The Church of England and the Art of Bullshit

This is quite the headline from the Church of England!

Wow! Four out of five people believe in the power of prayer! Remarkably high belief in the supernatural at a time you’d expect otherwise…

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith said:

Prayer is one of the most natural and instinctive of human responses, so I am not surprised to see these findings. I come across people on an almost daily basis who want to talk about prayer and how to do it. This has been even more evident recently, as many people are facing uncertainty about jobs and finance. However, there has also been a desire to pray for trouble spots in the world, not least when we see the appalling photos from Syria on the television.”

Wow! Even the Bishop agrees that the power of prayer is as strong as ever!

Surely the raw data (PDF) back up this claim, right?!

Of course not.

The Church of England is lying to you. And everyone else, for that matter.

Here’s how they did it:

They asked respondents: “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, What would it be for?”

If they asked me, I’d probably say something selfish (Money! Power! Health!)… while you might say something more generous (Peace! Prosperity! Love for all!) In fact many people answered something along those lines since it was an open ended question.

But 287 of the 2015 respondents took a different approach. They said “I would never pray for anything.” And another 106 said they didn’t know what they would pray for.

If you add that up, that means 393 out of 2015 people wouldn’t pray for anything specific.

That also means the remaining 1622 out of 2015 would pray for something specific.

That’s about 80%.

Four out of five.

Which brings us back to this headline:

If my AP Statistics students analyzed the same data this way, I would have to fail them. But, to their credit, it would probably just be an honest mistake.

The Church of England, on the other hand, knows damn well what it’s doing. They’re purposely spinning the results to suggest prayer is a bigger deal than it really is.

The British Humanist Association’s Andrew Copson is all over this, explaining the logical fallacy and what it means:

It is amusing until you remember that this is an immensely powerful institution with a highly privileged position in public life, control of almost a third of our state schools and seats in our parliament. Their desperate attempt to have an Easter good news story through misleading claims conceals the reality of the religious demography of our country — religious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in long-term decline — now at the level of minority pursuits — and non-religious identities and beliefs are on the rise.

Even Richard Dawkins is rightfully poking fun at the Church:

So far, the Church of England hasn’t apologized or admitted its bullshitting ways. But then again, their faith is built on a mountain of nonsense and interpreting things any way they see fit. They’ve never cared much for telling the truth before. Why start now?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.