’t hear a r?men in katakana. Hmpf.

  92. #92 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in Pink
    “As long as you don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there’s a biological reason for it, none taken!”

    You mean that there is something different physiologically (biological?) about you from other women because you are not a believer? Well that is not I would have thought necessarily implied. When we are talking about statistical tendencies, we do not neceessarily imply determination. (Same as with my comment about women being perceived to care more about listening as again hearing. That is what – yes – real women say to me.)

    If you are scientific, unless you have strong evidence, I don’t see any a priori reason to rule out physiological reasons for the observed, and persistant, difference in religiousity between men and women. The reason he gives though, is on a casual glanz at what evidence we know, ludicrous.

    “Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.”

    Clearly then an implication is that those men who engage such behaviour are also less likely to be religious. But this is not the case. So his explaination makes no sense. But that still leaves us looking for an explaination, and the scientific evidence for the socialization claim is not very convincing. As somebody, else pointed out, women are also more likely to believe in non-religious but also non-scientific explainations of the world like astrology and alternative medicines. Maybe women are just less fussy about how accurate there map of the world is (perhaps because they think this map is less important to them). Interestingly women also go about finding their way about different. Many women are in my experience not very good at reading maps. Now why is that so? Maybe that is related.

  93. #93 Flex
    May 16, 2008

    umgtss wrote, “I later said that I think my fiancee are equally religious, even though she likes church much more than I do.”

    Which, of course, is anecdotal evidence that church attendance is not a good measure of religous belief.

    The 12% difference you found in church attendance can be explained by many different reasons, including the one you provided, i.e. you are as religous as your fiancee but she likes going to church more.

    I’m only asking you to justify you statement that women are more religous. The evidence you provided doesn’t show it to me. Even you admit that it may not be a good measure, “it wasn’t a perfect measure, but was a start.” I’m suggesting that it’s not a good measure to even start with.

  94. #94 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in Pink
    “As long as you don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there’s a biological reason for it, none taken!”

    You mean that there is something different physiologically (biological?) about you from other women because you are not a believer? Well that is not I would have thought necessarily implied. When we are talking about statistical tendencies, we do not neceessarily imply determination. (Same as with my comment about women being perceived to care more about listening as again hearing. That is what – yes – real women say to me.)

    If you are scientific, unless you have strong evidence, I don’t see any a priori reason to rule out physiological reasons for the observed, and persistant, difference in religiousity between men and women. The reason he gives though, is on a casual glanz at what evidence we know, ludicrous.

    “Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.”

    Clearly then an implication is that those men who engage such behaviour are also less likely to be religious. But this is not the case. So his explaination makes no sense. But that still leaves us looking for an explaination, and the scientific evidence for the socialization claim is not very convincing. As somebody, else pointed out, women are also more likely to believe in non-religious but also non-scientific explainations of the world like astrology and alternative medicines. Maybe women are just less fussy about how accurate their mental map of the world is (perhaps because they think this mental map is less important to them). Interestingly many women also go about finding their way about different. Many women are in my experience not very good at reading maps. Now why is that so? Maybe that is related.

  95. #95 Paul W.
    May 16, 2008

    I wonder how much of it has to do with men being traditionally more involved in the sciences? Many scientist are atheists; many scientists are men, therefore you will have a disproportionate number of male atheists.

    The correlation between maleness and advanced science is big, which makes this seem like a reasonable guess at first, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to explaining the correlation between advanced science and atheism.

    For example, if you look at GSS (General Social Survey) statistics, you can see that even white men with graduate degrees are mostly religious. Two thirds identify as catholic or protestant, and of the rest I’d guess half are theists of some sort, so around 80 percent.

    So being white a white man with a graduate degree might make you roughly twice as likely to be an atheist, there’s still much more difference between that population and the top scientist population.

    In other words, whiteness, maleness, and advanced degrees are significantly correlated with atheism, but exceptional scientific achievement is just hugely correlated with atheism even after accounting for that.

    Of course, we’re not supposed to talk about that to a mass audience. :-)

    I discuss the statistics in more detail (and give a few links) in comments on this thread:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2008/04/does_advanced_science_educatio.php

  96. #96 Liane
    May 16, 2008

    Carlie@51:

    That’s my impression. The super-religious women I’ve known all seem to have v. high anxiety levels wrt to their kids (and family in general). Also the low self-esteem noted in #32, though it’s hard to say which one comes first, the religiosity or the low self-esteem.

    Btw, Pandagon had a hilarious post earlier this week about a 1930s “are you a good wife” questionnaire (see http://pandagon.blogsome.com/2008/05/14/what-kind-of-30s-housewife-are-you/ ) where the woman would get points for going/taking the kids to church AND for letting her husband sleep in on Sundays (ie. he presumably doesn’t have to go to church). Which does rather reinforce your theory.

    ungtss@65: It also explains why women express a genuine DESIRE to go to church.

    Yeah well maybe you’ll like to explain away all the women posting here who don’t have “a genuine DESIRE to go to church”. So, we’re not womanly enough or something? Talk about “disturbing” sexism.

  97. #97 FastLane
    May 16, 2008

    I think what the study’s author is trying to say is that for some people (and I would agree), atheism is more a form of rebellion than risk taking, per se.

    My experience with all of the atheists I’ve met IRL and on the interent, though, is that those are a minority. So unless he has some good data to back that up (that atheism rate among males is correlated to, or occurs in comparable numbers, as rebelion/crime/risk taking), then he’s blowing smoke out of his ass (to mix some metaphors).

    I thought the physiological difference in the way men’s and women’s brains operate was fairly well extablished (left brain vs. right brain). Correct me if I’m wrong, I’m an engineer, not a psych major. :) But wouldn’t that difference tend to lead to a good explanation without invoking rebellion or risk taking as an excuse?

    Maybe he didn’t want to come right out and say atheism was more logical than theism.

    Cheers.

  98. #98 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in Pink
    “As long as you don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there’s a biological reason for it, none taken!”

    You mean that there is something different physiologically (biological?) about you from other women because you are not a believer? Well that is not I would have thought necessarily implied. When we are talking about statistical tendencies, we do not neceessarily imply determination. (Same as with my comment about women being perceived to care more about listening as again hearing. That is what – yes – real women say to me.)

    If you are scientific, unless you have strong evidence, I don’t see any a priori reason to rule out physiological reasons for the observed, and persistant, difference in religiousity between men and women. The reason he gives though, is on a casual glance at the evidence at hand, ludicrous.

    “Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.”

    Clearly then an implication is that those men who engage such behaviour are also less likely to be religious. But this is not the case. So his explaination makes no sense.

    But that still leaves us looking for an explaination, and the scientific evidence for the socialization claim is not very convincing. As somebody, else pointed out, women are also more likely to believe in non-religious but also non-scientific explainations of the world like astrology and alternative medicines. Maybe women are just less fussy about how accurate their mental map of the world is (perhaps because they think this mental map is less important to them – maybe human relationships are more important to them for instance). Interestingly many women also go about finding their way about differently. Many women are in my experience not very good at reading maps. Now why is that so? Maybe that is related.

  99. #99 SC
    May 16, 2008

    Which, of course, is anecdotal evidence that church attendance is not a good measure of religous belief.

    In fact, it’s the example I use most frequently in teaching when discussing mistakes in measurement. College freshman get it right away.

  100. #100 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Reason – you misunderstood me more than I thought humanly possible. I meant as long as no one was saying there was a biological reason for women being (on the whole) more religious, I would take no offense. I would take great offense to anyone saying I was different from most women for being atheist. Because that would be sexist.

    It’s also what you’re doing with the “mental map of the world” crap. It’s entirely likely that women are less encouraged to look at things rationally, and are discouraged from driving and so get less experience reading maps. In my experience, that is in fact so, and far less insulting than suggesting that the difference must be due to some great fundamental difference in how one sees the world. You might want to read Zuska’s blog – she’s very good on detailing the many tiny things that add up to women being discouraged from science, and its accompanied rationality.

  101. #101 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Oops…
    Sorry about the multiple posts. It would be nice if this software let you can things like blogger does.

  102. #102 SteveM
    May 16, 2008

    Obviously he has never seen any of the studies that show a disproportionate amount of people in prison are Christian. It seems like it was 70-80% Christian versus .2-.3% Atheist.

    This does not prove anything and I think people should really stop using it to counter the “atheism leads to bad behavior” meme. The problem is that these guys are in prison, in deep trouble, religion offers an “easy out” in the afterlife. How many of these people were religious before they were sent to prison? That is the statistic you need to counter the “atheism is evil” meme. The problem then, I suspect, is that very few were religious before prison. That would still not support the “atheism is bad” hypothesis. I suspect that it may be true that criminals are more likely to be atheists (before they’re caught), but it is the criminality that leads to atheism, not the other way around.

  103. #103 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    She also, fyi, goes into why “just speculating” that differences between men and women could be physiological ones that coincidentally precisely align with prejudice is obnoxious, demeaning, and likely to make women you are talking to angry.

  104. #104 frog
    May 16, 2008

    Well, here is where the stupidity lies:
    Stark: Any phenomenon that occurs in many and very different social and cultural settings necessitates explanations that are equally general, which tends to rule out most social and cultural factors

    Later:
    To examine rates of religiosity, Stark used the World Values Surveys, which collected data in 57 nations. The world’s major faiths were included and the data came from such countries as the United States, most European states, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, China, India, South Africa and Turkey. In all 57 countries, a higher percentage of women than men said they were religious.

    So, they weren’t comparing some indigenous people in the outback with New Yorkers – they were only comparing people from modern societies. Well, what the hell do you expect? Modern China, S. Africa and the US aren’t all that different – they are post-agricultural societies. This may tell you the constraints that history imposes on culture – that societies which have gone from a feudal society to an industrial society tend to have higher religiosity among women than among men — but it tells you nothing about physiology.

    It’s all about the control – garbage controls, garbage results, particular when there’s no tested mechanistic link. This reminds me of some of these MRI papers where they find “significant” differences between males and females in empathy — but their pool is undergrad students in Wales!

  105. #105 Cherish
    May 16, 2008

    There is a non-zero possibility that the person who wrote the press release was a PR person who wrote what they thought Stark was saying while inserting some of their own prejudices. (I know I can’t be the only person whose been quoted as saying something that they didn’t actually say.)

    On the other hand, he may have a point that men are less likely to be concerned about sticking along with cultural and/or religious norms. However, I don’t agree that it’s physiological in nature. He claims that socialization isn’t a factor because this skew was present in all societies he examined…but I seriously doubt that any of the societies he looked at were ones in which patriarchy was not the norm for most of the last century. So I still think it’s socialization.

  106. #106 Shadow
    May 16, 2008

    What is being risked?

    Hell, obviously.

    (It scares me that I can ay that with a straight face.)

  107. #107 ???????
    May 16, 2008

    Can I hear a ?????!?

    Well, I can ^_^

  108. #108 CrypticLife
    May 16, 2008

    I will give you credit, ungtss, for picking a likely better measure than the sociologist, however. His research was a poll, indicating that in 57 countries, a higher percentage of woman than men said they were religious.

    Actual church attendance is better than that.

    You and your fiancee are anecdotal evidence. Fine for speculating, but not valid in itself.

    So, to speculate: for some reason she “likes” church more than you. Clearly, something in church is reinforcing her attendance. You could make a list of possibilities:

    1) she likes (i.e., attendance is reinforced by) seeing people dressed up nicely
    2) she seeing people, period
    3) she likes eating the wafer and wine
    4) she likes singing

    You could do an in-depth analysis of what she likes about church. Even after doing this, you wouldn’t know that it’s what all women like, or that it’s a “woman’s need”. Regardless, you will quickly go into what you see as “sexism”.

    Part of the reason you see sexism in some of these responses is because you’re placing an a priori value judgment on certain behavior. This is affecting your conclusions.

    Stop doing that. Come up with the explanation first, THEN decide your certainty about it, THEN decide whether it’s sexist and whether it would be a good idea to publish. I have no objection, for example, that this sociologist considered atheism as springing from the same source as lawlessness. The problem is his support, the values permeating his entire article, and his failure to be anything close to comprehensive in his thought.

  109. #110 Monado
    May 16, 2008

    I prefer the explanation that women’s fortunes are much more influenced by whom they marry, and that depends a lot on luck as well as good judgement [Canadian spelling] at a time when hormones are fizzing. It might influence them to be religious in a couple of ways. One is that they’re depending on luck anyway so they might as well pray for it. Another is that they can’t control their lives so they conclude God has a hand in it. Another might simply be that they are discouraged from toddlerhood from being adventerous and rewarded for being “good girls” (i.e., passive, accepting, compliant). It’s not universal, but it’s common. And that would make them less likely to be rude and assertive and say, “This is nonsense!”

  110. #111 Sonja
    May 16, 2008

    My women friends are very intelligent and educated and I’ve spoken to many of them about their religious beliefs.

    One is a nurse working with pediatric cancer patients and she couldn’t deal with watching children die every day, so she started going to church.

    One is a mother who had a son die of cancer when he was only 17 and, during the time he was dying, she made a promise to god that she would never deny him. Now she is stuck.

    I, of course, am an atheist, but I sit in front of a computer all day. I feel for my friends who have gone through terrible experiences and, unfortunately, all that society has come up with to deal with death is religion.

    It is a burdon on sentient beings who have evolved with enough intelligence to become aware of their own mortality. I know I’m not the first person to speculate that consciousness of death is one of the root causes of religion and superstition.

    Women more often than men find themselves in these roles where they are caring for the sick and elderly and dealing with death in a very real way. Religion is an escape from it.

  111. #112 Eric Paulsen
    May 16, 2008

    Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.”

    or

    Being religious is similar to any other endorphin producing, group-think, submissive behavior that some women – primarily young females – crave, such as daddy worship, attention, recognition, direction and correction.”

    Yeah, that doesn’t make sense either and is also presumptuous, but less offensive than the good doctors opinion of males. Really now – if this was about poor impulse control I think MAYBE I would have outgrown that about 10 to 15 years ago.

