Where Are the World’s Atheists?

Using information from last year’s global survey of religiosity (conducted by WIN-Gallup International), the Washington Post put together a nifty map explaining where the world’s “convinced atheists” lived:

China is far and away the “winner,” though the country’s Communist history and hostility to religion has a lot to do with that:

The official ideology of the Communist government scorned both “new” Western religions and more traditionally Chinese faiths, destroying countless temples and relics during the Cultural Revolution of 1967 to 1977. While today’s Chinese leaders do not seem to share Mao Zedong’s fervent belief that China’s rich religious history was holding it back from modernity, nor do they seem prepared to bring that history back.

Saudi Arabia is also a little darker than you might expect, which is a surprising thing to see.

Keep in mind that this global survey is really a compilation of a variety of surveys, each of which may have its own flaws. Also, we don’t know how many people answered that they were religious just to save face and stay out of the crossfire.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • David

    Atheism in East Asia is very different than in the West. They usually dabble in plenty of pseudo-science, such as traditional Chinese “medicine” and whatnot.

    • jondrake

      If atheism is simply lack of belief in god, how can it be different?
      Just dabbling in pseudo-science has nothing to do with atheism one way or another. An atheist can be anything…a Democrat, a Republican, Libertarian, Philanthropist, Social Worker, Nazi, Child Molester, Scientist, or Minister.
      So what?

      • Anna

        You’re absolutely correct, which is why atheism by itself is not an indication of rationality or skepticism. Someone can be an atheist with supernatural beliefs, as long as those beliefs don’t involve gods. Someone can also be an atheist for many different reasons, not all of which involve evaluating the evidence for and against deities and coming to a conclusion based on what they’ve learned.

    • advancedatheist

      Asian ancestor worship makes more sense than Western theism. One, your ancestors did exist, unlike the gods. Two, your ancestors had something to do with “creating” you. And three, they often leave behind something tangible which has benefited your life, like the family farm or other forms of wealth.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        this is true. i don’t actually believe my dad is “looking down on me from heaven” but i talked to him the other day. i could never pray to jeebus or some other figure out of mythology. but i can and do talk to close departed loved ones. i know they aren’t really “there” but there are times when it feels good.

  • Olidamarra

    Atheism in Sweden is also a different beast. Few atheists here label themselves as such because few people ever think about it. Whether or not you believe in God is a non-issue.

    • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

      If our numbers continue to climb, I predict we’ll get a point sometime in the future when nobody calls themselves atheists. Where theism is not a threat, atheism is irrelevant. Then we can focus on other things.

      • Space Cadet

        I can’t imagine a world where theism doesn’t exist, and as long as theism exists atheism won’t be irrelevant.

        • Anna

          That might depend on the kind of theism. If we got society to the point where theism was progressive, humanistic, and utterly inoffensive, then the distinction between atheism and theism would be largely irrelevant.

          • Space Cadet

            Even then there would still be the philosophical debates (I would imagine) as to the existence of god. They’d be less vitriolic, for sure, and maybe completely good-natured, but atheism would be relevant as a counter-opinion.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      I thought the term “convinced atheist” was odd. What does that even mean?

      • Space Cadet

        Me, too.

        Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?

        “a religious person” and “not a religious person” both seem to be very general, broad categories (both a Westboro Baptist and a UU are religious, but hardly the same) while “convinced atheist” is very specific. It makes me wonder how different the numbers would have been had they dropped the “convinced” part and just said “atheist”.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          The question of theistic belief is binary. You either believe in god(s) or you do not. This muddies the question. What does convinced mean? My answer to the question is that I do not find there to be any credible evidence for the existence of gods, deities or supernatural entities. Does that make me a “convinced atheist”? It’s not a phrase I’d ever use. My understanding is that most Scandinavians are what I call “apatheists”. They don’t know if there are any gods and they don’t care. I doubt there was a box for that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520155425 Tura Satana

        I am at least quite convinced god(s) do not exist. If there was a slot for convinced atheist I would tick it – but it may be just me.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          I am not convinced that gods exist. I can’t say that I’m CONVINCED that they do not, but honestly there’s no practical difference. I probably would have checked the box saying that I don’t believe. For purposes of counting the number of atheists, both groups should be counted. The difference is about semantics, not substance.

          • Anna

            It’s just a weird phrase all around. I would say I’m a “convinced atheist” in that the utter lack of evidence convinces me that deities are the product of the human imagination. Or at least all the deities that have ever been created by any society I’m familiar with. I can’t speak to god-like supernatural forces that may be lurking undetected somewhere in the universe.

    • JET

      I think you hit the nail directly on the head. Here in the U.S., belief is regarded as an essential ingredient of what kind of person you are. I’m guessing that when someone runs for office in Sweden, they’re never even asked what their religious beliefs are. Here in America there is a constant battle between the right wing ultra-moral godbots and the left wing immoral heathens. For a country founded on secularism, it’s ridiculous that it’s practically impossible to get elected to office here unless you profess some sort of belief. If you don’t you’re obviously a “bad” person. The religious people here in the U.S. would willingly elect a president who insanely believes that he was once a “spirit baby” residing on the planet Kolob because that’s better than no belief at all. Even outside of politics, many people will not openly admit to non-belief for fear of committing social or economic suicide. I think there are many more atheists here than any survey will show. You just can’t say it out loud.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520155425 Tura Satana

      I think the way the questions were set must have been somehow wrong for the Nordic countries, or at least Finland and Sweden. Hardly anyone goes to church, and the level of atheists is that low? A lot of people I know, at least a few years back, liked to call themselves agnostics, thinking it sounded more sophisticated perhaps? Or just to give them an out in case someone proves god’s existence all of a sudden? I’m not sure, but the word atheist seems to indicate to some people a dogmatic un-belief. If they had just asked ‘Do you believe god or gods exist, yes or no?’ the results might have been different.

