Thursday, September 29, 2005

Study Shows: God Kills

If the tsunami, avian flu, Katrina and Wahhabism didn't make it clear, the Great Intelligent Designer in the Sky is bad for man and beast. Now a study, "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look," published in the Journal of Religion and Society by Greg Paul demonstrates
Large-scale surveys show dramatic declines in religiosity in favor of secularization in the developed democracies. Popular acceptance of evolutionary science correlates negatively with levels of religiosity, and the United States is the only prosperous nation where the majority absolutely believes in a creator and evolutionary science is unpopular.

Abundant data is available on rates of societal dysfunction and health in the first world. Cross-national comparisons of highly differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and antievolution America performs poorly.....


The United States' deep social problems are all the more disturbing because the nation enjoys exceptional per capita wealth among the major western nations (Barro and McCleary; Kasman; PEW; UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). Spending on health care is much higher as a portion of the GDP and per capita, by a factor of a third to two or more, than in any other developing democracy (UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). The U.S. is therefore the least efficient western nation in terms of converting wealth into cultural and physical health.

Understanding the reasons for this failure is urgent, and doing so requires considering the degree to which cause versus effect is responsible for the observed correlations between social conditions and religiosity versus secularism. It is therefore hoped that this initial look at a subject of pressing importance will inspire more extensive research on the subject. Pressing questions include the reasons, whether theistic or non-theistic, that the exceptionally wealthy U.S. is so inefficient that it is experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress than are less religious, less wealthy prosperous democracies.

Conversely, how do the latter achieve superior societal health while having little in the way of the religious values or institutions? There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002). It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.

Review of Citizen Cyborg highlights democratic socialist perspective

Bioethicist Linda MacDonald Glenn's review of Citizen Cyborg in this month's (Sept-Oct 2005) issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (subscription required) warmly discusses the fact that the book expresses democratic socialist politics, a point either ignored or derided by previous reviewers (with the exception of Cory Doctorow's wonderful Boing Boing review):
I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised when I finished reading Citizen Cyborg. Author James Hughes does not advocate any sort of extreme militant libertarianism; he advocates a more balanced democratic socialism.
her main complaint is that I am overly dualistic, in my classification of us-them in politics, and in my classification of all things into "citizens" and "property."
His statement that "things that are not citizens are necessarily property" reveals the difficulty in a dualistic, dichotomized traditional property versus personhood approach; it doesn't recognize that new categories have been and are being recognized in developing law...
Finally, Ms. Glenn notes the central concept of the book, that democratic transhumanism can be a new form of radical democratic politics for the 21st century.
Hughes argues that, like the democratic humanism of the French and American revolutions, diverse threads of humanity "can be united in a radically democratic form of techno-optimism, a democratic transhumanism" ...he stresses the need for open debate and education, as well as (dare I say Buddhist) policies that encourage empathy and compassion.

In summary, anyone interested in enhancement technologies, whether pro or con, should read Citizen Cyborg. Time will tell if we are beneficiaries or victims of our own devices. Hughes makes a cogent argument that, through democratic processes, we can and will control technologies and that technologies will not control us.