  112. #113 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in Pink…
    “I meant as long as no one was saying there was a biological reason for women being (on the whole) more religious”

    Surely, being offended if someone presents a hypothesis (which may or may not eventually be supported by evidence) is unscientific. It is like a believer being offended that someone dares to say that after looking at the evidence it looks like all the many species on earth have common ancestry and were not created seperately.

    Men and women do undoubtedly have differences, some of which are in the brain. None the less their capacities are remarkably similar and overlap considerably. So that while it may be reasonable to imply statistical tendencies you cannot make any implications in individual cases. Are you offended if I said that on average women run more slowly than men?

  113. #114 Eric Saveau
    May 16, 2008

    It’s funny that ungtss wrote “I’m hearing a lot of sexism against women in here.” in response to a bunch of comments that EXPLICTLY spoke of upbringing and societal pressures on women leading to certain behaviors, NOT, as he says in his comment, about “stereotyped weaknesses of women.”…

    …and then after people start commenting on his bullshit says in response “Please read what people write before responding to it.” and “Read and think next time. It’ll help you out.”

    That’s just frakking hilarious. He demonstrates our points for us.

  114. #115 Kerlyssa
    May 16, 2008

    No one seems to have mentioned the financial aspect yet. Church will get you food, clothing, and child care, and women are disproportionately in need of these things.

  115. #116 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Reason – no, because that’s not a stereotype that has typically been used to humiliate and silence women. Look, go read that Zuska link on why “just speculating” is obnoxious, then if you still have questions, come back.

    Btw, just because there are “differences in the brain” (which are fairly minimal and far from conclusively proven) doesn’t prove jack about the causes being genetic, since our brains change in response to stimuli, those stimuli being culturally influenced.

  116. #117 reason
    May 16, 2008

    And of course, I find this an interesting topic. It is IMPORTANT to understand why – whatever the reason is – women are more religious than men, because they must be part of the solution if we are to make religion less of a problem for the world. It is unfortunately the case, that in many of the most repressive religious societies, much of the repression (of other women) is done by women. We need to work understand why they do this better, in order to break the cycle.

  117. #118 frog
    May 16, 2008

    ajay: In answer to the original post – I think he’s right. In a highly religious state like the US, atheism is indeed a risky choice, and I’m quite prepared to believe that women are more risk-averse than men. I bet there were more male than female anti-Party dissidents in the USSR, for exactly the same reason.

    The question is not whether women are more risk averse in modern (and pre-modern) society – we don’t need a study to show that. The question is why? And the answer is that we can’t know. I can come up with a million hypothesis, from the genetic to the social to the historical — but there’s insufficient data to distinguish them.

    Let’s go with a simple one – in all modern and feudal societies that I know, child-rearing is primarily female, so the cost of any given risk is much higher to the female, who can’t depend on the male taking up the slack. Also, females are in general shorter – so over childhood they may become more risk averse, because they can’t win at playground fights. Or there’s some in-utero affect, or their are different economic structures, or, or, or. And none of these are distinguishable without an actual control, but unfortunately there are few pre-Neolithic societies still around for us to test against, and you can’t raise people under controlled conditions.

    So only a fool or a propagandist would invest their career in studying the question.

  118. #119 James
    May 16, 2008

    If the sociological “evidence” for this phenomenon is accurate, of which I’m not convinced, there may be any number of Darwinian reasons for it as well as the cultural ones everyone is suggesting.

    For example: Dawkins hypothesizes religious belief in children as a side effect of their being selected for the tendency to believe their elders. What if the genes ancestral women — who are still disproportionately the main influence in a child’s formative years — are selected for a tendency toward instilling religious belief (as a side effect of instilling obedience in offspring)? It’s conceivable that males would not experience that selective pressure, no?

    I also like Colugo’s argument linking the phenomenon to sexual selection.

    On another note, I’ve noticed that civilized comment boards work much better when we avoid bigotry of all kinds — toward women, toward scholars of the humanities disciplines (even sociologists), and even toward believers who say things we think are idiotic.

    Wow. It must be early in the day. My curmudgeon switch is still off.

  119. #120 ungtss
    May 16, 2008

    I’m only asking you to justify you statement that women are more religous. The evidence you provided doesn’t show it to me. Even you admit that it may not be a good measure, “it wasn’t a perfect measure, but was a start.” I’m suggesting that it’s not a good measure to even start with.

    I agree with you that there’s no perfect measure. However, you also have this Harris interactive poll showing an 11 point gap in belief in God (84% versus 73%). So if you’ve got gaps in church attendance and a gap in theism itself, I think it’s a reasonable conclusion that (as a whole) women tend to be more religious than men. Not individually, of course. There are many men that are more religious than many women. But women tend to be more religious than men.

  120. #121 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    I hate to do this, but would you feel free to speculate that other prejudices (based on race, for example) were based on physiological differences and expect others to not be offended?

  121. #122 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    We need to work understand why they do this better, in order to break the cycle.

    Instead of speculating, maybe you could ask them.

  122. #123 Brownian, OM
    May 16, 2008

    Apologies if this has been mentioned up thread (us Westerners always come to the party late), but I don’t think Stark is talking about atheism. He’s talking about people who aren’t that religious within a religious context. In this case, the behaviour he is associating with males is the rejection of consequences. He isn’t positing that God and hell exist, but that people who believe so and yet still don’t go to church, or pray, or sacrifice their first born sons, or whatever, are engaging in risk-taking behaviour. He is in effect saying that guys are more likely to think “Yeah, hell probably exists, but I can beat the system, and so no, I’m not missing the game to go to some damn church.” Kinda like the attitude of “I’m drunk, but if I drive down side roads real carefully, I won’t get busted.”

    Whether or not the evidence supports his hypothesis is another thing, but I don’t think atheists should be in any way offended by his claim.

  123. #124 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in pink…
    Your offence then implies an imputation of motives – which in my case I assure there are not there. I just find the question intriguing.

    frog…
    I don’t think the answer lies in an attitude to risk taking, because it has to do with belief (i.e. the ideas we have in our head about the world). Unless just thinking through alternative viewpoints is treated as risk taking (maybe it is). But I think you are too quick to rule out human ingenuity in finding ways to test hypotheses. Several people (me included) suggested investigations into primates. There is no reason to think that magical thinking is unique to humans.

  124. #125 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Reason – Motives, no. Implicit assumptions that haven’t been questioned, yes.

  125. #126 LP
    May 16, 2008

    Male or female, you can be religious without actually putting a name on it (eg. Christianity). Define religion and then so the stats.

  126. #127 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in pink…
    “Instead of speculating, maybe you could ask them.”

    I should do what exactly (how many and where for instance)?

    That is hardly following scientific proceedure AND why do you expect them to know?

  127. #128 J
    May 16, 2008

    The question is not whether women are more risk averse in modern (and pre-modern) society – we don’t need a study to show that. The question is why? And the answer is that we can’t know.
    And Kant said we’d never be able to figure out the origin of life. Many mathematicians thought a proof of Fermat’s last theorem would forever lie beyond our grasp. Even after Ludwig Boltzmann had developed his brilliant statistical mechanics, the logical positivists in Austria assumed that the existence of things as minute as atoms could neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed. Don’t be so ready to declare a question beyond the reach of science.

    That being said, I don’t think the question is especially interesting. There are much more productive things to focus one’s career on.

  128. #129 ungtss
    May 16, 2008

    It’s funny that ungtss wrote “I’m hearing a lot of sexism against women in here.” in response to a bunch of comments that EXPLICTLY spoke of upbringing and societal pressures on women leading to certain behaviors, NOT, as he says in his comment, about “stereotyped weaknesses of women.”…

    …and then after people start commenting on his bullshit says in response “Please read what people write before responding to it.” and “Read and think next time. It’ll help you out.”

    That’s just frakking hilarious. He demonstrates our points for us.

    Check out comment 6 (“Women are afraid to upset social norms”), 21 (“Women are more convinced that their feelings are correct”), 32 (“Some of us [women] don’t even know we have an option much less the self esteem to choose.).

    Afraid to challenge social norms, more convinced feelings are correct, and waifs with no self esteem? Cummon. How many women do you know that fit these descriptions?

  129. #130 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in pink…
    Your offended by implicit assumptions? I assume you think that the assumption that there CAN be any differences between males and females in cognitive styles because of physiology is the implicit assumption that is off limits. I think it is a hypothesis that is worth considering – not the only hypothesis or even the most likely, but a possible solution. What some other women have said about child bearing and caring roles also make sense, but don’t explain to me the active role many women play in religious suppression.

  130. #131 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Reason – Why do you expect them not to know?

    Point is, there are plenty of organizations out there dedicated to this sort of research. When it comes to sociological research, while talking to the people involved may strike you as “hardly scientific!” I assure you that it is a very large part of what is done. What else do you recommend? Kill a few and autopsy their brains?

    That’s the point. You don’t consider actually talking to the people involved, and contemptuously assume they know nothing about their circumstances and couldn’t possibly be of any help to you. Why? Because they’re chicks.

  131. #132 Warren
    May 16, 2008

    Don’t cross me, man. I’m dangerous.

    Huh. If Jesus had said that, maybe none of the last 2K years’ worth of Christist jihad would have happened.

  132. #133 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    You’re really not listening to a word I’m saying. I might speculate it’s because you’re a privileged jerk, but either way, I’m going to stop talking to you now.

  133. #134 reason
    May 16, 2008

    Ugly in pink…
    You sure have an aggessive attitude.
    I see you didn’t actually expect me personally to talk to them (whoever they are exactly).
    No scepticism is a fundamental part of science, and I wondered why you would expect people to know why they believe certain things (really as against rationalisations). You can hardly expect people to answer the question
    “Do you think believing in God is easier for women? If so why?”
    in a way that solve all our doubts.

    And to do the research properly you would have to interview both men and women.

    And if you read carefully, the guy that made this absurd hypothesis was a sociologist, so presumably he had already reviewed this sort of research and largely decided it didn’t get him anywhere.

  134. #135 John
    May 16, 2008

    I don’t see what’s so weird about this idea. Most people are strongly socialized to be religious. Giving that up and going against the grain means disregarding what you’ve been socialized to do, breaking the “rules”, thinking outside the box. So does robbery and murder.

    Did this guy just compare atheism to murder and rape?
    Uh, no, he didn’t. Aren’t you a scientist? Put aside your emotions and your Offended Face for a second. He just proposed that the shared male proclivity (compared to women) for atheism and for violent crime comes from the fact that men are socialized to be more individualistic.

    Sorta like if I said that the reason more republicans are religious, and the reason more republicans are racist, is because conservatives tend to be more insular, less cosmopolitan. And then somebody said OMG ARE YOU SAYING THAT RELIGION MAKES YOU RACIST!
    That’d be dumb (whether or not religion does make you racist is a separate discussion, I suppose).

    This is really obvious. I think you’re thinking with that chip on your shoulder, instead of your head, on this one.

  135. #136 frog
    May 16, 2008

    reason: But I think you are too quick to rule out human ingenuity in finding ways to test hypotheses.

    Nope, too many different scales involved – it’s simply not an amenable problem. It’s not just confounding variables, but confounding variables at scales from the global, 10k year level down to protein folding on the nsecond level. It’s just not the type of question that is productive (Completely unlike J’s analogies, which were just difficult problems — except for the beginning of life, which may be a problem that is not practically answerable).

    Effort is better spent on ameliorating inequitable conditions that trying to find whether there are some cross-scale effects under almost untestable circumstances. This is the equivalent of looking for “physiological” race difference. Who know, there might be some difference in distribution of some genes that may have some ultimate effects of changing, to some small degree, the intelligence of individuals. But you can’t find it, it’ll do you no good to find it, you won’t be able to accurately ascertain how big the effect is, it’ll be used by racists in completely inappropriate conditions, and you’d have been better off investing that time and money into studying improving the educational system.

    Science has real world effects. Money is taken from somebody to do it; it may make sense to do basic science with no obvious relevance, but it doesn’t make sense to do obviously counter-productive science.

  136. #137 CanadaGoose
    May 16, 2008

    When I was younger, I just thought it was because men are smarter than women.

    I got over THAT idea.

    But it is hilarious that being a nonbeliever is labeled as “risky” behavior. I guess I’m a lot more dashing than I ever realized.

  137. #138 Etha Williams
    May 16, 2008

    If there was any question about what the author thinks is being “risked”:

    The upshot is that some men are shortsighted and don’t think ahead, and so “going to prison or going to hell just doesn’t matter to these men,” Stark said.

    To be fair, the article never talks about atheism per se, just being “less religious,” so I suppose you could argue that for non-religious theists, who don’t participate in religious activities but still acknowledge a god that demands worship, this might be a risk. Still, the author’s hand-waving dismissal of social factors and his apparent ignorance of actual atheism (as opposed to theistic irreligiousness) make it difficult to give much credence to his “findings.”

  138. #139 reason
    May 16, 2008

    ugly in pink…
    No I’m not a privileged jerk. I’m actually pretty left wing and neither rich nor poor. Just very rational.
    I did not rule out sociological study as possibly coming up with answers (and I don’t know why you assume I did). But I also think it is wrong to rule out hypotheses because of political correctness. It is right to rule them out because they don’t match the evidence. Don’t be so emotional, in reality we are I hope both on the same side, the side of science and humanity.

  139. #140 Ugly In Pink
    May 16, 2008

    Ok, one more. Telling me to “calm down” and “stop being so emotional” and spraining an arm patting yourself on the back for being so rational despite that you seriously stated that asking people about their situation instead of baselessly speculating was “hardly scientific”? Dude, you’ve just hit damn near every spot on misogynist bingo. Whatever side you’re on, we sure don’t share it.

  140. #141 clem
    May 16, 2008

    This essay http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science explains the shortage of women in science the same way. Greenspun links the insanity of seeking a career in science to the same male high-risk behavior idea. Incidentally he defines keeping tropical fish as part of the syndrome too.

