The good news: big attrition of Christians in the U.S., atheists and agnostics increasing

May 12, 2015 • 8:30 am

I’m giving the good news to you first, as there’s bad news immediately to come. A Pew Survey released today, which polled more than 35,000 adults, shows that the proportion of Christians in America is dropping sharply, while the “unaffiliated” are taking their place. As the report notes,

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

. . . However, generational replacement is by no means the only reason that religious “nones” are growing and Christians are declining. In addition, people in older generations are increasingly disavowing association with organized religion.

You can find a full pdf of the report here, but for the moment here’s all ye need to know (note that the reported changes are only over the last 7 years). The “unaffiliated” (note, not all of these are nonbelievers, for many are religionists who don’t claim church membership) rose 6.7%, The decrease in Christians breaks down as follows: Evangelical Protestants down 0.9%, Catholics down 3.1%, and mainline Protestant down 3.4%; that totals 7.4%. (Non-Christians, presumably largely Muslims, rose 1.2%).  Now I’m not sure whether proportions or absolute numbers are what we should be looking at (more Christians means more mischief), for, after all, the population has grown, but the total number of Christians has still decreased as well. Read and rejoice:

PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310px

More good news: both among the unaffiliated and in the population as a whole, the proportion of agnostics and atheists is increasing:

The religiously unaffiliated population – including all of its constituent subgroups – has grown rapidly as a share of the overall U.S. population. The share of self-identified atheists has nearly doubled in size since 2007, from 1.6% to 3.1%. Agnostics have grown from 2.4% to 4.0%. And those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” have swelled from 12.1% to 15.8% of the adult population since 2007. Overall, the religious “nones” have grown from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population in the past seven years. As the unaffiliated have grown, the internal composition of the religious “nones” has changed. Most unaffiliated people continue to describe themselves as having no particular religion (rather than as being atheists or agnostics), but the “nones” appear to be growing more secular. Atheists and agnostics now account for 31% of all religious “nones,

As you see, the proportion of nonbelievers, while still quite small, has nearly doubled in both the population at large and among the unaffiliated. That means that the nay-sayers can’t claim that the “nones” are still religious, just not affiliated with a label: Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 6.51.50 AM

Still more good news: the unaffiliated are getting younger and the Christians are getting older. As they find their way to Heaven (or to the Eternal Barbecue Below), the population will become more secular:

While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46.4 By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).

PR_15.05.12_RLS-00

The gender composition of believers versus “nones” (unaffiliated) is strikingly different, with more women in the former group. That’s been the case for some decades:

As in 2007, women continue to make up more than half of nearly every Christian group. Roughly two-thirds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are women, as are 59% of those who identify with the historically black Protestant tradition, 55% of those in both the evangelical and mainline Protestant traditions and 54% of Catholics and Mormons. Most religiously unaffiliated adults, by contrast, are men. Fully two-thirds of self-identified atheists are men, as are 62% of agnostics and 55% of those who identify religiously as “nothing in particular” and further say that religion is unimportant in their lives. Among those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” but say that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, however, there are about as many women as men.

I hate to say “I told you so,” but Professor Ceiling Cat predicted this trend toward secularization several years ago. But it’s really a no-brainer: secularism is increasing all over the West, and traditional faiths look increasingly less credible. Christians are voting with their feet. And even though many of the “unaffiliated” are believers, refusing affiliation with a church is the first step on the road to unbelief. It also shows, at least to me, that the truth claims or religion can outweigh its social “benefits”, for there’s no need to leave a church (and not join another) if the church itself is meeting your needs for human fellowship.  (I presume the “unaffiliated” are not simply joining megachurches that have ping-pong tables and babysitting, for then they’d be “affiliated.”)

Finally, the level of intermarriage between people of different faiths has increased tremendously: in 1960, only 19% of married people were of different faiths, but that figure has risen to 39% in the latest survey. I suspect, but am not sure, that mixed-faith marriages are more likely to breed unbelievers than same-faith marriages.

