Scandinavia most atheistic? One more reason to doubt Zuckerman

Note, added later: While Zuckerman indeed compiled the list I refer to in “Atheistic countries have the most healthy societies”, and also wrote on his experiences in Sweden and Denmark, 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. So, if this post talk of doubting Zuckerman, it may rather be a reason to doubt his fans.


“Theory without data is myth: data without theory is madness.” – Phil Zuckerman

Phil Zuckerman wrote a book about his experiences in Sweden and Denmark, painting it as probably the least religious countries in the world, yet with low crime rates, high standards of living and social equality. A previous post of mine questioned (very much) the accuracy of painting the Scandinivians as the world’s most atheistic countries, and (a bit) if their societies are really all that healthy, and sustainable. And is correlation (many people who don’t believe in God/gods/spirits, and a prosperous society) causality here?
A survey of the European commission collected these statistics of religious (un)belief in Europe. (I do not know what DK stand for.)

According to these, France (33%) has the most unbelievers (People who claim “I don’t belief there is any spirit, God, or life force”) of all European countries, with the Czech Republic (30%) second. (Would Zuckerman study the Czechs as an example of irreligious people next? Or perhaps the Cubans, who are, of course, not part of this European study?) Sweden is 6th and Denmark joint 9th.

In Iceland (11%), Finland, (16%) and Norway (17%), there are, in fact, a less than average unbeliever percentage for the countries surveyed – the European average was 18%. Even if there are a lot of unbelievers in Scandinavia, they are, by all statistics I ever read outside of Zuckerman’s work, a minority. Those who believe in God, a spirit or life force, still outnumber the unbelievers by at least 3 to 1.

And, since Prof. Zuckerman believe that statistics without theory is madness, I would follow it up by my theory: Denmark and Sweden are rather succesfull countries with more believers, albeit of very little if any commitment, than total unbelievers. It may even be that their Protestant heritage is partly responsible for their success. No country in Europe is an indicator of what a society of unbelievers will be like, since everywhere in Europe, believers in God, a spirit or life force outnumber unbelievers.


About Retha Faurie

Attempting to question everything, reject the bad and hold fast to the good.
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20 Responses to Scandinavia most atheistic? One more reason to doubt Zuckerman

  1. dunamis2 says:

    Amen, my friend. I’m doing some research for an article on this. the atheist think because these people don’t have an open confession that they default to atheism and that’s a LIE…these people are weak, low or non committal in their religious belief system. That’s interesting.

    My site is


    • per says:

      Wow, i suspect you havent done a single research on this. I’m from Scandinavia, specifically Norway and what Phil Zuckermann writes is actually quite true here in Scandinavia..
      God is a non-issue.. we dont rely on a belief in God.. We only go to church based on tradition (though that tradition is rapidly decreasing).

      Take it from someone who lives in scandinavia! We are a secular society which God plays but a minimal role in our life! It may sound depressing but it really isnt. We are happy and content and we dont need god. Sorry.

  2. Retha says:

    Per, I believe that you are completely right about God-belief playing a very minor role in a very secular Scandinavia. I don’t doubt your happiness, either.

    However, Zuckerman goes a lot further than just saying the above. He claims that Scandinavians are the most atheistic countries in the world. (False, according to all other statistics.) Atheists misuse his numbers to claim that atheism makes for a succesful and rich country.

    Scandinavians are undoubtedly wealthy people with very little regard for God, but countries like North Korea and Cuba also counts among the places with most unbelief. The correlation between success and unbelief is ridiculous.

    • ianam says:

      “He claims that Scandinavians are the most atheistic countries in the world” — that’s a falsehood and if you have actaully read Zuckerman you know that it’s a falsehood. You talk about “atheist sleight of hand” but the sleight of hand is all yours and other Christians’. Zuckerman reports that Scandinavians rarely call themselves atheists but simply show no concern for religion. And his argument is not that atheism leads to prosperity — he repeatedly disavows such a claim — but rather than Christians and others who claim that society will decay and fall into disrepair without religion are making things up that are counter to the facts (in other words, they’re lying). Also, Zuckerman distinguisheds between “organic” and “forced” atheism, the latter being found in North Korea, the former Soviet Union, etc. When looking at organic atheism, the correlation with success is not “ridiculous”, it’s documented fact; see, e.g., It is you, not Zuckerman or atheists, who is guilty of “misuse”.

      • Retha says:

        After your post, I added to the top of my post that I may sometimes not have distinguished well between how unbelievers use Zuckerman’s claims and what he actually said. The quote of mine that you corrected is a perfect example. Still, this blog entry is needed because of how his data is misused.

