Sex differences in global atheism, part N

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2010 2:55 pm

Whenever I blog religion and atheism I brace for a bunch of uninformed comments. Everyone has an opinion, but few seem genuinely interested in digging for data, or reading about the history of religion, and the empirical realities of the phenomenon. If you are an exception to this trend, you’re awesome, and more power to you. Seeing the responses around the blogosphere to some of my posts it is immediately obvious that people don’t make recourse to the GSS, WVS, or The Religious Landscape Survey, let alone read books like In Gods We Trust or The Reformation. I could go on, but there are so many data sources, and proportionally so little interest in relation to the broader enthusiasm for opining on the topic.

As an aside, in my previous post I alluded to the fact that atheism is not a white thing. I didn’t lay it out explicitly, but far too much of commentary on power dynamics and human affairs is locked into the age of white supremacy. There are Chinese mining towns all over Africa, and we’re still fixated on the legacies of the mustachioed men of yore. Some new thought is needful.

In any case, whenever I post on atheism or religion the data comes calling to me, and begs me to revisit it. Questions, questions. I’m always curious if I can find something new, a twist, a novel inference. So I decided to look for patterns in the WVS wave 5 in regards to the well known phenomenon of male excess in the area of atheism. The data are country-by-country. Below are some plots. The asked was if one was a religious person, and I’m looking at those who asserted they were “convinced atheists.”

no images were found

The first plots aren’t super interesting. What you’re seeing is that absolute differences in percentage of atheists by sex increase as the percentage of atheists increase. The variance of the latter explains 75% of the variance in the former. Rather, it is better to look at the ratio of males to females. That’s in the third plot. Comparing that to the percent of atheists in the fourth plot you see an interesting trend: the maximum ratio seems to be at low, but not trivial, levels of atheism. As atheism becomes more common in society the sex ratio abates, though it does not disappear. The last plot has a log-scale to show the pattern more clearly. Note that I had to remove some nations from the ratio list because there were basically no atheists, period.

Here are the raw data tables:

