Only 0.1 percent of U.S. federal inmates are atheists; a much smaller percentage than the country. Doesn’t this mean that religion causes people to be criminal; or at least that criminals tend to be religious? This question, or some form of it, is often presented by atheist debaters seeking to win a debate rather than arrive at truth. It cites a correlation and asks the non-atheist to draw a conclusion based on very limited information. It plays on the problem of rival causal factors. These are the things a researcher has not considered that could affect the outcome of an experiment or study. My eyes were opened to this when I took criminal justice research in college. Data alone may be an indicator, but why it is not proof?
Is it possible that marginally religious people turn to their religion when they get in a pinch? Is it possible that some atheist inmates will claim religion to gain sympathy? I could go further with this line of questioning, but the point is, outside of assumption or special pleading, one cannot draw the conclusion that the causal factor of criminal behavior is religion without ruling out other probable causes not shown by raw data. Too, if the atheist debater has drawn this conclusion, it is up to him or her to provide evidence. It is not true simply because someone else doesn’t have information ready to demonstrate the conclusion to be false.
By the way, if you are rolling your eyes because you are convinced that data alone is enough to draw this kind of conclusion, you might want to check out military intelligence analyst Tyler Vigen’s book Spurious Correlations. He uses correlating data in a hilarious way to show just how silly it is to draw such conclusions. For example, he has data to show the number of people who drowned in a pool actually DOES correlate with films featuring Nicolas Cage released in the same year. He also found that the per capita consumption of margarine correlates with the divorce rate in Maine. Do you really thing the causal agent in these two correlations can be decided without further study to find the real causal agent?
Why do you think some people who are otherwise logically-thinking individuals concerned with numbers and statistics, etc., seem to want to find malice in Christianity, even when it means abandoning very basic concepts of research?
What are your thoughts?