  • 3lemenope

    They’re doing something right in the Czech Republic. Or just drinking lots of beer. So, I suppose, either way, they’re doing something right in the Czech Republic.

    • jondrake

      Weren’t the Czechs controlled by the Communists for decades?

      • 3lemenope

        Yeah, but so were pretty much all their neighbors. Why did they stick with their godlessness when all the neighbors ran back to the church?

        • Hermann

          They drank so much beer!

          • 3lemenope

            See, this is the hypothesis I’m running with. Nothing else makes sense!

        • Stev84

          East Germany remained pretty godless too.

          It definitely can’t all be blamed on the communists. After all Poland was communist too, yet they are ridiculously Catholic. In other eastern European countries religion has made an unfortunate, and sometimes violent, comeback.

          • TurelieTelcontar

            From my impression, and a short wikipedia search, I have a hypothesis: The Russian-orthodox church got reestablished because it was a big church before, and relatively nationalistic (moscow as the third rome, after rome itself, and constantinople), the roman-catholic church was relatively big in poland, and the fact that the pope was from there probably helped keep the religiosity up. Being from Germany, I can tell you how much the press and so on changes because the pope is from a country.

            The Czech And Slovak Orthodox church was destroyed by the nazis. It was allowed after the war, but most of the churches became part of the russian-orthodox church. The greek-orthodox church got forbidden.

            My hypothesis now is that the russian-orthodox church is too nationalistic to take off in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

            • plch

              Sorry, where do you get your information? because you are quite mistaken. Czech (and Slovack) people have never belonged to the ortodox church in relevant number! The ortodox church is and has always been very marginal. The dominant church is and it has been for a quite long time the Catholic one. In what is now the Czech republic one of the first protestant churches was founded back in the 15th century, The Hussite Church (inspired by Jan Hus), wich became the dominant church for about a century and was subsequently completely wiped out. Catholicism was reinstated but it was often seen as the religion of the oppressor (the Austrian imperium), that’s the biggest difference between Czech people and Polish people: Polish people identified as Catholic in contrast with Russians (ortodox) and Germans (protestant) oppressors.

              >>I live in the Czech Republic (but I’m not Czech) and I can say that the local people are very much skeptic of organized religion (and organized anything else, actually).

  • primenumbers

    It’s a very rough map at best. I thought there were was much more atheism over-all in Canada, and why is the UK grey?

    • 3lemenope

      The UK is always grey.

    • John

      I assume grey means “not enough information” or something along those lines.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Does a gray-colored country mean “zero”, or does it just mean that there is no data available for that country?

    Presumably it means “no data”, otherwise there is more Atheism in Ireland and than in England.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

      My understanding is that grey means “zero,” although there really is plenty of data available for those countries’ religiosity, just not on the poll question “Are you a convinced atheist.” If someone wanted to spend the time, they could probably fill out the map by using other indicators as proxies for number of convinced atheists: i.e percentage of people who consider religion important in day-to-day life, or something like that.

  • jondrake

    WTF? Are you saying the Commies really were trying to destroy religion? I always thought that was supposed to be a Christian myth.

    • TurelieTelcontar

      Actually, in Russia and China at least, there were massive persecution of a lot of believers. Of course, both these states didn’t have separation of church and state, and the head of state (tsar end emperor) was legitimated “because god said so”.
      So, any kind of revolution had to deal with the fact that the established religion, or at least it’s hierarchy, supported the current ruler.

    • Michael W Busch

      Marxist-Leninist atheism was a real and scary thing in the Soviet Union, although it tended to present more as replacing a religion that supported previous leadership with authoritarian cults of personality centered on the new leadership: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist%E2%80%92Leninist_atheism . The Chinese situation was somewhat similar for a while.

      There was also a similar problem with the Cult of Reason in revolutionary France, although there with advocates for democracy rather than for communism. The Catholic Church supported the monarchy, and so there was an attempt to replace it with an atheistic system.

      The problem with all of these is that they were not really about having a secular society – they were simply replacing a religious authoritarian system with a nominally irreligious but equally authoritarian one.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Nobody claims that. Feel free to spout more projected lies, though.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Interesting that despite all the American anti-atheist efforts during the era of the 1950s/McCarthyism/red scare (inserting “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, officially adding “in God we trust” on to all US currency, rhetoric against “godless” communism, etc), the percentage of Americans who are now atheists shows up as the same general category/percent as that of Russia.

    • jondrake

      Its also interesting that in spite of all the anti Christian efforts in the Russia of that same era era, which included to power to imprison and even kill, that Christianity has grown to the extent it has in Russia.

      • TurelieTelcontar

        I don’t think the people’s belief has grown. I think that the communists weren’t trying to get rid of actual believe, as much as destroying the organization to get the money, and make sure the hierarchies didn’t get power.
        For example, the sowjet union sold the land in Israel that belonged to the russian-orthodox church for 4.5 mio. dollar. You can imagine how much money and lande they had in the sowjet union itself.