  141. #142 kmarissa
    May 16, 2008

    To be fair, the article never talks about atheism per se, just being “less religious,”

    It also refers to “not being religious” and “irreligiousness.” It is possible that the author meant “being less religious while maintaining a belief in God” or “participating less frequently in religious behavior despite believing in the underlying religious framework,” as opposed to being atheist. If that is the case, he expressed it very ambiguously by referring to “not religious” and “irreligious” people.

  142. #143 Neil
    May 16, 2008

    After what you did to those poor defenseless bunnies, I am sure you are capable of anything, you monster :)

  143. #144 Brownian, OM
    May 16, 2008

    Etha, I don’t think he’s talking about actual atheism. As someone pointed out, he himself is a non-believer. I strongly suspect he’s referring to those raised in a religious context who choose not to be religious. I think the robbery and rape comments are a little incendiary. If he’d compared it to dangerous driving, for instance, his point might not have been lost.

    As John put it:

    Most people are strongly socialized to be religious. Giving that up and going against the grain means disregarding what you’ve been socialized to do, breaking the “rules”, thinking outside the box. So does robbery and murder.

  144. #145 Greg Esres
    May 16, 2008

    It is possible that the author meant “being less religious while maintaining a belief in God” or “participating less frequently in religious behavior despite believing in the underlying religious framework,” as opposed to being atheist.

    I agree. If a person truly believes in heaven and hell, yet maintains an irreligious lifestyle, then that may well be associated with short-term thinking.

  145. #146 TheWireMonkey
    May 16, 2008

    I think Marx came up with a pretty good theory about this, which applies to women for the same reason it applies to the “masses”. The poor and ignorant do seem to cling to religion more than the wealthy and educated. If your life sucks, or your access to real, political power and self-determination is limited, then it is extremely comforting to think that the few years you spend on Earth enduring the yoke of patriarchy and following absurd relious rules will pay off in freedom and material comfort after you die. Forever is a lot longer than 75 years after all.

  146. #147 Eric Saveau
    May 16, 2008

    Check out comment 6 (“Women are afraid to upset social norms”), 21 (“Women are more convinced that their feelings are correct”), 32 (“Some of us [women] don’t even know we have an option much less the self esteem to choose.).

    Wow.

    Let’s see… the ENTIRETY of comment #6 is Rodney Stark wins… at failing.

    WTF?

    Comment #21 – My guess is that women are more convinced that their feelings are correct (their intuition?), and so are more easily lead into religion.

    A SPECULATION that can certainly be argued against, but is a rather weak hook to hang a broad charge of sexism on.

    But the best, the ABSOLUTE BEST! is comment #32 – Maybe women are more religious because we’ve been emotionally, mentally, and physically beat down by these belief systems. Some of us don’t even know we have an option much less the self esteem to choose. I see God as the ultimate abusive boyfriend.

    – in which this commenter makes EXACTLY my point to you above about commenters referring to upbringing and societal pressures. So I now repeat your own words to you AGAIN – “Please read what people write before responding to it. Read and think next time. It’ll help you out.” And then I’ll add a few words of my own: Quote-mining and cherry-picking are a poor basis for an argument, especially when done as clumsily and ineptly as this.

    How many women do you know that fit these descriptions?

    First, personal anecdotes are not statistics. Second, I sadly DO know some women who fit those descriptions. And some men. And many other men and women who do not. And?

  147. #148 Etha Williams
    May 16, 2008

    @#146 TheWireMonkey —

    Marx on religion:

    Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

    The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

    I agree, this theory could apply quite well replacing people/masses with women.

  148. #149 Interrobang
    May 16, 2008

    It’s pretty easy to see how not being religious in a religious culture is a high-risk proposition. Aren’t we always the ones who are carping about the social stigmas surrounding being an atheist? (How many open atheists are there in public office in the US?) So yeah, being openly irreligious is definitely a risk factor — for social ostracism. Why on earth would women, who already face overwhelming social ostracism just for the crime of having been born female, and overwhelming pressure to conform to societal norms even to the point of altering our heritable appearance characteristics (breast implants, anyone?), be less inclined to violate social norms?! I couldn’t possibly guess.

    On the subject, did anyone read the “Are you a good 1930s housewife?” entry at Pandagon the other day? As the header to the post, Amanda linked to a scan of a questionnaire from 1939 aimed at psychologists for trying to determine whether a woman was good wife material or not. One of the evaluation criteria (worth 5 merit points instead of the usual 1) was “Religious — takes children to church or Sunday school, and goes herself.”

    For what it’s worth, the next item on the list was “Lets husband sleep in on Sundays and holidays,” which indicates to me that the disparity in displays of religiosity is a patriarchal double-standard that has been going on for a long time.

    In other words, Cultural Christians 1, Just-So Stories 0, as usual.

  149. #150 John
    May 16, 2008

    Reason, Ugly In Pink is right, you’re kind of being a douche. You’re sitting there saying “Oh well uh, [unexamined sexist stereotype], but no no no listen I’m being scientific about it“. You’re making these assumptions about the relative strengths and weaknesses of women and men, that would fit right in with a Home Ec. class in the 1950s. That you’re clothing them in passive language and acting three stages removed and emotionally disinterested, doesn’t change the content of what you’re proposing.
    I mean, I’m sure you’re not trying to be a douche- I’m sure you’re pretty baffled as to why UIP is all up in your face. But the reason is that the stereotypes you’re putting out there are wolves, even in sheep’s clothing.

    Ugly in Pink, I don’t see what’s so offensive about the prospect of men and women’s biological differences leading to broad behavioral differences. You (presumably) have a uterus, I have a penis. You likely have differently developed musculature, bone structure, face, and fat storage than me. All because of our bodies having different reactions to hormones, and different amounts of those hormones.
    We know that hormones affect cognition. Why shouldn’t men and women be differently affected?
    (Now saying “obv. women are flighty and prone to fainting b/c of hormones,” sure, totally offensive. But you gotta extricate the two concepts- behavioral differences v. patriarchical myths.)

  150. #151 John
    May 16, 2008

    Interrobang- wow. Hell of a telling questionnaire.
    I didn’t know the Taliban put stuff out in English in the 1930s.

  151. #152 Angela
    May 16, 2008

    That is a lousy conclusion. The fact is, women DO tend to be more religious. I even remember reading about this in the marvelous book “And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: The Jewish Immigrant Woman Experience of the Upper Midwest,” in which it explained how women tend to be more religious and they are instrumental in maintaining religious practices when the family is far removed from a religious community.

    But to come to the conclusion that religion plays the role this “research” claims it does is just, well, inane.

  152. #153 Etha Williams
    May 16, 2008

    Looking at the study itself, it seems very difficult to draw any conclusions at all since they use more practice-based measures (such as church attendance, denominational loyalty, and frequency of prayer) alongside belief measures (such as belief in life after death, belief in God, and belief humans have souls). The study might have been genuinely interesting if they had looked at practice and belief separately, but instead we get some vague notion of “religiousness” based on a combination of those two.

  153. #154 TheWireMonkey
    May 16, 2008

    but women get together to establish and maintain their social position. Which is why they are always comparing clothes, hats, children etc, and read magazines about how to lose weight, improve looks and so on.

    Ummm…women in traditional societies get together to cook, make clothing, gather and tend crops, gather water, tend children, treat disease, etc. These are “doing” things. Women in modern society (unless you are talking about the top 1% who luxuriate as trophy wives) still “do” things such as go to work, care for their homes and children. We share information about how best to succeed in those arenas. Sure we gossip and share health and beauty tips, but then, so do men. They just call it talking about sports (which, in its deep narrative structure, virtually identical to soap operas, and carries a similar social-bonding function) or playing cards or golf or hanging out with drinking buddies.

  154. #155 James Taylor
    May 16, 2008

    I have had this conversation with my Mother and I have come to the conclusion that the reason women are generally more religious than men is that women always must consider the welfare of progeny. The welfare of progeny is not just dependent on the parents but on the communities these parents are members of. Women join churches less for the religion and more for the communal bonds and the strength and support that is engendered by being a member of a large community as women build large social networks to ensure their progeny of as good a chance of survival as possible. Men tend to keep smaller social networks and so the community of a religious group is a much less influential reason for men to join and in some ways it may be threatening. A man generally evaluates and ensures progeny survival by skill development rather than by networking.

    My Mother attends church regularly, sits on the parish board and participates in outside activities. Yet, when pressed about her religious beliefs she admits that she doesn’t believe any of the frilly, BS, supernatural claims of the religion. She attends and participates primarily because of the community.

  155. #156 Flex
    May 16, 2008

    ungtss wrote, “So if you’ve got gaps in church attendance and a gap in theism itself, I think it’s a reasonable conclusion that (as a whole) women tend to be more religious than men.”

    Well, I wouldn’t put any weight on the church attendance gap. Looking at the same Harris poll you cited for church attendance by sex, there looks like a slight skewing toward female attendance, but the differences are within the reported error ranges of the poll.

    The results of the belief in god section do indicate a difference between the sexes in belief in god. However, I would still submit that while a belief in god is necessary to be religous, it is possible to believe in god without being a member of any religion.

    Which does tend to turn the question back to how religion is defined. Anecdotally, I know a number of women who profess no religion, but still have a belief in god. (I haven’t have many converstations of this nature with men. That’s rather odd, come to think about it.)

    Is religion strictly defined as a belief in god?

    Or is religion better defined as those beliefs which the individual or society takes on faith without looking for proof?

    Alternatively, is religion a cultural phenomenon of shared values which can exist without belief in a deity or even any beliefs which are taken solely on faith?

    I sometimes wonder if part of the reason the creationists often call atheism a religion is because they unconsciously see religion in this third light. That is, they see religion as cultural glue and if atheism is our culural glue, atheism must be a religion.

    They are mistaken, I submit that atheism is the solvent of religion, but the application of atheism doesn’t create a new culture, it frees the individual from the bonds of religion and allows each individual to think about morality for themselves. Unlike religion, atheism trusts every individual to arrive at reasonable moral guidelines.

  156. #157 Helioprogenus
    May 16, 2008

    As Peter Tosh once sang “I’m like a steppin razor, don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous, I’m dangerous”.

  157. #158 Emmet Caulfield
    May 16, 2008

    Becoming an atheist did almost nothing to change my morality.

    Except that, as an atheist, one cannot feel obliged to aspire to the morals of a bronze-age Levantine goatherd.

    Seems like a good change to me.

  158. #159 Grimalkin
    May 16, 2008

    Sounds about right to me. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that women in actively religious communities tend to be kept in the home and therefore have very little outlet for personal power (organizing church gatherings), social interaction, and productive stuff to occupy their time with outside of religion, making them far less likely to abandon it. After all, why abandon something that your life essentially revolves around when you have nothing to replace it with?

    Men in actively religious communities, however, have a very passive role. They tend to be brought to church and church functions by their wives. Even if they do participate in the organizing of events, it’s usually accompanied by their wives and under her direction (for example, moving tables around for her). And if they participate in other church activities, such as choir or bible study, it’s easy enough for them to replace that activity because they most likely get just as much satisfaction and used up time by going to work and the social groups that they form there.

    Yup, socialization can’t possibly have _anything_ to do with the differences between the sexes. Nope, not possible. After all, boys and girls are raised by the same parents, aren’t they? And yet they grow up differently, don’t they? Yup yup!

  159. #160 John
    May 16, 2008

    Paul W. #73: I wonder if men being socialized to be more individualistic is responsible for that greater measured variability across different metrics. They’d be more likely to express and grow into widely differing capacities, than if they were encouraged to limit themselves and play with New Bride Barbies or whatever.

  160. #161 Jim Lippard
    May 16, 2008

    There may be something to his point, to the extent that becoming an open atheist is opting out of the majority social group and the security that comes with that group membership.

  161. #162 John
    May 16, 2008
  162. #163 Jams
    May 16, 2008

    I’m transgressive like all my friends.

    The idea that people who end up in prison are particularly transgressive or risk-taking is, in my opinion, bunk. Men end up in prison because most laws exist to protect property. Males are measured by their ability to acquire, protect, and trade in property. If one lives in a community where law-breaking is a normal means of acquiring wealth, and violence is the most reasonable method of protecting it, one will likely find themselves in prison. To what degree the phenomenon is social or physiological, I don’t know.

    My favourite criminal quote:

    “I haven’t broken any of God’s laws.” – anonymous career criminal

  163. #164 Todd
    May 16, 2008

    The upshot is that some men are shortsighted and don’t think ahead, and so “going to prison or going to hell just doesn’t matter to these men,” Stark said.

    He is basing his entire premise on hell being a real place. Going to hell doesn’t matter to anyone.

  164. #165 K. Signal Eingang
    May 16, 2008

    I’m half-tempted to defend this guy’s thesis, even if his argument is fairly lame – for one thing I think Jim @161 makes a valid point:

    There may be something to his point, to the extent that becoming an open atheist is opting out of the majority social group and the security that comes with that group membership.

    And secondly that risk-taking behavior means being able to, at least temporarily, put aside one’s knee-jerk fear of consequences. Having put aside that fear, one may (and frequently does) find that the fear is misplaced to begin with. So embracing atheism may be a little bit like committing a crime, but in the exact same way it may also be a little bit like starting a business.

    I do agree that culture and socialization plays a role, but I also agree with Pinker and others that social mores themselves may derive from biological tendencies.

  165. #166 SC
    May 16, 2008

    I have had this conversation with my Mother and I have come to the conclusion that the reason women are generally more religious than men is…

    Well, that certainly seems a sound basis for a sociological conclusion.

    This study is full of holes from start to finish. But in reply to some of the comments about religion being the opiate of the masses and religiosity equivalent to meek submission, I want to point out that this is far from universally true in practice. Adding to my comment above @ #77, religious beliefs are not always escapist or risk-averse. If you look at the history of the Civil Rights movement, the anti-slavery movement, Liberation Theology and associated union movements in Latin America, the anti-Apartheid movement, and on and on, you will find a lot of religious notions mixed in with social demands. When I hear Desmond Tutu talking about how South African history proves that god is on the side of the oppressed, I think it makes no sense (where was god in the decades prior to the end of the system?) and that he’s deluded more broadly; however, I don’t doubt the sincerity of his beliefs or that those beliefs – and the institutions built around them – formed a large part of the power of that struggle.

