Field of Science

Well that went well

Despite a few wrong turnings, I managed to make it on time to Broadcasting House this afternoon to take part in Laurie Taylor's Thinking Allowed radio programme. If you missed it (shame on you!), it's up online on BBC iPlayer and as a podcast (the iPlayer version might be restricted to UK residents).

I think it all went very well - at least, I managed to get through my bits without stumbling or going blank. Hopefully some of it made sense too!

One thing I didn't make sufficiently clear is why I chose 'prayer frequency' as the indicator of religiosity. The problem is that many people - especially the educated and well off, with high social status - believe in a distant, impersonal god.

They may find their beliefs important, but it's a very different kind of belief to those who believe in a personal god who intervenes in the world.

As a result, people who believe in an impersonal god don't pray very often. In fact, the evidence from the US (the Baylor Religion Survey) is that people who call themselves atheists pray as often as those who believe in an impersonal god.

So, by measuring prayer, you're measuring a very specific kind of religious belief. Your measuring belief in a god who will not only listen to an individual, but might also take action to help them.

And that's exactly the kind of belief that you might expect people to turn to in difficult times.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Tom Rees is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


  1. It works fine from Australia. Well done. Good discussion and well expressed.

  2. Works fine from India too...Comments- little later :-)

  3. That interview did go on well.Tom and David...Well done.

    A couple of comments
    1.Secularization as a phenomenon is a reality.Does that mean it is good?teenage abortions,divorce,crime all increase with development.Don't they?Could it not be because of religion going backstage?

    2.Income inequality and religiosity correlation was indeed interesting.It was good that the 'ecological fallacy' was considered before concluding anything strongly.

    3.I disagree with the idea that religiosity would numb people to socio-economic problems.I have highlighted before that religion has been the catalyst for social reform.'Love your neighbor as thyself' could not be an evolutionary idea nor is a Marxist teaching, but that could be basis for modern welfare states.

    4.I would eagerly await the results of longitudinal studies on religious beliefs from around the world.I am sure you people would capture it and present it in the blog.

    All the best.

  4. Dheeraj, I think the relationship between secularization and 'societal health' is complex. Personally, I think that the same factors that lead to better societies - open exchange of ideas, personal security, justice, democracy - also decrease the importance of religion. But there are some specific ways that religion can worsen societies.

    One of the problems is that religion encourages charity as a way of improving the lot of the poor. This is a very weak tool for income redistribution (even in a country like the USA, charitable giving as a % of GDP is tiny compared with state welfare).

    Religion also affects voter choice in other ways - see How religion makes people vote right wing


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS