Map of World Religions

Everyone’s seen maps of world religions like this one.

Have you ever wondered why you never see a Map of World Science?

Let’s imagine such a map.  Over here is where scientists believe in a geocentric solar system, and over there, a heliocentric one.  This area is where they think that astrology can predict the future, and that area is where they reject the idea.  The Intelligent Design guys reign in the crosshatched area, and evolution in the dark gray area.

Naturally, each of these different groups think of their opponents as heretics, and they have fought wars over their opposing beliefs.  (To keep it manageable, I’ve shown on the map only the conflicts with more than 1000 deaths.)

Of course, the idea is nonsensical.  A new scientific theory isn’t culturally specific, and, if it passes muster, it peacefully sweeps the world.  Astronomy replaced astrology, chemistry replaced alchemy, and the germ theory replaced evil spirits as a cause of disease.  One scientist should get the same results from an experiment as another, regardless of their respective religions.  Evolution or germ theory or relativity or the Big Bang are part of the consensus view among scientists, whether they are Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Other.

Sure, there can be some not-invented-here thinking—scientists have egos, too—but this only slows the inevitable.  Contrast this with the idea that Shintoism will sweep across America over the next couple of decades and replace Christianity, simply because it’s a better idea.

Let’s go back to our map of world religions.  Religions claim to give answers to the big questions—answers that science can’t give.  Questions like: What is our purpose?  Or, Where did we come from?  Or, Is there anything else out there?  Or, What is science grounded on?

But the map shows that the religious answer to that question depends on where you are!  If you live in Tibet or Thailand, Buddhism teaches that we are here to learn to cease suffering and reach nirvana.  If you live in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, Islam teaches that we are here to submit to Allah.  We ask the most profound questions of all, and the answers are location specific?

What kind of truth depends on location?

For discovering reality, religion comes up short.  Next time someone nods his head sagely and says, “Ah, but Christianity can answer the Big Questions®,” remember how shallow that claim is.

9 thoughts on “Map of World Religions

  1. Pingback: Science Answers the Big Questions | Galileo Unchained

  2. G’day Bob, you referred me here, so how can I resist commenting? : )

    (a) The map is not very realistic. I am Australian and it is not a christian country by any definition I can think of apart from cultural roots. The same is true, I understand, about most of Europe. On the other hand, christianity is growing enormously in China, Korea and some other parts of Asia. Any conclusions from such half truths must be dodgy, surely.

    (b) Let’s see what your argument here. Trying to be fair, I think it is:

    1. There is a strong correlation between location and religion.
    2. There is not such a strong correlation between location and science.
    3. Religions claim to give answers to important questions.
    4. (from #1 & #3) The answers religion gives vary with location.
    5. Truth cannot depend on location (basically your words).
    6. Therefore religion “comes up short” in “discovering reality”.

    As soon as it is spelt out like that, it is obvious that the argument is invalid – the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises, or at least that hasn’t been demonstrated. For example:

    #4 should read “Some answers”. There are many matters on which many religions agree.

    #5 is poorly expressed. No-one suggests truth depends on location, only people’s views of some truths.

    But #6 is the killer. How do you get this from 1-5? All you can say is that religion is a matter on which people over the world disagree, and not everything that is believed can be right. That could be true even if one of the religions was absolutely true and all the others absolutely wrong.

    Try running the argument regarding other parts of life. For example, a few years ago you could have coloured the world democratic, communist, totalitarian, etc, and “proved” that democracy was no better than the other two systems because political/social truth cannot depend on location.

    Or try using the argument about worldviews, which can include religions and other philosophies like naturalism and atheism, which also exhibit a correlation with location. The argument could then be used to show that no worldview has any answers, including yours.

    Surely a more reasonable line would be to say that when we are dealing with physical facts, we can verify things easily, and that make sit easier to reach certainty. But when we are dealing with “bigger” questions, whether religion or ethics or philosophy or politics or aesthetics it is harder to verify and therefore harder to reach certainty. But these things are important parts of being human, so each of us does the best we can with what we have, and none of us can demonstrate our conclusions to others to the same degree of assurance that we feel ourselves.

    I think that is the fact of the matter, but it doesn’t make much of an anti-religion argument, does it? Best wishes.

    • (a) The map is not very realistic. I am Australian and it is not a christian country by any definition I can think of apart from cultural roots.

      Aren’t most religious people in Austrialia Christian? The map is only supposed to label the dominant religion. If you can find a more accurate map, I’d like to see it.

      #5 is poorly expressed. No-one suggests truth depends on location, only people’s views of some truths.

      And that’s my point! Now tell all the Christians that their views of Christianity’s answers to the Ultimate Questions are simply their opinions and not truth.

      That could be true even if one of the religions was absolutely true and all the others absolutely wrong.

      The point here is to contrast how science works (which has proven itself to give reliable approximations of reality) with religion. With religion, “truth” depends on location, a laughable concept.

      when we are dealing with “bigger” questions, whether religion or ethics or philosophy or politics or aesthetics it is harder to verify and therefore harder to reach certainty.