Total Male Female
Country Atheist Religious Not Religious Atheist Religious Not Religious Atheist Percent difference Ratio
Romania 0.6% 90.5% 8.4% 1.1% 95.9% 4.0% 0.1% 1.0% 11.00
Guatemala 0.8% 68.5% 30.0% 1.5% 75.7% 24.1% 0.2% 1.3% 7.50
Poland 1.4% 92.5% 4.9% 2.6% 96.4% 3.2% 0.4% 2.2% 6.50
Ethiopia 0.4% 78.9% 20.6% 0.6% 83.4% 16.5% 0.1% 0.5% 6.00
Chile 3.2% 56.2% 38.1% 5.6% 72.4% 26.5% 1.1% 4.5% 5.09
United States 3.6% 65.1% 28.9% 6.0% 78.6% 20.1% 1.2% 4.8% 5.00
Indonesia 0.3% 82.5% 17.1% 0.4% 86.9% 13.0% 0.1% 0.3% 4.00
Trinidad 0.5% 81.3% 18.0% 0.7% 86.9% 12.9% 0.2% 0.5% 3.50
Italy 2.7% 82.8% 13.0% 4.1% 93.1% 5.7% 1.2% 2.9% 3.42
Spain 7.4% 36.6% 51.8% 11.6% 53.9% 42.5% 3.6% 8.0% 3.22
Peru 1.4% 77.4% 20.4% 2.2% 86.4% 12.9% 0.7% 1.5% 3.14
Ukraine 3.0% 71.5% 23.7% 4.8% 88.0% 10.4% 1.6% 3.2% 3.00
Uruguay 7.6% 45.0% 43.2% 11.8% 65.4% 30.3% 4.3% 7.5% 2.74
Turkey 0.5% 79.6% 19.6% 0.8% 85.5% 14.2% 0.3% 0.5% 2.67
Colombia 0.5% 75.5% 23.7% 0.8% 84.4% 15.3% 0.3% 0.5% 2.67
Cyprus 2.1% 49.7% 47.1% 3.1% 71.7% 27.0% 1.3% 1.8% 2.38
Argentina 2.3% 72.5% 24.2% 3.2% 88.8% 9.8% 1.4% 1.8% 2.29
South Africa 1.2% 73.1% 25.2% 1.6% 89.4% 9.9% 0.7% 0.9% 2.29
Bulgaria 5.3% 57.1% 35.5% 7.5% 69.4% 27.3% 3.3% 4.2% 2.27
Finland 3.1% 51.3% 44.4% 4.3% 68.3% 29.8% 1.9% 2.4% 2.26
Japan 13.7% 21.6% 59.2% 19.3% 26.4% 64.6% 9.0% 10.3% 2.14
Malaysia 2.3% 87.4% 9.4% 3.2% 90.7% 7.8% 1.5% 1.7% 2.13
Serbia 4.0% 83.3% 11.4% 5.3% 87.7% 9.8% 2.6% 2.7% 2.04
Russia 4.4% 61.6% 32.3% 6.1% 83.2% 13.8% 3.0% 3.1% 2.03
Iran 0.1% 80.7% 19.1% 0.2% 86.6% 13.3% 0.1% 0.1% 2.00
Norway 6.8% 30.5% 60.5% 9.0% 52.3% 43.1% 4.6% 4.4% 1.96
Netherlands 7.5% 50.8% 39.2% 9.9% 62.9% 32.0% 5.1% 4.8% 1.94
Slovenia 9.8% 66.2% 20.5% 13.3% 77.8% 15.2% 7.0% 6.3% 1.90
Canada 6.6% 60.8% 30.5% 8.7% 72.1% 23.3% 4.6% 4.1% 1.89
Moldova 1.0% 75.8% 23.0% 1.3% 91.4% 7.8% 0.7% 0.6% 1.86
Hong Kong 5.4% 19.8% 73.2% 7.0% 34.1% 62.1% 3.8% 3.2% 1.84
France 17.1% 42.0% 35.6% 22.3% 51.5% 36.3% 12.3% 10.0% 1.81
Andorra 14.2% 40.1% 42.0% 18.0% 56.9% 32.9% 10.1% 7.9% 1.78
Sweden 17.2% 26.4% 52.0% 21.6% 40.6% 46.6% 12.8% 8.8% 1.69
South Korea 28.6% 23.0% 41.4% 35.6% 37.1% 41.3% 21.7% 13.9% 1.64
New Zealand 7.0% 43.3% 48.2% 8.5% 55.1% 39.7% 5.2% 3.3% 1.63
Germany 19.2% 36.7% 39.5% 23.7% 48.6% 36.5% 14.9% 8.8% 1.59
Iraq 2.7% 54.3% 42.5% 3.2% 55.1% 42.8% 2.1% 1.1% 1.52
Burkina Faso 1.6% 90.8% 7.3% 1.9% 92.2% 6.6% 1.3% 0.6% 1.46
Mexico 2.9% 70.6% 26.0% 3.4% 80.0% 17.6% 2.4% 1.0% 1.42
Viet Nam 23.6% 32.2% 40.7% 27.1% 46.6% 33.6% 19.8% 7.3% 1.37
Taiwan 16.8% 40.1% 40.5% 19.4% 40.4% 45.4% 14.2% 5.2% 1.37
China 17.9% 20.7% 58.7% 20.7% 22.8% 61.7% 15.6% 5.1% 1.33
Switzerland 7.9% 59.8% 31.2% 9.0% 69.0% 24.0% 7.0% 2.0% 1.29
Great Britain 10.4% 42.4% 46.0% 11.6% 54.5% 36.3% 9.3% 2.3% 1.25
Australia 9.9% 46.8% 42.8% 10.4% 56.2% 34.4% 9.5% 0.9% 1.09
Mali 0.4% 97.5% 2.1% 0.4% 97.8% 1.8% 0.4% 0.0% 1.00
India 2.5% 74.4% 23.2% 2.4% 82.7% 14.6% 2.7% -0.3% 0.89
Brazil 1.2% 84.7% 14.2% 1.1% 91.1% 7.6% 1.3% -0.2% 0.85
Thailand 0.2% 35.4% 64.5% 0.1% 35.5% 64.3% 0.3% -0.2% 0.33
Rwanda 0.1% 93.5% 6.5% 0.0% 94.9% 5.0% 0.1% -0.1% 0.00
Egypt 0.0% 90.1% 9.9% 0.0% 95.1% 4.9% 0.0% 0.0% #DIV/0!
Morocco 0.0% 91.3% 8.7% 0.0% 92.3% 7.7% 0.0% 0.0% #DIV/0!
Jordan 0.1% 88.7% 11.1% 0.2% 95.6% 4.4% 0.0% 0.2% #DIV/0!
Georgia 0.3% 94.3% 5.1% 0.6% 98.6% 1.4% 0.0% 0.6% #DIV/0!
Ghana 0.5% 91.3% 7.7% 1.0% 91.8% 8.2% 0.0% 1.0% #DIV/0!
Zambia 0.5% 88.0% 11.0% 1.0% 91.1% 8.9% 0.0% 1.0% #DIV/0!
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis, Religion
MORE ABOUT: Atheism, Sex Difference, WVS
  • Old Gringo Stan

