Saturday, May 09, 2009

Atheist societies?   posted by Razib @ 5/09/2009 08:17:00 PM

Julian Sanchez has a post up, A "God-Shaped-Hole" Shaped Hole. He notes:
Which brings us around to the core problem with Stuttaford's claim. As James Joyner observes, it's a little doubtful whether the need to worship deities can really be an ineradicable, hardwired human trait when polls show that in much of Western Europe, the proportion of the population describing itself as atheist or agnostic approaches or exceeds the 50 percent mark.

This is a common perception, but I'm pretty sure it is also wrong. Sam Harris has described Sweden as an atheist society, while an American sociologist has written of Denmark as a society without God. I think the issue here is that the relative reference frame of the United States distorts the perceptions of American thinkers (combined with the sort of Europeans that they might meet at conferences or at the jobs expats land in abroad). Yes, the proportion of atheists in Scandinavia is on the order of 1 magnitude greater than the United States, but at less than 5% of the population in the United States that is still less than 50% of the population. Below the fold I've put data I gathered from The World Values (limiting to surveys performed from 1995 onward, because of the reality that East European nations exhibited a spike in God belief after the fall of Communism), the Eurobarometer 2005 and a BBC sponsored survey.

World Values Survey Eurobarometer
BBC Survey

Believe in God
Personal God Life Force, Spirit No God or Spirit or Life Force No belief in God
Vietnam 18.8

Czech 40.3 19 50 30
Estonia 51.6 16 54 26
Germany 52.4 47 25 25
Sweden 54.7 23 53 23
Japan 54.9

Netherlands 59.6 34 37 27
France 61.5 34 27 33
Slovenia 64.8 37 46 16
Bulgaria 66.7

Hungary 67.4 44 31 19
Norway 68.8 32 47 17
Denmark 68.9 31 49 19
Russia 69.5

Great Britain 71.8 38 40 20 21
Belgium 73.1 43 29 27
Luxembourg 73.2 44 28 22
Latvia 76.2 37 49 10
Taiwan 76.4

Serbia 77

Ukraine 77.7

New Zealand 79.3

Belarus 79.4

Australia 81.8

Finland 82 41 41 16
Slovakia 82.2 61 26 11
Switzerland 83.1 48 39 9
Iceland 84.4 38 48 11
Armenia 85.6

Austria 86.3 54 34

Lithuania 86.3 49 36 12
Bosnia 86.6

Croatia 86.6 67 25 7
Uruguay 86.7

Spain 86.9 59 21 18
Singapore 87.1

Macedonia 87.4

Canada 89.3

Greece 91 81 16 3
Dominican Republic 92.7

Albania 92.7

Georgia 93.2

Northern Ireland 93.2

Argentina 93.4

Moldova 93.4

Italy 93.5 74 16 6
India 94.6

Kyrgyzstan 95

Mexico 95.4

Ireland 95.7 73 22 4
United States 95.9

Portugal 96.3 81 12 6
Romania 96.6 90 8 1
Poland 97.3 80 15 1
Chile 97.5

Azerbaijan 97.8

Turkey 98 95 2 1
Peru 98.3

South Africa 98.9

Bangladesh 99

Venezuela 99.1

Columbia 99.1

Brazil 99.1

Tanzania 99.3

Puerto Rico 99.3

Zimbabwe 99.4

Uganda 99.4

El Salvador 99.4

Iran 99.4

Malta 99.5 95 3 1
Nigeria 99.5

Philippines 99.6

Iraq 99.8

Algeria 99.8

Jordan 99.8

Indonesia 99.9

Saudi Arabia 99.9

Pakistan 100

Egypt 100

Morocco 100

South Korea




I'm pretty sure that the WVS result for Germany is screwed up by some problems with how they weighted the "East German" and "West German" results. There are also certainly some issues with how the question was worded (most surveys show fewer self-described atheists than those who agree with an atheist position in relation to God), as well as the problem of representativeness (it looks to me that for Third World countries like India the WVS is skewed toward a higher SES judging by the levels of education). But you get the picture. Europe and East Asia, unlike the United States, South Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America, have a great number of "unaffiliated theists." This shouldn't be too surprising to Americans, the proportion of atheists & agnostics among those with "No Religion" has remained constant for a generation from what I know, at around 25%.

Update: Because of questions in the comments I thought I would add the "fifth wave" WVS results from 2005-2008, which had a question which allowed people to sort themselves into "religious person," "not a religious person" and "atheist." Since people tend to avoid the term atheist this is a lowballing of the proportion who don't believe in God. But, because of cross-cultural differences in what it means to be a "religious person," that proportion might also be somewhat deceptive and an underestimate of those who are somehow affiliated with a religious denomination.