    Many of Christopher Hitchens’ claims concerning the history of religion and struggle are false, and he does atheism no favor in continuing to make them. I wish all of the people struggling for social justice could do it from a rational framework, but this hasn’t always been the case. (And it’s totally irrelevant to the question of whether a god exists.)

  166. #167 WRMartin
    May 16, 2008

    Sorry, I’m late. Is this going to be on the test?

    Watch out! There’s an man/atheist coming – he’s either a robber, a burglar, a murderer, or a rapist. Maybe all 4. Hold your purse closer.

    Ugh, the stupid; it burns.

    Risk = fn(likelihood of something happening, how bad it might be).
    Likelihood of going to hell = (Hell doesn’t exist; therefore, Hell = 0) 0.
    How bad it might be = (Hell doesn’t exist; therefore, Hell = 0) 0.

    Risk = fn(0, 0).
    Risk = 0.

    Fail. Epic FAIL. Burp. Next.

  167. #168 tsg
    May 16, 2008

    There may be something to his point, to the extent that becoming an open atheist is opting out of the majority social group and the security that comes with that group membership.

    Yes, how shortsighted of me not to respect their intolerance.

  168. #169 Theaetetus
    May 16, 2008

    reason said: Surely, being offended if someone presents a hypothesis (which may or may not eventually be supported by evidence) is unscientific.

    My hypothesis, which may or may not eventually be supported by evidence, is that “reason” is an elitist, sexist bigot, who has an irrational hatred for women due to being shunned by them during his high school and college years.
    What, you’re offended? But it’s merely a hypothesis. Don’t be so unscientific and emotional. I’m merely making a rational inquiry that may turn out to have no evidence for it.

  169. #170 J
    May 16, 2008

    It’s just not the type of question that is productive (Completely unlike J’s analogies, which were just difficult problems — except for the beginning of life, which may be a problem that is not practically answerable).
    Don’t be so hasty! It seems remarkable that a proof of Fermat’s last theorem has any uses at all — and yet the number theorists assure us it does.

    I agree with you, though, that “Why are women according to some studies more religious than men?” is hardly the kind of problem to devote one’s life to.

  170. #171 J
    May 16, 2008

    Oh good grief, I’ve done it again. The first two sentences in my last post are supposed to be in italics.

  171. #172 cicely
    May 16, 2008

    I am not a sociologist (nor do I play one on T.V.), but I see this as being more like a puzzle with many pieces, rather than one cut-and-dried, cause-and-effect factor. (And, if my luck runs as usual, by the time I post this, all of my points will have been made, multiple times. Oh, well!)

    Bucking social/cultural expectations is risk-taking behavior, in that many members of that society won’t approve of the flouting of its rules (explicit and implicit), and that bucking social expectations is more acceptable, to society as a whole, in males than it is in females. However, the association of risk-taking behavior with poor impulse control is, IMNSHO, completely bogus. Calculated risk, anyone? If it pays off, you’re golden; if not, the social opprobrium may matter more, emotionally, to females more than males; also, the perception of loss, whether true or not, is as good as the real thing.

    Whether for biological or cultural reasons, females do seem to be more socially oriented. If a society takes a dim view of females taking a forceful part in decision-making in general, but church is an acceptable outlet for a woman’s “energies”, of course women will disproportionately avail themselves of that outlet. Also, church is different things to different people, so obviously this would be true of women, too. For some, it can be a pre-selected pool of husband-candidates, (allegedly) sorted for desirable characteristics such as truthfulness, monogamy (pause for laughter to subside), similarity of ethics, etc.; but it also can be social interaction and bonding, opportunity to establish pecking order, demonstrate superiority of resources (I noticed the fashion parade ‘way back when I was a very religious little girl), compare and contrast offspring (but of course, mine are best!), connect with an extra-familial support group (could be useful when your pre-selected “monogamous” husband decides to trade you in on a newer model, or when you are old and in need of a helping hand), and probably others that don’t occur to me just now.

    What’d be interesting would be to see how the numbers would stack up among different societies of similar economic advantages, but different levels of cultural acceptibility of female participation in political and economic leadership.

  172. #173 kcrady
    May 16, 2008

    Sorry, Ben Stein: You gotta be an atheist to be Bad to the Bone. :)

  173. #174 J
    May 16, 2008

    Now a more interesting questions is, Why are men funnier than women?

    Christopher Hitchens has a good answer, and it relates, of course, to sex:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/01/hitchens200701?printable=true&currentPage=all

  174. #175 Timothy
    May 16, 2008

    He’s wrong, but he could be right at the same time. If women are less likely to take risks than men there’s no reason to believe that they aren’t just playing it too safe in the case of religion.

    Of course anyone who’s really thought it through realizes that there isn’t even something to play it safe with and all you’re doing when you’re religious is wasting your time.

    It’s too bad this guy is an idiot and either doesn’t understand what is going on or doesn’t know how to explain it.

  175. #176 Grimalkin
    May 16, 2008

    J – have you ever considered that much of humour is aggressive? Poking fun of people, beliefs, nationalities, etc. Most humour falls under the category of “aggressive” in one way or another.

    Now consider this – women are not allowed to be openly aggressive. Girls are soft, gentle, we’re princesses. When a boy beats up another boy, he may be punished, but his actions will still be legitimized (“well, boys will be boys!”). In fact, being aggressive is often seen as a positive for males. Think of the hero-worship many males have for athletes, for example.

    When a female wants to be aggressive, she cannot do it out in the open. She will usually do it through gossip or other more passive-aggressive means.

    Women aren’t “funny” because it isn’t socially acceptable for us to be. We aren’t allowed to be aggressive up front, which is exactly what most humour is. So instead, we get to be the cold fish joy-kill who just nags the husband and then conveniently walks out of the room so that he can whine and poke fun at her.

    Anyways, this is something a lot of female comediennes have identified. They might tell the exact same joke as a male in exactly the same way, but their reception will be much poorer because it’s seen as “unfeminine” to be aggressive. Some comediennes have used this to their advantage, but it’s a major stumbling block for any woman who is naturally funny and wants to express that.

  176. #177 ihedenius
    May 16, 2008

    The upshot is that some men are shortsighted and don’t think ahead, and so “going to prison or going to hell just doesn’t matter to these men,” Stark said.

    To examine rates of religiosity, Stark used the World Values Surveys, which collected data in 57 nations. The world’s major faiths were included and the data came from such countries as the United States, most European states, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, China, India, South Africa and Turkey. In all 57 countries, a higher percentage of women than men said they were religious.

    I don’t think ‘going to hell’ is much relevant in China (CIA Fact book: Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Christian 3%-4%, Muslim 1%-2%), Japan or Europe for that matter.

  177. #178 student_b
    May 16, 2008

    Thumbs up for Theaetetus, because I’m still a fan of awesome smack downs. ;)

  178. #179 maureen
    May 16, 2008

    After reading the above – a painful experience – I have just realised something.

    My late mother – running a seven day a week business which was demanding both physically and of her interpersonal skills, also involved in politics and local activism – went to church at 11 a.m. each Sunday because for a whole hour she was allowed to (mostly) sit down, with no-one making more demands upon her than upon anyone else.

    Mum, you’re forgiven.

  179. #180 Monado
    May 16, 2008

    What Carlie said (#52). And in the Bad Old Days, going out to church was probably the most common occasion women had for going out and seeing or talking to other adults.

  180. #181 J
    May 16, 2008

    J – have you ever considered that much of humour is aggressive? Poking fun of people, beliefs, nationalities, etc. Most humour falls under the category of “aggressive” in one way or another.
    OK, that’s a good point. It’s not a totally convincing explanation, though. There’s also “Monty Python” humour, which seldom pokes fun at anyone. Men seem to do it best.

  181. #182 snartly
    May 16, 2008

    As a sociologist, I am embarrassed by this guy.

  182. #183 negentropyeater
    May 16, 2008

    Before one starts talking about differences in brain structure / genetics /emotional differences / risk aversion / influence of testosterone or whatever, shouldn’t one first look at how significant the difference in religiosity really is ?

    Belief in God (source : The Economist, Anglosaxon attitudes poll, April 2008)
    US
    Women 84% = 80 + 4
    Men 76% = 80 – 4

    GB
    Women 42% = 39 + 3
    Men 36% = 39 – 3

    As one can see, the difference is there, but not that significant, and could easily be explained by such factors as :

    – slight difference in the average levels of education of women and men (men still have slightly higher average education correlates w/ lower religiosity)
    – slight difference in the average age of women and men (demographics make women slightly older than men on average, older age correlates with higher religiosity)

    and I’m sure many other more straightforward factors can be discussed that have nothing to do with “Women and men are fundamentally different with regards to their acceptation of religion”.

  183. #184 John
    May 16, 2008

    #164: how is he basing his premise on hell being a real place?
    He’s basing his premise on peoples’ beliefs regarding hell being a real place (protip: they do indeed believe that), because his premise regards peoples’ decision making, not their actual metaphysical fate.

  184. #185 Grimalkin
    May 16, 2008

    J – Well, Monty Python pokes fun at a lot of things, lol. But yes, there is humour that isn’t aggressive, it’s just rather rare. But kids learn by extrapolating. If a parent says “careful, that car can run you over!” kids are going to look at a truck and say “I bet that can run me over too, even though it isn’t a car.”

    That’s how we learn. Sometimes we extrapolate too far, like a kid looking at a tiger and thinking that it’s a leopard because the last big cat he saw was a leopard. When that happens, we’re corrected and we learn how far we can extend our new information.

    But for humour, we don’t usually get direct feedback like that. If a little girl gets a bad reaction most of the time when she tries to tell a joke, she may assume that all jokes are bad. Now if you think of these sorts of skills like muscles, that girl may, over years of disuse, lose what might have been a natural ability to be funny.

    Now obviously, I am simplifying. I know that personality is a huge thing influenced by all sorts of areas in ways that we can’t even begin to understand. My point is simply that saying “women aren’t funny because of X” – whatever X may be, but most especially if you try to claim that X is biology – you will invariably be simplifying matters to the point that it is no longer useful information. Hitchens may well be right in part, but it can only be in part.

  185. #186 frog
    May 16, 2008

    J: OK, that’s a good point. It’s not a totally convincing explanation, though. There’s also “Monty Python” humour, which seldom pokes fun at anyone. Men seem to do it best.

    Even gentle humor is generally aggressive – sometimes in self-deprecation (which is a redirection of aggression), sometimes with an intellectual aggression (puns and such).

    Why do you think that the signalling of humor – laughter – is the same as the aggression sign among all other primates? We’ve just “sophisticated” it, turning it into it’s own opposite. I understand that among dogs, a slight baring of teeth can be a signal that the teeth won’t be bared further. It’s hard to say “No” non-verbally.

  186. #187 Monado
    May 16, 2008

    Personally, I always liked looking at the rich colours in the stained-glass windows. Also, for a while, we had a pastor who gave thought-provoking sermons–a true rarity. If you move, it’s a fast way to find a new community, like joining the Rotarians.

  187. #188 Carlie
    May 16, 2008

    How do they describe “religious”, anyway? It’s limited to a single culture, no? Let’s look at another one to see how those “male-female” differences play out.

    A man and his wife share one religion. By all external measures, she shows more pious markers than he. She wears the proper clothing mandated by the religion, follows all of the proper rules of the religion, raises her children in that religion. He does this somewhat, but the rules are more lax for him, so there are fewer markers to note. She is therefore counted as more religious than he is, because there is more to count for her. Then, one day, her daughter falls in puppy love with the wrong boy. The man beats his daughter to death in accordance to his religion. The wife flees because if she voices her protest, he will kill her too.

    So, who’s more religious in this scenario?

  188. #189 Paul W.
    May 16, 2008

    Paul W. #73: I wonder if men being socialized to be more individualistic is responsible for that greater measured variability across different metrics. They’d be more likely to express and grow into widely differing capacities, than if they were encouraged to limit themselves and play with New Bride Barbies or whatever.

    Good question. I think culture amplifies and ramifies a lot of differences, some of which are likely genetic in some way to some extent.

    Cross-cultural trends, even universal ones, can be cultural, and not genetically determined.

    For example, I suspect that at one time almost everybody everywhere thought that the earth was flat. Not because it’s in our genes to think so, but because what is in our genes makes it easy to jump to that conclusion, given the structure of our environments.

    Likewise, the genetically determined differences between men and women’s bodies may result in almost every culture leaping to certain conclusions about men and women’s “natural” roles. Patriarchial society is easy to evolve, and “natural” in that extremely weak non-prescriptive sense.

    I do think there are genetically determined differences between men and women’s brains, but I also think that most differences in men and women’s beliefs, etc. are probably mostly determined by other things, or by large cultural amplification of relatively small statistical differences.

    For example, women may be “genetically” a bit more nurturing or personally conservative, and men may be a bit more more risk-taking and aggressive, on average.

    But even if so, that may not come close to accounting for the observed variance in the face of culture.

    For example, women may attend church and cultivate larger social networks than men, because culturally they have to—culture puts them in charge of the kids, and they need to have friends who will take care of their kids when they’re sick, etc.

    Likewise, men may be more aggressive and risk-taking mostly because that’s their culturally defined-job.

    Men are on average considerably physically stronger, so if anybody’s going to defend the family’s resources or take someone else’s by force, that’s “a man’s job.”

    On one hand, men may be more naturally inclined to want that kind of role, on average, but on the other it’s clear that culture tends to reify and amplify it a lot. (You may not want the job, but you don’t want to be seen as a pussy or a sissy.)

    In general, I’m sympathetic to evolutionary psychology in principle, and think a lot of things have a genetic basis in some sort that’s explicable in light of evolution.

    On the other hand, culture is powerful enough that it’s hard to tell what’s mostly genetic, what’s mostly cultural, and what’s due to cultural amplification of a genetic difference which may not be the one you’d expect at all.

    For example, women having breasts could have as much to do with their greater church attendance as innate mental differences.

