Nigel Barber Study: Religion will Decline With Rise in Income

Nigel Barber

The 'study' by Nigel Barber "uncertainty hypothesis."

I've arleady discussed the atheist propaganda instrument, the Psychology Today blog. I will be discussing study that appears on that blog soon. One of source on that page caught my interest. It's a study by someone named Nigel Barber. Of course Barber has a relationship with the Psychology today blog. He's not just an academic whose study they daraw upon as a result of research but he's actively participating in the propaganda machine. This is from the bio the blog publisher writes for him:

Hailing from Ireland, Nigel Barber received his Ph.D. in Biopsychology from Hunter College, CUNY, and taught psychology at Bemidji State University and Birmingham Southern College. A prolific cross-national researcher, Barber accounts for societal differences in sexual and reproductive behavior using an evolutionary approach. Books include Why Parents Matter, The Science of Romance, Kindness in a Cruel World, and The Myth of Culture: Why We Need a Genuine Natural Science of Societies. Interests include finance, organic gardening, and hiking.

The Study used in the psychology today blog article.This guy's study has gotten a lot of press, it's discussed on the Huffington post (unfortunately--all the good political people ahve to suckers in the spiritual world?).

The study explicates and argues for the thesis that religious belief is prompted by economic insecurity and will eventually wither away as economies grow and properer in the first world. This is an inane, presumptuous and myopic understanding of things. It is predicated upon a huge number of misconceptions about religion, ignores modern social scineces and assume the structural functionalist Bolderdahs of the century before the last one. It just dogmatically ignores all the work in the 20th century by everyone from Maslow to Huston Smith, sweeps aside all the talk about sense of the numinous and the religious a priori and just asserts that there's a straight 1x1 correlation between money and faith. This assertion is actually rooted in Fuererbach.

Abstract of the study on Sage Publications site
Barber, N. (in press). A cross-national test of the uncertainty hypothesis of religious belief. Cross-Cultural Research.

According to the uncertainty hypothesis, religion helps people cope psychologically with dangerous or unpredictable situations. Conversely, with greater control over the external environment due to economic development and technological advances, religious belief is predicted to decline (the existential security hypothesis). The author predicts that religious belief would decline in economically developed countries where there is greater existential security, including income security (income equality and redistribution via welfare states) and improved health. These predictions are tested in regression analysis of 137 countries that partialed out the effects of Communism and Islamic religion both of which affect the incidence of reported nonbelief. Findings show that disbelief in God increased with economic development (measured by lower agricultural employment and third-level enrollment). Findings further show that disbelief also increased with income security (low Gini coefficient, high personal taxation tapping the welfare state) and with health security (low pathogen prevalence). Results show that religious belief declines as existential security increases, consistent with the uncertainty hypothesis.
Before turning to the criticisms others make there are several things that need to be said about this abstract. First for some ridiculous reason this theory seeks to ground the basis for religion in one thing, money. It should be abundantly clear to any student of history that there are multiple connectoins between belief and the believer. To reduce all of those to one thing, such a Fuerbaching proposal should send red flags waving (pun intended). It's so "materialist" in thinking. Maslow's work in psychological spirituality should tell us by itself tht this nonsense that the reasons for religious bleief have a lot more to do with an overall understanding of one's relationship to being and to the cosmos. Maslow draws upon a large tradition of empirical psychological study.Economics is only one area of life.We have everything in life to cope with. There's uncertainty in everything,including life and death. Take a statement from the abstract:

According to the uncertainty hypothesis, religion helps people cope psychologically with dangerous or unpredictable situations. Conversely, with greater control over the external environment due to economic development and technological advances, religious belief is predicted to decline (the existential security hypothesis).

The first part of the statement is based upon an unspoken assumption that if this motivates religion then it's the naturalistic cause and that's all there is to it. If we assume that religious belief in mixed in with evolutionary endowment, which is no reflection on its truth content becuase if God created evolution why would God not also mix bleief in with evolution? Meaning the function to secure one in the face of turmoil and trammels of life is simply something religion is supposed to do because God made it that way. That is no more proof that it's only a naturalistic accident than the fact that things fall down rather than up. The assertion that religion declines when economic position is achieved is clearly false. That's one of the basic bogus assumptions of bogus atheist social science, its empirically not true. In the United States religion has not declined but your economic hay day has come and gone but even while climbed to the top of the industrial ladder and become the most affluent nation we did not cease to be religious as a society.