        But I take issue with your link. You say “When looking at organic atheism, the correlation with success is not “ridiculous”, it’s documented fact;” and then link again to an article with a list that makes all the errors pointed out in my previous post on this topic: The numbers in your sources are contradicted by sources that do not share the same agenda, and they state a high stretch (Denmark, 48-80%) for numbers of unbelievers in the countries that atheists believe is successful, and use the higher as where the countries rank on a list of atheistic countries. Even their low numbers is higher than those estimated in other sources.

  3. Justin says:

    Having lived in Scandinavia for a few years I can tell you that they are nations of atheists (they lack belief in god). They don’t go to church (mostly empty), and the subject is totally unimportant to them. Is this article is simply trying to confuse the facts?.If so the truth doesn’t change for your convenience! They are simply “good without god”.

    Cuba is ~60% Catholic, and 80% consult practitioners of Santeria or Yoruba. Not that it matters, they are the richest country in the area despite having been crushed by the US economically for so long.

    North Korea worship their leaders (poor sods).

    • Retha says:

      Is this article is simply trying to confuse the facts?

      No, this article continues with statistics where the previous one on the topic stopped. And see my previous answer.

      You gave no source for Cuba being 60% Catholic. And Catholic does not mean religious. Many people (this is the case in Scandinavia too, as you probably know) are church members without being religious. North Korea worships their leaders? Nonsense. No reasonably reliable source will call them leader-worshippers. Their leader may want to be worshipped, but that does not mean that the followers actually do.

  4. Lasse says:

    The problem is that the number you will get for “Atheists” depends on how the question is asked.

    Atheism is the disbelief or denial of the claims of the existence of god(s).

    This definition does not exclude a “life force” or “spirits” (those are not Gods by normal definition). So when the question is phrased the way the EU study was done; “I don’t belief there is any spirit, God, or life force” you are only sampling a much more narrow part of the atheist community. If the question instead is phrased, “do you believe in a god?”, then the amount of atheists would be much greater. This is why the data for Sweden (where I come from) gives Atheists as being between 40% and 85% of the population. It all depends on how these questions are constructed

    The same would be true if you asked people in the USA,

    (1) “Do you see yourself as a Christian”?
    Or if you phrase it as:
    (2)”Do you believe that the Bible is absolutely true in all respects?”

    The answer of “yes” to those two questions would vary significantly, with a much lower value expected for question (2). If you now define “Christian” as only those persons that answer yes for the latter question you would be deliberately skewing the data in favour of a result you want. (In this case a reduced number of Christians in the country).

    Thus it is clear from the way the EU survey was done that they deliberately wanted a low number for the atheists group.

    Does this explain it to you?

  5. Retha says:

    You are right that numbers vary by how a question is asked. But there is a typical Internet atheist claim, sometimes backed up by Zuckerman, that a) Scandinavia is most atheistic of all countries. b) most successful of all countries.

    If we count agnostics as atheists above, then Estonia and the Czech republic are most atheistic out of those countries. No honest use of statistics ever put Scandinavia on top of the atheism list.

    (Other sources call Albania- not in this survey- the most atheistic, and that don’t back up the atheist theory of “atheism=happy, wealthy country” either!)

    • Lasse says:

      The comparison between the Czech Republic and Estonia vs. the Nordic countries is unfair as the latter did not suffer under a communistic dictatorship for over 40 years. The Nordic countries were independent after WW2 and developed their economies, social welfare programs etc without interference by any economic dogma while both Czechoslovakia and the Baltic countries were under the thumb of Moskva. If you are going to make a comparison between the Nordic countries and some other ones, New Zealand and Australia would be better.

      As for Albania, it is true that the country under Hoja was *declared* an “atheist country” (in 1967). But that does not make the people atheists! They will continue to believe what they want to believe irrespective of what is declared by the government. Belief (or lack thereof) is a personal thing.

      A recent study by the Pew Research Center puts the percentage of nominal Muslims in Albania at 79.9%, with the remaining 20% consisting of Christians. The CIA World Factbook gives a distribution of 70% Muslims, 20% Eastern Orthodox, and 10% Roman Catholics. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, roughly 39% of Albanians are Muslim, and 35% Christian.

      Do you honestly think that the followers of these religions first suddenly turned atheist in 1967 when the government closed over 2000 places of worship, and then just “poofed” back into believers of their old religion in 1991?

  6. Retha says:

    Looking at more stats, I was wrong to include Albania in my previous comment. Other sources also suggest (I quickly looked it up) that unbelief is not that high in Albania nowadays. (The World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001 claim Albania is Muslim 38.8%, Christian 35.4%, Nonreligious 16.6%, Atheist 9.0%, Bahai’ 0.2% Of course, Albania’s poverty is left from an era when no religious expression was allowed. On the other hand, goverments in Scandinavia officially support(ed) the church.)