        • Stev84

          Yeah, they really didn’t want the competition, but they never really actively went after the beliefs themselves.

          East Germany was more subtle and ultimately far more successful. For example they replaced several religious celebrations with secular versions that promoted communist ideology. Most notably confirmation was replaced with a rite of passage from youth to adult.
          There was some repression against people who were active in churches (mostly through discrimination when looking for work), but from the 60s on the state arranged themselves with the church and they tried to co-exist.

          • jondrake

            Wikipedia Article on State Atheism is a starting place; it indicates that they most definitely went after the beliefs themeselves.
            According to Solzhenitisyn, Nobel Prize Winning author of The Gulag Archipelago, hundreds of thousands of believers were killed precisely because of their beliefs.
            It could not have been just about competition, because, as he points out, many of the imprisoned had no land, wealth, or political power.
            I know its difficult to face, but Atheists killed people because of their atheism…which of course says nothing about the truth or falsity of athiesm.
            But, like it or not, it happened.

            • Nox

              Then why did Stalin leave so many christian churches in Russia undisturbed?

            • Willy Occam

              “It could not have been just about competition, because, as he points out, many of the imprisoned had no land, wealth, or political power.”

              I think what Steve84 was referring to was that the State did not want any competition from the churches for authority; this is not about the individuals (who may have been secretly religious), but the religious institutions themselves. Since leaders like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot (and nowadays the Kim dynasty in North Korea) considered themselves god-like in their authority, the last thing they wanted was a threat to that power from the established religions.

              No matter how the religionists want to spin this, you simply cannot claim that these despots did what they did “because of their atheism”: their oppression and murder of religious people was a matter of political expedience, and not part of some “Atheist Agenda.” It’s a subtle distinction, perhaps… but a distinction nonetheless.

            • Michael W Busch

              The motivation was not just “because of atheism”, at least not in the Soviet Union or the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The motivation was to destroy the authority of religious social structures that supported the old government. Which was done in many cases by horrific persecution of the adherents of the religion – regardless of if the individuals concerned had significant resources or power themselves.

            • Guest

              “Atheists killed people because of their atheism”

              - Or rather, because of their godless religion, in which God had been replaced by the state. Martin Luther King Jr. (and others like Arnold Toynbee, Jacques Maritain, Donald Treadgold) endorsed the idea of Communism as a Christian heresy:

              — King, ML, Jr. Strength to Love. HarperCollins Publishers, 1963. “How should a christian view Communism?” (pp. 100-102)

              http://redmoonrising.com/AmericanBabylon/christandcomm.htm

              http://amazon.com/dp/0060647108 (look up ‘heresy’)

              — Toynbee A. A Study of History. 1961 (p. 545)

              “The Communist ideology was a Christian heresy in the sense that it had singled out several elements in Christianity and had concentrated on these to the exclusion of the rest. It had taken from Christianity its social ideals, its intolerance and its fervour.”

              — Treadgold DW. The West in Russia and China: Russia, 1472-1917. Cambridge University Press, 1973 (p. 256)

              http://books.google.com/books?id=Fg04AAAAIAAJ&q=Communist+ideology+Christian+heresy#v=snippet&q=Communist%20ideology%20Christian%20heresy&f=false

              — Maritain J. Moral Philosophy.

              “This is to say that Marx is a heretic of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that Marxism is a ‘Christian heresy’, the latest Christian heresy”

              — Jackson TF and King ML Jr. From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007 (p. 42)

              http://books.google.com//books?id=B8k6btUYR68C&q=lexicon#v=snippet&q=lexicon

              — Sirico, Fr. Robert (Catholic priest and president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan.) Catholics for Marx. FrontPageMagazine.com. June 3, 2004

              http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:XuKPQDx2Zm4J:archive.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp%3FID%3D13586+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

            • Israel Navas Duran

              jondrake: “Atheists killed people because of their atheism.”

              - Or rather, because of their godless religion, in which God had been replaced by the State. Martin Luther King Jr. (and others like Arnold Toynbee, Jacques Maritain, Donald Treadgold) endorsed the idea of Communism as a Christian heresy:

              — King, ML, Jr. Strength to Love. HarperCollins Publishers, 1963. “How should a christian view Communism?” (pp. 100-102)
              http://redmoonrising.com/AmericanBabylon/christandcomm.htm
              http://amazon.com/dp/0060647108 (look up ‘heresy’)

              — Toynbee A. A Study of History. 1961 (p. 545)
              “The Communist ideology was a Christian heresy in the sense that it had singled out several elements in Christianity and had concentrated on these to the exclusion of the rest. It had taken from Christianity its social ideals, its intolerance and its fervour.”

              — Treadgold DW. The West in Russia and China: Russia, 1472-1917. Cambridge University Press, 1973 (p. 256)
              http://books.google.com/books?id=Fg04AAAAIAAJ&q=Communist+ideology+Christian+heresy#v=snippet&q=Communist%20ideology%20Christian%20heresy&f=false

              — Maritain J. Moral Philosophy.
              “This is to say that Marx is a heretic of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that Marxism is a ‘Christian heresy’, the latest Christian heresy”

              — Jackson TF and King ML Jr. From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007 (p. 42)
              http://books.google.com//books?id=B8k6btUYR68C&q=lexicon#v=snippet&q=lexicon

              — Sirico, Fr. Robert (Catholic priest and president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan.) Catholics for Marx. FrontPageMagazine.com. June 3, 2004
              http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:XuKPQDx2Zm4J:archive.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp%3FID%3D13586+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              The Marxists took over Russia because their ideology OUTCOMPETED the government’s among the common people. Jesus.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520155425 Tura Satana

            They did that in Soviet Union as well, where the idea probably originated. All rituals like weddings and christening (or name giving) had a secular version.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        6 of one, a half dozen of the other. You can’t force people to believe or not believe something. You can, however, suppress dissent from the officially sanctioned belief or nonbelief. It’s not that Christianity grew in Russia. It’s that much of it never went away. People just weren’t allowed to talk openly about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

    That map has an uncanny resemblance to a map of the world’s countries by average tested IQ. http://robertlindsay.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/800px-iq_by_country-by-current-resident-majority.png

    In other words, whatever it is that produces high observed analytical skills is likely to have a lot in common with whatever it is that produces high percentages of atheists.

    • http://fractalheretic.blogspot.com/ Fractal Heretic

      Could the lurking factor be education?

      • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

        Unless a nation’s average level of education is largely a side-effect of its IQ level. Untangling cause and effect when it comes to IQ is a difficult and often politically touchy issue.

        • Compuholic

          It is hard to believe that the level of education should be a side effect of the average IQ. I don’t see why in any given country people are more likely to be born more intelligent than elsewhere.

          • 3lemenope

            Why not? There are countries where people are taller, on average, than elsewhere. Why not [whatever quality IQ actually measures] as well?

            • Michael W Busch

              Because IQ measures only the set of skills necessary to do well on an IQ test. Those skills are almost entirely learned. This makes it is an incredibly crude metric for cognitive function.

              • 3lemenope

                Are you saying there is no intrinsic component at all to which IQ tests are responding? Why is a person’s IQs stable over time, then, if it is simply a measure of a set of learned skills?

                • Michael W Busch

                  Are you saying there is no intrinsic component at all to which IQ tests are responding?

                  There is, but only in terms of individuals and only in terms of large differences – and predominately on the extreme low end. On the scale of national populations, individual variances average out and are entirely dominated by systematic environmental effects – primarily education.

                  Why is a person’s IQs stable over time, then, if it is simply a measure of a set of learned skills?

                  Individual IQs aren’t stable over time. IQ changes with age, although after early childhood (say maybe age 6 or so) there is a strong correlation – people who test high in IQ relative to their peers at age 10 are very likely to test high in IQ relative to their peers at age 18. But if we administer the same tests to a group to 10 year olds and to a group of 18 year olds, we’ll get very different results if we compare the groups to one another – even though the same group of people at two different times would be ranked the same way. This is why IQ is usually measured only relative to an age-matched cohort. (You can get all this information from the Wikipedia article on IQ and its sources).

                • 3lemenope

                  But if we administer the same tests to a group to 10 year olds and to a group of 18 year olds, we’ll get very different results if we compare the groups to one another – even though the same group of people at two different times would be ranked the same way. This is why IQ is usually measured only relative to an age-matched cohort.

                  If the means by which to test for the quality changes, it does not follow that the underlying quality does too. It’s like, you can’t use an adult sphygmomanometer on a little kid, you need one with a smaller cuff, but little cuff or big it’s still measuring blood pressure. The thing that changed that required a different tool (a bigger arm circumference) was not related to the quality being measured, so assuming that blood pressure must be different in kids and adults because they use different tools to measure it would be an error.

                  Individual IQs aren’t stable over time. IQ changes with age, although after early childhood (say maybe age 6 or so) there is a strong correlation…

                  Strong correlation is putting it mildly. The correlation is extremely strong; one study put the r value within spitting distance of 1.

                • Michael W Busch

                  You miss the point. Give the same IQ test to the same group of kids at different ages, you get different raw results which then get compared within each cohort to give the IQ scores. IQ isn’t measuring something innate to the population, except very indirectly – it’s measuring differences in learned skills within a given test cohort. Your example of blood pressure is irrelevant – that’s an absolute metric as opposed to a relative one.

                  And, yes, there is a very strong individual correlation with time at later ages. But the spread goes down – you can have IQs of 200 in 8-year-old kids, and while they’ll still test at the extreme high end later on they won’t be that high, because the rest of the cohort has caught up. If you have a sub-population that’s testing low on IQ tests, that just means they didn’t learn the skills measured on the tests in their early childhood. Early-childhood education is important.

                  Note:

                  There are other systematic environmental things besides education that do have measurable effects on various metrics of intelligence: quantity and quality of food, childhood exposure to lead/mercury/other toxins, early childhood diseases, hypoxia during delivery. Education happens to be a large component to resolving those problems, so that people understand the importance of nutrition and public health and how to improve both. Once again, these are environmental and not innate. Ref. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_of_health_on_intelligence and its sources.

                • Israel Navas Duran

                  Don’t you know that blood pressure can be measured in other ways that don’t require of any cuff? Therefore your statement that “a little kid requires different tools” fades away, blood pressure is a physical magnitude independent from age.
                  Likewise, when IQ is defined based on the results of a test, is also independent of age.

          • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

            Imagine, for example, two societies, both with an equal genetic capacity for cognitive ability, to make things simple. Now imagine that due to, say, lead in the water, one society has had significantly lower IQ for hundreds of years and will for hundreds of years into the future. In which of these two societies, the low-IQ one or the high-IQ one, do you expect to see higher average levels of education? I”d place my money on the high IQ one.

            An outside observer might look and see that the less educated society has less formal schooling, and assume that different amounts of schooling caused the problem. But he’d be wrong.

            This is why untangling cause and effect can be tricky for this sort of thing.

            • Michael W Busch

              Imagine, for example, two societies, both with an equal genetic capacity for cognitive ability

              No imagination is necessary. That is how things are worldwide.

              Again: going back a few thousand years, everyone has the same ancestors and there has not been sufficient differential selection for anything tied to innate intelligence to cause large differences from one sub-population to another on any shorter timescale. In order for there to be so, you would have to have all of a large number of genes be consistently selected differentially between two sub-populations with individual selection coefficients >0.01 on each relevant allele – and again there has not been such intense differential selection. Innate intelligence isn’t like lactase persistent or sickle-cell trait, where there is only 1 relevant gene and very strong selection in some locations but not others.

              Due to, say, lead in the water, one society has had significantly lower IQ for hundreds of years and will for hundreds of years into the future.

              There is no such pair of societies. On average, the IQ drop associated with even very high lead exposure in childhood is <10 points. So while it is important, by itself lead exposure is not the primary contributor to different IQs in different sub-populations. Nor is lead exposure an unsolvable problem – education and improved public health standards are very effective at reducing it. Ref. http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/leadguidance.pdf

              In which of these two societies, the low-IQ one or the high-IQ one, do you expect to see higher average levels of education?

              You have the causality backwards. In a country with a lousy economic situation and poor educational system, the secondary contributors to IQ – lead/mercury/etc. exposure, malnutrition, early childhood health, etc – cause greater problems because people do not have the knowledge and means to minimize them. Yes, there is a feedback loop here – inasmuch as how poor education and poor public health are not good for improving the functioning of an economy. But it is not that tricky to disentangle cause and effect.

              • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

                If we start with the assumption that raw cognitive potential is distributed evenly, it’s not tricky at all to disentangle the cause and effect: any differences must be environmental. Now, finding exactly what those environmental differences are gets fiendishly difficult at times, but that’s another story.

                If we don’t start with the assumption that raw cognitive potential is distributed evenly, then it gets real difficult real fast to try and disentangle cause and effect, because a lot of the things that are widely considered causes of high IQ scores are also the sort of things you would expect as the effects of high IQ scores: a stable, relatively orderly society with good education, etc.

                Regardless of how the cause and effect works though, for the purposes of this article what I find telling is that whatever it is that makes people good at abstract logic puzzles also appears to make atheists.

                • Michael W Busch

                  If we start with the assumption that raw cognitive potential is distributed evenly

                  That is not an assumption. It is a conclusion based on the timescale for genetic mixing in the entire human population and the magnitude of any relevant differential selection being too small to cause changes on any shorter timescales (and so not being able to cause any differences between sub-populations). Once again, I refer everyone to PZ Myer’s discussion of this.

                  Regardless of how the cause and effect works though, for the purposes of this article what I find telling is that whatever it is that makes people good at abstract logic puzzles also appears to make atheists.

                  Again, both are primarily effects of having a good educational system that effectively teaches critical thinking skills.

                • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

                  No, it’s an assumption. Sure, we can line up a nice little angry ramble by PZ Myers on one side, but we can also put the co-discoverer of DNA, James Watson, on the other side. Then there’s the famous atheist public intellectual Steven Pinker, writer of The Blank Slate, who isn’t sure whether there’s ethnic differences in raw cognitive potential. Both Watson and Pinker are well aware of the timescales involved. And Pinker’s even made a presentation arguing that the conditions of the Middle Ages alone were enough to select for significantly higher IQ in urban Ashkenazis Jews, who faced different selection pressures than their mostly rural gentile neighbors. Here’s an introduction:

                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GexZF5VIMU

        • Stev84

          The way IQ tests are built means that education in certain areas increases the scores. It’s also why IQ levels are rising. It’s not because people are becoming smarter.

        • Michael W Busch

          Wrong. The distribution of education is a social effect currently predominately driven by a country’s economic situation. IQ measures how well people do on the skills measured by IQ tests – which are predominately learned skills. On the scale of entire national populations, the distribution of anything you could plausibly call innate intelligence is the same everywhere. It’s the environments people grow up in that produce the changes seen here.

          I refer you to PZ Myers, since he can explain the relevant biology with far greater expertise than I can: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/04/22/there-are-no-marching-morons/

          • 3lemenope

            On the scale of entire national populations, the distribution of anything you could plausibly call innate intelligence is the same everywhere.

            It might not come as a shock to you that you simply asserting this is not nearly as persuasive as if it came accompanied with some sort of evidence or even a plausible reason to believe this at all. There are several things one could plausibly call innate intelligence, and like all other innate characteristics they are mediated genetically and epigenetically, and are therefore necessarily distributed unevenly throughout the population. It would be shocking beyond belief if, unlike the rather large distribution of average heights per nation, a bundle of traits like intelligence would magically be the same everywhere.