    The religious meme is powerfull and makes life less complicated for the weak minded…….they are trying to make a living and raise a family, religion is all pervasive. I was busy and didn’teven realize I was an athiest untill I was in my late 50′s. It hit me like a ton of bricks…….my goodness, I am a rational hairless ape, there are no invisibles living in the sky…:)….I am 74 now and reading Sam Harris and Dawkins was refreshing. Jacob Bronowski (spell?) got me started thinking in 1974 with the Ascent of Man. He also wrote Science and Human values…..which other athiests have imitated…..science should create the habit of truth.

  • Old Gringo Stan

    Ran into my high school sweetheat at my 55th high school reunion…..I was appaled she was a 6000 year earther……and highly educated????

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    It seems to me that at least part of the Ratio vs. total percent trend on the left hand side of the plot is the noise that results from a low sample. Take Romania. 0.1% of the females claim to be atheist. It’s not hard to get a ridiculously high ratio when the number in the denominator is 0.001. On the other hand, it’s also not hard to get a small ratio when the numerator is 0.001, as it is in Thailand.

    For reference, here’s some hastily made duplicates of your last two graphs with the ratio inverted:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/34457952@N00/5188336419/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/34457952@N00/5188336367/

    Now, there is an downward trend in the ratio (or an upward trend in the reversed ratio), but that’s to be expected, as at 100%, the ratio is necessarily 1. Now it’s true that you could hypothetically have a society where all the men were atheists and all the women theists at ~50% total percent atheist, but in general, the ratio will trend toward 1 as total percent atheist increases.

    I’m certainly not ruling out an actual pattern, but I think that the pattern shown is a bit deceiving because of the amount of noise it’s subject to in the countries with low levels of atheism and the natural trend toward 1 that occurs as the proportion of atheists in a country approaches 100%.

  • dan

    obviously, there’s a biological reason for the male/female difference but what is it razib? i’d suspect there’s even a biological effect of race as asian pops have a higher IQ.

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    Just for a bit of clarification on the issue of the trends in the ratio plot, here’s a simple chart showing the upper and lower bounds that a male/female ratio can take in this case:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/34457952@N00/5188388365/

    At the limit of the upper bound as the percentage approaches 50% is ∞ and the lower bound is 0. So obviously, since the country with the highest percentage of professed atheists, South Korea only has a 28.6% total percentage atheist, which is well below the 50% threshold where these bounds are applicable, but I think that the pattern they show is informative in interpreting the scatter plots of the m/f ratio vs. tpa. The bounds represent absolutely insane scenarios where all of one sex are atheist and a minimum of the other are. In the real world, it seems that the ratio falls within a more realistic set of bounds.

