Wednesday 17 July 2013

The Dawkins Proof: Rise in violence?

First, a link to Barns' own website where a free PDF of the book is available.

Barns tries to both suggest that Dawkins (and atheists in general) is goodly because of his Godly heritage, and at the same time offer statistics that show violent crime is on the increase as religiosity is on the decrease.  I think he is contradicting himself.  Perhaps Barns is trying to avoid smearing Dawkins with unfounded claims of evil while calling atheists in general evil.

In past posts I have discussed how evolution can support moral behavior and I probably discussed a few instances where highly religious types did evil things.  Humans can find many ways to be evil and I think the results of Zimbardo's horrifying experiment at Stanford best describes how and why. See also SMBC's take on it.

Still, Barns does use statistics to make his point so I can't push away his claims without looking at them.  While, I guess I have to at least discuss them without looking at them as his link does not work.  The link, copied from the PDF available above, has some bits at the end that seem superfluous or explanatory but even with them removed, the result is a 404 error (Not Found). (downloaded 29/03/07)

So, I cannot directly argue against his claims of greatly increased violence but I can look elsewhere for similar or contradicting results.

The Royal Statistical Society, presumably of England or Britain, where Barns got his data, states that many Britons mistakenly believe that violent crime has increased when it has in fact decreased.
Crime: 58% do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995. 51% think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012.
Barns' stats were of the hundred years ending around 2000 so the above doesn't directly address his results, although they do his background claim.  Atheism continues to grow even while violence is declining.

What about the hundred years Barns does describe?  Pinkers' fantastic book, The Better Angels of our Nature (this book is filled with graphs and charts that are surprisingly readable on a Kindle), meticulously, carefully and in minute detail, describes how violence has declined over the past several hundred years. Pinkers' TED Talk on the subject. Wikipedia on the book.

Without being able to see his work, I must reject Barns' claims.  His claims seem indefensible and simply wrong.
---Added on Sept 3, 2013:

At a religion themed blog I found this question: Does reading the bible lead to violent crime?  That site links to data showing that violent crime has fallen greatly and the religious blog ponders this fact:
After all, it seems violent crime has been falling in the past few decades.  Those have been the decades in which American children no longer prayed or read the Bible in their public schools, officially at least.
Religious conservatives have long bemoaned the social dangers of kicking God out of public schools.  Is it only fair, then, to blame God for all the rapes, burglaries, and assaults that haven’t been happening lately?
That doesn’t seem like a comfortable suggestion for most religious conservatives.  Yet thoughtful conservatives must recognize that they have long warned about the dangers of removing traditional religion from public schools.  Some of those warnings, at least, seem to have been flipped on their heads.  Without mandatory Bible-reading in public schools, American society has grown noticeably less violent. 
... [big ellipsis] ...
...violent crime has plunged in industrialized nations around the globe in the past twenty-five years.  As the article describes, talking heads have ascribed this happy circumstance to an array of possible causes: more abortions, fewer young men, better policing, even better violent video games.
Back in the 1950s, when the US Supreme Court had not yet “kicked God out of public schools,” violent crime skyrocketed.  To be consistent, we must ask: Did all that violent crime result from students reading the Bible?  Saying the Lord’s Prayer?  If conservatives predicted that removing Bibles from schools would cause more violent crimes, must they now acknowledge that the USA is a safer place without all that school Bible-reading?
Added March 20, 2014
These lists of the most peaceful countries and the (lack of) importance of religion by country show a lot of overlap.  The former list is of the annoying new-page-for-each-country sort but most of its countries show up as finding religion unimportant.

I still can't understand how or why the least religious countries of fifty years to a century ago were also the most violent.  I'm thinking of Russia, China and North Korea.  Nazi Germany is not in that list because reports vary on how religious the country and its leaders were.  The leadership at least (mis)used Christian imagery and doctrines to motivate the people there.

I know a tiny bit more about North Korea than the other two countries and it sure seems North Korea, while not at all Christian, follows a perversion of Confucianism.   Elders are revered, with the Great leader now considered a God.
Perhaps in these (hopefully outlier) countries, the problem is that the change to proclaimed atheism was made by the leaders, while in the most peaceful and least religious countries of today, citizenry made the change.

Of course, a large chunk of the countries are in the far north - Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, for example.  Could it be the cold that makes people both non-religious and peaceful?

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