They are basing these assumptions on bad ideas and stereotypes about Europe. Especially Northern Europe is seen as the capital of atheism in the world. To hear most atheists tell it one would think that the situations are severed form the US there are only about 3% Christians in Sweden and everyone else is an atheist. This is the assumption of Barber because he and the other blogger of the psychology Today Blog are basing their thinking on the bad studies by Paul and Zuckerman. Else where I have demonstrated the bunk that masquerades as social science under those two names. I've written a bit on Zuckerman. I have contacted him by email and must admit he's a nice guy. I dislike his pseudo social science on religion in Eruope. Take Japan as a counter example, which I believed is used by Paul as an example of a nation totally secularized in which religion is a minor influence. Japan is a lot more influenced by religion than Paul or Zuckerman would want to admit.

The situation in Northern Europe is disproved by another study that debunks anther economically based theory.

There are also others who are critical of religion yet doubt the veracity of Barber's study.The Demand for Religion by Wolfgang Jagodzinski and Andrew Greely is a study that counters a theory that views religion as a response to economic demands. This time theory states that religion will grow or shrink depending upon the installment of the demand for it. In other wrods supply side economics in sociology of religion. The two authors demonstrate through their own studies that northern Europe is a lost more religious than people think.

This paper examines the conflict between the "secularization" theory of religious decline and the economic model of religion which assumes a fairly constant need for religion and attributes variation in devotion to variation in the supply of religious services. First the analysis reveals that the number of "hard core" atheists (those who firmly reject the existence of God and the possibility of life after death) in seventeen countries are a relatively small proportion of the population. Then it turns to Norway to determines that one can hardly describe that country as "unreligious." Next it discovers that there is a higher level of Catholic religious practice in the competitive environment of Northern Ireland. Finally it considers the one thoroughly secularized country – East Germany – and concludes that the "demand" for religion can be diminished considerably if a ruthless government takes control of the process of religious socialization.

One might also note not only does the Jagodzinski and Greely study disprove Barber's assertion, because it shows his assumptions about the correlation between economic security and religion belief are wrong, but also the theory they are working agaisnt also would, if true, deny Barber's hypothesis.

In the International Social Survey Program’s study of religion in 1991, two questions were asked which are pertinent to this investigation:
Please look at this card and tell me which statement closest to expressing what you believe about God:
  1. I don’t believe in God
  2. I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.
  3. I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a higher Power of some kind.
  4. find myself believing in God some of the time but not at others.
  5. While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God.
  6. I know God really exists and I have no doubt about it.
Do You believe in life after death?
  1. Yes, definitely
  2. Yes, probably
  3. No, probably not
  4. No, definitely not
In third column of Table 1, "Hard Core" Atheists are those who agree with the first item in the first question (they are firmly convinced that God does not exist) and with the fourth item in the second question (they firmly reject the possibility of life after death. This group therefore can be assumed to experience no need for religion and to be absent from the religious market place.
In the second column, "Soft Core" Atheists include those in the third column and those who, while they reject God do not completely reject life after death (they accept the third response on that question – there is "probably not" a life after death. This latter group might be considered to be on the far fringes of the religious market place.
The "Softest Core" Atheists in the third column include those in the first two and those who can fairly be called agnostics (the second response to the God question) because they do not completely reject the possibility of the existence of God. They might be considered as hovering a little closer to the religious market place.
Note that
  1. The proportion of Hard Core atheists is relatively small in all the countries except East Germany (42.7%)
  2. The proportion is above 10% only in former socialist countries (12.4% in Russia, 13.9% in Slovenia, and 11.3% in Hungary) and in the Netherlands (11.4%) and in Israel (12.1%).
  3. In the other eleven countries, the highest rates of Hard Core atheism are in Norway (6.7%) and Britain (6.3%). Thus if latent demand for religion is excluded only from the Hard Core atheists, there is still the possibility of a large clientele for those firms which might venture into the religious market place in such supposedly "secularized" countries as Norway and Britain.
  4. There are not all that many Hard Core atheists in the countries studied, nor indeed all that many soft core atheists either.
  5. The "Softest Core" Atheists are less than a third of the population in every country except East Germany. They are more than a fifth of the population only in four former Socialist countries – East German Russia, Hungary and Slovenia. With the exception than of East Germany more than two thirds of the population of the countries studied are willing to admit the existence in some fashion of God and the likelihood of life after death. Devout many of them may not be but on the two central issues they are more religious than not. They then may be considered as part of the religious market place if not always enthusiastic consumers.
Furthermore in the sample as a whole, Hard Core atheism correlates only with gender (women less likely to be atheists) and not with education or age (those favorite measures of the more naïve of the "secularization theorists.") 83% of the Hard Core Atheists say they never believed in God, 61% say they never attended church services when they were eleven or twelve years old and 9% more say they only rarely attended. The choice of Hard Core atheism as a philosophy of life was apparently made at a very young age in life and is sustained through the life course.
There are also critics who directly engage the Barber study.


Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on

Do life’s uncertainties promote religion? A flawed study

problem 1

from Coyne:
Barber collected data on these issues from 137 countries. The index of religiosity was taken from Zuckerman (2007), as “the proportion of people reporting that they did not believe in God.” There is a possibility of error here since the question was not asked in the same way in every country.

Problem 2 (Ibid)

But there is a big problem with these results. As the table shows, the different indices of “security” are also correlated with each other. For example, there’s a strong negative correlation (-0.69) between the degree of agricultural labor and the percentage of people getting third-level educations. Likewise, pathogen load is negatively correlated with level of education and positively correlated with degree of agricultural labor. Income inequality is negatively correlated with taxation (a measure of “welfare stateness”). Pathogen load is negatively correlated with whether a country is/was Communist, but positively correlated with whether a state is Islamic.

These cross-correlations among the different indices of “security” mean that we cannot use each of them as an independent variable affecting religiosity. We don’t know, for example, whether the negative correlation between disbelief in God and income inequality reflects a direct influence of the latter on the former (countries with higher inequality have higher belief in God), or only that income inquality affects religiosity because that inequality is itself a sign of poor health (pathogen load has a 0.5 correlation with the Gini coefficient). What this means is that you cannot say that each of the seven variables is itself significantly associated with religiosity. They are not independent.


So what can we conclude? The results generally support the “uncertainty” hypothesis because each variable is correlated in the expected direction with religiosity. But what we cannot say is that each of the seven variables itself has an independent effect on belief and disbelief. That awaits a multiple-regression analysis—or other statistical tests that get rid of the problem of cross-correlation. The data for this are in fact already available to Barber.

And, of course, we all know that correlation is not causation. Even if each of these variables was independently and significantly associated with religiosity, we still don’t know in which direction (or neither) the causality runs. It’s formally possible, for instance, that more religious societies promote income inequality and poor health, but for most variables that suggestion seems less parsimonious.

We can also ad that the total adherents to hard atheism around the world amount to an extremely small group.

^ a b "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2005". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-15.

* 2.3% Atheists: Persons professing atheism, skepticism, disbelief, or irreligion, including the militantly antireligious (opposed to all religion).
* 11.9% Nonreligious: Persons professing no religion, nonbelievers, agnostics, freethinkers, uninterested, or dereligionized secularists indifferent to all religion but not militantly so.

from Wikipedia 8/2/11

"According to another, rates of self-reported atheism are among the highest in Western nations, although also to quite varying degrees—United States (4%), Italy (7%), Spain (11%), Great Britain (17%), Germany (20%), and France (32%)."[20]

source:b "Religious Views and Beliefs Vary Greatly by Country, According to the Latest Financial Times/Harris Poll". Financial Times/Harris Interactive. 2006-12-20. Retrieved 2011-04-09.

Observe Great Briton which has only 17% atheists. One would expect more like 50% if Barber's theory were true.