  189. #190 Friendo
    May 16, 2008

    I’m a little surprised no-one has mentioned correlation of religiosity with class and ethnicity/nationality. I mean, other stereotypes out there are:

    – African-Americans are more religious
    – Hispanics are more religious
    – People without college degrees are more religious
    – Poor people are more religious
    – People living in third-world countries are more religious

    I list all of these without any supporting data, but I don’t think they’re really controversial. And it all adds up to a general pattern: people with lower socioeconomic status turn to religion as a means of empowerment (provided there is a strong religious tradition around them to legitimize it). There’s a reason Catholicism is withering in the West, but thriving in South America and Africa.

    The idea of religion as a crutch is a pretty common meme, especially round these parts, so I don’t think the issue is as complicated as people make it out to be. In traditional societies, women don’t have much to look forward to after getting married, so the religious viewpoint gives them something to look forward to, and dare I say it, “gives their life meaning”. Although I also think the “women are more sensitive to social mores” has something to it. Now whether that sensitivity is innate or a product of surrounding culture, I have no particular opinion.

  190. #191 Etha Williams
    May 16, 2008

    @#190 Friendo —

    And it all adds up to a general pattern: people with lower socioeconomic status turn to religion as a means of empowerment (provided there is a strong religious tradition around them to legitimize it).

    Yes, though I wouldn’t say that it is genuinely empowering. See Marx, quoted in #148.

  191. #192 Dave
    May 16, 2008

    Don’t know if this has been pointed out yet in the comments, but that’s a 6-year old press release. The author of the article, Rodney Stark, is now at Baylor: http://www.rodneystark.com/

    He claims to be agnostic, but is clearly religious in the Christian tradition. Unfortunately typical for such people, he has a poor understanding of modern biology, but is not afraid to flaunt it: “Stark published an article in 2004 criticizing Charles Darwin and Evolutionary Theory. In “Facts, Fable and Darwin”, Dr. Stark criticized the “Darwinian Crusade” and suggested that governments “lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin’s failed attempt as an eternal truth.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Stark)

  192. #193 Art
    May 16, 2008

    Three guys warily eye each other on a street corner. I guy says: “I just got off a ten years in the pen for armed robbery and assault I’m bad’. The other two nod. The second guy offers up that he robbed a couple of old ladies and beat the cop senseless when he tried to apprehend him so he’s running from the law and dangerous. Everyone shows proper respect.

    Then the third guy offers that he is an atheist … and everyone steps back and looks sideways to make sure they have somewhere to run to. The smell of raw fear and cold sweat is palpable. The other two cower in fear and beg the atheist not to hurt them.

    Atheists have heavy street cred. Dangerous dudes in their own right and dangerous to be around. Doubly so because at any minute God could send down his wrath on them and hit anyone in the vicinity.

    Evidently this God guy is petulant, vindictive, angry and not very selective of who gets hurt or a very good shot because his fury falls on entire communities. Unless someone like Pat Robertson prays away the Hurricane.

  193. #194 Dave
    May 16, 2008

    Don’t know if this has been pointed out yet in the comments, but that’s a 6-year old press release. The author of the article, Rodney Stark, is now at Baylor: http://www.rodneystark.com/

    He claims to be agnostic, but is clearly religious in the Christian tradition. Unfortunately typical for such people, he has a poor understanding of modern biology, but is not afraid to flaunt it: “Stark published an article in 2004 criticizing Charles Darwin and Evolutionary Theory. In “Facts, Fable and Darwin”, Dr. Stark criticized the “Darwinian Crusade” and suggested that governments “lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin’s failed attempt as an eternal truth.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Stark) Why can’t religious historians stick to their field, and let biologists speak for biology?

  194. #195 frog
    May 16, 2008

    Etha: Yes, though I wouldn’t say that it is genuinely empowering.

    Genuine? That like “authentic”? I think it is genuinely empowering, but within the context of a game that maximal empowerment requires overturning the rules of the game. It’s always the problems of the world’s prisoner’s dilemma, isn’t it? The individual who strikes out against the system is going to lose, unless everyone else who’s losing also strikes out — but they gain relatively by acquiescing more quickly.

    That’s the problem of political language derived from 19th century and earlier political philosophy — it’s deeply ignorant of game theory and all the allied mathematics. Basically, it’s like trying to describe astrophysics with Aristotelean scientific language — no matter how much you try, how good you are, the assumptions in the language make it close to useless.

  195. #196 Flex
    May 16, 2008

    Art wrote, “Then the third guy offers that he is an atheist … and everyone steps back and looks sideways to make sure they have somewhere to run to. “

    Funny, I was reminded of Arlo Guthrie’s song, Alice’s Resturant when I read that.

    And I, I walked over to the, to the bench there, and there is, Group W’s where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army after committing your special crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers. Father rapers! Father rapers sitting right there on the bench next to me! And they was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible crime-type guys sitting on the bench next to me. And the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one, the meanest father raper of them all, was coming over to me and he was mean ‘n’ ugly ‘n’ nasty ‘n’ horrible and all kind of things and he sat down next to me and said, “Kid, whad’ya get?” I said, “I didn’t get nothing, I had to pay $50 and pick up the garbage.” He said, “What were you arrested for, kid?” And I said, “Littering.” And they all moved away from me on the bench there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I said, “And creating a nuisance.” And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench, talkin about crime, mother stabbing, father raping, all kinds of groovy things that we was talking about on the
    bench.

    Replace “Littering” with “Atheist” and, well, you get the general idea.

  196. #197 eric
    May 16, 2008

    I’d recommend the 2008 PEW Survey of the US Religious landscape to all you folks interested in this question. One quick observation from that document:

    Atheists and the religiously unaffiliated tend to be younger. The total % of unaffiliateds in the US population is 16%, but there is a steady trend of increasing religious affiliation with age…the 18-29 group contains 25% unaffiliateds, decreasing to 8% at the 70+ age group. See p.37

    Women live ~10 years longer than men.

    So at least part of the explanation has, ironically, everything to do with biology but not in the way Shaw thinks. Very simply: there are more old women than old men, older people as a group are more religious, therefore there are more religious women than men.

  197. #198 Friendo
    May 16, 2008

    @#190, 195

    Sorry for the confusion, but when I said empowerment, I only meant in the emotional, visceral sense, i.e. it makes them feel big when their place in the surrounding society makes them feel small. As I consider religion to be basically a mind-trick, I would personally consider religion to be disempowering.

  198. #199 Paul W.
    May 16, 2008

    In comments 42 & 95, I explained that statistics indicate that nontheists are about 100 times as likely to become top scientists as theists.

    If you look at the range of orthodoxy from scriptural literalism to outright (disbelieving) “strong” atheism, the number is probably closer to 1000 times.

    Even among theistic elite scientists, fundamentalists are underrepresented—not only are elite scientists less likely to be theistic than other people, but the theists are much less likely to be theologically orthodox.

    I assume that’s true of the NAS membership, as well as scientists and elite scientists generally, but don’t have specific numbers for the NAS membership on that distinction. Actually I think it’s a good NAS members who are theists are even less likely to be orthodox than other scientists who are theists.

    Likewise, if you just look at the theistic scientists, fundamentalists are grossly underrepresented. About 40 percent of non-elite scientists are theists, but the orthodox ones count for a much smaller fraction than among theists in general.

    Assuming that’s true of the NAS as well, then the factor of 100 is probably grossly understates the negative correlation between religious orthodoxy and scientific achievement.

    It would be hard to put a precise number on it, if only because we don’t have exactly the right data, and the number of fundamentalists in the NAS is close to zero.

    Still, it’s interesting that fundamentalists appear roughly three orders of magnitude less likely to be top scientists than outright disbelievers.

    That’s a number that cries out for some serious explaining.

    The recent Religious Attitudes Among Scientists study is purported to show that it’s a myth that scientific knowledge destroys religion.

    The authors make it sound like the most important effect is self-selection—it’s not that scientists lose their religion, but that religious people are less likely to go into science.

    I don’t think that’s anywhere near the whole story. (Not surprising, perhaps, in light of the fact that the study was funded by the Templeton Foundation.)

    In the reports I’ve read, they talk about advanced scientific education not “necessarily” leading people to “simply drop” their religious beliefs. They don’t seem to want to talk about whether it typically erodes religious belief significantly, either in terms of orthodoxy or religiosity.

    Even so, I suspect they’re right that there’s considerable selection on the way to becoming an elite scientist—and especially a top scientist.

    That in itself is interesting. Maybe science doesn’t cause atheism, but if not, it seems likely that atheism causes science, or that some other things strongly tend to cause both atheism and science.

    It’s seems clear that the effects of age, sex, race, and income are nowhere near strong enough to explain the 100- or 1000-fold difference in performance between the conventionally religious and atheists. Those might account for a factor of up to around two each, but would still leave a much larger factor unexplained.

    This suggests that perhaps the best way to promote scientific achievement is not to play atheism down, but to promote atheism as much as possible.

    If there’s a causal link from irreligion to scientific achievement, any substantial increase in atheism is likely to produce a substantial increase in the pool of people willing and able to do science, and especially top science.

    If there’s not, and the causal links are from some other variables to both atheism and scientific achievement, that’s got to be very interesting as well.

    For example, it may be the case that very smart people are much more likely to become atheists and much more likely to become scientists, without their atheism causing their science or vice versa.

    (Keep in mind that the correlation between advanced science and irreligion is very strong even after accounting for race, sex, income, and whatever filtering happens on the way to getting a random graduate degree.)

    Given the staggering disparity between the orthodox and atheists in scientific achievement, I suspect that all of the obvious hypotheses are substantially correct with fairly large effects:

    1) irreligiosity makes people more interested in science and/or more able to do it

    2) advanced scientific knowledge systematically erodes religious orthodoxy and/or religious certainty and/or religious commitment

    3) intelligence and/or personality traits that tend to promote atheism also independently tend to promote scientific achievement

    For any social scientists out there who are interested in such things, this seems like a very worthy topic of study.

    Given the huge effects involved, it seems likely you could learn some interesting stuff just by doing an insightful meta-analysis of data that’s already out there in various forms.

  199. #200 frog
    May 16, 2008

    Friendo: As I consider religion to be basically a mind-trick, I would personally consider religion to be disempowering.

    But it’s a mind-trick that goes both ways. It’s disempowering in terms of real political power relative to a community that is mostly religion free — but in a community that is religious, it’s the only way to political influence.

    You only have to look at many ME communities, where the enforcers of gender inequality is often the old women, against younger women; or in sub-saharan Africa, where female circumcision is often enforced by the older woman, and not directly by the men. Yes, all the women would be better off if they dumped the crap, but a lower risk strategy is to accept the crap and use it in your own interest – to dominate those who are even lower in the hierarchy. It’s a common theme – people who are low on the totem pole often are the most vigorous enforcers of inequality — not solely because they’re brainwashed, but also because it’s in their individual advantage, or in their short term advantage.

    Society is complicated and who wants to stick their neck out for others?

  200. #201 J
    May 16, 2008

    J – Well, Monty Python pokes fun at a lot of things, lol. But yes, there is humour that isn’t aggressive, it’s just rather rare.
    It seems counter-intuitive to me that aggressive humour is by far the most common kind of humour. People habitually make mildly humourous, unmemorable comments in small-talk, which aren’t remotely aggressive. (In fact, aggressive, mocking humour is often considered impolite when used in the presence of strangers.) I suspect that you people are trying to take a canonically positive quality (a sense of humour) and turn it on its head, in order to as usual portray men as demons and women as angels.

    If anyone can provide good scientific reason to believe that humour is inherently aggressive, I’d love to hear it.

    (Citing the behaviour of lower primates doesn’t prove anything. It’s plausible enough, for example, that humour started out aggressive and in our ancestors evolved into a non-aggressive, more general feature.)

  201. #202 kmarissa
    May 16, 2008

    but a lower risk strategy is to accept the crap and use it in your own interest – to dominate those who are even lower in the hierarchy.

    Frog, thinking of the case of female circumcision, I would suggest that the reason for its support by old women is less because it gives the old women more power as compared to the girls forced to undergo the procedure, but because the old women care about the power (that will be) held by their granddaughters, nieces, etc., through having the procedure done to them. Perhaps in their minds, it’s less about risk of power loss for the old women themselves, and more about minimizing risk to the girls who, they fear, will otherwise grow up to be considered whores and therefore valueless. Arguably, it’s a way of “protecting” the little power/value that the girls will have.

    I think in some other situations you allude to, the analysis is spot-on, however.

  202. #203 Paul W.
    May 16, 2008
    Well, Monty Python pokes fun at a lot of things, lol. But yes, there is humour that isn’t aggressive, it’s just rather rare.

    It seems counter-intuitive to me that aggressive humour is by far the most common kind of humour. People habitually make mildly humourous, unmemorable comments in small-talk, which aren’t remotely aggressive.

    Both aggressive and non-aggressive jokes are common, for a good reason I’ll explain in a minute.

    The basic thing that makes a joke work is that you tell an ambiguous story with two possible interpretations, both of which are emotionally loaded in different ways, and only one of which is obvious. The punchline disambiguates the interpretation, refuting the first interpretation and making the second one obvious. There’s a sudden switch from feeling one thing about the story situation to feeling something very different. That sudden switch in feeling is what makes it funny.

    A lot of jokes involve suffering or hate, in either the initial interpretation of the story or the one revealed by the punchline, because it’s easy to get people to feel something about suffering or hate.

    If you go from an interpretation that’s emotionally negative to one that’s positive, you get a kind of emotional relief that’s WHEW-funny or WHEE!-funny.

    If you go from one that’s positive to one that’s negative to one that’s positive, you get a kind of emotional WHOA!-funny.

    Either way can be very funny.

    What’s not very funny is when one or the other interpretation of the story doesn’t have much of an emotional loading. What’s even less funny is when neither does.

    A lot of puns are like that, with a structural switch from one interpretation to another, but neither really being emotionally interesting. They’re very “light” comedy and for most people, at best mildly amusing. A really good pun is one where each interpretation of the syllable stream means something with an emotional loading, and the loadings are different; then the pun embodies not just a structural surprise but an actual (emotional) joke.

