Atheistic countries have the most healthy societies?

Note, added later: While Zuckerman indeed compiled the list I refer to above, some of the conclusions atheists call his may be by his atheistic fans, not his own. The purpose of this blog entry is to discuss the conclusions that his fans say is his. I never made a study of whether his fans report his views accurately.

Thank you to my readers for pointing that out.

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The atheistic propoganda brigade is claiming it all the time: 

Atheistic countries have a very high level of societal health and success. Just look at Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden, for example!

Their favorite source is Phil Zuckerman and this list (Table 1 on the web page) of his.  But let’s look closer at the list. (We don’t want to unquestioningly believe everything we hear, do we?)

If you look at the entry on top, Zuckerman claims that Sweden has 46-to 85% non-believers. If so, why put it above Vietnam, with 81% non-believers? Why not take the average and say “approximately 65,5%”  unbelievers? Why use the higher number? The same goes for Denmark, with (according to Zuckerman) between 43% and 80% unbelievers. (That in itself will change the top 5 unbelieving countries, even with Zuckerman’s numbers, to 1) Vietnam 2) Sweden 3)Japan  4)Denmark  5)Czech Republic.) It seems that Zuckerman’s statistics for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland (each with about double as many unbelievers in Zuckerman’s high estimate than his low estimate) is very unreliable.

Okay. It seems Zuckerman has a rule of thumb: “When in doubt, use the highest estimate.” But is  this his rule of thumb? Not quite:

Several sources list the non-believers in China, North Korea, etc. higher* than those in Sweden, Denmark, etc. (For example, “Operation World’s 1993 handbook lists the non-religious in China at 59,1%, in North Korea at 68%, and in Cuba at 30,9%. They list the non-religious in Sweden as 34,9%, in Finland as 9,8%, in Denmark as 7,5%, and in Norway as 4% of the population.) (Another source, “The demand for Religion: Hard core atheism and Supply side theory” lists the amount of unbelievers –including those unbelievers who feel there “might be a God” and “might be a life after death” – in Norway as 16,9%- only a half to a quarter as many as Zuckerman suggests. In another peaceful, wealthy country, Austria, the page suggest that those “unbelievers” are only 8,3% – less than half, to less than a third, of what Zuckerman say. In Russia, however, the 30,8% of this page is well within Zuckerman estimates.)

Zuckerman may have had a reason to work that way, but readers should question his methodology before jumping to conclusions on his results. With his numbers instead of someone else’s, the results would be very much biased towards associating rich countries with atheism.

Another problem with using those numbers to devalue Christianity is that Christians do not claim: Religiosity, any religion, is better than non-religiosity. The Christian claim is: Actual commitment to Christ and his teachings (as opposed to merely following some religion, or even calling yourself a Christian) makes the world a better place.  You cannot counter Christian thought by showing how the Scandinavians are better off than the average “religious” nation. You would need to compare the least religious peoples (which are probably not the Scandinavians) with the nations who are most committed to Christ.

Some other problems include: Correlation is not causality. Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway are all countries where the Lutheran Church closely associated with the state. The statement “Unbelieving countries (like Scandinavia’s) are successful” may have no more or less cause and effect to it than “countries where even the state officially support the church (like Scandinavia’s) are successful.”

And it could be questioned whether you can really call their societies all that healthy. Is their success sustainable in the long term? Many people say no. Are their children growing up in happy, stable two-parent family environments? Very few of them are. Do their numbers on suicide, heavy drinking and depression give the impression of happy countries?

In summary, the few countries and societal indicators Zuckerman selects cannot, seriously, lead to any conclusion about societal unbelief compared to societal health in general, in all countries everywhere. To try and use it as a statement against a particular religion, for example Christianity, would be even worse. Using other statistics than Zuckerman’s, we should rather regard Vietnam, North Korea, and China as the world’s most atheistic nations. These will be better indicators of the level of societal health in non-believing countries.

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* Some of you may observe that, for example, the Chinese or North Korean governments would not be realistic sources for the amount of believers in those countries. True, but we do have at least some other information on the religious beliefs in those nations. Operation World specializes in collecting these statistics. Voice of the Martyrs makes it their job to speak to underground believers in countries where there is no religious freedom. Their conclusions about numbers of believers will be less than 100% accurate, but it is still a mathematical estimate, and not a totally uninformed “guesstimate.” Zuckerman may have unreliable statistics for these areas, but his statistics for places like Sweden and Norway is also obviously unreliable. Yet, he apparently treats his unreliable data in two opposite ways, seemingly using the highest possible number of unbelievers for successful Scandinavian countries, and the lowest ones for unsuccessful communist countries.

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7 thoughts on “Atheistic countries have the most healthy societies?

  1. Justin says:

    Is their success sustainable in the long term? YES. Their foundation is in technology and research, yielding many results before the rest of the world.

    Are their children growing up in happy, stable two-parent family environments? Some of the social indicators Zuckermann uses indicate this is the case. Having been there I can tell you that Scandinavia is RULED by their children. Mothers with children don’t have to pay for public transport, free healthcare, free education all the way up. These would have to be the happiest most secure kids in the world.

    Do their numbers on suicide, heavy drinking and depression give the impression of happy countries? http://fathersforlife.org/health/who_suicide_rates.htm Most of Scandinavia have begun to conquer the drinking problems associated with cold gloomy weather with Sweden clearly in the lead.
    Finland is not really Scandinavian in culture (more Russian actually). They do have a large drinking problem that they have yet to negotiate. I have a friend up in Oulu and physical conditions there are quite gloomy(weather) & harsh. However summer is beautiful in all these countries.

    Again, this article you have written seems to be quite inaccurate…is there a reason?

    • Retha says:

      You call this article quite inaccurate, but you do not use any numbers to content with the main point. You merely give an opinion on questions asked as asides.

      Some of the social indicators Zuckermann uses indicate this is the case.

      And my article above shows how Zuckerman’s “facts” are out of kilter with all facts in any other source. Why should I believe him?

      Is their success sustainable in the long term? YES. Their foundation is in technology and research, yielding many results before the rest of the world.

      I’d disagree for economical reasons. A welfare society with too few children to replace the current generation of taxpayers, will struggle more and more as fewer taxpayers of the new generation have to support more aged people. Not that this is the central point of the above piece.

  2. DaneVN says:

    You did not make the case. For Vietnam, where I live, I say they believe a lot in Buddhism, a religion which do not believe in God. They only follow a system of philosophy. Also nearly everybody believe in transformation of spirits and so on. In fact all those can be counted as religion elsewhere but in Vietnam then we don’t call that religion. The same thing goes for China and Chinese folk religion, and also all Buddhist countries because Buddhists do not believe in God. Also in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Mongolia, former USSR and the former Eastern Europe they have a long history of governmental suppression of religion, they ban religion, so as a result a lot of people are atheist. The final conclusion is, “democratic atheist nations are the best place to live”. I have a source (now it’s posted on nearly all forums on the Internet):
    http://debatingchristianity.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=474053

  3. Retha says:

    Oh, really? You think worship of God/gods is exactly the same as believing a real, evidential earthly tyrant has the power to harm or kill if you do not obey?

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