A new study released in Britain shows that atheists are just as likely to volunteer in the community as Christians.
But is this true?
Frankly, the answer is “there's no way to know from the survey”. Let me explain.
I downloaded the detailed results of the survey (xls here) and went to the relevant page (Table 6). And get this, the behaviour actually surveyed was this:
Participation in civic engagement and formal volunteering at least once in the last year
That's right, this great measure of civic involvment was “at least once in the last year”. Which is, I put it to you, hardly an effective measure. It makes no distinction between active sustained involvment and sporadic involvment. So, consider the fact that I am involved in a number of different organisations which I would consider as both informal and formal volunteering. Also, a couple of weeks ago, I volunteered for an afternoon's work to help set up the Spring Fair at my children's school. It's hard to tell exactly what difference the survey would have recorded between my current level of activity and if I had only done the Spring Fair set-up, at least when measured by religious affiliation.
Not that this could not have been measured. Frustratingly, on Table 7 you find the results of both “at least once a year” and “at least once a month” displayed but not analysed according to religion or lack thereof. Of course, when you examine the table you do find vast differences between the 2 columns and different levels of drop-off between the 1 yr and 1 mth columns.
I've written to the Citizenship Survey office asking for the extra data (which must exist, it's just not been reported). Hopefully they'll be able to provide it.
In the meantime, if someone makes a claim that this report demonstrates there's no difference between the Christian and the areligious the appropriate response is to point out that the reported data simply doesn't tell us anything meaningful.