Worldwide Atheism Trend and Pattern – A Summary Thursday, May 3, 2007Posted by h3nry in agnosticism, atheism, Buddhism, China, Christianity, Europe, faith, God, Hinduism, Islam, Italy, Japan, Middle East, North Korea, Portugal, rationality, religion, Scandinavian, science, secularism, South Korea, statistics, survey, Sweden, United States, Vietnam, world.
This is the sort of article I have been long searching for – a comprehensive, analytical and scholarly summary – filled with hard data – of atheism trends in the world. This 2005 article is written by Phil Zuckerman and seems to have been part of a Cambridge University publication. Although slightly outdated, it nonetheless provides a reliable and useful source for anyone interested in the study of the atheist demographics.
It is not a short article, so I will take the liberty of summarising it further here. Firstly it outlines the difficulties in conducting a survey on the beliefs and disbeliefs of large populations. Then it provides a good statistics on the atheism population in many countries. Then, most importantly, the Top 50 list of non-believing countries is presented, which I will duplicate here (I have stripped out the population columns due to space limits):
|Country||% Atheist/actual # Agnostic/Non-believer in God|
|33||North Korea||15% (?)|
where (?) indicates the relatively low certainty/validity. Note that rather than defining the terms “atheism”, “agnosticism” and “non-belief”, which is a tricky issue in itself, the article lumps all three together to simply mean people who do not believe in God. The range of percentages (for example the top non-believing country Sweden is 46% – 85%) gives an indication of the difficulties in reaching such figures. Finally, the author gives his own analysis on atheism trend and pattern using the data.
In general, we can conclude that non-believing is noticeably higher in developed countries, in particular the Scandinavian countries. One interesting exception is that of Vietnam, which ranks in second place due to the “coercive atheism” – atheism imposed by dictators. Europe, which has been termed “secular Europe” by some, shows convincingly that it has the highest rate of non-believers. Japan and South Korea come as no surprise in the top 10, as both countries are historically and traditionally non-God-believing societies. Japan is often cited by me as an example against the
stupid assertion that you cannot have morality without God. It is a country with one of, if not the, lowest crime rate in the world, and according to the two studies referenced by the article, it has 64% and 65% of its population not believing in God (and somewhat surprisingly, 55% not believing in Buddha). Israel is actually a huge surprise on the list:
According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC, 15% of those in Israel do not believe in God. According to Yuchtman-Ya’ar (2003), 54% of Israelis identify themselves as “secular.” According to Dashefsky et al (2003), 41% of Israelis identify themselves as “not religious.” According to Kedem (1995), 31% of Israelis do not believe in God, with an additional 6% choosing “don’t know,” for a total of 37% being atheist or agnostic.
Unsurprisingly the United States is down the list, sitting at number 44. Its neighbouring countries on the list are much less developed. Italy and Portugal represent two of the big European nations with lowest non-believing populations. China and North Korea have unreliable data due to their totalitarian regime. The Middle East (with the exception of Israel), as a geographical region, has the highest God-believing demography – with less than a paltry 5% are non-believers.
It is quite safe to say, as the author has stated as well, that it is quite clear that the wealthier, more developed nations tend to be more atheist. Quoting the article:
According to the 2004 Report, the five highest ranked nations in terms of total human development were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All five of these countries are characterized by notably high degrees of organic atheism.
where “organic atheism” means atheism of free-will – as oppose to “coercive atheism” (imposed by government).
Furthermore, of the top 25 nations ranked on the “Human Development Index,” all but one country ( Ireland) are top-ranking non-belief nations, containing some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, of those countries ranked at the bottom of the “Human Development Index” — the bottom 50 — all are countries lacking any statistically significant percentages of atheism.
The article continues to analyse the data using different angles – this time with infant mortality rate:
According to the CIA World Factbook (2004), out of 225 nations, the top 25 nations with the lowest infant mortality rates were all nations containing significantly high percentages of organic atheism. Conversely, the 75 bottom nations with the highest infant mortality rates were all very religious nations without any statistically significant levels of organic atheism.
Other social facets examined in relation to atheism trends include:
- homicide rates;
- suicide rates;
- gender equality;
- poverty rates;
- literacy rates;
and in all cases, the more well-off a country is in that category, the more likely it is to have a high non-believing population. At this point it brings me to mention another related global survey, conducted by Pew Global Attitudes Project. I have downloaded the graph here:
The conclusion on the atheism trend is similar (note that Vietnam and United States defy the general trend). I think we can quite clear conclude that, despite the difficulties in getting statistically reliable data, wealthier nations tend to have a higher rate of atheist population. It must be stressed, however, that this correlation does not imply that one causes the other; it is simply a co-relation in its literal term.