From Calamities of Nature comes this unprofessionally drawn but most enlightening graph of the relationship between national wealth (gross domestic product) and belief in evolution, with each dot representing a country (dots from similar regions have the same color). Click to enlarge:
The points are not all independent, of course, because geographically contiguous countries have similar religions (ergo similar feelings about evolution) and similar degrees of wealth. Still, it shows what I’ve mentioned several times before: northern Europe has high national wealth and high belief in evolution; eastern Europe has the opposite, even though many of those countries were once Communist, and the poorer you are, the less likely you are to accept evolution.
The positive relationship suggests that countries that are wealthier, and whose inhabitants are doing better, have less impetus to be religious, and hence less need to reject evolution.
Most striking to Americans is our status as an outlier: our acceptance of evolution is much lower than our GDP would indicate. This is probably the result of other factors that make American society, while wealthy, more socially dysfunctional: greater income inquality, lack of social support like national health care, and so on (see Greg Paul’s work on the strong negative relationship between societal “success” and religiosity).
I’m not a sociologist, of course, so my take is at best superficial, but more and more data show that religion takes hold when society fails to fulfill certain fundamental needs of its members, making them less secure and more likely to grab for the supernatural. While the U.S. is a wealthy country, it is very low on Greg Paul’s “successful society scale,” and we have inordinately high levels of income inequality, also a sign of social insecurity.
I’m not a Marxist, but data support Karl’s famous statement, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.”