More Muslims than Catholics…again

By Razib Khan | March 30, 2008 3:22 pm

Update: Follow up post with some numbers and logic laid out.
Muslims more numerous than Catholics: Vatican:

Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican’s newly-released 2008 yearbook of statistics, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world’s population and Catholics 17.4 percent.
For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us,” Formenti told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006.

I’m willing to bet that Formenti is wrong. What do others think? Consider that Catholicism was the dominant religion in 1250 across 2/3 of Europe, and the residual Christian population in the Islamic world did not tend to be in communion with Rome (Maronites being the exception to the rule). I suspect that there were more Muslims than Roman Catholics until about the 18th century, when Islamicization of marginal peoples such as the Central Asian Turks was just about tapped out and population growth in the New World was adding to the numbers of Catholics. Population growth in Catholic European nations in the 19th and early 20th centuries would likely have increased the lead
I’ll try and look up some population numbers and post them. I know this is a pedantic point, but when it comes to controversial topics which have public policy implications people should try really hard not to make stuff up when there’s no need….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07674489078935633842 jprapp

    When will Malthusian considerations take over?
    I don’t know whether Formenti is wrong.
    But, I’m not sure why it’s a potential “public policy” question? – not being sarcastic, just lost. Is Formenti hinting advocacy for a new, special surge of Catholic superfecundity “activity”? – insinuating that closet Catholic users of birth control ought quit? – a need for more evangelism? – hope in some Lamarckian expression for acquired-trait fideism? – population reasons for provisional reunions with Greek Orthodox? – seriously, is there something sinister lurking beneath such a report? — or, just an open musing? — what’s up?
    If I’m reading the snippet aright, it’s a Catholic-Muslim comparison. Not Christians lump sum?
    Jim

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    If I’m reading the snippet aright, it’s a Catholic-Muslim comparison. Not Christians lump sum?
    yes.

  • Jeb, FCD

    Religiopaths make stuff up all the time. Why should this be any different?

  • Jim Thomerson

    Catholics are the largest of the Christian groups: possibly even a majorty. Saw some figures some time ago and memory is fuzzy. If you look at population growth rates around the world, high growth rates correlate fairly well with low status for women. Growth rates have been historically high in the Muslim parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East. Islam is the fastest growing religion (as a result?)

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    Growth rates have been historically high in the Muslim parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East. Islam is the fastest growing religion (as a result?)
    philip jenkins claims this is way overblown. remember that christian (often catholic) africa and latin america both have very high TFR’s as well. these maps are important
    http://www.indexmundi.com/map.aspx?v=Birth+rate(births%2F1%2C000+population)
    http://soils.usda.gov/use/worldsoils/mapindex/popden.jpg
    http://www.wadsworth.com/religion_d/special_features/popups/maps/matthews_world/images/w001.jpg
    you need to combine natural increase weighted by population and religious proportions (i.e., the very high TFRs in mostly muslim niger are less important than the rather high TFRs in mostly chrisitan congo).
    finally, be careful about the self-promotion of muslims in regards to their numbers. pew religion in america survey shows that there are about the same number of self-identified buddhists in the USA as muslims
    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2008/02/pew-religion-in-america.php
    (all religious groups tend to inflate their numbers, but the numbers of muslims is of more public policy interest in the USA than buddhists)

  • http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/ Luis

    Neither Hirsi Ali is Muslim nor I am Catholic. Sects tend to inflate their numbers by not allowing apostasy or at all: if I write to “my” bishop demanding them to remove me from their lists, they’d shrug and say “no way: you were baptized when you were a few days old and hence you are a Catholic for life”.
    I know that poor semi-literate communities are more likely to keep religion high among their priorities and hence Third World countries, either Muslim, Catholic, Hinduist or whatever, are very likely to keep large crowds of such ignorant adepts of either religion. That problem has an easy cure: education, but adly most local and global tyrants are more interested normally in keeping the masses ignorant and fanatic.
    But still there’s a large difference between nominal adepts and actual followers. Depending on who you read, Albania is 75% or just 12% Muslim, for instance.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    Sects tend to inflate their numbers by not allowing apostasy or at all: if I write to “my” bishop demanding them to remove me from their lists, they’d shrug and say “no way: you were baptized when you were a few days old and hence you are a Catholic for life”.
    american evangelical sects are an exception to the rule here. many require a particular fidelity to weekly attendance or they’ll kick you off the rolls.