Religious Person Not Religious Person Convinced Atheist
South Korea 30.1 41.3 28.6
Vietnam 39.2 37.3 23.6
Germany 42.9 38 19.2
China 21.8 60.3 17.9
Sweden 33.4 49.3 17.3
France 46.9 36 17.1
Taiwan 40.3 42.9 16.8
Andorra 48.1 37.6 14.2
Japan 24.2 62.1 13.7
Great Britain 48.7 40.9 10.4
Australia 52.1 38 9.9
Slovenia 72.6 17.6 9.8
Switzerland 64.8 27.3 7.9
Netherlands 59.9 35.6 7.5
Spain 45.6 47 7.4
New Zealand 49.8 43.3 7
Hong Kong 27.3 67.4 5.4
Bulgaria 63.6 31.2 5.3
Russia 73.6 22 4.4
Serbia 85.5 10.6 4
USA 72.1 24.4 3.6
Chile 64.7 32 3.2
Finland 60.1 36.8 3.1
Ukraine 80.7 16.3 3
Mexico 75.4 21.7 2.9
Italy 88 9.3 2.7
Iraq 54.7 42.6 2.7
India 77.9 19.5 2.5
Malaysia 89.1 8.6 2.3
Argentina 81.2 16.6 2.3
Cyprus 61.6 36.3 2.1
Burkina Faso 91.6 6.9 1.6
Peru 82 16.6 1.4
Poland 94.6 4 1.4
South Africa 81.3 17.5 1.2
Brazil 88 10.8 1.2
Moldova 84.1 15 1
Romania 93.4 6 0.6
Zambia 89.5 9.9 0.5
Ghana 91.5 8 0.5
Colombia 80 19.5 0.5
Trinidad & Tobago 84.1 15.5 0.5
Turkey 82.6 16.9 0.5
Mali 97.6 2 0.4
Ethiopia 81.1 18.5 0.4
Georgia 96.6 3.1 0.3
Indonesia 84.6 15.2 0.3
Thailand 35.5 64.3 0.2
Jordan 92.2 7.7 0.1
Iran 83.7 16.2 0.1
Rwanda 94.2 5.7 0.1
Morocco 91.8 8.2 0

Labels: ,

Monday, August 13, 2007

Religiosity and personality: How are they correlated?   posted by agnostic @ 8/13/2007 01:01:00 AM

Bad news for atheists: individuals low in religiosity are more likely to have a "slacker" personality. And worse news: this is true even among intellectually gifted people. First, a disclaimer that I consider myself an atheist, though I would never use that term.* So no guff about having an agenda. Also, though obvious, it needs to be said that correlations don't tell you about particular individuals -- if you're a nose-to-the-grindstone atheist, then great. My purpose here is to describe correlations of interest to students of psychology or religion, as well as to deflate some of the smug -- and in this case false -- stereotypes that some atheists have about religious people.

In the interest of time (that is, to save me time), I'll be quoting most of the results since the authors provide enough exposition already. Throughout, the quoted article is McCullough et al. (2003).

Beginning with a review of the Eysenckian work done:**

Cross-sectional studies using Eysenck's P-E-N model (e.g., Eysenck, 1991) indicate that religiousness, as measured by a variety of indicators including frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of private prayer, and positive attitudes toward religion, is inversely related to Eysenckian Psychoticism (e.g., Francis, 1997; Francis & Bolger, 1997; Francis, Lewis, Brown, Philipchalk, & Lester, 1995; Lewis & Maltby, 1995, 1996; Maltby, 1997, 1999; Maltby, Talley, Cooper, & Leslie, 1995; Robinson, 1990; Smith, 1996; Svensen, White, & Caird, 1992; Wilde & Joseph, 1997) but essentially uncorrelated with Extraversion or Neuroticism. Indeed, the basic finding that religiousness is negatively related to Eysenckian Psychoticism (i.e., sex-adjusted correlations in the neighborhood of -.30) (e.g., Francis et al., 1995) and essentially uncorrelated with Eysenckian Neuroticism and Extraversion has been replicated with children, adolescents, adults, and older adults from around the world.

And then a review of the Big Five work done:

Several recent studies have employed measures of the constructs in the Big Five, or five-factor personality taxonomy (e.g., John & Srivastava, 1999; McCrae & Costa, 1999), to examine the association of religiousness and personality. Kosek (1999), MacDonald (2000), and Taylor and MacDonald (1999) found that measures of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness were positively associated with measures of religious involvement and intrinsic religious orientation. These results are not surprising in light of the robust link between Eysenckian Psychoticism and religiousness because Eysenckian Psychoticism appears to be a conflation of Big Five Conscientiousness and Agreeableness (Costa & McCrae, 1995).