When you extrapolate this trend over time, you’ll see that in half a century there will be a substantial proportion of nonbelievers in the U.S. New York Times and New Yorker take note—you ignore this at your peril.  Of course the trend is reversible; as Dan Dennett said in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “Why the future of religion is bleak“:

Could anything turn this decline around? Yes, unfortunately. A global plague, a world war fought over water or oil, the collapse of the Internet (and thereby almost all electronic communication) or some as-yet unimagined catastrophe could throw the remaining population into misery and fear, the soil in which religion flourishes best.

Let us pray this won’t happen. But nobody can deny that over the past half century, religion has been on the run. Nobody, that is, except religiously obtuse people like Damon Linker, who, in a vicious response to Dennett in The Week, says this:

What Dennett doesn’t mention is that the Pew study also predicts that 66.4 percent of the country will call themselves Christians in 2050 — down from 78.3 percent in 2010. That’s a noteworthy drop. But it still has Christians, along with smaller religious groups (which make up 8.1 percent of the total), amounting to roughly three-quarters of the U.S. population.

Three quarters of the country amounts to a “bleak” future for religion?

This is the desperation move of a beleaguered and God-fearing man. Who ever said that the U.S. would become like Sweden overnight?

93 thoughts on “The good news: big attrition of Christians in the U.S., atheists and agnostics increasing

  1. As slowly as progress seems on a daily basis, this type information is always encouraging; because it is a reminder that we actually ARE making progress. This is probably a lot like the change in attitude toward gays — the older generation is dying off and are not being replaced by believers in millennial generation.

  2. I’ll bet the downward trend in religion is due, at least in part, to conservatives characterizing their hate-based, discriminatory, and flagrantly unconstitutional agendas as “God’s will.” Maybe they’re making people more aware of the contrast between what their holy books say is right and what they know in their hearts is right.

    1. I’m also wondering if the recent fixation on reproductive issues and gay people is causing the rise in the unaffiliated.

      1. There are lots of dependent variables here which means all of these things probably have some effect but how much is not clear. For example, young people are more likely to accept gay rights than old people, and young people are more likely to be nones. Does the former influence the latter, or vice versa, or are both beliefs a result of some third factor? Its hard to say. Another example is age vs. gender: women live longer, so some portion of the imbalance between men and women can be explained simply by saying that older people of either sex are more likely to be believers, and there happens to be more elderly women than elderly men.

    2. I’m not sure that’s the case. Everyone I know, save those who’ve been impenetrably indoctrinated, that are religious are so because they have experienced some sort of personal tragedy, real or imagined. Those that consider themselves nones but have not come out of the atheist closet are simply apathetic toward religion. From what I’ve seen, its people that don’t want to be bothered with religion that are significantly on the rise. But this is my personal unscientific analysis.

  3. Who ever said that the U.S. would become like Sweden overnight?

    Indeed. But the August heatwave broke in Pittsburgh last night, and I woke up to what feels just like a Swedish summer morning.

    But otherwise, as PCC knows, I’ve been involved with the Carnegie library in my adopted rustbelt town for over 20yrs. I recall that we’ve been approached by church groups for use of space from time to time, but never once do I remember any church-sponsored trips to the library. Anybody else involved with libraries recall any such trips?

    Not particularly profound, but I think that’s kinda telling.

    1. I, for one, say that the US could become like Sweden overnight (with regards to organized religiosity). After all, Sweden became like modern day Sweden virtually overnight… so did the rest of northern Europe.

      What we have here is the classic “adoption” curve that characterizes the way innovations diffuse through larger networks of people, where people are largely influenced by their peers. When an innovation becomes around %10 of the population, look out — you might be in a take-off phase of change.

      I think we’re in a take-off phase in the US currently, which if I’m correct would mean that we’re in for a *much* more rapid rate of change over the next 20-40 years than what we have experienced in the previous 20-40 years. (all else being equal… societal upheavals could put in the relative stone age again, as the article suggests).