  • the real cmf

    Two things: first I think it is just plain creepy to think of a catholic ‘on top’ of anything….
    Second, in this phrase “For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us”
    I think the proper verb/phrase would be “bred in higher numbers than us”…religions that preach against birth control, and for sexual ignorance should be mandated to call it what it is: breeding.
    They all inflate the numbers, like hunting chimps beating and puffing their chests at the perimeter, drooling over future kills….
    http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/greatc.html#religions
    or this one:
    “1.84 billion Muslims…”( and some nearly objective analysis)
    http://www.islamicpopulation.com/
    maybe the ‘slippage’ is the fault of those d^mn Catholics for Choice;-)
    http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/documents/CFCWADMapFINAL.pdf

  • Arnold

    Luis,
    You confuse terms. Your Bishop cannot erase your baptism. That happened and is forever. However, that does not mean that you are still on any church membership rolls. If that were so, then the Catholic numbers in say, Latin America, would be much higher than they are if you assume that everyone baptized Catholic remains in the Church stats.
    P.S. Get rid of that snotty elitist attitude about religious believers.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    However, that does not mean that you are still on any church membership rolls.
    in the USA this is a problem in comparing different churches. i.e., catholics tend to have lower requirements that evangelical protestants so numbers in localities tend not to add up.

  • the real cmf

    Oxymoronic contradiction alert: “religious believers”…
    and when you say “the Catholic numbers in say, Latin America, would be much higher than they are if you assume that everyone baptized Catholic remains in the Church stats”
    I think you are forgetting all of those babies that the young nuns drop down the wells, but secretly count, or all the good folks ‘in heaven, at the right hand of jeezus’
    St. Peter is keeping count right?…

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    can people chill on the retarded comments? i’m going to have to close the thread otherwise.

  • http://drdipwad.blogspot.com R.C.

    Razib:
    I agree wholeheartedly re: “the retarded comments.”
    Some observations:
    1. Obviously the stats are referring to persons “alive in the body” not saints in heaven or purgatory.
    2. Catholics view birth control as amoral for “natural law”/”dignity of the body” reasons related to their opposition to masturbation. It doesn’t have anything to do with the practical question of what will make more Catholics.
    3. Obviously there were more Catholics than Muslims prior to Mohammed’s founding of Islam, and for many years thereafter. So there were clearly not “more Muslims than Roman Catholics until about the 18th century…”; even if we grant that Muslims eclipsed Catholics at some time before the year 1000, it would not have happened instantly.
    4. Obviously everyone wants to inflate his own figures, and diminish those of his competition. So we must measure on the basis of outward appearances. How misleading is this?
    It’s plausible that outward appearances are more misleading with respect to Islam than Catholicism. After all, in Catholic-majority societies, there has generally been little at risk in being a non-Catholic. (Notable exceptions include the Albigensians and the Jews who were mistreated en route to crusades and during the Spanish Inquisition.) Throughout much of the West, it’s fair to say that there’s a mild social disapproval toward Catholics. A person raised Catholic who abandons the Catholic faith certainly suffers no social stigma.
    By contrast, Muslim-majority societies often represent hostile territory for non-Muslim residents. “Muslims” who are closet atheists or agnostics, and Muslims who convert to other faiths, probably number in the tens of millions. But what percentage of those publicly identify themselves? Less than ten percent, perhaps? It’s one thing, as among Catholic and Jewish families, to suffer purely familial disapproval for straying. It’s quite another to be disenfranchised, and risk being jailed or hanged for it.
    5. It is true that “Catholic compared to Muslim” is somewhat apples-to-oranges. “Christian compared to Muslim” is a more direct comparison; or, “Catholic to Sunni.”
    This leads to another observation about the difficulty of counting religious adherents, which you (Razib) noted: The fact that Evangelical Christians tend to focus on a “conversion experience” to mark actual belief, rather than birth statistics. It is reasonable to assume their numbers of “believer’s baptisms” (i.e., voluntary teen or adult baptisms after a “profession of faith”) represent a far more accurate gauge of persons who actually believe and practice their denomination of Christianity than numbers generated by counting baptized infants (as in the Catholic case) or family members generally (as in the Muslim case).
    All in all, I conclude that the numbers are unreliable on all sides, even as measurements of that which they could possibly measure (outward behavior or self-identification). Since the counting methodology is different between the different faith groups, the numbers generated cannot even be compared to one another.
    And they are certainly unreliable as a tally of heartfelt believers. “God” (and presumably He alone) “looketh at the heart.”