    While typing that, I thought I’d throw in another plot. Here’s taking the ratio between the percent difference between males and females and dividing it my the total percent atheist, plotted against the total percent atheist of the a country:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/34457952@N00/5188418265/

    I think that it better shows the trend. Certainly we can still see a slight bias toward more masculine atheism in countries with lower levels of atheism, but it doesn’t look as pronounced. Of course, there is a similar caveat that as the tpa approaches 100%, the ratio here approaches 0%, but the bounds are symmetrical though not centered around the mean ratio, making that trend forcing less pronounced.

    Maybe I’ll think of an even better way to present that particular data trend, but it seems to me that the ratio here centers around ~50% with with more spread of ratios in nations with lower percentages of atheists.

  • Adriana

    @dan: why is it obvious that the difference has to be biological? What about environmental factors? Not every observed gender difference can be explained biologically. In this case, it is likely that it is not, reasoning from the fact that the % of atheist or non-religious people has changed quite drastically in recent years. If it was biological, one would not expect such a huge spread in the % of non-religious women in the different countries. For example, in Italy, 5.7% of females declare themselves non-religious, while in Spain 42.5% are non-religious. There are not that many genetic differences between Spanish and Italian women (or men of course) (see Razib”s very nice HapMap blog posts and graphs with ancestry informative marker components).

  • dave chamberlin

    I tripped over a fantastic out of print book in a used book store “The History of Christianity” by Paul Johnson. I couldn’t for the life of me relate to deeply religious people before I read this book, they just seem so desperately foolish from my vantage point as a very comfortable modern man born into a happy non religious suburban home. Christianity wasn’t just created by Jesus, it evolved for centuries before it reallty took off in popularity, and in that time frame it changed to cater to mass appeal.

    It is easy to look down at the deeply religious for their flawed thinking, to simply dismiss them as ignorant and stupid, but there but for the grace of our being born in good times go us. Well I still don’t relate to religious people, but I’m not so quick to dismis them as simply stupid. I fell madly in love with a women and am now going on thirty five years of marriage. That is another positive feed back loop just like religion that makes people happy. Of course I haven’t tried to shape a total world view providing all the answers to everything just because I fell in love. The argument I have with the clergy is when they forget they are in sales, not management. I think I have gone on long enough, I can’t compare to Razib and others here in intellectual eloquence so I’ll end here. To be an atheist is be fortunate enough to be born in good times with a clear mind. Instead of looking down at others try to be grateful for what you have and the times you live in.

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    @Adriana:
    In this case, it is likely that it is not, reasoning from the fact that the % of atheist or non-religious people has changed quite drastically in recent years.

    Certainly it would be strange to think that there was simple line of causation that acceptance of atheism was a function of genetic factors. It seems pretty clear that cultural factors are responsible for most of the current and past distributions of atheists internationally.

    However, if you look at the graph in the last Flickr link in the post preceding yours, it’s pretty clear that the gap between male and female atheists in a country is centered around 50%, meaning that there is a pretty consistent trend across the globe that males are more likely to be professed atheists than females. In fact, you can see from the data that there are only four countries where female atheists outnumber males: Rwanda, Thailand, Brazil, and India and all of those are 2.5% (India) or below in that percentage.

    I think it would silly to assume that there were not cultural factors that could vary that ratio, and indeed I suspect that much of the variation is a result of cultural factors, but at the same time, the distribution is very lopsided and it would strike me as strange if differences in the biological propensities of men and women did not play a role in what seems to be a rather consistent trend toward more atheism among men than among women.

    It would be nice to see historical data on this issue, but I would like to end by saying that the change in absolute percentages of atheists over time does not imply that the gap between men and women here is a recent occurrence. Certainly, it’s a possibility and we wouldn’t know for sure until we looked at historical data, but given the rather consistent trend across the entire globe, I suspect that the tendency of men to be more atheistic has been around for a while.