            • Michael W Busch

              this is not nearly as persuasive as if it came accompanied with some sort of evidence or even a plausible reason to believe this at all

              Which would be why I linked PZ’s discussion of the matter. Here’s the bottom line reason, which I hope would be entirely obvious given a little understanding of biology: on the timescale of a few thousand years, everyone has the same ancestors. And on the scale of a population, there has not been any selection favoring any plausible metric of innate intelligence significantly enough to cause the distribution of it to change on a shorter timescale.

              It happens that height is a bad choice as a counterexample, since on the scale of national populations that’s also predominately environmental (tied to diet and how much calcium people get to build bones). Example: there is currently a 12 cm difference in average height between North and South Korea, which is entirely environmental – people over the age of 40 in the two countries have the same distribution of heights. There have been times in the history of the UK where class-based differences in diet led to 22 cm differences in average height between different cohorts. Ref. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height#History_of_human_height

      • Stev84

        Btw, there is also a cultural bias in many IQ tests. Something that has been known for a long time.

        That can creep into even seemingly very simple questions. For example there is a difference in how urban and rural people perceive and classify animals. Rural people primarily classify them in terms of their usefulness to them, whereas westerners usually have more abstract systems. So when you construct logic puzzles asking people to group similar animals together, you quickly get different results.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      wow, what a racist “map.” it’s highly obvious that the area which is the least high in IQ is africa. it’s bunk to say there aren’t smart people in africa.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mitchell.powell.90 Mitchell Powell

        I don’t think anyone here is saying there aren’t smart people in Africa.

  • Coolred

    How is it possible that Saudi Arabia has the same % of atheists as America? Mind blown.

    • Bdole

      I can’t think of a better refutation of Allah’s existence than living in the Middle East, today.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      it’s called “the side effect of living in a theocracy.” allah, jeebus, whatever. 33% or so of any society with a dominant mythology is going to feel this way.

  • Israel Navas Duran

    The results of this poll strongly contrast with the data from the Eurobarometer of 2005:

    Q2 Which of these statements comes closest to your beliefs?
    A. I believe there is a God
    B. I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force
    C. I don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force
    D. DK
    http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_225_report_en.pdf (page 9)

    The third option (C) was chosen by 18% in the 25 countries of the European Union, in France 33%, Czeck Republic 30%, The Netherlands 27%, Belgium 27%, Estonia 26%, Germany 25%, Sweden 23%, Luxemburg 22%, UK 20%, Hungary 19%, Denmark 19%, Spain 18%, much higher values than in the survey conducted by WIN-Gallup International.

  • Guest

    Most Chinese aren’t atheists, most of them venerate their ancestors and believe in their afterlife (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestor_veneration_in_China). I suspect that many answered that they weren’t religious either because it was politically inconvenient or because they have a different concept of what being religious means (such as adherent to a particular organized religion).

    Likewise in Japan:

    “One reason why the Japanese don’t have a particular association with any one religion is that during the Meiji Period religion was tolerated as long as it did not disrupt political reforms and the definition of religion was shaped by the Western definition of “religion,” which did not necessarily have a place for indigenous Japanese faiths. During the postwar period the divinity of the emperor and state Shintoism were renounced (See Shintoism).”

    “Some have said the statistics mentioned above don’t necessarily mean the Japanese are irreligious its just means they do not follow specific faiths as followers of monotheistic religions do. The 2005 Yomiuri Shimbun survey also revealed that 56 percent of Japanese believed in the supernatural, many seek help divine help when in trouble and 94 percent respected their deceased ancestors. In 2008, police said 98.2 million people visited a shrine or temple in the first three days of the year, the highest number since 1974.”

    — Jeffrey Hays. *Religion in Japan and the Irreligious Japanese.* 2009
    http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=592&catid=16&subcatid=182

  • Guest

    Most Chinese aren’t atheists, they venerate their ancestors and believe in their afterlife ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestor_veneration_in_China ). I suspect that many answered that they weren’t religious either because it was politically inconvenient or because they have a different concept of what being religious means (such as adherent to a particular organized religion).

    Likewise in Japan:

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    — Jeffrey Hays. Religion in JApan and the Irreligious Japanese. 2009
    http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=592&catid=16&subcatid=182

  • Israel Navas Duran

    Most Chinese aren’t atheists, they venerate their ancestors and believe in their afterlife ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestor_veneration_in_China ). I suspect that many answered that they weren’t religious either because it was politically inconvenient or because they have a different concept of what being religious means (such as adherent to a particular organized religion).

    Likewise in Japan:

    “One reason why the Japanese don’t have a particular association with any one religion is that during the Meiji Period religion was tolerated as long as it did not disrupt political reforms and the definition of religion was shaped by the Western definition of “religion,” which did not necessarily have a place for indigenous Japanese faiths. During the postwar period the divinity of the emperor and state Shintoism were renounced (See Shintoism).”

    “Some have said the statistics mentioned above don’t necessarily mean the Japanese are irreligious its just means they do not follow specific faiths as followers of monotheistic religions do. The 2005 Yomiuri Shimbun survey also revealed that 56 percent of Japanese believed in the supernatural, many seek help divine help when in trouble and 94 percent respected their deceased ancestors. In 2008, police said 98.2 million people visited a shrine or temple in the first three days of the year, the highest number since 1974.”

    — Jeffrey Hays. *Religion in JApan and the Irreligious Japanese.* 2009
    http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=592&catid=16&subcatid=182

    • Anna

      Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods. You can believe in spirits or other supernatural things and still be an atheist.