The authors' original contribution used data from the Terman Longitudinal Study to examine the relationship between religiosity in early adulthood and personality traits in adolescence. The latter were judged by teachers and parents, not self-reported. It's also worth noting that the students in this study were selected to have an IQ of at least 135, a point to which we return. Of the 1528 students in the TLS, the authors looked at 492 of them (280 male) for whom the relevant data was obtainable. Their findings:

Conscientiousness (beta = .14) was also a significant predictor of [early adulthood] religiousness, suggesting that for each standard unit increase in adolescents' Conscientiousness, their religiousness in [early adulthood] increased by .14 standard units.

And although other personality traits did correlate with religiosity:

Table 1 shows that children who were rated as Open to Experience (r = .11), Conscientious (r = .20), and Agreeable (r = .15) in adolescence went on to be slightly more religious 19 years later, p less than .05. In addition, adolescents who became highly religious reported having had relatively strong religious upbringings, r = .43, p less than .001.

These did not remain after their correlation with Conscientiousness was accounted for:

In part, the Openness-religiousness association may simply reflect the variance that Openness shares with the rest of the Big Five -- and Conscientiousness in particular -- in this sample. Measures of Openness and Conscientiousness were related at r = .43, which is not surprising because participants' traits were being evaluated within an achievement setting (i.e., they were rated by their teachers as well as parents), which might cause children who are more conscientious about their studies and assignments also to appear more open to experience (i.e., higher in intellect). Indeed, when we controlled for the intercorrelations among the Big Five through multiple regression, Openness and Agreeableness did not retain significant unique associations with religiousness, but Conscientiousness did.

So that's the reality. Atheists like the author of the following comment will no longer be able to assume they are more conscientious (original emphasis):

Personally, I trust atheists the most. I think they're more likely to keep their word than some Christians who think they're automatically going to Heaven solely because they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I think atheists, in general, are more conscientious about their actions because they don't want to face negative consequences in the here-and-now.

As anyone knows, that attitude is not exceptional among those who wear the atheist label. Nor can they move the goalposts and suggest that, yes, this may hold in general, but since atheists are smart, we don't need religion to make ourselves more conscientious -- "Only retards need a written rule system for how to behave," as brainiacs can rely on their superior common sense to behave diligently. But the TLS data contradict this self-satisfied pap as well: even among MENSA-level people, religiosity correlates positively with Conscientiousness. To be blunt, it's time for atheists to stop patting themselves on the back about how conscientious they are, since as a group they score lower than more religious people.

On a related note, I'm getting pretty sick of atheists congratulating themselves for having low divorce rates or infidelity rates. Steve Sailer has suggested that one reason why Massachussetts citizens have lower divorce rates is that they marry much later in life, so that would-be homewreckers take one look at their wrinkled, sagging skin and say, "Yeah, no thanks." Inductivist showed from GSS data that atheists commit less adultery, but I posited the same reason that Steve would have: for a variety of reasons, they're just not attractive enough to would-be homewreckers, sheer age being the most obvious one (just look at the putz in the article linked to in the beginning of this paragraph). And because infidelity correlates with Psychoticism or low Agreeableness and low Conscientiousness, we expect atheists to cheat more -- ceteris paribus, but in real life things aren't equal and thus most atheists are not put to the same tests of temptation.

In closing, although I'd like for religiosity to hold no relation to Conscientiousness, the real world does not care what I'd like. (On a side note, it's odd how frequently atheists fall victim to the moralistic fallacy in this way, given how many of them profess a belief in a universe indifferent to their desires.) Religious nutballs who paint atheists as deformed scoundrels are wrong, but merely not being a wretch hardly merits all the more-ethical-than-thou braggadocio coming from the other side. The data are in, and it's high time that some atheists lose the vainglory.

* "Atheist" understandably makes a person think of a permanent student activist who works in a used bookstore and argues with his co-workers over which progressive rock album is the best.

** If you want the full references to what McCullough et al. (2003) quote, it shouldn't be difficult to look it up on Google -- how many articles on religion and personality could the given authors publish in a given year? If that doesn't work, then email me. I just don't want to waste space listing out all their references.


McCullough, M., J. Tsang, & S. Brion (2003). Personality traits in adolescence as predictors of religiousness in early adulthood: Findings from the Terman Longitudinal Study. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, 29, 980-91.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The unbelieving conservatives   posted by Razib @ 3/11/2007 08:49:00 PM

Daniel Larison points me to this piece in The New English review which discusses intersection of unbelief and conservatism, sparked in part by Heather Mac Donald's "coming out" last year. The article references my 10 questions with Heather. Over at Real Clear Politics there is a response to the piece in TNE. Finally, Larison offers his critique.

(you can view the technorati responses to the interview here)

Labels: ,