max jukes and calling out bad statistics

Today in Church the pastor decided to use an illustration to show how big a difference having a Christian father would have on children. He decided to quote a meme that is circulating about Max Jukes and John Edwards.

The meme and breakdown of a few fallacious points can be found here:

In short, this meme states that because Max was an atheist, his 1200 descendants turned out to be criminals, prostitutes and beggars. Because John Edwards was a Christian, his 1400 descendants turned out to be preachers, lawyers, and judges.

On face value this should be rejected. Without looking at the statistics or sources, a few problems can be found:
1. This is dealing with several generations removed from the patriarchy. There are deaths, marriages, cultural influences, and a whole host of other factors that might be at play. With 1200 people didn’t at least one person marry a Christian?
2. Who says Max was not a Christian. By the number of descendants it was obvious the patriarchs were well removed from the modern time (I found out later he was born in the 1700s), perhaps placed in a time in which everyone identified as Christian. (The really funny thing is the church I attend might not even believe Jonathan Edwards was saved with his salvation by works gospel).
3. When the data is “too good to be true” it usually is. There may be selection bias: criminals might have more public records than farmers.
4. Even if the meme was true, the age of the participants might render the data unusable to a highly mobile and modern society. Interfamily dynamics are completely changed since the 1700s.

The main reason I rejected the meme is because human behavior studies (adoption studies) show low affects. From Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids:

Thanks to Denmark’s careful record keeping, the researchers knew whether any of the people in their study had criminal convictions. Since few female adoptees had legal problems, the study focused on males—with striking results. As long as the adoptee’s biological parents were law abiding, their adoptive parents made little difference: 13.5 percent of adoptees with law-abiding biological and adoptive parents got convicted of something, versus 14.7 percent with law-abiding biological parents and criminal adoptive parents. If the adoptee’s biological parents were criminal, however, upbringing mattered: 20 percent of adoptees with law-breaking biological and lawabiding adoptive parents got convicted, versus 24.5 percent with law-breaking biological and adoptive parents. Criminal environments do bring out criminal tendencies. Still, as long as the biological parents were law abiding, family environment made little difference.

So some effect does occur due to genetics, but not anything near the scale of 100% of all descendants.

If people are quoting stats that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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