      That’s why atheism alone isn’t an indication of skepticism or rationality. In Western developed countries, it generally means that one is a materialist, but that’s not necessarily the case in other parts of the world.

    • Tianming Earnhardt Zhao

      If you are not trolling and you are serious with your post, then it is apparent that you do not know what “atheism” means.

  • Laurence Lu

    You know, the term ‘atheist’ can mean a few different things. The suffix a- means “not, without,” but atheism is generally described as a lack of belief in a god or a belief that there isn’t a god. In China, the atheist count can be debated upon in many ways.

  • Steve Bakewell

    So much inaccuracy.. in India it has to be about 20-30% we are not outspoken about our beliefs but the educated minority is mostly atheistic and passive.

  • Michael W Busch

    By what stretch of the imagination are Australia, Canada, and large sections of the EU oppressive societies? And as others have noted, there is a lot of data missing from this plot.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    It’s sad that you’re too stupid to know the difference between an ideology and something that isn’t an ideology. Doubly so that you’re too egotistical to try to educate yourself before ranting pissily.

  • Michael W Busch

    You are not describing facts. You are either incredibly poorly informed or knowingly lying.

    Again, by what stretch of the imagination do the populations of Australia, Canada, and large sections of the EU have “less freedom” than elsewhere? Please also consider Japan.

    And I shall refer you to Scandinavia, which as others have explained here has far higher levels of irreligion than are shown on this plot. This is due to poor wording in the questions of this particular survey. For example, only ~20% of the population of Sweden is theistic (~35% are atheists and ~45% are something like “spiritual but not religious”) – even though 65%-70% of the population are officially members of the Church of Sweden. ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Sweden#Religion_in_Sweden_today

    And one final thought: why do you appear to think that unlimited freedom would be a good thing? Each person’s right to freedom of action only extends to the point that they unduly infringe on the rights of others.

  • Michael W Busch

    - Canada and many European nations (most area overwhelmingly religious)

    No, they aren’t. Canada is nominally 25% irreligious, slightly higher than the 20% number for the US, but the number of people who do not believe in any sort of god is far higher than that. About 30% of Canadians who self-identify as Christian don’t believe in a god, which means that the fraction of the population that is theistic is actually down at ~55%.

    In the EU, rates of belief in a god go like this: Czech Republic 20%, Sweden 20-25%, Denmark 30%, Norway 32%, France 35%, UK 40%, Germany 48%. There is again a lot of “spiritual but not religious” in addition to atheism.

    In Australia, ~30% of the population lists no religious affliation, and once again the fraction of people that don’t believe in a god is higher than that. New Zealand is even less religious than Australia, making it comparable to the less-religious countries in Europe.

    Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism and its sources.

    The further down the atheism scale one looks, the more oppressive the culture and government.

    No, as I have already explained.

    To provide further debunking of your claim:

    As has been noted repeatedly here, the fraction of self-reported atheists in China could be considered as artificially high, due to political pressures.

    With regards to North Korea: As with Marxist-Leninist atheism, China during the Cultural Revolution, and several other cases, North Korea has cults of personality centered around the country’s leaders. Religious organizations are seen as threats to the authoritarian government. Their suppression is a strategy to keep the government in power, just like the construction of cults of personality and claims of supernatural events associated with the leadership. This makes assessing the true rate of irreligion in North Korea difficult. Religious believers may not admit to their beliefs, for fear of punishment, and it can be ambiguous if revering Kim Il-Sung as the Eternal President counts as a religion or not.

  • Michael W Busch

    Re. Cuba: you are wrong

    Cuba is far less atheistic than many other countries. ~60% of the population identifies as Catholic, ~5% as other Christian denominations. In addition, ~80% of the population are practitioners of various syncretic religious practices such as Santeria (there is obviously a lot of overlap between that group and the Catholic & other Christian groups). ~10% of the Cuban population identifies as irreligious, far less than the corresponding number for the United States. It is true that only ~35% of the Cuban population asserts that religion is an important part of their daily lives, but that’s about the same as the corresponding number for Canada and far higher than that for the UK (~25%).

    Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_by_country

    Not only are irreligious nations generally more oppressive, … Countries whose citizens are primarily Christian are overwhelmingly more free and less oppressive.

    Your continuing to assert this does not make it true. It merely means that you are cherry-picking and ignoring all of the evidence that disproves your conclusion.

    It happens that many of the countries that have high rates of irreligion (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, large parts of the EU and especially Scandinavia) test out very high on quality of life for the population and low on metrics of oppression.

  • Michael W Busch

    Saying “China is oppressive and it’s predominately atheistic, therefore oppressive nations are associated with atheism” is a logical fallacy. You are not presenting facts. You are taking facts and presenting false conclusions that you claim are based on them.

    Yes, there are and have been oppressive governments in populations are relatively irreligious – although as we’ve explained, for both China and North Korea it is hard to get accurate numbers on what people actually believe.

    What you are doing is cherry-picking those examples while ignoring all of the non-oppressive governments in populations that are predominately or significantly irreligious. That is wrong. It happens that governments can be oppressive or not regardless of the religious demographics of the population that they govern.

