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Old 07-07-2001, 05:04 PM   #111
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I will say this Turton. It appears that you are correct that freedom has been not been kind to atheism. The more time that freedom of speech and religion exist in formerly communist countries, the less atheism there is.

[This message has been edited by Layman (edited July 07, 2001).]
Old 07-08-2001, 06:57 AM   #112
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by turtonm:
Tan xian1sheng1,

Ni2 you3mei3you3 Singapore de zong1jiao4 tung3ji4 ma?


The following is taken from :

(If there is any copyright infringement, pls kindly delete away the below.)

Approximately 77 percent of the citizen and permanent resident population of just over 3.2 million are Chinese, 15 percent are Malay, and 7 percent are Indian. According to an official survey, 86 percent of citizens and residents profess some religious faith or belief. Of this group, slightly more than half (54 percent) practice Buddhism, Taoism, ancestor worship, or other faiths traditionally associated with ethnic Chinese. Approximately 15 percent are Muslim, 13 percent are Christian, and 3 percent are Hindu. Among Christians, the majority of whom are Chinese, non-Catholics, mostly Protestants, outnumber Roman Catholics slightly more than two-to-one. There are also small Sikh, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Jain communities.

The following from an authentic Singapore site.

The population breakdown by religion is:

Buddhism 31.9%
Taoism 21.9%
Islam 14.9%
Christianity 12.9%
Hinduism 3.3%
Other religions 0.6%
No religion 14.5%

The following is the official government statistics done on yr2000.

BTW "Tan" is spelled in my dialect (FuJian), in chinese it is "Chen2".
Old 07-08-2001, 07:12 AM   #113
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BTW "Tan" is spelled in my dialect (FuJian), in chinese it is "Chen2".[/QUOTE]

Thanks! I think we might be related in some ghostly way -- some of my wife's family are "chen2." But it is a common name in Fujian/Minnan.

Glad to meet you, honored relative.


Old 07-08-2001, 07:31 AM   #114
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I've lumped all your posts here, why spread a comedy of errors across several posts?

More examples of inconstitent methodology.

Here you seem to equate being "nonreligious" with atheism. I have clearly referred only to
atheists. As I informed Rodahi, I have not been counting "nonreligious" as atheists.

But you don't do that here. Here, where higher numbers of atheists would hurt my case and help yours, you see fit to equate Singapore's "no religion" and Hong Kong's "practice no religion" with atheism.

However, when higher numbers of atheists would help my case, you only count atheists as atheists an ignore the "nonreligoius." In Hungary, for example, you only count "atheists" as atheists (5%), but choose not to note that 22% are "defintely not religious." Why? Because to count atheists and "definitely not religous" all as atheists would demonstrate the existence of 3.7 million atheists in the formerly atheistic communist country.

I'm sorry, I forgot how completely and ethnocentrically ignorant you are, which accounts for your confusion here and elsewhere. I should have clarified this before.

You see, in the West, where there is a tradition of a personal god, it is possible for two separate categories of belief to arise. One would be "atheism" the other "irreligion" under which one has a vague belief in a god without commitment to any form of worship.

Unfortunately (for you) Asians never had a belief in a personal god. There isn't any sort of "third way" under which large numbers of people have a vague belief in a personal god while remaining aloof from religious practice. Either you practice, or religion has no use in your life. The vast majority of those list under "non-religious" in Asia are in fact atheists; people who do not believe in gods and pay religion absolutely no attention. I know literally hundreds of such people within my circle of acquaintances (like my father-in-law's entire family). Sorry, Layman, but those ARE numbers for atheism in those societies.

You accuse me of playing definitional games, but reveal only your own ignorance. Fundamentally, Asian religious practice cannot be shoehorned into our own categories. By OUR categories, the vast majority of Buddhist practitioners are "atheists." You have been shamelessly counting all religious practitioners as "theist" but that is of course arguable.

The major problem, as Jordan and Overmyer point out in The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan is that in Chinese society unbelief and belief generally exist to a certain extent in each INDIVIDUAL; indeed, in all religious practitioners in every society. The believer may burn his belongings because the world is ending, but she stashes a few things away "just in case." All religions put limits on question asking, because reasoned and pragmatic approaches to religion destroy it.

Harrell discussed the problem of belief and unbelief in rural in a paper in the 1970s, I'll see if I can dig it up (but doubt it). However, it is obvious that unbelief is widespread even in rural areas, even where participation in religious activities is high, because people value the social interaction (in most villages the temple is the center of village life). Further, religious participation is often anti-government or anti-elite in all Chinese societies, which increases its appeal.