      That’s my theory, which is mine, and belongs to me…

      1. I think this trend will increase. I follow a fair amount of religious and especially newly ex-religious discussion groups to observe the current zeitgeist and reasons for leaving religion. The internet is the biggest factor in the decline of religion. Having free access to information that counters your religion’s claims, being able to converse anonymously with other people similarly questioning and researching religious claims, the anti-homosexual, anti-science stance that many religions foster that is counter to young people’s views, the changing perspective of atheists as normal people with happy productive lives…all add up to a force for change that the religious have not been able to successfully counter. Instead they are digging in their heals and resorting to retrograde actions. I think the US is likely to go the way of western Europe. It will take some time, but we will eventually be as irreligious as the UK is now. I am starting to think this might only take 20 years as I think there will be an inflection point reached were atheism will become a much easier choice to make and announce to ones religious family, friends and peers. I also think by digging in their heals and choosing a reactionary anti-science, anti-progressive, ultra-conservative agenda; the religious institutions are making the choice easier for the borderline/questioning believer to jump ship. I actually hope they continue their current strategy and it will only make the choice that more obvious. Bronze-age primitive and almost completely discredited biblical mythology vs science, rationality and progressive values. Not everyone will choose the latter, as most of us our irrational and prone to wishful and emotionally motivated reasoning. But the trend is solid and the rate is increasing. Think how fast the publics view on homosexuality has changed. Remember what it was like for homosexuals in the 50’s. Think of alan Turing. Now just 50 or so years later we are likely to see the supreme court rule for homosexual marriage. An extremely conservative dominated supreme court no less.

      2. You not only beat me to it, you wrote a much better comment than I would have. The fraction of people willing to say it hat they are atheist doubled — DOUBLED! — in just 7 years. I doubt that is because twice as many people actually became atheist in 7 years. They became willing to say it (anonymously to be sure but that is the first baby step).

    2. “Not particularly profound, but I think that’s kinda telling.”

      I think it’s profoundly telling.

      Ages ago, when I was on the edge of leaving my fundamentalist beliefs, I committed what felt at the time like an incredibly subversive act: I bought a coffee table book about galaxies and put it in the church library. It was a huge library, probably at least 5000 volumes, but other than a tiny section of history books, it was completely devoid of the smallest glimmer of interest in the actual universe we inhabit, or indeed of any kind of actual knowledge of any kind.

      At that time, probably most of that church thought the universe was 6000 years old, and felt completely confident in scoffing at the size and age of the universe, at the immensity of time geology covers, and of course evolution. There was little in this book but pictures of galaxies, but I felt like I was committing some major act of defiance simply by inserting this single benign book into the library.

      1. Good on you! It’d be interesting to know how many found that book and had their curiosity aroused.

        I too think the change in the US will be much quicker than the statisticians are predicting. Another factor they need to take into account and don’t seem to have, is the availability of high-speed internet connections, especially in schools.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but these appear to be not as well distributed in the US at this stage, while they’re common in countries like mine, which has an atheist population around 50%. High-speed internet in every school (as it almost is here), and available throughout the country, will increase the spread of atheism.

        Much of the spread of the technology will happen for economic reasons. Our farmers, for example, which are a huge part of our economy, rely on it and it contributes enormously to their efficiency. It is now an essential tool.

  4. Add up the atheists, agnostics, and the “nothing in particular / religion not important” figures and you get 16% of Americans as godless. That’s more than the mainline Protestants. And, of course, vastly more than Jews and Muslims combined.

    Would, say, NPR treat mainline Protestants, Jews, or Muslims the way they treat the godless?

    b&

    1. I’ve actually e-mailed Fox News about this after several comments about atheists being an “insignificant minority”. I pointed out that they would never describe Jews or Muslims, although there are less of them than atheists, as an “insignificant minority”.

      1. And no response from Faux News I bet. Or a canned, “Thanks for your comment.” It’s good to let the bozos know regardless that you’re on to ’em.

        1. I was quoted and got my name mentioned on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ a couple of years ago after e-mailing them. Unfortunately, it was the only time I said something good about the show!

          There are a couple of other times where things I’ve said appear to have affected what’s said on a show. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether I was the only one who said it, or if it was because of me even if I was.

          1. Shirley, they’ve got to be smart enough to not watch their own network, and certainly to not take it seriously if they do? I’d like to give the people at Fox a bit of credit….

            b&

  5. It seems plausible to me that there could be a significantly larger decrease in affiliated in the US by 2050 than what is forecasted by the Pew study. Mostly they are merely extending a trend that has taken place recently into the future. But going by history things like this can become decidedly non-linear under the right conditions.

