Council Blasts Baylor University Religion Survey; Rodney Stark Hurls Acerbic Response Back
February 9, 2009
A week ago today (February 2), the Council for Secular Humanism, an affiliate organization of the Center for Inquiry, released to the national media a report challenging many of the findings contained in the widely cited Baylor University Religion Survey of 2008. Baylor, a Baptist university, made headlines when its survey claimed that America is as religious as it has always been, adding that belief in religion is a universal characteristic displayed by all peoples around the world. Baylor researchers recently published their findings in a book called What Americans Really Believe (Baylor University Press, 2008).
The Council’s report —authored by independent researcher and Free Inquiry contributor Gregory S. Paul—flatly contradicts these claims, suggesting that Baylor and lead researcher Rodney Stark may have improperly evaluated the data and consequently misinformed the public and the media. Baylor spokespersons, and Stark himself, have quickly shot back , defending the integrity of their study. Stark has gone on the offensive, labeling Paul a "militant Atheist" (not true) and dismissing the Council’s report. Stark has suggested that Paul "didn’t do his research thoroughly and is misinformed about much of what he reports on," adding, "It’s important for him, as a militant Atheist, to believe that religion will disappear very soon, and he believes we are covering that up." Baylor spokeswoman Jill Scoggins told The Christian Post on Tuesday, "I know it’s hard to understand that a Christian university doesn’t have an agenda but we don’t." As of this writing, the Council, in concert with Gregory Paul, is preparing a statement in response to Stark. The statement will be released to the media and posted on our Web site shortly. As part of the response, Paul writes:
"Stark, in contrast, casts doubt on his scholarship and descends to the level of personal attack when he contends that it’s ‘important for him [Paul], as a militant Atheist, to believe that religion will disappear very soon’ (note the capitalization of atheist as though it is a faith). Stark does not go to the trouble to present evidence that I am a ‘militant Atheist.’ I know he did not bother to conduct proper research before making the claim because there is no documentation to that effect. I have never claimed to be an absolute atheist in print or privately."
There are, of course, much more substantive issues addressed in the statement by Paul. For now, our own Tom Flynn (executive director of the Council) has an excellent guest article examining the pertinent issues published on the Washington Post/Newsweek Web feature "On Faith."
The controversy continues to unfold; stay tuned!