  • dan

    adriana – yes, the entire world just *happens* to have a divide between men and women in this instance. if you can’t notice this you haven’t understood even one of the most basic themes of Razib’s blog.

  • pconroy

    Adriana,
    You need to compare WITHIN country, not across countries – so that cultural influences can be factored out

  • Adriana

    @Ming: what I meant to say it that it does not seem likely at this point (though of course we would need real data) to attribute the majority of the gender difference in atheism levels to biological factors. Even if the gap was pretty much the same throughout history, it still does not imply biological factors because culture has always played a very big role in gender differences.

    What I would like to know is why in countries like Australia, with ~50% of people being religious, the gap is <1%, is there something peculiar to the biology of Australian women?

    And what about countries like India or Brazil, both huge countries that are very religious, where there are more atheist women than men?

    If i had to spend my hard earned grant money studying the reasons behind the gender gap in atheism, I would not focus on biology first.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    In a nutshell, it seems like the sex difference is driven by greater female sensitivity to not offending prevailing social norms.

  • http://abugblog.blogspot.com Blackbird

    Unfortunately, in some countries is bad enough being born a woman, so it would be even worse to admit to being, or have become, an atheist. Women conform to expected norm in many countries because of prevalent sexual discrimination, because they have to, not because they are biologically compelled to do so. Society as a whole, starting by parents and extended family, could be more lenient to males deviating from cultural expectations than females, possibly fearing that they wont be able to find a husband – which, of course, they will expect to be religious – wanting to marry their deviant daughter.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Society as a whole, starting by parents and extended family, could be more lenient to males deviating from cultural expectations than females, possibly fearing that they wont be able to find a husband – which, of course, they will expect to be religious – wanting to marry their deviant daughter.

    hm. perhaps. but please note that islamic apostasy laws generally give more slack in things like repentance time before execution because the female rejection of norms is considered less destabilizing to the social (muslim apostasy laws are predicated not so much on deviation from correct belief, but the idea that it is political treason).

    also, there’s the question of the persistence of sex differences in societies where religious belief is not necessarily the norm or the expectation. a disproportionate number of temple and church-goers in korea remain women.

  • a proud third

    The asian countries are not ranking that high because of biological nor environmental reasons but out of a – surprise – religous reason. It is no problem at all to be a buddhist AND an atheist. Buddha himself was at least agnostic.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • Golden1

    I’m more interesting in the countries that do not have any level of atheism and why that could be. What are the levels of atheism in current hunter-gatherer societies? Would this resemble atheism levels in the EEA?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i would have made #17 comment of the week!

  • Golden1

    People can (and do) argue until they’re blue in the face about levels of atheism or religiosity in modern societies, but what is most often forgotten in how this relates to our evolutionary past. Religion as a byproduct of other mental modules that were selected for is an argument worth exploring. Could it not be that atheism is simply a natural though small variation in the cognitive mechanisms that were directly selected for? Barring any issues with self-report validity, this would explain a longitudinal stability in global reports of atheism.

  • Pingback: Asian Buddhists are not atheists | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    @Razib:
    What were the questions used to generate this data from the WVS?

    @Angela
    what I meant to say it that it does not seem likely at this point (though of course we would need real data) to attribute the majority of the gender difference in atheism levels to biological factors. Even if the gap was pretty much the same throughout history, it still does not imply biological factors because culture has always played a very big role in gender differences.

    Nothing is implied here at all. At the moment, we are both speculating on factors that are very difficult to assess. Now, you say that culture has always played a very big role in culture differences. This is true, but that’s not a particularly precise characterization. In this case, it’s obvious that culture plays a large role as one’s religious beliefs are an element of culture.

