Gregory Paul doesn't think so. After constructing a "Successful Societies Scale" that compared 25 socioeconomic indicators against statistics on religious belief and practice in 17 developed nations, the Baltimore-based paleontologist concluded in a 2009 studythat "religion is most able to thrive in seriously dysfunctional societies."
Gregory, who is a freelance researcher not affiliated with any institution, compiled data on everything from homicide rates and income inequality to infant mortality and teenage pregnancies and found that the societies that scored the best on socioeconomic indicators were also the most secular.
"The correlation between religiosity and successful societies is somewhere around 0.7. Zero is no correlation and one is a perfect correlation, so it's a really good correlation, and it's not just an accident," he told CBC News.
"There's no situation where you have a really highly religious nation that's highly successful socially."
Paul's intention in creating the scale was to challenge the idea that religion is universal and innate to the humane condition, and to show that societies that don't believe in God are not doomed, as some religious conservatives would have people believe.
"Religion is highly variable, and therefore we need to ask why is it sometimes popular and why it isn't," Paul said. "One thing we do know is that it's only popular in societies that … have enough rate of dysfunction that people are anxious about their daily lives, so they're looking to the gods for help in their daily lives.
"It's not fear of death that drives people to be religious, and it's not a God gene or a God module in the brain or some sort of connection with the gods; it's basically a psychological coping mechanism."