"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

How to lie with statistics the CofE way.

Well I suppose a charitable interpretation would be that the Church of England doesn’t know a loaded question when it sees one or that it has a poor grasp of statistics, but at least someone in that vast Oxbridge educated hierarchy must have learnt something vaguely scientific in their lifetime. Which leads me to conclude that this headline claiming that 4 out of 5 people in Britain believe in the power of prayer is intended to be wilfully misleading.
The question asked by an ICM online poll was
image credit atasteofgarlic.com
""Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?”
Now had I been involved in the survey I would probably have answered that I wouldn’t pray for anything as it’s an observable empirical fact that it achieves nothing. However most people would respond to this in the same way as if they were asked what they would buy if they had just won the lottery i.e. suspend disbelief for the fun of it and answer the question as though it were meaningful.
Asked what it would be for if they were to pray, 31 per cent of respondents cited peace in the world, followed by an end to poverty in the world (27 per cent), a family member (26 per cent) and healing for another (22 per cent). While 5 per cent said they did not know what they would pray for, 14 per cent said they would never pray.
…which is no surprise really but anyone grounded in reality would have to point out that these people do not necessarily expect those prayers to be granted. Furthermore, if 80% of the country really would pray for these things in these proportions, how come there is still war and poverty? surely we have just proved the futility of prayer right there.Such empirical grounding is not evident for the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, however who said:
"Prayer is one of the most natural and instinctive of human responses, so I am not surprised to see these findings. I come across people on an almost daily basis who want to talk about prayer and how to do it.”
This is equally unsurprising as he’s an Anglican Bishop who mostly meets with people as delusional as he is. If he spent time with others like me he’d be coming across people on a daily basis who wanted to know why he was talking to himself.
And speaking of self-selecting groups, who answers a poll like this anyway, or even knows of its existence? Christians, that’s who, but Christians are not representative of the nation at large.
I understand that the CofE is trying to prove its relevance to an increasingly secular country, but  relying on the general population’s ignorance of maths and stats to lie so egregiously is a poor way of doing it especially since the very people who would call them out on it publically are the very ones who do know enough statistics to notice. Richard Dawkins has already tweeted
“If I gave you a magic wand, what would you do?” I’d get rid of disease. “Aha!! Gotcha! You believe in magic wands.” — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) March 26, 2013
For those interested the full results of the survery are here

1 comment: