Religious Groups vs. Environment and Evolution from Josh Rosenau at NCSE
Last year, Tobin Grant at Religious News Service put together a single spiffy chart
for the interplay of politics and religion in the United States. In one image, the chart encodes the relative size of different religious groups along with the political positions of those groups (or organizations associated with those groups), as reflected along the axes of more or less government services and more or less government enforcement of moral positions. It's a very nice bit of work, one that would make Edward Tufte proud.
But there's another dimension that isn't cleanly reflected in the chart. How do these organizations fall when it comes to issues of science? In particular, how does religious affiliation relate to support of evolution and environmental issues? Is being religious the same as dismissing evolution? Is the Bible Belt automatically against the EPA?
Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education has charted exactly that relationship, which is shown in the image at the top of this post.
For more on what this chart, and the one by Grant, revealed... come on in.
The source of data for both charts was a massive data set from Pew covering answers received from over 32,000 participants. To generate the data behind his chart, Rosenau looked at a relatively small slice of this big set.
I examined two questions. One asked people which of these statements they most agreed with:
Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; or Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost
The other question asked people to agree or disagree with the statement:
Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth
His finding? As you can see on the chart (and I urge you to click through to his site to see it in full-sized glory) it's rare for a group to be supportive of one issue and dismissive of the other.
Groups’ responses on the two questions I examined were more highly correlated, at least in general. Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out as an outlier, advocating for environmental action while staunchly rejecting evolution (a topic, perhaps, for another day). But mostly, groups that support evolution also support environmental action. And indeed, the groups most likely to support environmental action and evolution are also the least likely to support a role for government in promoting morality (I tried adding that data to the graph above, but it got confusing).
While the folks bringing the Watchtower
to your door are one of the few who break between these two issues, Grant's visualization shows that the relationship of religious groups when it comes to social issues is more diverse.
Evangelicals are classic conservatives (small role in economy, protect morality). Pentecostals want a larger role for government on economic issues. ... Mainline churches hold similar economic views as evangelicals but want less government involvement protecting traditional morality. Christians in traditionally black denominations and evangelicals are similar in their views toward morality policy, but there is a large divide on economics.
One common denominator (yes, pun intended) on both charts: Catholics. In Tobin's look at social issues, Catholics are sprawled across the center, with some leaning toward positions that would be perceived on a purely political spectrum as both left and right. Rosenau finds exactly the same, with Catholics almost perfectly perched in the center on the environmental question. It's likely no coincidence that Catholics are also the biggest circle on the chart. The sheer size of the denomination is indicative of both its economic and ethnic diversity, a factor that likely weighs heavily into "our name is our position" location on these charts. However, Catholics as a group do slew to the "pro-evolution" side, with acceptance of science in this case bolstered by its correspondence with the official position of the Church.
One important point to be drawn from both charts is the problematic position of African-American churches. Black churches tend to be supportive of the need for government services. However, they often strongly favor government intervention in moral issues (i.e. against gay marriage and reproductive choice), they're also mildly to strongly dismissive of evolution, and—most surprisingly, considering all the horrible abuses to which their members have been subject—against environmental regulations. Changing these positions is likely an issue of education... and by that I mean that politicians and political observers (including me) who don't understand why these churches hold these positions need to get educated.
Both charts provide a very nice way to visualize what is really a very diverse community of organizations, and they should be required viewing before making generalizations about the intersection of religion and issues.