So we have basic problems. Those who do not participate, Layman, undoubtedly do not believe in anything. But the opposite case is not true; participation does not equal belief. You will note that the Chinese figures, implicitly understand this; they ask about "practice" and not "belief." Westerners might assume those who practice believe, but easterners have a more sophisticated view of things. As Jordan and Overmyer note: The non-existence of Chinese gods can easily be seen to be a Chinese belief. (p. 271)

Take my wife's family. On my father-in-law's side, they are all atheists, practicing no religion and believing in no gods. However, they follow many Confucian practices, such as Sweeping the Ancestor's Tombs on Tomb Sweeping Day, keeping an altar to the departed ancestors in their house, and others. My mother-in-law's family are all Buddhists. They don't believe in god, and consider themselves atheist -- based on direct discussions I have had with them. However, my wife is a Tibetan Buddhist, but my MIL's family practices an elevated form of middle-class folk Buddhism, which is rather more austere than the enthusiastically syncretic folk religion of the working and rural classes. They have no gods. Ironically, my MIL's father was a famous Buddhist scholar who is worshipped as a minor deity among the folk religionists of her hometown (so I am related to a god). In the Buddhist temple my MIL's family owns in the ancestral town there are many Confucian elements, including the ubiquitous altar to the departed ancestors, bracketed by old black-and-white photos of the 'rents. My wife meanwhile sniffs at my MIL's brand of Buddhism as "folk-ist" and still containing elements of Daoism, etc.

The difficulty of discussing religion in Asia is that it doesn't fit into the firm categories we know. All Chinese (and Vietnamese, and Japanese) are Confucian to some extent. The folk religions blend Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and pre-civilized shamanistic practices (such as folk mediums). That's why the Chinese have different categories than we do -- note that they have 75% practicing "traditional religions" with separate categories for Christians, Buddhists, etc. In Taiwan the folk religions have already started to accrete some Christian elements through the rise of Yi Guan Dao (I can recommend the articles to you if you like). Thus, in a Confucian temple in the countryside, one is likely to find Buddhist and Daoist divinities, in addition to the Heavenly Bureaucracy of folk Confucianism.

Another issue is that in the West under Christianity, salvation is the goal. In the east, however, the folk religions are more interested in demonstrations of the moral worth of the individual holding them, rather than obsession with an afterlife. That is why folk-religionists rarely kill each other in the name of their beliefs, unlike Christ-ers. The collective aspect of these belief systems is there to affirm the moral worth of the individual participant, not provide the coercive underpinning of communal belief as happens in the West. The whole system of religious thought is different in China, and thus, our categories do not work real well. If you disregarded beliefs in the supernatural and simply focused on whether the person believes in gods, you can count most of China as "atheist." If you add the supernatural as an additional theistic belief -- if I believe in spirit writing and communicating the with dead, but don't believe in gods, what does that make me? What if my gods are deified humans, like almost all Chinese folk deities (like my grandfather-in-law)?

But we're getting long winded, although I never mind being didactic.

Besides, you haven't given us any state department figures on atheism in China.

You're absolutely right. I deduced them by summing the numbers from the China government. Whatever the figure for atheism is, it is less than 10% BY THEIR OWN COUNT. I provided the numbers, you can do the math yourself.

But let's move on to that major disaster of a post you put up……

Turton, your post is a masterful example of how to argue by using definitional games and inconsistent methodology.

Layman, your response is a masterful example of pure ignorance and ethnocentrism. You are swimming in waters too deep for you, and are flailing around before drowning.

Although there is some difficulty in reconciling these statistics and definitions, you've gone out of your way to abuse such difficulties and twist them to your advantage. For example, although I have clearly been defining atheism to exclude nonwestern religions like Buddhism and Confucianism, you count all Buddhists and Confucianists as if they were all atheists.

I actually have not. I have consistently used "atheism" if the category is available, and "irreligion" if it is not. However, your claims require you to demonstrate that the &gt;10% of the population that is atheist in China was produced by forcible indoctrination. So far, you have demonstrated nothing.

This is incorrect. All of the sources, whether used by you or by me has refrained from oversimplisticly counting all Buddhists and Confucianists as Atheists. The World Almanac reports them in different categories, so does, and so, in fact, do the atheistic communist Chinese who have sought to stamp out Buddhism and replace it with atheism. This is demonstrated by their actions in Tibet: "China has urged the devoutly Buddhist region of Tibet to embrace atheism to counter the influence of the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and to raise itself out of poverty." During China's cultural revolution the atheist communists did seek to wipe out Confucianism, but failed. Even the STATE DEPARTMENT numbers you accept so uncritically distinguish between Buddhism and Atheism in Taiwan.

I am aware of that. More so than you, apparently. The Cultural Revolution did attack Confucianism. However, if you actually bone up on Chinese history, you will find that every dynasty both attacked and supported Confucianism. For example, after the Cultural Revolution, the PRC rehabilitated Confucius. It goes in cycles, Layman.

I understood that you were using the argument that "religion = theism." That argument has serious problems, especially in an Asian context (but with your usual ethnocentric enthusiasm, you charged right in heedless of nuances), but I let it slide.

However, Layman, if you adopt the argument that "religion = theism" you are forced by simple logic to accept that "non-religious = atheism." When I used "non-religious" as a proxy for "atheism" in an Asian context, I was speaking from two grounds:

1) that, according to my experience of Asia, "non-religious" means no belief at all; and,

2) YOUR definition of religion under which every religion is theism, thus, "non-religion" must equal "atheism."

However, you may use whatever inconsistent definition you wish and I will happily accept it, as we will see below.

Moreover, it is clear that many Buddhists and Confuciasts do believe in gods or the supernatural. "But Confucius was worshipped as a deity, although he was only officially made equal to the heavenly gods by an imperial edict in 1906. (Up until 1927, many Chinese offered him sacrifices.)" Rutherford, Scott (ed.) East Asia. London: Apa Publications (1998), pg. 43. Heck you yourself have stated that it can be compatible with atheism and with theism.

Layman, I never said that many Buddhists and Confucians didn't believe in gods or the supernatural. Since you have no idea what you are talking about, it is no wonder you are confused. Folk-Confucianism/Daoism/Buddhism has an extensive array of supernatural beings. The Confucian elites (whom I did refer to), however, practiced an austere version of Confucian rites under which Confucius was not considered a divine. I have noted that the Confucian elites were atheist in other passages. Thus, Confucianism is compatible with both atheism and theism, but that does not make it theist. In fact, in the folk religions Confucianism is both atheist/skeptical and theistic/believing! The Chinese see no fundamental conflict between this.

Strictly as an aside, you might note that in 1906, the Emperor of China was not Chinese. No Chinese Emperor would have done such a thing, or ever did.

Now, for a good overview of Confucianism, you should read the section in Needham's Science and Civilization in China, Vol. II. Pay particular attention to later sections on the skeptical rationalist tradition in Confucianism that is 2500 years old and counting. Confucius himself believed in no gods and made a point of ensuring that no religion would ever be built around him personally. Some Confucians accepted the existence of spirits akin to the anima of western tradition-- in fact there was a mystical strain during the Later Han. Spirit writing was big in literati circles after the Song Dynasty, to give another example. But no Confucian skeptic has ever believed in a god, Layman, and on that basis Confucianism is atheist. Period. You seem to think "atheism" = "total skepticism" but that is not necessarily the case, Layman.

Moreover, as I pointed out in a previous post, you have included "nonreligious" or "practice religion" figures AS atheists when it suits your purpose but refused to recognize the "definitely not religious" AS atheists when it hurts your purpose.

As I have already explained, you speak with your usual ethnocentric ignorance.

I have consistently maintained that I was only counting atheists, and not the distinct group of "nonreligious."

Layman, if I had the numbers broken out the way you like, I would happy to accept them. But we don't, do we? And you are not counting "atheists" -- you are assuming that everyone religious is a theist. That is not the case anywhere, especially in Asia.

Being nonreligous does not mean one is an atheist.

In the West, yes.

I do not count Confucianism as necessarily theistic. As you have stated, it might be compatible with theism or atheism. But even if I did count them all as theists, or you counted them all as atheists, the total number of such adherents is around 300 milloion (geepers, I had a source for this figure last night, but failed to bookmark the source).

Hmmm….I wonder how they defined "Confucian." Sounds like Folk-Confucian to me. I can accept a three hundred million figure in any case.

In North Korea: at least 11 million (generously only counting half the population as atheists, although known for being "the first completely atheistic nation on earth").

If you believe North Korean numbers, I can see why you believe in talking snakes and virgin births.

You did provide reliable figures that 14% of Taiwanese are atheists. I'm not sure how many those grew up in or were educated in China, but it amounts to no more than 3 million atheists.

You're "not sure how many of those grew up or were educated in China."

Layman, you are completely ignorant.

