"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Children in Religious Countries Do Not Perform Well in Science

Religion and science are often in conflict especially when a literal reading of religious text is employed. Take creation versus evolution, for instance. Thus, it is therefore not surprising to see students from countries dominated by religion to score lower in international standardized exams in science. This, in fact, is one of the findings made by a study that looks into the correlation between students' scores in both PISA and TIMSS, and the degree of religiosity of the students' country.

Using data from a survey that measures a country's religiosity and scores in the science sections of either PISA or TIMSS, a negative correlation is seen:

Above copied from
Stoet, G., & Geary, D.C., Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics, Intelligence (2017)

The correlation seems to stand the test of time. Acknowledging conflicts that exist between science and religion, one may be quick to conclude the mechanism behind this correlation. Science goes against the beliefs of both students and teachers so it is only expected that science will not be diligently taught in schools. Since both PISA and TIMSS have a math section, scores in mathematics can also be examined to see if there exists a correlation between math performance and religiosity. Apparently there is likewise a negative correlation:

Above copied from
Stoet, G., & Geary, D.C., Students in countries with higher levels of religiosity perform lower in science and mathematics, Intelligence (2017)

The above, although almost identical to the results for science scores, is distinct and important. Mathematics is really neutral when it comes to religious beliefs. Thus, the mechanism behind both correlations cannot be due to the conflicts between a student's belief and the subject. What the authors suggest based on additional data is instructional time. In countries where religion is emphasized, students spend a significant amount of time in religious education. Since time is finite, this means less time spent on math and science. Instructional time is indeed important.

There is in addition, another factor that correlates with religiosity and is negatively related to learning outsomes in the math and the sciences, and that factor is poverty. After all, Karl Marx regarded religion as the opiate of the poor. Thus, poverty might as well the main factor in all of these correlations.

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