    (There’s a good discussion of this in Jeff Dean’s book Step by Step to Standup Comedy. It’s well worth reading for anybody wants to know how to write funny, and it’s an interesting read for its own sake. It’s based on cognitive psych research on humor, but I forget the original sources.)

    Anyway… a lot of humor involves aggression if only because there’s only a few emotions, and negative ones are among them. Since you use two emotions per joke, you’re really hobbled if you don’t use the negative ones.

    So in any given humorous piece of writing that’s not trying to avoid aggression, you’ll see aggressive or otherwise negative stuff pretty often.

  203. #204 Becca
    May 16, 2008

    Well of course there is a risk of appearing non-religious- it’s something that makes you “different”. Watch schoolkids on a playground- lesson one, being different is hazardous.
    Are women really more influenced by social cues like this though? And would that be biological?
    Perfectly interesting questions. It’s dumb to assume any particular answer to them, but not dumb to point out that, *with respect to social ties* appearing non-religious can have deleterious effects, just like more obvious anti-social behavior. This is not to say that it is or *should be* treated as the same as sticking a knife into someone- just that it has an impact.

    If women *are* more influenced by this, and if it is biological, these things might explain some of the research on women being influenced by the media for body image- since I’m not aware of media impact being similarly dramatic in men. Of course, the fact that the media upholds the impossible standards more stringently for women is also entirely plausible. But then, society might judge female atheists harsher than male atheists, too.

  204. #205 Azkyroth
    May 16, 2008

    And if (as I’ve heard from many other sources) religion is inherently patriarchal and oppressive to women, why do women tend to be more religious than the dudes who could benefit from the oppression?

    Stockholm syndrome writ large?

  205. #206 frog
    May 16, 2008

    Becca: If women *are* more influenced by this, and if it is biological, these things might explain some of the research on women being influenced by the media for body image- since I’m not aware of media impact being similarly dramatic in men.

    Anyone have any research on that? Just in my lifetime I’ve noticed a huge increase in how much attention males pay to body image, from weight to manicures. I expect that in thirty-years, most younger men will be wearing makeup regularly – it’s already started.

    Remember, that until the 19th century, it was men who were the body image conscious ones in European society – the peacocks wearing codpieces, colorful clothing, fancy boots and feathered hats. It was only with the success of the Glorious Revolution in Britain and the rise of British power (and America as junior partner), that men started wearing somber suits through-out Euro societies. Compare 18th century paintings of G Washington versus Martha, for example — and that was late in the game, right before the 2nd Great Awakening.

  206. #207 Azkyroth
    May 16, 2008

    Psychological gender differences are ridiculously overrated…so many “scientific” studies come out every year, evaluating differences in men and women and conclude that obviously there must be a difference in our biology. When in reality, socialization has a HUGE role that is often ignored.

    It’s important to keep in mind the disconnect between scientific results and science reporting, especially in terms of cognitive differences. Studies often find that men, on average, tend to perform slightly better than women, on average, in certain specific cognitive tasks. The media then goes on to report these results in a sensationalistic, inappropriately extrapolated fashion. There are three very consistent patterns in the media’s reporting on gender difference research: the fact that the differences found are averages, not absolutes, is de-emphasized; the actual numbers (the differences in most cases are on the order of a few percentage points or less, as I understand it) are not reported at all; and they are flatly assumed to be due to the direct influence of hormones on the brain, with explanations like priming, pressure to conform to expectations of gender abilities and interests, and the fact that many of these tasks are skills that improve with practice in connection with the activities boys and girls are encouraged to pursue, ad nauseum.

    Seriously, when it comes to popular reporting on gender difference studies, the media might as well go a tiny bit farther and claim that “science confirms that the gods put gold into the blood of baby boys, and silver into the blood of baby girls.”

  207. #208 Azkyroth
    May 16, 2008

    Err, with those alternate explanations not even mentioned, let alone considered.

    Basically, there’s no way for an ethical human experiment to have controlled for all the confounding factors necessary for the results to say what the magazines often claim they do.

  208. #209 J
    May 16, 2008

    Remember, that until the 19th century, it was men who were the body image conscious ones in European society – the peacocks wearing codpieces, colorful clothing, fancy boots and feathered hats.

    Actually, a study has been done on this (see Jonathan Gottschall’s talk at the last Beyond Belief conference), which basically indicates that you’re completely wrong.

    Moreover, it’s highly contestable that in pre-19th century Europe men were the image-conscious ones. These attempts to dogmatically rule out the role of genetics on personality are so far unsupportable and unscientific.

  209. #210 mona
    May 16, 2008

    On the subject, did anyone read the “Are you a good 1930s housewife?” entry at Pandagon the other day? As the header to the post, Amanda linked to a scan of a questionnaire from 1939 aimed at psychologists for trying to determine whether a woman was good wife material or not. One of the evaluation criteria (worth 5 merit points instead of the usual 1) was “Religious — takes children to church or Sunday school, and goes herself.”

    For what it’s worth, the next item on the list was “Lets husband sleep in on Sundays and holidays,” which indicates to me that the disparity in displays of religiosity is a patriarchal double-standard that has been going on for a long time.

    Yeah, I like how religiosity is enough of a “merit” that it can cancel out “is suspicious and jealous” and “doesn’t like children.”

  210. #211 frog
    May 16, 2008

    J: Cites please. Dogmatic assertions about what other people “said” just don’t cut it. You know, links or quotations, or at least a paragraph with some details on the statement.

    And if your going to contest that in the 1600 and 1700’s men were body conscious, at least give one counter-example. It’s not that hard – we know that body consciousness in the explicit sense was frowned upon by Puritan theology.

    Really, do you even know what “dogmatism” is? To say that there are counter-examples isn’t dogmatism – you generally seem very weak on proper English usage. The very heart of “science” is the null hypothesis – always giving the benefit of the doubt to “unproven” is what science is about J.

    What I did suggest is that following this train of questioning is unproductive – that it’s an uninteresting question, in the sense that it’s almost impossible to answer (logically, not just practically). But those kinds of fine distinctions do not appear to be your strong suit, with your confusion over the difference between the difficulty of Fermat’s last theorem (hard, but not hard in principle, just in execution) and the origin of life (hard, both in principle, since it involves multiple scales of time and space in addition to feedback loops like long-term weather – not climate – predictions, and in execution).

    Once again, starting to smell trollish by destroying very important distinctions in language and using religious motifs (the “scientists” are really secret “dogmatists”, and you’re just trying to help the scientists… aw shucks). I thought you were getting better at this, but you just can’t help it, can you?

  211. #212 J
    May 16, 2008

    Cites please. Dogmatic assertions about what other people “said” just don’t cut it. You know, links or quotations, or at least a paragraph with some details on the statement.
    Sure thing. Here you go. This article suggests that you should think twice before making such confident assertions.

    I’m also far from convinced that European men in the 18th and 17th centuries were more “body-conscious” than women. At least I don’t think it’s something you can claim as obvious.

  212. #213 J
    May 16, 2008

    Once again, starting to smell trollish by destroying very important distinctions in language and using religious motifs (the “scientists” are really secret “dogmatists”, and you’re just trying to help the scientists… aw shucks). I thought you were getting better at this, but you just can’t help it, can you?
    Don’t flatter yourself. Don’t assume that I would see you as a representitive of “scientists”.

    Obviously I never did anything like insinuate that scientists are really dogmatists. (Being a scientist myself, I would have no reason to do it, either.) Yet another time, you just can’t resist being dishonest.

  213. #214 David Marjanovi?, OM
    May 16, 2008

    I’m not inclined to rape and murder (had a long night) but I could be up for some pillaging later in the day, say around 4 pm. Anyone want to come along?

    Be careful. This question is what got the Migrations Age started. Someone said “me too”, someone else said “me three”, and a few decades later the Western Roman Empire was gone.

    I can only hope he understands sociology better than the understands science.

    I was going to say that sociology is a science, too.

    Past tense.

    Here’s a simple poll on church attendence: shows a 12% gap in weekly church attendance between men and women.

    50 % of Americans say they go to church every Sunday. 25 % of Americans are actually observed to church every Sunday.

    Food for thought.

    For my part, my (female) fiancee is just as educated as I am (terminal degree), and I’d say we’re equally religious, although in different ways. I’m into the philosophical/analytical/historical side of it. She’s into the worship side of it.

    Consequently, she likes to go to church much more than I do, but I like to discuss and debate.

    That’s why I think the “churches are keyed more to the emotional needs of women than to the needs of men.”

    That’s why? A sample size of two?

    And why don’t we see a huge gender disparity in religiosity in Orthodox countries? Orthodoxy is mostly about the worship side and actively refuses to turn religion into “a higher form of geometry” (that’s a quote, but I forgot by whom), preferring piety over scholasticism.

    BTW, if your fiancée were male, she’d be a fiancé. Spoken and written French don’t have the same grammar.

    Btw, Pandagon had a hilarious post earlier this week about a 1930s “are you a good wife” questionnaire ([...]) where the woman would get points for going/taking the kids to church AND for letting her husband sleep in on Sundays (ie. he presumably doesn’t have to go to church).

    Interesting. Looks like it explains a lot.

    I thought the physiological difference in the way men’s and women’s brains operate was fairly well extablished (left brain vs. right brain). Correct me if I’m wrong, I’m an engineer, not a psych major. :)

    It’s much less well established than most people think — and the differences between left & right brain are not only much more complicated but also much less well established than most people think.

    And what you need here is not just psychology, but neurobiology. You can’t start with a holistic understanding; you have to learn the dread reductionist basics first.

    ————–

    I’ve only read to comment 125. Sorry for any duplications of what others have said. I need to go to bed.

  214. #215 frog
    May 16, 2008

    J: Sure thing. Here you go. This article suggests that you should think twice before making such confident assertions.

    Much better, thank-you — this way I can actually respond. It’s primarily a review paper. I’m not a fan of those, except as a primer to a field. Due to the selective nature, they have a clear bias, and a lack of hard data, like a text-book.

    The actual “model” is verbal. You can’t do that — how can I test the model if you don’t give me a set of equations with well-defined variables? How can I falsify? Their model is a lot of words, and two tables.

    For example, in the Gottschall paper, what are the cues of parental investment by males? Why would these cues not be heavily tied to physical attractiveness? I don’t see why, a priori they would be distinct – they could be, and are under specific circumstances, but that may not be generally true for the species. One would expect that the definition of “physical attractiveness” would include qualities that reflect male parental investment.

    Additionally, I doubt that there was a great deal of variability in male investment in Paleolithic times (the period that is of actual relevance here). Humans lived in small bands, mate choice was fairly limited, and males would have little choice but to give full investment to the band in general, which is unlikely to have diverged because of the small size of the group from investment in children. On the other hand, if the human pattern had been like chimps, where females were transferred between bands of brothers, there might have been some difference between bands, not individuals.

    Do we see female attractiveness dominant in penguins and other monogamous birds? Not just equal, but dominant? Any ornithologist to answer that question? It would seem from Gottschall’s argument, we should be most like them, and less like either extreme of the male/female polarity.

  215. #216 windy
    May 16, 2008

    50 % of Americans say they go to church every Sunday. 25 % of Americans are actually observed to church every Sunday.

    LOL, but 25 % still go??? Wow.

  216. #217 Ichthyic
    May 16, 2008

    Do we see female attractiveness dominant in penguins and other monogamous birds?

    depends on the bird, really. typically, mate choice occurs on the female end (which makes perfect sense if one applies the theory of parental investment), so sexually selected characteristics tend to appear in males.

    there are exceptions in various monogamous species. Some spiders come to mind, and many monogamous species of fishes have essentially no sexual dimorphism (butterflyfishes come to mind).

    It’s possibly more complicated than simple models of sexual selection and parental investment theory would suggest, at least for some species, but more complex mate choice models have yet to be thoroughly tested in the field.

    http://adb.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/16/1/53

    all this said just in answer to the issue of sexually-selected traits in monogamous species.

    carry on.

  217. #218 J
    May 16, 2008

    Much better, thank-you — this way I can actually respond. It’s primarily a review paper. I’m not a fan of those, except as a primer to a field. Due to the selective nature, they have a clear bias, and a lack of hard data, like a text-book.
    I linked to it because it’s a guide through the substantial literature on the subject, the bulk of which indicates you’re wrong.

    The actual “model” is verbal. You can’t do that — how can I test the model if you don’t give me a set of equations with well-defined variables? How can I falsify? Their model is a lot of words, and two tables.
    Demanding equations in this fashion is simply absurd. Science can get by perfectly well without them.

    For example, in the Gottschall paper, what are the cues of parental investment by males? Why would these cues not be heavily tied to physical attractiveness? I don’t see why, a priori they would be distinct – they could be, and are under specific circumstances, but that may not be generally true for the species. One would expect that the definition of “physical attractiveness” would include qualities that reflect male parental investment.
    What on Earth are you talking about? You’re completely missing the point. We already know that females are the sex that spends the most in parental investment, and the reasons are well-documented. Unless parental investment is an attractive quality, it’s not going to be seen to correlate with physical attractiveness.

    Additionally, I doubt that there was a great deal of variability in male investment in Paleolithic times (the period that is of actual relevance here). Humans lived in small bands, mate choice was fairly limited, and males would have little choice but to give full investment to the band in general, which is unlikely to have diverged because of the small size of the group from investment in children. On the other hand, if the human pattern had been like chimps, where females were transferred between bands of brothers, there might have been some difference between bands, not individuals.
    Blah blah blah. Pure speculation about evolutionary happenings. You cannot use these easily assailable just-so stories as evidence supporting an empirical point.

    The only way of resolving the question is addressing it empirically: across numerous cultures, is it true that physical attractiveness is more important for women than men? So far there’s good evidence that the answer is yes.