      Sounds good. Let’s encourage believers to see their beliefs as simply a culturally-defined opinion. Maybe they would then be a little more humble and not try to force their beliefs on others.

      I think that is the fact of the matter, but it doesn’t make much of an anti-religion argument, does it?

      Does it need to be? If your conclusion is that believers should be humble in their claims, that works for me.

  3. G’day Bob, I hope you’re not getting sick of me, but I’m enjoying things so far.

    “If your conclusion is that believers should be humble in their claims, that works for me.”
    Yeah, I can agree on that. It’s just that you are claiming more than that.

    “Aren’t most religious people in Austrialia Christian? The map is only supposed to label the dominant religion. If you can find a more accurate map, I’d like to see it.”
    I gather you live in the US, but you need to know that the rest of the developed world isn’t like the US. In Australia, and in most of Europe, religion is not dominant (e.g. in Australia, almost as any people disbelieve in God as believe, the number of unsure is greater than both and not all the believers are christian – the dominant culture is secularism; in UK, there are more unbelievers than believers, and many of the believers are not christians). Here are some more accurate stats – Ipsos and you can find other using Google.

    “And that’s my point! Now tell all the Christians that their views of Christianity’s answers to the Ultimate Questions are simply their opinions and not truth.”
    Sorry Bob, but it doesn’t follow necessarily. There are a lot of views, and (broadly speaking) only one can be actually true, but many are believed to be true. Some people’s beliefs are true and others are not. Just because some are wrong doesn’t mean all are wrong. So religious culture has a correlation with location, but religious belief has less of a correlation. Are you in the end interested in christian culture or belief. because if belief, the map, and your argument, are quite misleading.

    “The point here is to contrast how science works (which has proven itself to give reliable approximations of reality) with religion. With religion, “truth” depends on location, a laughable concept.”
    Science is reliable when it deals with things that can be reliable – i.e. based on sense experiences. Religion, history, law, newspaper reporting, can all be reliable in those circumstances. Science just does well because it systematises and verifies our sense experiences. But get onto the bigger questions and science is not much use at all.

    But you are right, “truth depends on location” is a laughable concept – so why do you keep saying it? People’s opportunities to do and see and believe certain things depend (in part) on location, but so what? It is likely that people’s knowledge of quantum physics depends on their education, which in turn depends in part on location, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the truth of quantum physics.

    I honestly think if you expressed your arguments in a propositional form, like I tried to do, you would see that some of them are nonsense, and this is one of them. There are conclusions that can be made about the correlation between religious culture and belief and location, but you need to be more rigorous and more evidence-based. I hope you don’t think I’m rude saying that.

    Best wishes.

    • I gather you live in the US

      Correct.

      … but you need to know that the rest of the developed world isn’t like the US.

      I was aware of that, thanks. A few of us Americans do look beyond our borders!

      Perhaps I thought that this map was more iconic than it really is. The map is simply saying “in this area, the predominant religion (if there is one) is X.” I don’t see how this is a problem.

      Are you in the end interested in christian culture or belief. because if belief, the map, and your argument, are quite misleading.

      My point was simple: the immutable answers to the Big Questions that religions boast about depend on location. We seem to have gotten off track.

      But you are right, “truth depends on location” is a laughable concept – so why do you keep saying it?

      Here, to make clear that that’s about all that I’m saying. In general, because it’s a glaring problem that Christians seem to ignore.

      • “The map is simply saying “in this area, the predominant religion (if there is one) is X.” I don’t see how this is a problem.”
        It is only a problem if it is wrong (as it is for Australia and much of Europe), if you believe it, and if you construct an argument based on that belief.

        “My point was simple: the immutable answers to the Big Questions that religions boast about depend on location.”
        No this isn’t true. It is an undoubted fact that there is a strong correlation between location and religious culture, and a weaker correlation between location and religious belief. But you didn’t stop there. You claimed that proved the religious claims were shallow. And you haven’t been able to sustain that claim. Where something is believed can have no bearing on its truth.

        Like I said on another thread, I don’t propose to pursue this matter further. It is no skin off my nose if you have what I believe is a demonstrably wrong idea based on an erroneous piece of data, so why should I bother? But thanks for your patience and courtesy, I do appreciate that and the opportunity to better understand your ideas. Best wishes.

        • It is only a problem if it is wrong (as it is for Australia and much of Europe)

          You’re saying that it is not the case that the predominant religion (of those who are religious) is Christianity? What is it then?

          If you’re simply saying (as I suspect you are), “Realize that Christianity isn’t always held by more than 50% of those countries labeled “Christian” in the map,” then, as I’ve tried to make clear, I agree.

          Where something is believed can have no bearing on its truth.

          And that Religion (in effect) changes its mind throughout the world makes it very hard for any believer to know reliably what that truth is.

          But thanks for your patience and courtesy, I do appreciate that and the opportunity to better understand your ideas.

          And thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

  4. Pingback: Word of the Day: Argument from Authority (and How Consensus Fits In) | Galileo Unchained

  5. Pingback: Word of the Day: Argument from Authority (and How Consensus Fits In) | Cross Examined

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