(EXCLUSIVE TO CHALCEDON)
By now you’ve probably heard of a new “scientific study,” rescued from obscurity by the London Times, that “proves” that religious belief is the source of America’s social ills.
What you haven’t heard is that the “social scientist” who authored the study, Gregory S. Paul, is in fact a freelance writer and illustrator best known for his drawings and paintings of dinosaurs. (See Predatory Dinosaurs of the World by Gregory S. Paul, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.) If he has an advanced degree in anything, he has successfully concealed it.
Nor have you heard that the online journal that published Paul’s paper blames the London Times for “sensationalizing it” and “putting things in their story that weren’t in the paper” — in the words of Dr. Ronald Simkins, director of the Kripke Center at Creighton University, Omaha, publishers of the Journal of Religion and Society.
Meanwhile, self-proclaimed “skeptics” on websites like Pharyngula (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Phantasm,” pharyngula.org) and Leiter Reports (leiterreports.typepad.com) ballyhoo Paul’s paper as “proof” that belief in Christianity is bad for a society. As will be seen, their skepticism flies out the window when they encounter a writer who echoes their own position.
News or Nonsense?
The London Times story, by religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill, September 27, got off to a flying start with the words, “Religious belief can cause damage to a society .…” It went on to say, “belief and worship of God … may actually contribute to social problems,” and “the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills,” and so on in the same vein. (For the full text of the Times article, see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1798944,00.html)
“I was simply reporting the story as best I could,” correspondent Gledhill emailed Chalcedon. “I am not a social scientist myself so cannot comment on whether the study had flaws … if the Times had not reported it, it is likely that the study would have languished undiscovered .…”
Ms. Gledhill described Paul as a “social scientist,” which he is not. She explained the oversight: “I was not aware of [his] background. However, it is not the case that we would publish views of anyone who contacted us. What made his views reportable in the Times was the fact that they had already been accepted in the form of a paper in the Journal of Religion and Society. Of course, if he had sent that paper directly to us and it had not been in the journal, I would not have reported it. And I am afraid that, working on a deadline and unable to reach him, I made the assumption he was a social scientist because reading the Web page of the journal, which to all intents and purposes appears to be a respectable academic journal, made it clear that they published articles by social scientists.” (We are grateful to Ms. Gledhill for discussing this matter so forthrightly.)
But the Journal also failed to look into Mr. Paul’s qualifications.
“That’s not what we do,” Dr. Simkins said. “We never focus on a writer’s credentials. The paper was subject to a blind peer review that didn’t look at the writer’s qualifications.”
So dinosaur painter Gregory Paul gets a free pass as a “social scientist,” an expert worthy of belief. The fact that he isn’t, never came up at either the Times or the Journal.
The formal title of Paul’s paper is an indication of its impenetrable prose style: “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies.” For those with a taste for tortuous language, the full text is available at http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html.
Paul’s argument, translated into plain English, is this. The United States is the most religiously inclined of all the industrial democracies, including Western Europe and Japan. The United States is also far worse afflicted with social ills like homicide, teen suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion. The largely Christian people of the USA are “experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress” than the secularized peoples of Europe and Japan. Thus there is a strong positive correlation between belief in God and societal distress. He also finds a strong positive correlation between societal health and belief in the theory of evolution. “The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”
Tucked in among the verbiage, we find a mild disclaimer: “This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism, and societal health.”
Somehow the London Times didn’t see it that way.
Paul’s argument is so amazingly weak as to be almost comical. Let us point out only those holes through which one might drive a large truck.
1. Using exactly the same kind of data Paul used, one could easily show that America’s societal ills only increased after courts, schools, media, the American Civil Liberties Union, and liberal politicians mounted an aggressive campaign to de-Christianize America. As America has been made less Christian and more secular, social pathology has dramatically increased.
2. American citizens have much more freedom than do the citizens of Europe or Japan. At the same time, foreign courts and police have a great deal more power over citizens than do courts and police in America. Human nature being what it is, more freedom and less restraint will always come with a price — the freedom to go wrong.
3. Mr. Paul never mentions the impending demographic catastrophe facing Western Europe and Japan — low birth rates, which raise the specter of national extinctions. An inexplicable lapse on the part of a dinosaur expert! It strikes us that a secular utopia that is unable even to generate a viable new generation isn’t much of a success.
4. He completely ignores Europe’s own mushrooming social pathology. For example, in the United Kingdom, “Violent crime jumped by two-thirds between 1998 and 2003. Crime is higher in the UK than [in] the US in every category except rape and murder.” “[T]he streets and shopping centers of Britain are a ‘battleground’ of crime where people were more likely to be burgled, twice as likely to be robbed, and two-and-a-half times more likely to be assaulted than in America.”
We could also cite the German unemployment rate, holding steady between 10% and 12.5%, and the French heat wave of 2003 in which some 15,000 French citizens, most of them elderly, died while their younger family members remained on vacation, and public employees refused to put in any overtime.
We could go on, but that would be kicking Europe while it’s down.
Mr. Paul’s paper may be long on baloney and short on logic, but it could have been worse.
“We rejected it initially,” Dr. Simkins said. “When he agreed to rewrite it, the review committee narrowed its focus, made certain suggestions, and shortened it. We published it because we were interested in his figures. Initially he made a lot broader claims about the meaning of his data. We didn’t allow him to make those claims in the rewritten version.”
So the end product was a pseudoscientific paper by a dinosaur-book writer passing for a social scientist, dramatized by the London Times, uncritically accepted by atheist Web-meisters as scientific proof that religion is bad for you, and probably destined to be trotted out by every intellectual featherweight desiring to make that point.
No one bothered to check the author’s credentials; no one bothered to examine his argument on its merits.
It is, in a single word, humbug.
 For example, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators by William Bennett (Simon and Schuster, New York: 1994) strongly correlates the rise of American secularism and the increase in various social pathologies.