Sunday 16 May 2010

God and the movies

Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a statistics nerd, but once I start comparing countries, I find it difficult to stop. The fact is that associations are everywhere and the possibilities opened up by ecological epidemiology are endless. For example, here are two statistically significant associations showing belief in God and cinema attendance (against inequality).

Based on the World Values Survey. 'How important is God in your life?' Percentage answering 'very important'.

Based on Nationmaster data.

I show these graphs because they happen to show a strong correlations—stronger than most of The Spirit Level graphs. They are, as Wilkinson and Pickett might say, too strong to be the result of chance. But if they are not due to chance, how do we explain why people in less equal countries are more likely to believe in God and more likely to go the cinema? Does egalitarianism cause atheism? Does religion cause inequality? Or does going to the cinema make people believe in God? 

The possibilities are limitless. But even if you exclude chance as a possibility (and that would be very hasty), explaining them in terms of income inequality requires a vivid imagination and a near-obsession with wealth redistribution. 

As ever, our willingness to accept statistical associations depends on our susceptibility to the underlying message. Perhaps a socialist atheist would find these associations compelling. Or maybe a Christian film buff could use them as an argument in favour of capitalism. The rest of us might shrug our shoulders and say 'so what?'


Joe said...

This is a poor argument that in effect runs like this:

Some correlations are not causal.
Therefore your correlations are not causal.

It would be a different matter if they offered no explanation of causality. They do. If it's bad, criticise that rather than wasting time educating us on the difference between cause and correlation.

Christopher Snowdon said...

I'd like to believe that everyone understands the difference between correlation and causation but sadly I doubt that's true. This is a light-hearted way of illustrating it. W & P's brief section on causality just asserts that "cultural differences" don't offer an explanation. I address causality throughout TSLD and addressed W & P's 'cultural differences' argument in a recent post:

County Galway BnB said...

I'd interpret the first diagram to mean that people in more unequal societies suffer consciousness of guilt more which is emotionally and psychologically burdensome. Believing in a higher power helps them cope with the imbalance. Another way of looking at it is people in unequal societies intuitively understand that their lives are ethically diminished and God then is the call to correct the injustice. I lived many years in Scandinavia and the thing I liked best was the freedom from guilt that I always felt constantly bombarded with in US. It's very consuming having to psychologically justify immorality to oneself. On the matter of cinema going, perhaps escapism is necessary to bear the weight of inequality as well.