  218. #219 Ichthyic
    May 16, 2008

    is it true that physical attractiveness is more important for women than men? So far there’s good evidence that the answer is yes.

    it’s interesting then, that human sexuality appears primarily driven by female mate choice.

    example:

    http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:HPS5K8i32j0J:www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP06113124.pdf+female+mate+choice+human&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

    which is probably why mutual mate choice models are being examined for species like humans.

    or, you could just say all science is irrelevant to the issue of mate choice.

    but then, you’d be arguing from pure speculation at that point.

  219. #220 Colugo
    May 16, 2008

    J and frog:

    Human male and female reproductive-related behaviors including competitive mate-attracting decoration are dependent on local socioecological context. Males and females each collectively have their own reaction norms. But those encompass a large variety of potential phenotypes and overlap considerably.

  220. #221 khan
    May 16, 2008
    women were more religious than men

    Yet another study proving I’m actually male. This happens all the time.

    Same here.

    I’m female (and heterosexual), but everything I read tells me I’m male.

  221. #222 António Martins-Tuválkin
    May 16, 2008

    PZ, you forgot to markup the blockquote for Comic Sans and Gumby background.

  222. #223 J
    May 16, 2008

    it’s interesting then, that human sexuality appears primarily driven by female mate choice.
    Well I think that’s because in most species physical attractiveness is more important for males. Evolutionary theorists are accustomed to assuming this. Humans are one of the few exceptions, I suppose.

    Alternatively, maybe factors like wealth, fame, etc., were primarily what determined a human male’s chances of being “chosen”.

  223. #224 khan
    May 16, 2008

    What happens when a female is capable of earning a living, supporting herself, and supporting a househusband?

  224. #225 Wowbagger
    May 16, 2008

    Is it fair to assume that what’s being claimed is that atheists are, for all intents and purposes, rebels? With or without a cause?

    Something that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned – you have to be socialised into religion before you can ‘rebel’ your way out of it. How does this guy’s theory explain atheists who’ve been brought up without exposure to a religious ideology?

    The OP post theory might be applicable in societies where religious beliefs dominate (like the US) – but if religion is in the minority and plays very little part in the power structure, how can being an atheist be considered in any way rebellious?

    I met one guy who’d turned to religion because it appealed to his self-proclaimed ‘rebel nature’ – his homie, the big JC, was a bad boy like him. He stood up to the establishment and got punished for it. That appealed to him, so he joined – joined what is almost the biggest establishment on the planet. Though he still gets his ‘rebel’ urges satisfied; he’s Romanian – but a breakaway Baptist sect, not Orthodox. That’ll show ‘em.

  225. #226 Ichthyic
    May 16, 2008

    Evolutionary theorists are accustomed to assuming this.

    correction, they are accustomed to seeing this to be the case through examination.

    it’s not an assumption, it’s an hypothesis, and has been tested many times.

    Hence the development of parental investment theory to begin with.

    you’ve read the original papers by Trivers, yes?

  226. #227 Colugo
    May 16, 2008

    And keep in mind that humans are different from other anthropoid primates in that (some) males invest a great deal in offspring and male provisioning in addition to female somatic and resource investment. Also, there are typically sib helpers. We ‘featherless bipeds’ are birdlike primates in several respects. In addition is the socioecology-tracking plasticity, sometimes with multiple niches available for both males and females within complex stratified societies. So a wide variety of reproductive strategies and tactics will be manifested by both men and women.

  227. #228 Colugo
    May 16, 2008

    Trivers: Probably the greatest living evolutionary theorist.

    Number 2: I’m going to go with Margulis.

  228. #229 Ichthyic
    May 16, 2008

    I’m going to go with Margulis.

    is there something I missed?

    I don’t recall ever seeing Margulis expound on mating theory.

  229. #230 J
    May 16, 2008

    correction, they are accustomed to seeing this to be the case through examination.
    You’re just trying to be pedantic, aren’t you? I’m perfectly correct in saying that theorists are accustomed to assuming “females choose”. This means that their models tend to be of this structure. Obviously they have good reasons for assuming it. That should go without saying. (It’s not like I’m trying to knock Trivers’ theories.)

    What I was trying to say is that theorists tend to assume females choose males in humans only because that’s the standard (and nearly always valid) assumption. But maybe in the particular case of humans this assumption is bad.

  230. #231 Ichthyic
    May 16, 2008

    I’m perfectly correct in saying that theorists are accustomed to assuming “females choose”.

    well, to continue being “pedantic”, this is not the case.

    there are many cases of clear male mate choice, which is what I was pointing at earlier. Think of what happens in polyandrous systems, like in Jacana for example.

    these too, fit well with the standard models put forward by Trivers so long ago.

    so, there isn’t an automatic assumption of female choice, so much as there is a prediction based on sexual strategies and investment theory.

    …just to be clear, rather than pedantic, as oversimplifying what the relevant theories actually predict surely doesn’t serve to clarify the issues involved.

  231. #232 Colugo
    May 16, 2008

    “I don’t recall ever seeing Margulis expound on mating theory.”

    I meant evolutionary theorists in general.

  232. #233 Russell Blackford
    May 16, 2008

    Stark’s strongly pro-religious sympathies permeate his work, even though, last I heard, he claimed not to be a believer himself.

    His sociological theories about religion seem to be wrong: see the elaborate discussion by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart in their book Secular and Sacred (2004), which I strongly recommend.

    At the level of individual psychology, there may, for all I know, be some biological basis for the greater religiosity of women over men. If that controversial claim turns out to be true, it seems to me like a strong argument against religion – at least Christianity of the born-again kind. Would a loving God really create the sexes in such a way that you have a greater chance of being “saved” if you happen to be female? More specifically, it suggests that there is a genetic component, expressed physiologically, in being open or otherwise to the offer of spiritual salvation. How can that be squared with free will in accepting Jesus?

    But of course, the comparison with the aggressive behaviour of young men shows a total lack of understanding of the psychology of aggression.

    We know that a tiny proportion of the population, more males than females (about 0.75 per cent of men; about 0.25 per cent of women) lack the usual human inhibition against harming others to get their way. The basis of this does, indeed, seem to be physiological (possibly a developmental disfunction in the amygdala, though there are different theories). A slightly larger percentage have some tendencies that way, thought it’s still a small percentage of the overall population. A massively disproportionate number of violent criminals fit into those categories. However, this is in no way analogous to scepticism about religion; scepticism about religion is not at all like lacking the kind of emotionally healthy brain that empathises with the suffering of others and is inhibited against causing it.

    If Starke is not talking about psychopathy and similar syndromes, as I am in the preceding para, but about the tendency to want to do dangerous stuff that applies to almost all young men, he is actually comparing atheism to something that is fundamentally quite healthy. In many societies, the preparedness of young men to face danger and display physical prowess is valuable – people are needed who are prepared to fight off predators, chase dangerous game, defend against invaders, etc.

    While modern Western civilisation is a great achievement, one of its problems is that this preparedness of teenage boys/young men to face danger and display physical prowess has become a problem. There is little approved outlet for it except in sport. One major, but disapproved, outlet for it is in dangerous driving.

    To make matters worse, we have all these young post-pubertal males caught in the adolescent maturity gap (which applies to young people of both sexes). By historical standards, they are mature. They are biologically ready for sex and to make babies, and are as horny as goats – driven by their biology to be sexual creatures.

    More generally, they want to be seen as adults. However, modern society is so complicated that they are not really ready to face its challenges with much likelihood of success until they are in their twenties and have learned an enormous amount. If they want to pursue really prestigious careers, other than in sports or entertainment, they may not be fully equipped until their late twenties or, if anything goes wrong, at least their early thirties. Adults don’t take their problems and choices seriously, we increasingly impose restrictions designed to infantilise them, we cut them off from what is good about being regarded as an adult.

    It’s no wonder that many adolescent boys and young men who have no biological problems tending them towards psychopathy, but who do have an eagerness to display prowess, prove themselves by facing danger, and so on, form associations and sub-cultures, and engage in behaviours, that are anti-social. They typically give adulation to people who are successful in those activities where young people actually can be successful without lengthy education, such as sport. Also some just might adopt unpopular views, such as atheistic ones out of bravado.

    But, generally speaking atheism has absolutely nothing to do with the age-specific anti-social bravado of young males (and to a lesser extent, for similar reasons, that of young females), any more than it has something to do with tendencies towards psychopathy.

    Contrary to Stark, the causes of being religious or non-religious are complicated. A lot of it is to do with how secure you are in your early childhood environment, but also to do with what ideas you are exposed to when young. Whether there is any genetic component remains to be seen.

    Stark, of course, would not accept any of the above. He thinks that people are naturally religious, that the “demand” for religion is constant and that any individual lack of a tendency to be religious is pathological.

    Given that he thinks the demand side is essentially constant, he interprets religious phenomena, as a sociologist, by concentrating on the “supply” side. He’ll say that organised religion is more successful in societies where there are attractive religious “products” available.

    But Stark’s entire view of the world is very doubtful, and certainly his public choice account of social religiosity doesn’t seem to work except for very narrow comparisons betweem, say, the US and UK. Once you start to try to apply it to the great range of human societies it soon breaks down.

  233. #234 Grimalkin
    May 16, 2008

    J, you said: “I suspect that you people are trying to take a canonically positive quality (a sense of humour) and turn it on its head, in order to as usual portray men as demons and women as angels.”

    I don’t understand where this came from. In no way have I said that humour is bad, nor have I said that aggression is bad. I certainly have never stated that men are “demons” or that women are “angels.” The only thing I said that is even in the same ballpark as that as that it is less socially acceptable for women to be openly aggressive (and then added that women turn to more cloak-and-dagger forms of aggression to compensate). So really, this statement of yours reeks of MRA/anti-feminist bashing. Please forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted you, but I really can’t find any other explanation for it.

    As for humour generally being aggressive in nature, I think that we are imagining different definitions of aggressive. I am not saying that all humour has to be cruel or mean, merely aggressive. You used Monty Python as an example, so I will follow up with that. Think of the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. This sketch was quite aggressive in that it poked fun of government bodies that receive large amounts of funding without seeming to do anything constructive or useful. Or perhaps the Dead Parrot sketch. That one poked fun at capitalists who would do anything to sell a product, even if it is obviously defective.

    Obviously, I can’t go through every joke ever told and explain in what way it is aggressive. I also have no statistics to back my assertions. This is something that I have personally noticed. Now, you have every right to call me on this, but please do not assume that I am saying that all men are evil and all women good just because I don’t sheepishly sit back and accept that genetics are the end-all be-all of all gender differences (real or imaginary).

  234. #235 Ichthyic
    May 16, 2008

    I meant evolutionary theorists in general.

    you mean wrt to Margulis thinking there is no role for selection in modern evolutionary theory?

    her view that HIV is not the cause of AIDS?

    still unclear here.

  235. #236 Colugo
    May 17, 2008

    Ichthyic, don’t get me wrong – Margulis’ views on HIV is totally bonkers and her critique of natural selection is certainly problematic. But her work on symbiogenesis puts her in the top tier.

    That’s the hell of it – sometimes even (especially?) the most important and influential scientists have bizarre views.

  236. #237 Nick Gotts
    May 17, 2008

    The only way of resolving the question is addressing it empirically: across numerous cultures, is it true that physical attractiveness is more important for women than men? So far there’s good evidence that the answer is yes. – J
    Well I think that’s because in most species physical attractiveness is more important for males. Evolutionary theorists are accustomed to assuming this. – J

    Hang on a moment – before I get involved, I’m not sure what you’re asserting, J. Can we clear that up? Specifically, when you say “physical attractiveness is more important for women than for men”, do you mean:

    (a) Women care more about physical attractiveness in potential sexual partners than men do.

    (b) Physical attractiveness makes more difference to women’s choice of potential partners than to a man’s.

    (c) Something else – please specify.

  237. #238 Nick Gotts
    May 17, 2008

    Ah! Sorry, J. I see my option (b) is itself ambiguous. What I meant was: A woman’s physical attractiveness makes more difference than a man’s in determining how wide a choice she has between potential partners (because men care more about physical attractiveness in their partners).

  238. #239 Ichthyic
    May 17, 2008

    But her work on symbiogenesis puts her in the top tier.

    and her overemphasis of it as a mechanism knocks her right to the fringes, IMO.

    I just don’t see that there just is sufficient support to conclude symbogenesis as a primary evolutionary mechanism. Not by looking at anything studied so far.

    I’m willing to wager a goodly sum that time and the discovery of new species will not change that.

    Far be it from me, however, to tell you which horse to bet on.

    after all, high odds pay off much better.

  239. #240 Christophe Thill
    May 17, 2008

    And you call yourself a sociologist !!!

    (Sorry… couldn’t help the obscure B-movie reference)

    Shouldn’t this guy be sent back to school to re-learn the basics of his own discipline ?

  240. #241 BaldApe
    May 17, 2008

    Taz, #15, nailed it.

    The whole thing reminds me of when my friend was taking sociology in college. She would come to her boyfriend and me, telling us what she learned in class that day. We both aggravated her quite a bit by telling her it was all bullshit.

    And BTW,

    breaking social rules can be a good thing as well as bad — it tends to irritate elementary school teachers,

    It’s not just elementary teachers. In my high school we are constantly interrupted at this time of year with the “It’s getting warm now, so don’t forget the dress code” messages.

  241. #242 Martian Buddy
    May 17, 2008

    On the subject, did anyone read the “Are you a good 1930s housewife?” entry at Pandagon the other day? As the header to the post, Amanda linked to a scan of a questionnaire from 1939 aimed at psychologists for trying to determine whether a woman was good wife material or not. One of the evaluation criteria (worth 5 merit points instead of the usual 1) was “Religious — takes children to church or Sunday school, and goes herself.”

    It’s also worth noting that, even in 21st century America, judges still sometimes make decisions on child custody based on which parent will drag the kids off to church every Sunday.

  242. #243 Meltwater
    May 17, 2008

    Several people here have challenged the claim that women are more likely to be religious than men, asking for evidence. The book In Gods We Trust is often cited as a source of such evidence in articles you can find when searching Google Scholar.

