Catholics in Australia

March 25, 2013

Prompted by the selection of the new Pope, I’ve been reflecting on Catholicism in Australia. The Catholic community within Australia has remained roughly steady in relative size over time, while other religious communities have grown or shrunk. To understand this better, I decided to take a look at the Australian census data for 2006 and 2011. By modelling aging over five years and factoring in known probabilities of death at different ages, I was able to compare the 2011 numbers against what might have been “expected.” This bar chart shows the resulting anomalies:

Not shown in this chart are 346,377 children under 5 as at 2011, who were either born in Australia, or who were part of immigrant families:

Age Number
0 60,092
1 68,550
2 69,815
3 72,671
4 75,249

In addition to these babies, the chart shows that for ages 5–16 and 26–53 there is a net influx, due largely to immigration, of 193,000 Catholics. These figures are consistent with the fact that roughly 20% of immigrants are Catholic.

For ages 17–25, the chart shows a net outflow (after immigration) of 50,000 young people leaving the Catholic Church. The peak anomaly is at age 21 which, given the five-year period, corresponds to people leaving at age 18 or 19. The chart also shows smaller net outflows for ages 54 and up, but these probably reflect inaccuracies in my death-rate estimates, which are based on the Australian population as a whole.

The chart below summarises these factors, which led to an increase of the Catholic population from 5,126,883 to 5,439,267 over the period (a slight relative drop from 25.8% to 25.3% of the Australian population). Not reflected in these numbers is the equally interesting demographic shift towards non-Anglo-Celtic groups. The census data also allows that phenomenon to be explored, but that is beyond the scope of this blog post.

– Tony


(Religion) Lost in Space

September 24, 2012
Luna 9 :*Denomination: 2 Forint

Luna 9 :*Denomination: 2 Forint (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concept that any future interstellar exploration be free of organised religion has recently been discussed.  Some have expressed the view that religion is toxic for human interaction and cooperation as is evidenced in many unsavoury incidents throughout history and is currently being witnessed with respect to the YouTube video denigrating the prophet Mohammed and subsequent reaction to it.

Humans have many attributes which may be positive or negative depending on the context.  Adaptability and imagination are very valuable human abilities, but these skills are not required nor perhaps desirable in a situation that requires heuristic thinking.  Conversely, applying a flawed or inappropriate heuristic can have disastrous consequences, or prevent a more appropriate paradigm from being developed.

A human will always be influenced in how they act and think by their prior experience. Even the application of the scientific method cannot eliminate these influences. The ability to assess complex data for example can be affected by education, training, aptitude and a host of other factors, which can vary according to the information being assessed.  It probably explains the range of specialities within a discipline, for example, in medicine, physics, chemistry, engineering and psychology.  With regard to future space exploration, the various TV program depictions such as Star Trek portray a range of specialists in the crew, making the assumption that all of these skills will be required to fully comprehend the magnitude and complexity of space.

Given that previous experience or belief systems are an inherent part of the human condition, it seems logical that a religious aspect will also then be represented within the crew of any intergalactic mission if it is to be truly representative of the human species.  And as bigoted or fundamentalist religious views are by definition extreme values within a normal population, it is highly unlikely that these would be represented to any significant statistical level.

With regard to positive and negative attributes, religion has been blamed for many ills, many of which can be justified.  However, religion should also be recognised for its many positive aspects, such as altruistic value systems, beneficence, the intrinsic value of individuals regardless of race, social standing or wealth, the existence and importance of a fundamental natural order and the concept of stewardship and responsible use of resources that then derive from it. Many advances in science were made possible by the religious systems of the time, such as astronomy and mathematics, although some of the authorities subsequently disputed the findings for whatever reason.  Is it so different to what is currently occurring where the evidence supporting climate change is disputed by certain sections within a secular society without any obvious underlying religious philosophical rationale?  It seems that belief systems generally, not just religious ones, are the root cause of disagreement.  This can be beneficial in the search for scientific truth and the progression of understanding – perhaps conflict is a positive human attribute as long as it is confined within an intellectual framework.So the discussion regarding the crew mix for future space exploration missions should expand to include all human experience and belief systems.  Perhaps religion can help unlock the mysteries of the human mind and the continuing quest of the species to explore and understand the universe.  All of which relates back to human science.