    However, given the very consistent…I will say surprisingly consistent…tendency for a greater proportion of men to be atheists than women across the globe with essentially a gap in percentage that centers around 50% of the percentage of atheists in a country, it seems like there is a “baseline” from which countries individually deviate. It seems to me that part of the ultimate reason that this baseline is near 50% and not 0% could be a result of the “psychic unity of mankind”, in which the propensities of men and women across cultures is shaped by the same basic psychological mechanisms. I would suspect that cultural variation would play a bigger role in accounting for the deviations. I say this with the caveat that separating biology and culture is not as easy as my last two sentences imply.

    What I would like to know is why in countries like Australia, with ~50% of people being religious, the gap is <1%, is there something peculiar to the biology of Australian women?

    Nope. At least nothing I’ve said has implied that this is the case. I’ve already said that cultural factors are doubtless a player. The reason I raise biological factors as potentially explanatory is the consistency with which the trend holds up. I’m raising it as a potential explanation for a constant background, not the variation that one does see between nations. I suspect that most if not all of the variation between nations (as opposed to between sexes) is a result of cultural differences.

    Maybe there’s a selection effect where successful modern civilizations tend to have cultural institutions that just so happen to favor more male rejection of religion than female rejection. Maybe there is a selection effect resulting from how willing men and women are willing to profess their atheism.

    What’s the reason for the gender gap in extreme sports? What’s the reason for the gender gap in engineering? What’s the reason for the gender gap in romance novel reading? I don’t think that the answer to any of these questions is simple or easy to elucidate. Furthermore, I don’t think the answer in the form of a binary “culture” vs. “biology” or even a percentage attributed to “culture” vs. a percentage attributed to “biology” would be a particularly satisfying answer. In fact, I think it’s difficult to disentangle the two because biology is the substrate upon which culture acts. The human mind is a ridiculously complex system and how many minds interact in the context of society compounds that problem to a dizzying degree.

    And what about countries like India or Brazil, both huge countries that are very religious, where there are more atheist women than men?

    I briefly touched on Brazil and India in my last comment. They are indeed large countries, but as you stated, they are very religious, and thus have very small numbers of atheists for their size and as you can see, it’s the countries where atheists are a small group that the results fan out. In fact, the general trend seems to converge as atheists form a larger and larger portion of the population. That is, in countries with few atheists, there are more outliers in terms of ratio…both up and down.

    If i had to spend my hard earned grant money studying the reasons behind the gender gap in atheism, I would not focus on biology first.

    Is that indeed what you are studying? What is it that you would focus on first?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i haven’t weighed in the sex differences, so let me say that i have a modest confidence toward the proposition that the cross-cultural difference is reflecting something biological between men and women. in particular, i think it is the psychological roots of religion which are probably the reason that there’s a difference; religious predisposition seems to rest on different mental modules like agency detection and theory of mind. on average men and women differ on these, so it is not implausible that they’d have a different expression assuming the same environment. but, if it’s modeled as a quantitative trait you have:

    1) genic variance

    2) gene X enviro interactions

    3) gene + enviro correlation

    4) enviro variance

    if you believe that men and women differ psychologically on average because of biology, and i do, and you believe that religious belief has a biological basis in part or ultimately, and i do, it isn’t too implausible to make the leap to the contention that one sex will be more predisposed to finding religious claims plausible or implausible. correlations aren’t necessarily transitive, so one needs to be careful jumping the gun.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    and of course, biological != genetic. some people have tried to trace differences in religiosity to variation in toxoplasmosis gondii infection rates. it could be something that infects men/women preferentially, and changes one’s psychological makeup. if so, “the gap” might exhibit variance by ecology.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    speaking of sex differences, something that i posted earlier might be relevant

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/07/the-girls-are-alright-they-accept-human-evolution/

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    Some modifications to my previous comment:

    First I think I found the source data (V187), so I guess I don’t need that question answered.

    Also, let me apologize for calling “Adriana” “Angela”. I would like to emphasize that this was not retaliation for being referred to as “Ming”, but a rather strange inadvertent error on my part.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    thanks for the adriana/angela thing up. i did wonder where this “angela” was….

