The Great Courses

Atheism On The Rise

The Thinking Atheist
Nov 11, 2011 at 10:26 AM
5 years ago

I was in a discussion with a theist recently, and she tossed out a zinger.  She informed me that (paraphrasing) "the scientific community is largely rejecting the idea of Evolution and embracing the biblical Creation account." 

When I picked my jaw up off of the floor, I reminded her that 93% of the National Academy of Sciences rejects any god.  She, of course, brushed that statistic aside as a biased, false, obviously contaminated sample (no doubt influenced by that crafty devil).

My apologist adversary then informed me that there's a Christian revival happening throughout America as huge throngs return to God.  Again, I countered that non-belief is actually the largest growing religious demographic (for lack of a better category), and she dubiously replied, "I'd like to see those statistics."

Glad she asked. 

A recent Harris poll shows non-believers in America at 18%, and more Americans currently support Evolution by Natural Selection (45%) than Intelligent Design (40%.)

 A common misstatement is the claim that "9 out of 10 Americans believe in God."  This claim confuses belief in God with Religious Supernaturalism, and it's demonstrably false.  Christians who toss out the 90% figure ignore all of the non-Christian elements lumped into the survey's God column, including the following figures for those polled:

42% believe in ghosts.
32% believe in UFOs.
26% believe in astrology.
23% believe in witches.
20% believe in reincarnation.

Not exactly Sunday-go-to-Meetin', huh.

Even Gallup's data on religion in America (despite a misleading headline) ultimately reveals the telling sentence in the final section: "Given the ability to express doubts about their beliefs, the percentage who stick to a certain belief in God drops into the 70% to 80% range." 

In other words, when presented with other options, many supposed God-believers instead shrug and say, "Meh."

More and more people are eschewing the inherited belief systems of their families and cultures.  According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the number of "nonreligionists" has skyrocketed over the last century across the planet:

1900 :  3.2 million
:  679 million
:  918 million...with 8.5 million new apostates annually worldwide.

The National Religious Identification survey conducted by Trinity College in Connecticut reveals that atheism is on the rise in the United States.  The Pew Research Center reports that "younger generations are also significantly less likely than older ones to affiliate with a religious tradition."  26% of those under the age of 30 said they were "unaffiliated" (that's 1 in 4 who define themselves as "atheist," "agnostic" or "nothing in particular").  In fact, today’s twentysomethings are twice as likely to be irreligious as their 1990 counterparts.

A November 3, 2011 article sums it up in it's sub-header, "How Generations Have Changed."  

Christian author Drew Dyck agrees, saying "I think there has been a lot of evidence that they (young people) are dropping religion at a greater rate than the younger adults of yesteryear."   He's convinced enough to have written a book on the subject, "Generation EX-Christian: Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith...And How to Bring Them Back"

Also notable is the recent dominance of bestselling atheist books in the marketplace.  Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" was the #2 hardcover on, with sales well over two million by early last year.  Christopher Hitchens hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list with his 2007 book, "God is not Great."  Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" debuted on the same list at #7. 

Millions are casting off the superstitions of their families and cultures and are proud to be counted as non-believers - in the polls, in their households, in their places of work- despite so often having their characters, reputations, integrity, morality and sanity questioned. They've decided they would rather embrace an unpopular truth than a saccharine fantasy, and as more and more step forward, those in the wings are gaining courage.

But the religious will not concede.  They will not go quietly.  As the tide continues to build, expect longer, louder and more desperate protests from the devout as they watch the foundation crumble under their wild, superstitious, ludicrous claims.  They'll position "experts" at the podiums and pulpits.  They'll scour the globe for signs.  They'll stretch themselves to pretzel proportions to make sense of the nonsensical. 

And as the religious froth and clamour to defend their invisible father and his ancient book of angels, devils, curses and spells, just remember that more and more men, women and young people are instead casting off the fairy tales and checking the box under "irreligious."  They're standing to be counted.  And for those recently free of their religious chains, they're discovering the real world for the first time.

I wonder what those statistics will look like in another 20 years.




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