Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 CE

Atheists: How many of us are there in the world?

The answer to the question is not simple. Many believe that atheists are not numerous and that we are out of the mainstream. In addition, some people use the term "atheist" as an insult and equate it with immoral or evil. After doing some research I found some surprises.

First, if we consider atheists; agnostics; seculars and people with no religion, as part of the same group, we are ranked third among the different beliefs (if atheism can be counted as a belief) with 1.1 billion people. this number only trails the ones that Christians (2.1 billion) and Islamists (1.3 billion) have. This might sound strange, but it can be explained by the way questions are asked in surveys. In most countries a small number of people (zero to a fraction of 1 percent) will answer "atheism" or "atheist" when asked an open-ended question about their religious option. If the question is phrased like this: "Are you an atheist?"A slightly larger number of people will answer "yes". A slightly larger number than that will answer "no" when asked if they believe in any type of god, deity, or supernatural being. A slightly larger number will answer "no" when asked if they "believe in God". Finally, a larger number of people answer "none" or "non-religious" when asked asked an open-ended question about what their religious preference is. Average numbers show that roughly half of the people who self-identify as "nonreligious" also answer "yes" when asked if they believe in God or a supernatural being.

Second, there are countries that have a very large number of non-believers like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan. They have percentages that range between 40 and 80% of their populations. The thing that has to be pointed out is that those countries are probably the most educated countries in the planet. What was surprising for me were the high percentages, not the fact that where there is more education there are less believers.

With respect to the U.S., about 13.2% of the population describe themselves as nonreligious, 0.5% describe themselves as agnostic, and a smaller number describe themselves as atheist (Kosmin, ARIS/American Religious Identification Survey, City University of New York, 2001).

Among scientists, 60.7% claimed "disbelief or doubt the existence of a god". This number is 93% among the members of the National Academy of Sciences.

As a conclusion I must say that our numbers are significant, however, there is sill a stigma associated with the name "atheist". Many people who de facto are non-believers hesitate about calling themselves atheists. Scientists are the group of people who show the greatest number of non-believers. This is very important, because in a country like the U.S., scientists and engineers, who are only 5% of the population, are responsible for 50% of the GDP.


Blogger HairlessMonkeyDK said...

Although you may not see a direct connection between "edumacation" and belief in Santa and all his elvish permutations, I do.
But only to a certain degree.
Because it is -certainly- possible to be highly educated, yet still beholden to archaic systems of worship.
The only difference, of course, is that the Believer's excuses become all the more ornate and ridiculous,
the more they're debunked by science.
Which makes me at least somewhat happy that I grew up in ArmpitStench, Denmark, instead of ToeSweat, Alabama.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...


Thanks for commenting. I see that you come from one of the most educated countries in the world. One day I will visit your country.

With respect to your comment, it is true that still the best educated can have a superstition. It is all about indoctrination during childhood. There is a documentary by Richard Dawkins (The Root of All Evil) which describes religion as a virus which infects humans in infancy and it very difficult to get rid of. I have read a lot about the documentary, but I have not seen it. I wish it could be available soon in the US.

I will visit your blog soon

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to know there are so many atheists worldwide, but that doesn't help here in the US.
I suspect there are more of us here than the polls show because of the stigma attached.
We have to keep showing ourselves publicly in a positive way; making ourselves known as "regular" people.
Only when more people are not afraid to identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, can we make a dent in the machine that is religiosity.
This is karen from the nogodblog. I had trouble logging on as anything other than anon.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Karen, thanks for commenting

I agree with you in which we should show ourselves more publicly. We also have to acknowledge the enormous economic power associated with scientists and engineers, many of whom are atheists.

Do you have a personal blog that I can visit?

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Doc, no blog.
I started to play around with one in order to reply to ReluctantAtheist's blog, but didn't have the time and am too lazy to keep up with my own blog.
It's hard enough to catch enough time to read the nogodblog and post there.
Maybe someday.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

That's ok. Keep visiting!

11:01 PM  
Blogger KA said...

Hey, what's up, doc?
The numbers are indeed growing.
Forget where I read this, but it's been observed that it's possible for the human mind to entertain 2 mutually exclusive beliefs.
There is also a larger # than we know in re: atheists. For instance, Lance Armstrong is an atheist. Phyllis Diller's another 1. Woody Allen. Penn & Teller.
The pejorative stems from equating atheism w/communism, thnx to old Woodrow Wilson.
Read "Lies My Teacher Told Me." Real eye-opener.
We need to start saying it loud, saying it proud, & not hide it.

1:04 AM  
Blogger Silent said...

Great blog Doctor Marco.
My only complaint is that people should only be able to identify themselves as believers if they actually follow the teachings of their God. Lacking that there should be a third category to encompass the majority of “believers” we can label it “hypocrites” and move 90% of the believers into it.

