Fun with Math

Posted date: 2010-03-18

Posted By : Marc

I was recently reminded of a discussion I had some time ago with a commenter on Lawyers, Guns, & Money by a rant by Larry Wallberg (if that is your real name, Tom Delay). In it I posited that a sizable fraction of our Congresscritters must be non-believers. My antagonist insisted, not unreasonably, that I was making baseless assertions. I say this wasn't unreasonable, but really only at first glance. My immediate response was a quote:

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
-Seneca
In retrospect, that was the kind of tactic that the god-botherers tend to use. It was really unnecessary. I do statistics for a living, and this is an easily solved statistical problem (probability, really, but I'm sure no one is interested). Granted, it is not nearly as simple to make predictions on sentient beings as on inanimate objects. But I think people follow statistical patterns well enough that we can at least conduct a little thought experiment.

Hypothesis: Of the 535 voting members of the Legislative Branch (435 Representatives and 100 Senators), several members are non-theists. I am not sure what the exact claim was, but I seem to recall suggesting that perhaps a double-digit percentage of legislators were non-theists. So my stated hypothesis will be that 10% of Congressmen are in-the-closet non-theists.

Assumptions:
1) The 15% of Americans who claim no religious affiliation are non-theists
2) Every individual in Congress has the same probability of belief as a member of the public at large
3) No member* would claim to be a non-theist, as to do so would preclude election.

*Pete Stark (D-CA) is the exception, but only because he has been in Congress so long, the ass-groove in his chair would not accommodate anyone else.

In the description, a success is equal to no religious affiliation. A failure is equal to religious affiliation. I threw this together, but I discovered that no software I have can do a factorial function on any number over 170. I was able to work around this limitation, so without further ado:


Not rigorous, but a bit of fun.

Note that that is about one in 3,000 chance. I am not claiming this is accurate. I know there are any large number of things to control for that weren't. It is also entirely possible that the kinds of people who run for government are the kind of people who are predisposed to belief in a cosmic hierarchy. I didn't really spend too much time on this, so if I made any math boo-boos, I'd appreciate it if you would let me know.

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