  243. #244 J
    May 17, 2008

    well, to continue being “pedantic”, this is not the case.
    there are many cases of clear male mate choice, which is what I was pointing at earlier. Think of what happens in polyandrous systems, like in Jacana for example.
    Well first of all, you’re wrong. Models in which females choose are by far the most common, so my stataement is factually correct.

    Second, what are you actually trying to get at? You first declared that theorists assume human females do the choosing. Now, apart from that this holds in most species, what evidence is there that this assumption is valid? Doesn’t the article I linked to suggest that the opposite might be true?

  244. #245 J
    May 17, 2008

    Hang on a moment – before I get involved, I’m not sure what you’re asserting, J. Can we clear that up?
    If you read through the thread, you’ll see that someone called Frog seemed to suggest that it’s only a rare property of Western culture that women care more about their physical appearances than men. I linked to a study which shows that this is probably wrong. A little quote:

    Moreover, cross-cultural studies find that men consistently express stronger preferences for attractive mates than women do (Buss, 1989; Gottschall, Martin, Quish, and Rhea, 2004; for literature reviews see for Buss, 2003; Geary, Vigil, and Byrd-Craven, 2004), and that women feel more anxiety about their physical appearances, spend more time and money enhancing them, and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders (see Etcoff, 1999). The few large-scale cross-cultural studies that directly address gendered attractiveness emphasis coincide with studies of Western populations.
    Now whether this implies “males rather than females tend to choose mates” is debatable.

  245. #246 J
    May 17, 2008

    I certainly have never stated that men are “demons” or that women are “angels.” The only thing I said that is even in the same ballpark as that as that it is less socially acceptable for women to be openly aggressive (and then added that women turn to more cloak-and-dagger forms of aggression to compensate). So really, this statement of yours reeks of MRA/anti-feminist bashing. Please forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted you, but I really can’t find any other explanation for it.
    I wasn’t addressing you directly, I was addressing the enthusiastic attitude with which people were trying to write off the masculine sense of humour as merely a sign of aggression.

    I think a great deal of humour is not about jeering and ridiculing, and men still seem to do it best (e.g. Monty Python, Ken Dodd — none of whom, except maybe Eric Idle, what you’d call aggressive people).

  246. #247 SC
    May 17, 2008

    BaldApe @ #241:

    The whole thing reminds me of when my friend was taking sociology in college. She would come to her boyfriend and me, telling us what she learned in class that day. We both aggravated her quite a bit by telling her it was all bullshit.

    You’re a real ass.

  247. #248 Miss Poppy Dixon
    May 17, 2008

    Men are not less religious than women, they’re just not into church as much. And why should they be? Religion sets up privileges for men. It’s essential for women, not men. We gals go to church to learn how we are supposed to behave around and toward all the men. But the men are the priests, the leaders, the husbands. They don’t need church – they get their privileges and understanding directly from God.

    I’ll bet if you questioned men and women about their beliefs – not about their church going – you’d find men were stronger adherents than women. They have more to gain.

  248. #249 Ichthyic
    May 17, 2008

    Models in which females choose are by far the most common, so my stataement is factually correct.

    No, it’s fucking not. I AM a behavioral ecologist, and I’m telling you that we do not approach any mating system with a default assumption of female mate choice.

    so, you’re either being deliberately obtuse, or deliberately ignorant.

    choose.

    You first declared that theorists assume human females do the choosing.

    you’re getting what I said confused with what YOU said.

    I never said there is assumption of female choice, EVER.

    In fact, I tried to point you to specific studies showing not that there was an assumption of female choice, but that there were studies testing it.

    science doesn’t start with the assumption, remember, fool?

    I’m beginning to fully agree with frog.

    you’re a deliberately obtuse idiot.

  249. #250 Ichthyic
    May 17, 2008

    ..btw, if you’re referring to partental investment theory, you are deliberately confusing the issue of “female” with the issue of “investment”.

    it’s not always the female that has the largest investment in successful reproduction.

    hence, why i have stated over and over that there is NOT an “assumption” of female mate choice.

    I’m sorry you know so little about the issue, but the reason I started posting links was BECAUSE you were basing your arguments on false assumptions to begin with.

    I was trying to be subtle about it at first, but obviously that isn’t working.

    either learn what the theory is, how it works, and how it has been tested, or simply don’t use it to try and back up your arguments.

    simple as that.

  250. #251 Ichthyic
    May 17, 2008

    Doesn’t the article I linked to suggest that the opposite might be true?

    of course you deliberately missed both the link to the article on female choice I linked to first, as well my mentioning models of multiple mate choice models, and the link to that paper as well.

    seriously, you’re in way over your head.

  251. #252 J
    May 17, 2008

    Completely unnecessary aggression. Evidently you’re more used to discussion ideology than science.

    No, it’s fucking not. I AM a behavioral ecologist, and I’m telling you that we do not approach any mating system with a default assumption of female mate choice.
    I said they’re “accustomed to” that assumption; I didn’t say it’s the default assumption. Your argument from authority is useless, as Richard Dawkins agrees with me (see the end of chapter “The Battle of the Sexes” in his The Selfish Gene). His opinion is worth much more than that of a foul-mouthed nobody such as yourself.

    I never said there is assumption of female choice, EVER.
    Really? In that case it’s curious what you were thinking when you wrote this:

    it’s interesting then, that human sexuality appears primarily driven by female mate choice.
    You don’t know the hell you’re talking about, do you? You’re not making a coherent point now, and you didn’t back then. Admit it: You were simply trying to show off your knowledge by pretending to correct me and mentioning irrelevant facts.

    of course you deliberately missed both the link to the article on female choice I linked to first, as well my mentioning models of multiple mate choice models, and the link to that paper as well.
    Look: I don’t know which sex chooses in humans, and I haven’t expressed an opinion on it. All I was doing is citing facts which seem to suggest that physical attractiveness is more importance for women than men.

    You act as if you’re refuting my position, but I’m not exactly sure we’re in disagreement (apart from over your ad hominems and misrepresentative remarks).

    seriously, you’re in way over your head.
    Not only are you a blatant attention-seeker, but you’re an arrogant shit.

  252. #253 J
    May 17, 2008

    This is a standard tactic on Pharyngula, which Ichthyic will no doubt resort to again:

    (1) Show off by citing irrelevant facts in an angry, confrontational tone, as if these are in conflict with the victim’s position.
    (2) Get even more angry after the victim responds, and accuse him of ignorance and/or stupidity.

  253. #254 Ichthyic
    May 17, 2008

    Your argument from authority is useless, as Richard Dawkins agrees with me

    ROFLMAO!

    that’s great, you think an argument from authority is useless, so you go right on ahead and proceed to make one.

    I’ve actually published in the field of animal behavior, while Dawkins has not. by your own argument, you should take my word over his.

    Show off by citing irrelevant facts in an angry, confrontational tone

    look again, asswipe. did i start off angry and confrontational?

    no. I’ll admit I am NOW though. go figure.

    were the references irrelevant to the issue of sexual selection and mate choice?

    no.

    ) Get even more angry after the victim responds, and accuse him of ignorance and/or stupidity.

    I have a long history of calling em as i see em, and I rather think everyone is wasting their time with you.

    I know I am.

  254. #255 J
    May 17, 2008

    that’s great, you think an argument from authority is useless, so you go right on ahead and proceed to make one.
    No, blockhead, that wasn’t my point. What I meant is this: You cannot expect to sway me or anyone else by arguing from personal authority given that a world-famous Oxford evolutionary biologist has expressed an opinion contrary to your own. This is not itself another argument from authority; it’s merely proof that authority is not necessarily in your corner in any event.

    look again, asswipe. did i start off angry and confrontational?
    The most aggressive thing I said to you was “Well first of all, you’re wrong.” You then proceeded to call me, among other things, “a deliberately obtuse idiot”. If that’s not angry and confrontation, I don’t know what is.

  255. #256 J
    May 17, 2008

    Can Ichthyic even give me, say, twenty examples of species in which males are uncontroversially the choosers? One could pile on thousands of examples of the reverse.

  256. #257 Omer Moussaffi
    May 18, 2008

    I wonder how come no one has mentioned the Darwin Awards (www.darwinawards.com) as yet. It’s interesting because the vast majority of candidates there are male. There are almost no females killing themselves with extravagant stupidity.

    I remember that back in 2002 we had a good female candidate. She was a school-bus driver. She parked the bus on top of a hill, and then discovered she forgot the hand-break. She ran downhill, and tried to stop the bus with her bare hands as it came down. Apparently, the bus was just too big.
    She came near to be the first woman ever to win the Darwin Awards. And then came some male idiot and killed himself with a lava lamp…

  257. #258 David Marjanovi?, OM
    May 18, 2008

    I never said there is assumption of female choice, EVER.

    Really? In that case it’s curious what you were thinking when you wrote this:

    it’s interesting then, that human sexuality appears primarily driven by female mate choice.

    That was a conclusion, not an assumption.

    Look: I don’t know which sex chooses in humans

    Both choose, so the question is more complicated: which sex, if any, chooses more, and by which proportions of which criteria does each sex choose?

    This is not itself another argument from authority; it’s merely proof that authority is not necessarily in your corner in any event.

    This was easy to understand (I think Ichthyic understood it), and it is correct — except for one of the premises: by having worked and published in that field, Ichthyic actually is a greater authority than Dawkins in that field. This is what Ichthyic pounced upon.

    Can Ichthyic even give me, say, twenty examples of species in which males are uncontroversially the choosers? One could pile on thousands of examples of the reverse.

    Huh? Why do you change the topic?

  258. #259 J
    May 18, 2008

    This was easy to understand (I think Ichthyic understood it), and it is correct — except for one of the premises: by having worked and published in that field, Ichthyic actually is a greater authority than Dawkins in that field. This is what Ichthyic pounced upon.
    And that’s what I’m contesting. I don’t even know who this so-called “Ichthyic” is. For all I know, he might be lying. But any nobody could claim supreme authority if publishing a paper (maybe in some backwater journal) is all that’s required for your word to trump that of world-class Oxford academics. (In any event, I’m sure that among the dozens of Dawkins’ published papers there’s something related to what’s being discussed.)

    Both choose, so the question is more complicated: which sex, if any, chooses more, and by which proportions of which criteria does each sex choose?
    Yes. And no matter what the answer turns out to be, the empirical facts suggested by the literature I referred to will still stand firm. This is why all this stuff about “choice” is merely discursive.

    Huh? Why do you change the topic?
    Eh? How am I changing the topic?

  259. #260 J
    May 18, 2008

    To briefly adumbrate:

    Frog stated as if it were obvious that it’s only a rather special property of Western culture that people care more about women’s physical attractiveness than they do men’s physical attractiveness.

    I called him on this, and referred him to a survey of a vast quantity of literature which suggests otherwise.

    Then I was beset by Ichthyic, who pretended to correct me by explaining the merit of a certain theoretical-evolutionary assumption I referred to. (As should have been plain, I already knew that the assumption is a good one, so he wasn’t correcting me at all, and his point was completely irrelevant to everything I said.) After telling him that in the vast majority of species it’s the females who choose (if either sex does), he got aggressive, calling me “a deliberately obtuse idiot”, etc.

  260. #261 J
    May 18, 2008

    Aggression is such an easily-had, inexpensive substitute for sound arguments.

  261. #262 reason
    May 19, 2008

    UIP @#121

    Yes, but it is MUCH, MUCH, less likely. The differences between the races are much smaller and the concept is harder to even define. I should clarify, I’m not talking about differences in capability, just in common cognitive style. Whether that difference is socially enforced, socially influenced or partly biological I would have thought is an open question.

  262. #263 reason
    May 19, 2008

    Whether the reason that women co-operate to a great extent in their own repression is Stockhold Syndrome or just “Misery needs Company”, we do need research to understand what the most effective method to combat this problem is.

    For instance if some people need social connection more than others, perhaps athiests should be more supportive of say UU as a sort of religious methodrone. If a slightly different approach works better for women than for men (or for some people better than others), it would be useful to know that (just like the common suggestion today that boys and girls learn better when they are taught differently – P.S. I’m agnostic on that one.)

    I get tired of an aggressive “feminist” stance that women should always and everywhere be treated as though they are always and in everyway exactly the same as men. In many ways they are better (they certainly commit less crime).

    They should have the same rights and chances, but in many ways the differences are an underutilised opportunity – just as differences are the key to team work in team sports or the economy.

    Maybe for instance the lack of women in senior management IS because the way we select people for such positions discourages women, BECAUSE women have a different behavioural style. Maybe we should change the requirements, not expect women to behave like men do.

    Science should not be restricted not ideology, whether that ideology is religious of political correctness. I’m all for thinking we shouldn’t be afraid to find out truths, even if they are uncomfortable.

    UIP I think you need to ask yourself whether treating some stereotypes as thought crimes is limiting your own insight as much it is helping women. The stereotypes may be false, or self-reinforcing, but maybe they could also be made useful in acchieving real progress. Stopping discussion just alienates potential supporters as far as I can see.

  263. #264 reason
    May 19, 2008

    Theaetetus @#169
    Your example is not the same at all. It is personal, my hypothesis implies NOTHING about any individual. That is a crucial difference (as it makes discrimination discrimination.)

  264. #265 windy
    May 19, 2008

    Ichthyic wrote:

    I’ve actually published in the field of animal behavior, while Dawkins has not.

    yes, he has:
    Dawkins, R. The ontogeny of a pecking preference in domestic chicks. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 25, 170-186. (1968)
    Plus there was some co-authored work with some wasp or other…

    And, while J might have made some careless statements it’s a bit unfair to attack him on the “theorists assume female choice is more important” when the EP paper you linked to does proceed with that assumption for humans based on previous results in the field (iow, it doesn’t test which sex is “choosier”, it only tests female choice):

    Sexual selection theory argues that males tend to compete amongst themselves for access to mates, and that females tend to be more selective of their mates than males
    (Andersson, 1994).

  265. #266 windy
    May 19, 2008

    Plus there was some co-authored work with some wasp or other…

    OK, that looks a bit silly- I meant co-authored work about a wasp, not co-authored with a wasp :)

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