I’ve highlighted your blog here.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

It is a paradox, but the same people who consider themselves Christians or Muslims or Jews are the same to support wars, jihads, intolerance, segregation, racism, an uneven society...

That is the danger of hypocrisy, death can appear as sweet in the eyes of the believer, so as he is doing what the "god" ordered.

7:34 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Originally I was going to stay out of this debate and just see how the "other" side (atheists) views things. To learn what they think and why.

I am hoping, Marco, that you can help me interpret some of the things being said here. As it stands right now I am left with an impression, from what I have read, of arrogance and negative attitudes towards those who are not atheists. I am hoping you can shed some light on this as I may be misunderstanding.

When I read comments such as:

" Because it is -certainly- possible to be highly educated, yet still beholden to archaic systems of worship."


"it is true that still the best educated can have a superstition"

Sincere question...does this imply that one is supposed to have no "belief" whatsoever in order to be considered a truly superior educated individual? It comes across, to me, like their education skills are in question because they choose to believe in a deity.

And what about this other comment:

"Believer's excuses become all the more ornate and ridiculous,
the more they're debunked by science."

Excuses for what? A beleiver does so by choice and does not require science to affirm his faith.

To be fair, there was one statement I did agree with:

"My only complaint is that people should only be able to identify themselves as believers if they actually follow the teachings of their God."

A very fair statement. To often people abuse the teachings of the God they profess in order for personal gain. But, that should not be a general label on the rest of the individuals who follow the teachings of their faith devoutly and unselfishly. These people do not seem to be acknowledged. Some good example's: Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Deli Llhama, and every other believer who lives likewise.

Your final statement:

"It is a paradox, but the same people who consider themselves Christians or Muslims or Jews are the same to support wars, jihads, intolerance, segregation, racism, an uneven society..."

Although I agree that this has certainly happened in the past I would encourage you to remember two things.

1.) This statement would not apply to EVERY single Christian, Muslim, or Jew (which I believe you would agree)

2.)" wars,... intolerance, segregation, racism, an uneven society..." Rememeber this can also apply to many of your fellow atheists. Yet it would not be fair for me to label ALL atheists who committed these same acts.

I come away understanding atheism is the ONLY way to be considered seriously on an educational and, dare I say, moral level.

I am looking to understand, not agree, but understand. Have I misunderstood what has been said?

10:37 PM  
Blogger Alanita said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:24 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Thanks Marco for shedding a little more light on that. It was not something I took personal it was the thread of dialogue that was coming across, to me, as bunch of "elitists" patting each other on the back for their superior intellect. This was why I inquired as sometimes I do not always comprehend the atheist "lingo". I understand where you are coming from now.

I wanted to make mention of your response:

" If we see the broad picture, it is undeniable that more education leads to more lack of belief"

I was wondering if you recognise the opposite parallel here. If it is more of "your" type of education of course it will swing that way. When you promote your "doctrine" (lack of a better term) and it gets more and more exposure there will inevitabley be those who follow that "educational teaching".

It is the same with faith teachings. Only I would not neccessarily say yours is growing because of education as it is more due to secular movements moving to suppress faith based teachings.

I know you will probably disagree on that one.:)

12:21 AM  
Blogger Bacon Eating Atheist Jew said...

I think the people who are pitching organized religion is growing percentage wise. But the religious tend to have more kids, and many in the USA are homeschooling these days.
40% of scientists believe in evolution and God. It is tough to fit a literal bible in there or organized religion. The Catholics seem to be trying to do so (Theistic evolution).
Now I'll say this about you blog, no offense, I say this to everyone who has a blog with a black background: it is very hard on the eyes, and makes someone like me read the posts quicker than I want. Visit my blog to see the difference.

9:59 PM  
Blogger udonman said...

hey marco been meaning to hook up with you on this post but had to many other things to do but by far its the cross section of the people polled and the phrasing in which the questions are asked say i dont remeber where i seen this data but it said people that are of strong religios belief are most likely to answer polls than those with weaker or no relgios beliefs and for most polls the copanies that take them already have a defined crossection in mind when they start taking the polls such as those who are registerd voters those that are registerd repulicans those that have subcribed to certain magazines and so forth ever wondered how the pick the people to poll and how come they didnt ask you its problay because they knew you wouldnt produce the answers they wanted

2:30 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Cool picture of zoroastrianism

6:53 PM  
Blogger Outside the Box said...

Hey Doc,

just found your blog via Diane S. (I think). Very interesting. I'll come by more often.

As for this post, I've always appreciated how ex-pats (people living overseas) are much more likely to be atheists, agnostic, or spiritual, rather than being committed to an actual religion. I'd estimate that the ratio is reversed from the U.S. It's more like 80% non-religious. That certainly makes for more interesting conversations!

3:33 AM  

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