Baylor scholars misleading the public

Atheism Science

A recent report by the Council for Secular Humanism has called into question findings from a large survey by Baylor University sociologists of religion.  Turns out, the team of sociologists at Baylor, led by Rodney Stark, used a variety of tricks and subtle techniques to make it seem as though the US is more religious than it really is and to make it seem as though religion is on the rise, when just the opposite is true.

While this may not be a typical topic of conversation here, it is kind of interesting to note that there is bias in the sciences (not really a shocker) and people are pursuing agendas – sometimes that agenda includes advocating religion or making religion seem stronger in the US than it really is.  Lots of recent surveys have found that the US is growing more secular, though substantially more slowly than have other developed countries.

14 thoughts on “Baylor scholars misleading the public

  1. Um, this is Rodney Stark we’re talking about. In other words, no kidding. Pick up a book, any book of his, and leaf through it. His pro-Christian agenda is not even a little bit subtle, and his “but I’m not a Christian” claim to objectivity is hilarious bullshit. The guy has zero credibility as a legitimate sociologist.

  2. The big problem here is separating religious belief and ideology from religious behavior. For example, it’s commonly said that Japanese “aren’t religious” or are “atheistic.” But that’s mostly because western religious concepts don’t align well with eastern concepts, which are additionally often deeply embedded in the culture. Frankly, in terms of day-to-day behavior, Japanese are probably more religious than Americans. Consider this chapter from Shadow of the Moon, in which a Japanese teenager encounters an actual agnostic (the relevant discussion starts about halfway down).

    This is a constant problem between Mormons and Evangelicals. The latter try to define the former in terms of their theology, while the former (most of whom don’t really understand their own theology) insist on defining themselves in terms of their (tokenized) behavior.

  3. “The guy has zero credibility as a legitimate sociologist.”

    I think you’re overstating your case a bit. Finke and Stark were instrumental in kickstarting the sociology of religion in the early 90s. “The Churching of America” has redefined the way we look at religion in the early republic, and while many of the hypotheses from their rational action theory have been falsified, some of the things they put forward are now axiomatic in the discipline. Did he “sell out” a little with his trade press books? Absolutely. But can you blame the guy for wanting to grab a little cash at the end of a distinguished career? There’s no perceptible “pro-Christian” bias in his peer reviewed scholarship, and that’s the stuff that matters most with respect to his credibility as a sociologist.

  4. This is me during this post.

    Me: “Hmm, I wonder who this Rodney Stark guy is. Name sounds familiar.”

    *looks up info*

    Personal views on religion and evolutionary theory education

    Stark published an article in 2004 criticizing Charles Darwin and Evolutionary Theory. In “Facts, Fable and Darwin”, Stark criticized the “Darwinian Crusade” and suggested that governments “lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin’s failed attempt as an eternal truth.”[1] Stark further writes that “today it is a rare textbook or any popular treatment of evolution and religion that does not reduce ‘creationism’ to the simplest caricatures.”[2] However, as is usual with his reticence to discuss his own religious views, he has stated in an interview that he is not a man of faith, but also not an atheist:

    Interviewer: You once wrote that you’re “not religious as that term is conventionally understood.”
    ” Rodney Stark: That’s true, though I’ve never been an atheist. Atheism is an active faith; it says, “I believe there is no God.”

    In a 2007 interview with Massimo Introvigne, Stark described himself as an “independent Christian.” [4]

    My brain: WARNING WARNING! DANGER DANGER!

  5. I think you’re overstating your case a bit. Finke and Stark were instrumental in kickstarting the sociology of religion in the early 90s. “The Churching of America” has redefined the way we look at religion in the early republic, and while many of the hypotheses from their rational action theory have been falsified, some of the things they put forward are now axiomatic in the discipline. Did he “sell out” a little with his trade press books? Absolutely. But can you blame the guy for wanting to grab a little cash at the end of a distinguished career? There’s no perceptible “pro-Christian” bias in his peer reviewed scholarship, and that’s the stuff that matters most with respect to his credibility as a sociologist.

    Eh. Then he sold his credibility to make a buck off a self-congratulating Evangelical book market. Yeah, I can blame a guy for piddling his academic integrity away like that with book after book of bogus bullcrap.

  6. Of course, it’s great that Stark can produce quality research. It is still disappointing that he manipulates data as soon as he is no longer accountable to his peers.

    Matters might be different if Stark billed himself as an advocate. There is nothing wrong with advocacy. Just don’t pretend to do scholarship.

  7. Rodney Stark is, I believe, the guy who predicted back in the 80’s that the Mormon Church would be the next major world religion.

  8. But can you blame the guy for wanting to grab a little cash at the end of a distinguished career?

    Bear in mind that academics like Stark have tenure so that they do not have to compromise their integrity for money.

  9. Rodney Stark is, I believe, the guy who predicted back in the 80’s that the Mormon Church would be the next major world religion.

    At that time neither Stark, nor anyone outside the COB, knew that the numbers were bogus.

  10. It was certainly possible to determine that the numbers were bogus during the eighties, RP.

    Annual sums of members, converts, and born in covenants subtracted from next years totals should give you the number of deaths and resignations.

    However, in several years the result is a negative number, which can only mean that the dead have risen and been added to the membership totals.

    By the way, missionaries report number game abuses such as conversions of minors, mentally disabled, and destitute people who had none been properly taught as early as the sixties. Grant Palmer’s Mormon Stories is a case in point.

    If anyone knows of other early reports about the numbers game, I would love to hear about it.

  11. Here is the Tribune article about Mormon demographics again that confirms your memory.

    Aha! That’s also the article that gave me the idea that the JWs weren’t doing as badly as the Mormons!

    Good, I was hoping I wasn’t just going senile…;)

  12. Well, at least the press release from Baylor, which calls itself a “Top Texas Christian University”, rightly comes from the _Marketing_ and Communication office.

    Please let me know if you hear anything about how others react to the analysis of Stark’s report. It could be interesting.

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