    You are right that Scandinavia cannot be directly compared to all other non-religious countries. What I object to, is the atheistic sleigh of hand that scraps all countries that does not fit the picture they want to sketch from the comparison, without even mentioning that they scrap many countries off their comparison.

    (And many of these atheists believe atheism is so good that religion should be hindred by goverment force. Historically, stopping religion by force is strongly associated with poverty and mass goverment murder in the countries that attempt it. Supporting churches with taxes on the opposite hand, if Scandinavia is something to go by, seems to be good for the country and bad for Christianity.)

  7. Lasse says:

    I guess you mean Albania and not Scandinavia for that data, right?

    I agree that stopping religion by majority decree is wrong. That also happened in Christian countries including the USA (before the revolution) where a majority religion viciously attacked minority views. And it was also done in Albania and the Soviet Union (although the latter followed from the fact that the Orthodox Church were actively involved in the Russian Civil war and ended up on the loosing side).

    In order to stop this, the USA (and other secular countries) includes fundamental laws in their constitution that allows for freedom OF religion and also simultaneously “freedom FROM religion.

    The latter part is very important in this case. It does not man that religions are forbidden, it means that nobody can force a religion on you. For example, if you lived in a Muslim country were freedom of religion excited but not freedom from religion then the majority could actively discriminate against you based on the religion you have. That is why the US constitution states that, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    This follows from the freedom from religion part in the First Amendment and has been verified by the Supreme Court several times.

    Much of what you see claimed as Atheist activism etc. is actually just people insisting that the constitution is upheld. For example, the “no prayer in schools” debate.

    There is no law that states that you can’t pray in school. The law states that you can’t have mandatory, school-led prayer in public schools. As long as you do not disrupt normal school activity you can pray to the cows come home. You can still have mandatory school led prayers in *private* schools (they set their own rules on that). But even if 99% of the people in a public school is Muslim, you can’t have mandatory school led praying to Allah.


  8. Retha says:

    I’m not American, but are you saying that a teacher could do non-mandatory praying in an American school? Like in “I want to pray for all of those who want it in this class before the lesson start every day. Those of you who are against it can stay outside until we’re finished, those who want to participate can come right in every morning.” Can a teacher discuss faith in American schools with a single or small group of willing students once the lesson is already given?

    Elsewhere, I read of a Good News club teacher on a school terrain, who needed a permission slip from each child’s parents each week, so it seems to me that instead of voluntary participation the same way as in school sport, a lot of extra burdens is placed on religion? Or do participants in say, school basketball or chess also need permission slips every week?

    • Lasse says:

      In the US you often see people gathering at the flagpole or some other place to pray before school starts. In a private school, like a Catholic school, you can have mandatory school led prayer. In a public school you can not.

      I don’t think they have comparative religious studies in public schools, which is bad as that help you understand some of these questions. There is a difference between promoting one (or more) religions and teaching about various religions.

      As for your example it would never go because you said that those who didn’t want to pray could leave the classroom. That teacher is then promoting one religion. They could set aside a room where the students could meet before class and have their prayer sessions. However the school can’t promote that in any way.
      I find that people understand it better if you instead of “religion” use “politic” in the example:

      So the public schools can’t urge students to support any political party. If people want to meet before school and talk politics they can do so but the school can’t be an active participant in this.

      Do you see what I mean?

    • ianam says:

      “extra burdens is placed on religion” Yes, it’s called the First Amendment. And Basketball and chess clubs don’t proselytize, and they don’t tell elementary school children that their classmates who are Jews will burn in hell for eternity and tell them to go out on the playground and find Jewish children and berate them and scare them with stories about their horrible eternal fate. I have experience with “Good News” clubs and they are EVIL, nearly on a par with Scientology. And these clubs are the worst enemies of “moderate” Christians because they create great animosity toward organized Christianity of all sorts.

    • ianam says:

      Those of you who are against it can stay outside until we’re finished, those who want to participate can come right in every morning

      How would you like to be told that you can wait outside while the teacher recites devil-worshipping incantations or leads the other children in praise of L. Ron Hubbard?

  9. ianam says:

    And is correlation (many people who don’t believe in God/gods/spirits, and a prosperous society) causality here?

    Zuckerman has repeatedly stated that he is not asserting causation, he is only asserting that the claim, common among the religious, that atheism leads to societal decay is false. (See, e.g., Your numerous misrepresentations of both Zuckerman’s position and of the facts are what I have come to expect of Christian apologists.

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