"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

I’m baaaaaaack.  And this time my interest has been drawn to a set of statements by Richard Dawkins.  He argues that the best way to wage war against religion is to educate people.  Once they’re educated, they obviously won’t be religious.  He’s not alone in this, needless to say.  Click around the atheist blogosphere and you’ll see this claim made over and over again in various forms.  I’m not in this post commenting on the tone of such claims or what they say about those making them.  I’m here to address a straightforward question: is it actually true education in antithetical to religion?

In answering this question, I must first offer some caveats.  The scope of the question is huge, covering the entire world.  Most research won’t look at the entire world, but only at one country, or at certain groups within a country.  The definition of “education” is also broad and encompasses many levels.  Most research will only look at one or two levels of education.  How well the results extrapolate to all people everywhere is an open question, though I may address it later.  I’m not here to prove anything, as much as to respond to what Mr. Dawkins said.  If I can show that in some places, by some measures, Dawkins’ claim is false, I will consider that satisfactory.  I will try to stick to good, formal research.  I wll provide links to online copies when possible.

Research Surveys.  We look first at sources who have surveyed the literature and provided summaries from multiple studies.

Iannaccone, Laurence. Introduction to the Economics of Religion. Journal of Economic Literature, 1998.

In numerous analyses of cross-sectional survey data, rates of religious belief and religious activity tend not to decline with income, and most rates increase with education. … Over the past 40 years, scores of sociological studies have investigated the empirical relationship between income and/or education and numerous measures of religiosity—see, for example, Lenski (1963), Stark (1972), Wade Roof and William McKinney (1987), and Ross Stolzenberg, Mary Bair-Loy and Linda Waite (1995). Since the mid-1970s economists have weighed in, estimating models more sensitive to nuances of economic theory. Their basic results, however, mirror those of the sociologists: education is a weak but generally positive predictor of religious participation.

Regnerus, Mark. Religion and Positive Adolescent Outcomes: A Review of Research and Theory. Review of Religious Research Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jun., 2003), pp. 394-413

I review recent research published in academic journals concerning religious influences on several positive outcomes during adolescence: physical and emotional health, education, volunteering and political involvement, and family well-being. Though much less research exists on these outcomes when compared with risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use, and sexual activity, the high-quality studies that do exist point to modest positive influences of religious involvement. That is, more extensive religious involvement is generally associated with positive outcomes during adolescence.

C. Simon Fan, Religious participation and children’s education: A social capital approach. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2006

There is substantial evidence showing that religion has a significant positive impact on children’s educational attainment and future earnings.  Also, sociologists’ extensive research indicates that youth raised in religious homes are less likely to engage in criminal activity, use drugs or alcohol, and so on.  Indeed, many religions emphasize hard work, honesty, seriousness, and responsibility, all of which are conducive to children’s acquisition of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., Religious Practice and Educational Attainment: A Research Synthesis.

The social sciences show religious practice has very beneficial effects on the educational attainment of children. It may well trump income in its effects on
educational outcomes. The direct positive effects of religious practice by the student include:
• Higher grade point averages,
• More time spent on homework, and
• A significant decrease in high school drop-out rates.
All these hold even more so for children from low-income neighborhoods. Religious practice benefits the poor more than it does those children who are relatively well-off, likely because religion is one of the very few wellfunctioning institutions the poor can readily access and rely upon.

Individual Studies.  These are reports from researchers investigating the question directly.

Lehrer, Evelyn. Religiosity as a Determinant of Educational Attainment: The Case of Conservative Protestant Women in the United States. Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 203-219.

This paper examines the role of religiosity as a determinant of the educational attainment of women raised as conservative Protestants in the United States. A human capital model based on the demand and supply of funds for investments in education is used to develop hypotheses about various causal links between religiosity and years of schooling. The hypotheses are tested using data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, a large-scale survey addressed to a representative sample of women in the United States. Among respondents raised as conservative Protestants, those who attended religious services frequently during their adolescent years are found to complete one more year of schooling than their counterparts who were less observant. The gap is smaller, but still sizeable and statistically significant, when other factors are held constant in a multivariate analysis.

Lehrer, Evelyn. Religion and High School Graduation: A Comparative Analysis of Patterns for White and Black Young Women. Papers on Economics of Religion 06/04, Department of Economic Theory and Economic History of the University of Granada.

Table 4 shows that the probability of high-school graduation is 0.93 for a typical mainline-Protestant respondent (with average characteristics for other variables); the estimates for Mormons (0.91) and Catholics (0.93) are in the same range. In contrast, the probabilities are only 0.86 and 0.84, respectively, for conservative Protestants and the unaffiliated, respectively. … The estimates for white youth show that for the three affiliations considered, members of the high participation group are significantly more likely to complete high school than their counterparts in the low participation group, consistent with the hypothesis that religious involvement has a beneficial effect on high-school graduation. The gap between the high and low participation groups is 10 percentage points for conservative Protestants, 8 percentage points for Catholics, and 6 percentage points for mainline Protestants. It is noteworthy that a favorable effect of religious participation is observed for conservative Protestants. … In the black sample, patterns of high school graduation by high versus low religious participation can only be studied for the conservative Protestant group, and a similar result is found here: a gap of 7 percentage points. As noted above, the corresponding gap in the white sample is 10 percentage points.

Bruce Sacerdote and Edward Glaeser, Education and Religion. NBER Working Paper No. 8080 Issued in January 2001

In the United States, religious attendance rises sharply with education across individuals.

Chandra Muller and Christopher G. Ellison, Religious involvement, social capital, and adolescents’ academic progress: Evidence from the national education longitudinal study of 1988. Sociological Focus, 2001, vol. 34, p. 111

Using the second and third waves of NELS, this study examines three questions concerning the links between religious involvement, social capital, and academic achievement of public school students: First, what are the relationships between adolescents’ religious involvement and their access to social capital within families (parental expectations and parent-child interaction) and communities (intergenerational closure and peers’ academic values) Second, is adolescent religious involvement associated with academic progress, including self-concept (locus of control), attitudes (educational expectations), effort (time spent on homework and truancy), opportunities and demands (advanced mathematics course work), and rewards (high school graduation) Third, to what extent are the positive relationships between religious involvement and academic progress due to enhanced access to social capital We find that adolescents’ religious involvement at grade 10 is consistently and positively associated with various forms of social capital and with each of the adolescent outcomes. Those estimated effects of religious involvement on academic progress are explained largely by family and community social capital. However, religious involvement remains modestly but significantly linked with desirable outcomes even controlling on the effects of social capital.

So thus far we’ve seen eight sources testifying to a positive relationship between religion and education.  There’s more to come when I have the chance to post it, but I think it’s already clear that things aren’t looking good for the Dawkins hypothesis.


Comments on: "Debunking Dawkins: Religion and Education" (2)

  1. […] picks up where my previous post left off.  There I responded to a claim by Richard Dawkins, who insisted that more education will […]

  2. I think Richard Dawkins should stick to teaching biology…

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