Monday, December 20, 2010
Religion and crime... today's ecological fallacy
This post on the website atheismresource.com cites a study that finds that crime rates in less religious countries are lower than those in more religious countries. Okay, I can accept that as plausible.
But then the post veers off-course by exclaiming that: "Atheists don't commit as much crime as the religious do."
This is an ecological fallacy. Correlations at the group level don't necessarily hold at the individual level. In fact, at least here in the United States, religion is associated with less crime rather than more crime.
How do I know? I coauthored a meta-analysis of 60+ articles on the topic.
Do religious beliefs and behaviors deter criminal behavior? The existing evidence surrounding the effect of religion on crime is varied, contested, and inconclusive, and currently no persuasive answer exists as to the empirical relationship between religion and crime. In this article, the authors address this controversial issue with a meta-analysis of 60 previous studies based on two questions: (1) What is the direction and magnitude of the effect of religion on crime? (2) Why have previous studies varied in their estimation of this effect? The results of the meta-analysis show that religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior. Furthermore, previous studies have systematically varied in their estimation of the religion-on-crime effect due to differences in both their conceptual and methodological approaches.
I posted this on the atheism resources website, but I'm cynical enough to think that they won't correct their post. It's too consistent with what they might expect and too juicy to change. I expect this not because they are atheists, but rather because they are advocates of a particular position... and advocates often don't like data that disagrees with them.
I hope to be pleasantly surprised, though.