  • Steve

    Amen to that! :-)

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    After all, in Catholic-majority societies, there has generally been little at risk in being a non-Catholic.
    you said has, and that’s really not right. e.g., the revocation of the edict of nantes was only the most extreme case of using various levels of persecution to re-catholicize protestant minorities in catholic monarchies after the reformation. do note that the protestant (reformed) concentration in hungary is found in the areas which were conquered by the turks, and so were outside the purview of the counter reformation efforts of royal hungary (hapsburg).
    (and of course in much of the protestant world there was an inverted presecution of catholics, though only in scandinavia was it as successful as the catholics were in places like spain or italy)
    Since the counting methodology is different between the different faith groups, the numbers generated cannot even be compared to one another.
    i think the numbers can give us insight into broad historical dynamics. these sorts of critiques can be brought up for the 1871 bengal census which showed that bengal was no longer a majority hindu domain (to the surprise of all). on the margins there might be some debate, but the overall trend was confirmed….

  • Luis

    http://www.religionstatistics.net/noreleng.htm
    Spain:
    Usual statistics: 95% Catholics

    - New statistic: 3% Atheist; 18% Agnostic; 3% Pseudoatheist (ISSP98 computing); 18% Deist; 14% Christian deist; 21% Neodoukhobor; 24% is really catholic (and conservative and with weekly attendance).
    - New statistic II: 11.5% Atheist; 12% Agnostic; 3% Pseudoatheist (ISSP98 computing); 11% Deist; 25.5% Christian deist; 14% Neodoukhobor; 22.5% Catholic.
    - New statistic (WVS 2000): 12% Atheist; 5.5% Agnostic; 2% Pseudoatheist; 37% Deist; 2% Christian deist; 14% Neodoukhobor; 27% Catholic.
    (Note: Neodukhobor is a catch-all term used in that site for people who may believe in things like reincarnation or astrology with no partcular structured religious faith).
    It’s all the same all around the world when you look at what people really belief and what people actually practice (such statistics are not availble for many countries, certainly):
    - Austria: 12-15% Catholic
    - Greece: 27% Orthodox
    - Finland: 25% Protestant
    - Albania: 12% Muslim, 4% Catholic, 2% Orthodox
    - UK: 16-23% Christian (several sects)
    - Portugal: 13% catholic by belief or 37% by regular church attendance
    - Netherlands: 10-16% Christian (various sects)
    - Belgium: 13% Catholic
    - Germany: 15% Christian (Protestant and Catholic almost evenly)
    - Ukraine: 9% Christian (mostly Orthodox)
    - Russia: 1% Orthodox, 1% Muslim (though guess it may have increased since 2000).
    - France: 5.5-12% Catholic, 1% Muslim
    - Serbia & Montenegro: 0-5% Orthodox, 1% Muslim
    - South Africa: less than 20% Christian
    - D.R. Congo: Christians (Catholic mostly): 5%
    - Canada: 10% Protestant, 15% Catholic
    - Mexico: 7% Catholic
    - Brazil: 1-5% Catholic
    - Venezuela: 20% Catholic, 11% Protestant
    - Bolivia: 31% Catholic or Protestant (but mostly sychretic with native beliefs)
    - Argentina: 15% Catholic, 2% Muslim, 1% Judaist
    - Australia: 25% Christian (several groups)
    - Turkey: 30% “true” Muslim
    The USA is a mayor exception: 54% Christian!!! Other countries with large nubers of “true” Christians are Puerto Rico (40%), Philippines (56%) and South Korea (40%).

  • Thermon

    Enumerating Catholics is often a game of definitions. The line between nonbeliever and nominal Catholic is numerically very important in Europe, but also now in Latin America and the Philippines. In fact if you measured allegiance by butts on pews on a Sunday Latin America is now more Protestant than it is Catholic. I’m not saying that that’s the most reasonable measure, but it does show how religion figures can be very arbitrary.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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