    And you have the causality backwards. The Chinese government advocates irreligion and has a history of repressing religious organizations. So did the Soviet Union and the Cult of Reason in revolutionary France. But in all those cases, the initial situation was not a largely irreligious population deciding to discriminate against the religious. It was a new authoritarian government of a largely-religious population seeking to dismantle the authority of religious institutions that had supported the previous government or otherwise posed a threat to the new one. Oppression is not driven by religion or irreligion anywhere near as much as it is driven by authoritarianism.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Doubly hilarious than when proved wrong just there, you quickly changed the subject, thus proving yourself to be another contemptible liar for Jesus.

  • Michael W Busch

    Because the basis for Christianity is free will (ie freedom),

    No. The basis for Christianity is belief in ideas/teachings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth.

    And there is plenty of oppression in Christian-dominated cultures, as any study of history will tell you – including the history of the United States.

    It’s also interesting to note the most productive and wealthiest nations on the planet are predominantly Christian countries.

    You are wrong.

    Ranking by GDP at purchasing power parity per capita, out of the 20 wealthiest countries in the world, 6 are predominately Christian, 4 are predominately Muslim, 5 are predominately irreligious, and the rest are predominately religious but do not have any one religious group in a majority. Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita

    If you rank by GDP at purchasing power parity you introduce a bias towards countries with large populations regardless of their religious demographics. But in that case, the ranking of the top 5 goes like this: EU, US, China, India, Japan. The EU as a whole is slightly more irreligious than not (although there is a large range from one member state to another, which is why I broke it down before); the US is still predominately Christian (~75%); China has been discussed here already; India is predominately Hindu (~80%); and Japan is largely irreligious – although there are various beliefs in supernatural things that are quite common. Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29

  • Michael W Busch

    Yes, Cuba has a secular government. That’s not the same as it being a nonreligious country (like how while the Soviet Union had a policy of state atheism, the population remained predominately religious).

    And, yes, the Cuban government had a period of suppressing religion. But that has not been the policy for over 20 years, when the constitution was amended to codify religious freedom. Ref. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Cuba . And even in the most oppressive episodes in the late 1950s to early 1960s, the government did not “kick out the Catholic clergy completely” – although ~80% of Catholic priests and Protestant ministers left Cuba at that time, the number of clerics has since rebounded. It is as though your knowledge is both incomplete and decades out of date, and you have not made any effort to improve it.

    And, yet again, that an authoritarian government seeks to dismantle the authority of religious institutions that might oppose it has very little to do with atheism – it’s more about control than about belief.

  • Carmelita Spats

    Anachronisms! Is the Cold War over? Oh, the scary COMMUNISTS in the 21st century! LOL! Look south of your border…Cuba is not unlike Mexico…Secular states that restricted religion due to the rampant abuses of an extremely powerful cult, the Roman Catholic Church, which controlled land, wealth, education, healthcare, the law, politics, etc. The RCC even gave us a Hapsburg emperor in the XIX century. The violence was a reaction against AUTHORITARIANISM. Mexico only recently (within the last 2 decades or so) officially returned churches to the RCC…The RCC did not want the buildings back because they are now happily taxed like EVERYONE else…Priests and nuns were NOT allowed
    to be out in public in their hilariously shamanic clothing nor could they vote. Religious education was outlawed but Catholic schools remained open with the caveat that official transcripts could NOT have “religion” recognized for accreditation or stamped as a course…They
    called it “clase de moral”. Again, this has changed. Cuba did not “completely kick out the clergy”…Cuba has Roman Catholics AND Santería is practiced everywhere. The santeros (Santería’s clergy) walk everywhere without a problem. You might snub their religious syncretism as “Not-TRUE-Christianity” but that’s YOUR problem. Religious superstition is alive and well in Cuba…and no one cares.

  • Michael W Busch

    of the ones presenting the most wealth , most are predominantly Christian cultures.

    No. By the first ranking, 6 out of 20 are. By the second, 1.5 out of 5 (counting the EU as a whole as 50:50, which is perhaps unjustified – the alternative is 1 out of 5). 30% is not more than 50%.

    And given that the world population is roughly 1/3 Christian right now and how religious beliefs cluster, random association of predominate religion with country would give just about the same number of wealthy countries being predominately Christian as we actually see. In other words: being Christian has very little to do with being wealthy.

  • Michael W Busch

    the facts show that in general the more atheistic, the more oppression.

    No, they don’t.

    Largely atheistic and irreligious countries can have truly secular egalitarian cultures (e.g. current Sweden, 20-23% religious), or they can have oppressive authoritarian cultures (e.g. China during the Cultural Revolution – 20%-70% religious depending in definitions and with huge error bars because of biased samples and false reporting) or they can be somewhere in between on the scale of authoritarianism. And this has been explained to you repeatedly, with references to all of the evidence that you have been choosing to ignore.

    And religious cultures – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and on and on – can be incredibly and horrifically oppressive. As examples, in US history, Christianity has been used to justify slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and many other evil things. Religious cultures can also be minimally oppressive (although such cultures tend not to be dominated by one particular religion, since diversity of belief is tolerated).

    You do not appear to actually care about reality, since you continue to ignore those facts that contradict what you want to believe and do not appear to understand how to properly apply logical reasoning. So I see no point in continuing this discussion. Goodbye.

  • Darwin Damsel

    This one’s for you Jack!..lol
    http://youtu.be/zpOtABlLbuw

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Insulting people because you couldn’t refute their arguments. Does Jesus love that you lie?