Sweet Home Chicago and Christians Studied

On the top of Sam Harris’ website’s current (at least as of 10-23-08) front page five articles are listed. One of them is Asking the Right God Questions by Gregory Rodriguez.

In a political season when we learn, as we have so many times before, that polls can be loaded so as to lean the results in a particular direction Sam Harris appears to have been impressed by the study discussed by Rodriguez as he writes:
“The fury of the debate between faith and atheism leaves little room for an inquiry as to why 90% of Americans say they believe in God or a supreme being and more than 40% say they attend religious services each week…

A new study out of Northwestern University…starts to provide data and insight…[about] why humans believe.
The study, by psychology professor Dan P. McAdams and researcher Michelle Albaugh, was aimed at finding out about the religious sources of political leanings. They interviewed 128 devout Christians in and around Chicago…

The study analyzes the results mostly in terms of political divisions…The political findings are intriguing, but not nearly as interesting as the way the question and the answers it elicited get at deeper, core issues. It appears that we do believe out of need, but it’s not, as Marx suggested, primarily because of material deprivation. Instead, it looks as if faith answers fear, and many different kinds of fear, which we can begin to delineate in some detail…”

The particular answers given to the questions are not the concern of this post—feel free to read the original article. Rather, what interested me is how this could even be considered a “study.”

“90% of Americans say they believe in God or a supreme being” and the study “interviewed 128 devout Christians in and around Chicago.” North Western University actually states, “The Northwestern University study sample included 128 highly religious and politically active Americans who attend church regularly.”

This is a study?

There are 305,482,700 Americans.

90% of that equals 274,934,430.

Thus, 128 individuals represent .00000004655655532120876966918950103532% (that is: point 00000004…) of the population in question (the 90%).

What about the 40% weekly religious service attendees?
40% of that equals 122,193,080.
Thus, 128 individuals represent .00000010475224947271973175567716273295%.

A more accurate percentage could be derived if they provided the number of Americans whom they consider “highly religious and politically active Americans who attend church regularly.” In this way the derived percentage based on the 128 number would be more accurate although it would surely still be statistically insignificant.

Not only does the sample group represent a stunningly insignificant percentage of the population (or of the 90%) but it is a sample from a very limited locality.

If the study is considered to have provided any results at all they ought to be kept locked away in a folder until vast amounts of more research is done with which to correlate them.

More fascinating would be to learn how much this study cost, I attempted to ascertain this but have been unsuccessful. A “study” by a psychology professor and researcher who interviewed 128 people!?!?!
They could have conducted the “study” in one night whilst sipping lattes at a coffee shop.

I agree, “we learn a whole lot more if we just keep asking ourselves—in as many new ways as possible—why it is that so many of us feel compelled to pray.” And let us not forget to ask, “why it is that so many of us feel compelled not to pray.” Paul Vitz has provided some fascinating answers in his book, “Faith of the Fatherless.”

Perhaps, the good professor McAdams can stand outside of a screening of “Religulous” and ask a sample group of 3 atheists what their deal is—I’d fund that study for a peso.

The article on the North Western University’s News and Information website is even blunter in its conclusions, “Political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness, a new Northwestern University study soon to be published in the Journal of Research in Personality finds.”

This, which appears to be the basic conclusion of the “study,” is a first-rate non sequitur: as Rodriguez puts it, “they asked their subjects to describe what their lives and the world would be like if they did not have faith” (whatever that means). Apparently, political conservatives think that it would result in lives/a world of chaos and absence of order and political liberals conceive operating out of a fear of emptiness. Yet, just because people believe that a life/would result does not mean that this is why they have “faith.”

Overall, I am simply not sure what the point is besides that highly religious and politically active Americans who attend church regularly are biting their fingernails off, and I am going off to become a professor—seems easy enough.


  1. how did u put that "to read or not to read" on your blog?

  2. Pardon my delay but since I cannot post codes here I am attempting to get someone to post a set of easy to follow instructions and then will post a link here.

  3. I agree, this is a very poor attempt at a study. It seems like nowadays you grab 10 people, ask them a bunch of questions, and have those 10 people speak for the % of the world that may or may not be similar to them. I just don't get it anymore, poor research that leads to absolute conclusions that in turn can manipulate ones thinking in actually believing those conclusions as truth. I read the worst study I could read on livescience that talked about men being "hardwired" to spend more.