  • deadpost

    Women and men might differ in things like agency detection, but I wonder if whether “spiritual but not religious” folks like New Agers identify with atheist as a term rather than pantheist or some equivalent. Stigma with the term as translated might explain some of the cultural differences if women are more sensitive to social norms.

    A materialistic, scientific worldview (which does not accept any supernatural thing like karma or souls) must be a really small subset of atheists, and so if a question was asked “Do you believe that no supernatural forces exist” perhaps the gender gap would be even larger.

    By the way, Razib, you know anything about if autistic or Asperger’s syndrome spectrum individuals are more likely to be atheist? If so, that’d help bolster the idea that agency detection might have to do with it.

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    deadpost:

    By the way, Razib, you know anything about if autistic or Asperger’s syndrome spectrum individuals are more likely to be atheist? If so, that’d help bolster the idea that agency detection might have to do with it.

    Earlier this year, there was a Scientific American blog post that covered a study presented a psychology convention (couldn’t find the study itself in my very quick search). Here’s the part relevant to this discussion:

    In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.” The people with Asperger’s were significantly less likely to offer such anti-teleological explanations than the atheists, indicating they were not engaged in teleological thinking at all. (The atheists, in contrast, revealed themselves to be reasoning teleologically, but then they rejected those thoughts.)

    Obviously, this wasn’t what you were asking for (I’d be interested in such statistics myself), but it does lend credence to the agency detection connection.

  • Justin Giancola

    “The religious meme is powerfull and makes life less complicated for the weak minded”

    It’s comments like this that keep this topic in the gutter and from rising the ranks to a real empirical discussion, when like Razib said there is tons of really interesting data available and deeper human connections to make. This should not be the first conclusion to hinge belief around, and it usually seems like at least the hidden cornerstone of discussion and it makes for a very stark us vs. them. People don’t want to have conversations like that, unless they want to argue. There have been plenty of geniuses throughout history (include modern) that have been very religious and pondered it actively, would we consider these people weak minded?

  • Sandgroper

    #11 Adriana – ” is there something peculiar to the biology of Australian women?”

    No, but normatively culturally they are probably on the extreme end of liberated/independent/self-assertive.

    Think Germaine Greer. She was very influential in Australia.

  • Sandgroper

    #21 Mr Meng – induce cultural change, and gaps start narrowing everywhere, nowhere more so than in engineering.

    Cricket doesn’t qualify as extreme, but how about a lady fast bowler competing against men?

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/11/21/3072342.htm

  • AG

    National IQ vs Atheism is the possible explanation.

  • Adriana

    It is studies like this one:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/11/25/15-minute-writing-exercise-closes-the-gender-gap-in-university-level-physics/

    blogged by Ed Yong, that as a scientist, make me think very hard about the powerful environmental influences on the human mind; it’s a very complex subject with plenty still to be discovered and explored. As a scientist, at this point in the game and given the available data which is ever changing, I prefer not to say ” I believe that women differ psychologically on average because of biological factors” or “I do not believe that women differ psychologically on average because of biological factors.” I tend to say that it is a very complex issue, that of course there are biological differences between males and females, and it is really interesting to understand which gender-related biological factors have a strong influence on the mind (and thus, on psychology), which have a weak influence if at all, and which biological factors are mostly irrelevant due to overwhelming cultural and societal factors. I became a scientist because I love the concept of provisional truths and adjustment of our knowledge based on more data. I’m a geneticist by background and I make a living in cancer genomics, and every day I end up seeing some new data which only increases the complexity of it all. And genetics is supposed to be pretty straightforward! Add environmental factors to all of this, and it makes for beautiful complexity that is going to keep scientists happily busy for centuries (eons?) to come.

  • Adriana

    Oh, and sorry Meng, for having misspelled your name. I am slightly dyslexic and “Meng Bomin” threw me a curve ball :-)

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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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