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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On world wide athiesm rates...

A striking difference between Europe and the United States might be the rates of athiesm? According to this report, survey data seems to suggest that the U.S. has less than 10% athiests where as in Europe and Britain the rate might be as high as 40%.

According to Norris and Inglehart (2004), 6% of those in the United States do not believe in God. According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC( v ), 9% of Americans do not believe in God. Rice (2003) found that 3.8% of Americans don’t believe in God or "a spirit or life force." According to Hout and Fischer (2002), between 3-4.5% of Americans are either atheist or agnostic; Marwell and Demerath (2003) suggest that a more accurate estimate is 7%. According to Paul (2002) and Froese (2001), 8% of Americans are atheist or agnostic. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 16% of Americans claim no religious affiliation (Kang, 2004). According to Gallup and Lindsay (1999:99), 5% of Americans do not believe in God or a "Higher Power."


Norris and Inglehart (2004) found that 39% of those in Britain do not believe in God. According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC, 44% of the British do not believe in God. According to Greeley (2003), 31% of the British do not believe in God, although only 10% self-identify as "atheist." According to Bruce (2002), 10% of the British self-identify as an "agnostic person" and 8% as a "convinced atheist," with an additional 21% choosing “not a religious person." According to Froese (2001), 32% of the British are atheist or agnostic. According to Gallup and Lindsay (1999:121), 39% of the British do not believe in God or a "Higher Power."

According to Norris and Inglehart (2004), 44% of those in France do not believe in God. According to Greeley (2003), 48% of the French do not believe in God, although only 19% self-identify as "atheist." According to Froese (2001), 54% of the French are atheist or agnostic. According to Davie (1999), 43% of the French do not believe in God.


Wow, I didn’t know atheism rates were that high in France and Britain. It is an interesting exercise to try to explain this disparity. It could be that British and French people are, on average, better educated than Americans. First, consider that Britain and France scored higher than the US in all three sections of a 2000 OECD/PISA study (Reading Literacy, Mathematical Literacy, and Scientific Literacy). Second, Wikipedia makes a compelling argument here that religiosity is negatively correlated with intelligence. It could be that educated people are more likely to reject beliefs involving the supernatural because they are familiar with a larger and more diverse pool of ideas, have a better understanding of the scientific method and are used to thinking critically in their daily lives. It’s also possible that religious families put less value on education because school often disagrees with religious teachings while atheists put more value on education because logic and reason are the foundation of their beliefs. It’s also possible that this is just another example of like-minded people choosing to associate with each other. So intellectual atheists choose to associate with each other in Britain and France while their less educated religious counterparts choose to associate with each other in the United States.
From the above poster's assumptions, it seems he is trying to imply less educated people are more religious and vice versa. A pathetic school of thought to say the least. I wonder if he has ever read Socrates,Aristotle,or Thomas Aquinas before. All of them believed in a metaphysical/supernatural being. This is not to discount there are no religious idiots out there.
Certainly not. I’m just saying that there appears to be a possible correlation between intelligence and Atheism based on the facts that A) more British and French people are Atheist than Americans, B) Britain and France scored higher on the 2000 OECD/PISA study and C) there are several studies cited in the Wikipedia article that find a negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Living in Britain or France might make a person more likely to be both intelligent and Atheist via culture. So, while intelligence may not cause Atheism or visa versa, they may be correlated with each other because they are each caused by a similar variable, location.
The reason I searched out these data was a conversation with my brother over abortion, specifically the Supreme Court decision from last week about "partial birth abortion." He wondered if Europe had the same debates over abortion as we do in the United States

My hunch at the time was that Europe probably didn't have the same level of debate because Europe has a smaller proportion of its population that regularly attends church - these data are played out in attendance data at any type of religious gathering. Something like 70% of the U.S. population claims to have gone to church (of some form) in the past week, whereas in Europe it is less than 40%.

Church attendance doesn't necessarily relate to non-spirituality. I believe atheism, if truly "believed," comes close to being non-spiritual.

This might make abortion and other social issues less of a source of debate and consternation in Europe, but at the same wide-spread atheism might make the European continent more susceptible to religious intolerance and the bad things that can result from intolerance.

Monopolization of thought, whether it focus on political ideology, religion, race, speech, or (perhaps) a lack of religion, would seem dangerous for any society.
My recollection is that the European laws regarding abortion are somewhat uniformly more strict than the US laws -- our Roe v. Wade put us WAY out ahead of Europe in this respect. They also tend to have strong laws on cloning.

As you've mentioned, though, the religious sanction for those laws is much weaker in Europe, so those things are inconsistent. (But "inconsistent" is the watchword in the US as well.)

A side note to the above commentors: the phrase "positive correlation" does not belong in a paragraph with wild speculation. If you've got numbers, you can show a positive correlation; if you've got wild speculation, you can't show anything. You can make blog comments, of course. Certain types of atheism are strongly correlated with high education; other types are not at all correlated with education.

I suspect (wild speculation! new paragraph!) that the former correlation is caused by simple exposure to some of the great atheists of the 18th and 19th century, not any tendency for great minds to reach the same conclusions. I support this (although only in a hand-waving manner) by noting that many of the arguments deployed by the currently fashionable atheism are essentially identical to the ones employed (and I believe developed) during that period of time.

I'm not familiar with any study that showed a broad correlation between any measure of intelligence and atheism.
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