Monday, May 7, 2012

Atheism correlates with societal well-being

When I was in Stockholm last year, I stood in the spot near the Royal Palace where this picture was taken.  I remember thinking how beautiful the city was, not at all the miserable, lawless wasteland that many Mormons would predict it to be given its atheist majority (there are explicit teachings in the Book of Mormon that a country's prosperity is directly linked to worshipping God).  

If anything the reverse appears to true. Japan (the most atheistic nation in the G-8) has the lowest murder rate, while the United States (the most Christian nation in the G-8) has the highest. Japan used to have much stronger religious faith, and a state religion.  Guess what: Japan was remarkably aggressive and militaristic when "Shinto" was at its peak, and during WWII, when its Emperor was regarded as a God.

Interestingly, Louisiana, with America's highest church attendance rate, has twice the national average murder rate.

If atheism causes violence, why are right-wing fundamentalists unable to find a shred of statistical evidence to back up that claim?

The 2009 Global Peace Index assessed countries in light of 23 criteria, including foreign wars, internal conflicts, respect for human rights, the number of murders, the number of people in jail, the arms trade, and degrees of democracy.  Interestingly, peaceful countries have more atheists and fewer regular worshippers. The difference is highly statistically significant (P=0.001 or less).

Atheists tend to come out on top on a number of measures of 'societal success' - wealth, education, life expectancy, and corruption, for example. In 2010, Gallup published an international ranking, the Global Well Being Index.  It is interesting to correlate rates of atheism with societal well being.

A core part of their measure is the number of people who report they are thriving, defined as follows.  Gallup measures life satisfaction by asking respondents to rate their present and future lives on a “ladder” scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, where “0” indicates the worst possible life and “10” the best possible life. Individuals who rate their current lives a “7” or higher and their future an “8” or higher are considered thriving.

Of course, correlation does not equate to causation. Many other factors affect societal well-being.  However, the claim that non-belief results in the destruction of society is demonstrably false. Many countries are doing quite well in the absence of supernatural beliefs.


  1. Whatever gave you the impression that Atheists make up any kind of a majority in Sweden?

    Country Sweden

    Belief in a God 23%

    Belief in a spirit or life force 53%

    Belief in neither a spirit, God, nor life force 23%

    Seems to me those who believe in spirit or life force make up the majority and there are just as many Theists as Atheists.

    Therefore, Atheists are still the minority.

    1. As the Wikipedia article you cite points out, "Statistics on atheism are often difficult to represent accurately..."

      Secular people often don't self-identify as "atheist" do to social stigma. Also, as I believe you pointed out in a different comment, many prominent atheists, including Sam Harris, consider the term "atheist" unnecessary, just as we shouldn't need the term "abigfootist."

      According to the Wikipedia page on Sweden, "sources have in recent years placed atheism rates in Sweden between 46% and 85%"

      I think we can both agree, however, that Sweden is a very secular country and the role that religion plays in society is greatly reduced.

    2. "Belief in a spirit or life force" is not theism. Theism is the belief in a god or gods. As such, only 23% of Swedes are theists. Atheists simply lack a belief in god(s). They would include the other two groups, or 76%.

  2. there is no social stigma on atheism and atheists in Sweden, most people will respect you and see you as a thinking person, while being a hard-core believer is considered much more socially strange. I think a large number of the 23% of Swedes that believes in god, is muslim foreigners or of muslim foreign descent because they make up a lot (far from all) immigrants in Sweden and many are firm believers unlike most Swedes who are either agnostics, atheists or non practicing/ non believing protestants, but of course there are a number of hard-core christian swedes too, definitely, But they don't make up all, if even 50% of the 23% that believe in god.