Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Scientific literacy by church attendance

In the comments of the last GSS science module post, the question of scientific literacy by attendance at religious services was brought up, the suggestion apparently being that while it's not surprising that believers are less knowledgeable than non-believers are, actual adherence to a religion's requirements and the social implications of belonging to a church select for people more knowledgeable than the average self-described theist, a default category that is defined more by exceptions to it (ie atheists and agnostics) than what it actually describes.

The following table shows differences in responses, by frequency of church attendance (for whites only), to the science module of items deployed by the GSS during 2004 and 2006 (except for the last 3 questions, which were asked in 1993, 1994, and 2000). Attendance is broken up into four groupings: 1) Those who never attend (19.7%), 2) those who attend less than once a month (32.6%), 3) those who attend at least once a month but not every week (21.1%), and 4) those who attend at least weekly and sometimes more frequently than that (26.7%). Some of the questions are inverted from the GSS for viewer ease so that in all cases, the higher the percentage, the more knowledgeable the group is. Green indicates the best performance on the question at hand, black the second best, orange the third best, and red the worst:

Item
Never


Weekly+
Astrology is not scientific65.2
65.6
71.2
81.3
The benefits of science exceed the harms77.4
79.4
73.8
80.4
Understands the need for control groups in testing82.4
84.1
85.8
79.7
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability93.7
93.2
91.6
93.0
The earth's core is very hot
95.6
94.8
96.6
94.8
Not all radioactivity is man-made84.7
85.8
88.3
84.3
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex70.1
76.8
80.3
80.7
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves78.4
76.2
72.6
69.2
Electrons are smaller than atoms76.3
73.4
72.1
76.0
Antibiotics do not kill viruses60.6
66.0
65.3
71.5
Continental drift has and continues to occur96.1
94.7
92.8
80.4
Humans evolved from other animals76.0
62.6
46.0
25.1
The earth revolves around the sun79.7
80.6
81.8
82.5
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun77.6
83.2
75.8
78.2
Respondent will eat genetically modified foods73.5
78.8
61.0
69.7
The north pole is on a sheet of ice66.4
66.2
66.1
59.9
Not all man-made chemicals cause cancer when eaten48.9
52.1
50.2
53.6
Exposure to radioactivity doesn't necessarily lead to death74.5
76.8
72.8
77.8
Exposure to pesticides doesn't necessarily cause cancer65.1
67.5
60.1
63.3

Unlike when political party affiliation, race, sex, or belief are considered, no clear trend emerges here. To help facilitate in comprehending the table, I assigned three points to the group that scored highest on a question, two points to second, one point to third, and nothing to last for each of the 19 questions considered. Here's how the totals shake out:

Less than monthly -- 36
Never -- 29
Weekly or more -- 28
Less than weekly -- 21

Among those who are presumably serious in their beliefs (attend at least monthly), those who make it a point to attend at least weekly appear to be more knowledgeable (and probably also more conscientious) than their less disciplined believers. As the commenting impetus to this post suggested, among believers, those who attend are distinct from those who express theism but stay home on Sunday mornings.

Astrology is a pretty conspicuous enemy of (and threat to?) Western religious institutions. Unsurprisingly, people who spend the most time at those institutions are the most skeptical of astrology.

Again the large disparity in responses on the issue of evolution appears. If someone professes that humans did not evolve from primates, it's a better indication of his religious beliefs than it is of his scientific literacy or his level of general intelligence.

The question on continental drift follows the same pattern as the one on evolution, albeit less pronounced. The same thing showed up when theistic confidence was considered. I've never really thought about it, but I suppose young earth creationist types believe the continents were configured at creation just as they are now. Or maybe they've undergone a bit of microdrifting, but not any macrodrifting!

GSS variables used: ATTEND(0)(1-3)(4-6)(7-8), RACECEN1(1), RACE(1), ASTROSCI, SCIBNFTS, EXPDESGN, ODDS1, HOTCORE, RADIOACT, BOYORGRL, LASERS, ELECTRON, VIRUSES, CONDRIFT, EVOLVED, EARTHSUN, SOLARREV, EATGM, ICESHEET, SCITEST5, GRNTEST1, GRNTEST5

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see little pattern in the sense that most are within a few points of each other. The probability question only has a spread of 2.1 points. Hot earth core was only 0.8 point spread.

The ones with big spreads seem to have some ideology in there, too.

The father/mother determines child's sex looks like it may have a gender confounding factor.

I wonder about the laser question. 9.2 point spread. That looks like a guy question.

How small is the sample size if you limit it to males?

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

200+ even for the smallest grouping (those who never attend), so sample size is not an issue. The gender patterns are similar to what we get when we break the questions down by sex--as you insinuate, there is even greater parity once sex is taken into consideration.

Anonymous said...

It seemed to me, that young-earth creationists would believe in continentel drift because of Genesis10.25:
And to Eber have two sons been born; the name of the one is Peleg (for in his days hath the earth been divided,) and his brother's name is Joktan.

There are people who claim. that Alfred Wegener(a son of a german pastor) was inspiered by this verse, when he built his theory of continental drift, but i have not found a proof for that.

Anonymous said...

Bit doubtful about some of the answers.

Father determines the child's sex? Can I choose to have a girl? In almost all occasions when the parents chose the gender of the child (by technology), the mother has ultimate control of it.

"Antibiotics do not kill viruses" - viruses are not alive? Or for the (admittedly surely intended) narrow definition - Viruses never infect bacteria?

"The North Pole is on a sheet of ice." - as if there were a pole sticking into the ice. :-)