What makes for a healthy society? In today’s world, critical thinking and understanding of basic science must be at the top of the list. It seems reasonable that people with a higher degree of science literacy would have better prospects regarding jobs and such, but perhaps that isn’t so important. I think that people with a higher degree of science literacy have greater understanding of and greater control of themselves, and of their own sexuality. By that, I mean lower rates of sexually transmitted disease and fewer unintended pregnancies and thus fewer abortions. While these of course aren’t the only indications of a healthy society, I think we can all agree they are pretty important.
I am surprised by how little research has been done attempting to correlate societal health (or even STD rates for a start) with science literacy, although there has been at least one attempt to make a correlation of societal health with religion. In a somewhat contested 2005 paper, Gregory S. Paul (a paleontologist and illustrator) posited that Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’. Paul says,
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.
Even though it wasn’t tested, I have to think that the correlation isn’t between devotion and social ills but between science literacy and social ills. I can’t imagine any causation that might exist between faith and gonorrhea rates. I can, however, imagine that understanding how STDs are transmitted might lead to lower STD infection rates. I can also imagine that there is a negative correlation between science literacy and religious devotion, at least from what I’ve seen in the US .
Paul did consider the relationship between religious devotion and acceptance of evolution, and of religious devotion and STD and abortion rates, but I think he could have gone much further. The presentation of the data in the paper is very strange. It would have been nice to see some trend lines. Some critics of the paper argue that Paul chose only a narrow range of countries. I don’t think this is a problem, since we can’t quite compare a relatively prosperous democracy with a poor dictatorship. Regardless of its inadequacies, it’s certainly worth a read. If nothing else, there are tons of intriguing references.
While this isn’t really relevant to the point I’m making here, Paul also spent a lot of time on homicide rather than sexual health, which I don’t think is as strong an indicator of societal health. The correlation between death and the duality of good and evil was explored further by Gary F. Jensen in response to Paul’s work, although Jensen didn’t even mention the complication of reincarnation.
Gregory S. Paul (2005). Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies Journal of Religion & Society, 7
Gary F. Jensen (2006). Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates among Nations Journal of Religion & Society, 8
Note: I am not a social scientist by any means, but enjoy thinking about the relationships between what some people might think are unrelated phenomena.