Why are you here arguing with me about topics you know nothing about?

In 1949, the Communists took over the mainland, and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan. Except for some POWs who were forcibly removed to Taiwan during the Korean War, and the odd refugee or two, and mainland wives Taiwan businessmen have been bringing home (a few thousand) NOBODY on Taiwan was educated under the Communists.
Everybody was educated under a secular regime, either Japanese or Chinese.

I can see that I have to educate you not only in basic social science methodology, but basic history and sociology as well.

You have provided an admirable figure of all the atheists in the world. Good work, you can do sums. However, Layman, as I have patiently explained three times now, the numbers are meaningless without context. Let's look at your minor claims first.

And as I've explained above, your numbers of Japan are without support and obtained only by wishful thinking. While there could be millions of atheists in Japan, all of the sources you and I have relied on report that most people in Japan are Buddhists or Shintoists.

Alas, both survey and anecdotal reports indicate that atheism is widespread in Japan. The State Department's own figures indicate that more than 40% report having no religion -- which, in Asia, basically means being atheist. There are a number of sources that give similar estimates. Log onto any of the missionary sites and see their figures, which are even higher. According to the State Department: A 1994 poll indicated that less than 7 percent of the population regularly took part in formal religious services. Shintoism and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive religions; most members claim to observe both.

Umm, Layman, unbelief is extremely high in Japan. We can't say how high, but it is certainly more than half the population. Or about sixty million? Japan's population is 126 million or so. If we use the religious participation figures, we get over 90 million atheists in Japan, or about as many as in China, using the &gt;10% figure in the Chinese gov't numbers quoted by the State Department.

Since ACA's numbers for religion are not borne out in independent polls, they reflect something else: no doubt the household registration system requires that the individual list a religion, similar to the old census form that requires everyone to list a "race" regardless of what they conceive themselves to be. However, I'll see if I can confirm. In any case, dozens of independent polls confirm that the Japanese are probably the least religious people on earth, except maybe for the astonishing denizens of the old GDR.

And there are only 1.6 million atheists in ALL of North America with its 400-500 million people 2001 World Almanac.

Layman, I already told you why these numbers are bogus. Specifically, we know that there are 12.5 million scientists and engineers working in the US -- check the NSF figures if you don't believe me. The scientific and engineering population is 40-60% atheist. ( Now, that would yield millions of atheists in that population subgroup alone, never mind others. By simple logic, the World Almanac figures won't fly.

Now, back to your main argument. What was it? Let's take a look:

Layman says:
  • The point is that athists have mostly spread their belief by government coercion.
  • I am claiming that the growth in atheism in this century is largely attributable to oppressive government coercion.
  • Athiesm has been most succesful when backed up by oppressive governmental coercion.

In other words, you've claimed that the reason that so many atheists live in China and elsewhere is "oppressive government coercion."

Merely putting up numbers isn't going to make your case. We know lots of atheists live in the Far East. We know they also lived there prior to Communism. As we have seen, the percentage of religious practitioners in China is higher than in the surrounding Chinese states (including Macau). You have to show that the percentage of atheists in China now is higher than it was in pre-revolutionary China, and higher than we would expect otherwise. Finally, you have to show that coercive policies, and not modernity, better education, and rising incomes are responsible for the "rise" in atheism (which, as we have seen, is actually a fall in atheism). It might also behoove you to explain why the other Chinese states are so comparatively unreligious. In fact, according to Chinese government figures, more people practice traditional religions in China than attend church in the US!!!!

Note that you have not even taken the first step in this chain of logic.

You have yet to show that the percentage of atheists in China is higher than it was in pre-revolutionary times.

So, once again, show that:
  • 1. atheism has risen in China
    2. this rise is due to coercive policies

I realize this would entail making an actual argument based on logic and evidence, but then you claim to be a lawyer, so that shouldn't be too hard.

Or you could retract your claim.


[This message has been edited by turtonm (edited July 08, 2001).]
Old 07-09-2001, 03:12 PM   #115
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Michael, much of this thread was off-topic, but I'm giving your responses a standing ovation.

'Course, my husband is a little puzzled, but no biggie. He's getting kind of used to random exclamations and spontaneous bursts of approval from the 'puter room....

Old 07-09-2001, 06:12 PM   #116
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Mac:
Michael, much of this thread was off-topic, but I'm giving your responses a standing ovation.

Thanks! But maybe we should hold off until we've seen Layman's response.

Old 07-09-2001, 08:36 PM   #117
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Even if atheism was well-established in the Communist governments, this does not mean that atheism, per se, uses "vicious governmental oppression, persecution, and indoctrination" to vanquish theism in a population.

Atheism is a lack of belief in a god. This is NOT an authoritarian rule in itself that you are out to make it seem. You are only attempting to attack atheism by making a case of tying it with the evils of Communism.

Also, even if Communism was run by atheists, this does not make the Christian belief any better. The logical, scientific, and philosophical problems associated with Christianity still stand, regardless of what is said about atheism.

[This message has been edited by Secular Elation (edited July 09, 2001).]
Old 07-16-2001, 10:04 AM   #118
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Thumbs up

Thanks! But maybe we should hold off until we've seen Layman's response.

Well, it doesn't look like your going to get a response now so I think we can safely praise you for a job well done.

What a great bunch of posts, turtonm! Thanks for keeping up the fight and laying down the smack-down on the ignorant!
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Old 07-17-2001, 10:57 AM   #119
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Well, it looks like I am a bit late to get too deep into every point covered off by Michael and Layman, but I do want to look at a couple of points that appear to be important to Michael's case.

The first is that in his view, evangelizing people in China is dangerous to the health and well being of converts, and as a result, Christians should just shut up and stop it. This is a topic of its own, so I will begin a new thread on it as soon as I have the time.

The second issue appears to be that Michael wishes to dismiss any authoritative source that presents facts which he finds unacceptable. Now, I am accustomed to seeing this from dogmatic religious people, but when it comes from a self proclaimed free thinker, the irony does become quite rich. Let's look at what Michael said in one example:

Layman: And there are only 1.6 million atheists in ALL of North America with its 400-500 million people 2001 World Almanac.

Mihcael: Layman, I already told you why these numbers are bogus. Specifically, we know that there are 12.5 million scientists and engineers working in the US -- check the NSF figures if you don't believe me. The scientific and engineering population is 40-60% atheist. ( Now, that would yield millions of atheists in that population subgroup alone, never mind others. By simple logic, the World Almanac figures won't fly.
Alright, I took a look at the site referenced by Michael, and interestingly enough, the studies offered in support of his claims (namely, that atheists are generally smarter than theists) date from a range of 1927 to 1980. There is also one Gallup Poll from 1995. The actual studies are not given, nor are the questions that were asked in the poll. Why Michael considers this to be a good reliable support for his claims is quite puzzling. But the most interesting point raised was that 40-60% of the scientific and engineering community is atheistic in its beliefs. This incredible claim is supported by what exactly? As near as I could determine, it was based on the unscientific Vaughan, Smith, and Sjoberg study of 1965! To quote from Michael's site:

Polled 850 US physicists, zoologists, chemical engineers, and geologists listed in American Men of Science (1955) on church membership, and attendance patterns, and belief in afterlife. Of the 642 replies, 38.5 percent did not believe in an afterlife, whereas 31.8 percent did. Belief in immortality was less common among major university staff than among those employed by business, government, or minor universities. The Gallup poll taken about this time showed that two-thirds of the U.S. population believed in an afterlife, so scientists were far less religious than the typical adult.

Now, if he was using a different study, please tell us which one. But even for Michael this is getting pretty lame. I have cautioned you about using web sites that do not say what you claim Michael. I had hoped you would have learned by now.

Quite frankly, I am surprised that you are not embarrassed by your own willingness to dismiss the authority of the American Almanac, even as you trot out such pathetic supports.

Please do another web search, and come up with something better Michael. Otherwise, you may wish to reconsider your arguments here.

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Old 07-17-2001, 11:07 AM   #120
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Originally posted by Nomad:

Please do another web search, and come up with something better Michael. Otherwise, you may wish to reconsider your arguments here.


I was waiting for you to wade into this one with some peripheral point, and look, here you huffing and puffing just like your old self about a side issue.

When Layman or you present some evidence in support of Layman's assertion that forcible indoctrination created more athiests in China than we otherwise would expect, I'll be impressed with your scholarship. It is actually irrevelant to Layman's original assertion how many atheists there are in N. America.

The numbers for the scientific and engineering population in the US are sound, and we both know, however much you huff and puff, that that subgroup is proportionately far more atheist than the general population.
The actual figure, whether it is 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 percent, is not all that important. Any one of those numbers makes hash of Layman's claim that there are only 1.6 million atheists in the US.

Among my links on atheism is this on scientists:

I have now disposed of this sideshow three times, and am still awaiting arguments from your side in support of Layman's thesis.


[ July 17, 2001: Message edited by: turtonm ]
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