    Contrary to that bit of optimism though, I seriously doubt we will be free of undue religious influences on secular matters in my life time, or that of my children.

    1. Sadly, I concur particularly with your second paragraph, darrelle.

      And as re the genderization of (almost all and certainly of all of the patriarchal / androcentric) religions, I am still embarrassed. One ‘d’ve thought that … … by now and throughout and because of all of the Not Male’s tribulation … … we women of the Whole World would have gotten wiser.

      One of my quite favorite pieces from off of that evil interwebs is this one! http://www.pinterest.com/pin/506655026805074947 Isn’t it darling?! And worthy.

      Would that these other still – “affiliated” people who are female ‘d finally … … ‘get it’. Finally up into their brainwashed – from – wee – childhoods’ neurons, get that it is soooo, so good, so freeing, so overwhelmingly releasing (from that tribulation! for certain) … … to straightaway as swiftly as possible head to their rack, select there their safest pair, glom onto those straps, yank up those boots and just sashayingly stroll the mothermuck away.

      Blue

      1. I hear you. Religions are really good at getting people to accept the cruelties and injustices perpetrated on them by their leaders. They have honed their tactics for centuries shamelessly exploiting common human weaknesses even as they nurture those weaknesses. And shamelessly draping it all in fraudulently illusory robes of “numinousness,” “profoundness” and “transcendentness.” It’s disgusting.

    2. Yeah, I would bet on some sort of S-curve rather than a linear trend. As S. Muth mentions, that means we’re probably going to see an increase in the growth of none affiliation/year for a while, followed by a tapering off eventually to a new equilibrium point.

  6. The other religions includes Muslims (0.9%), Buddhists (0.7%), Hindus (0.7%), and Jews (1.9%) as total part of the population. The rise was mostly Muslim and Hindu each from .4% of the population and ‘other faiths’ (from 1.2% to 1.5%). The last includes New Age (steady at .4%), Native American religions (steady at <.3%), and 'other liberal faith groups' (which is where they stuffed humanists and unitarians) (.7% to 1%).

    The survey did mention some caveats. First the interviews were done in English and Spanish so non-speakers of those languages will be undercounted (this may affect Hindu and Muslim counts) and second were done by telephone which means the religiosity of the extremely poor is less likely to be counted (e.g., Native American religions).

  7. Although a chunk of the unaffiliated are religious/new age/spiritual, I would bet that a chunk of the mainline Protestant (and possibly Catholic) group haven’t thought about the existence of gods beyond what their parents told them, but go to church for the fellowship.

        1. OK, the evidence supports that. In B&N in the Mall of America, Bloomington, there are three shelf units of science books against 10 units of “Christian Life”, 2 of Bibles, 4 of Christian fiction, and one of “Religion”.

          /@ / Bloomington, MN

      1. Well, let me me say “welcome!”

        It’s too bad the MN orchestra is touring abroad (in Cuba!). I would’ve said that would’ve been the one thing not to miss in the Twin Cities. They are truly a world-class ensemble.

        I’m sure Google can help with other ideas.

          1. Yes! They are a fine ensemble, too! It’s pretty remarkable to have two full-size professional orchestras of high quality in one(-ish) metropolitan area.

            Now, that writ, please don’t hate me, but the nitpicky musician in me has to note that the MNOrch’s playing is often at least a notch better, or more polished, than the SPCO’s.

            Have you heard the recent recordings the MNOrch made of Beethoven and Sibelius?

        1. Sadly I have little time for recreation. I have to prep for a presentation tomorrow. The best I could do was dinner at a bar in the Mall of America at Bloomington.

          /@

          Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

          >

          1. Thanks anyway for trying to enculturate me. I’m stuck this evening having dinner with The Client. I might have some free time tomorrow pm – my flight isn’t till 9pm. Others suggested the zoo… ?

            /@

    1. Any idea if this gender difference is seen in Europe as well? I can’t say I have any theory to explain the gap.

      1. My mom evidenced claim is that women are raised to conform and seek approval external to themselves (think beauty standards) so it is much harder for women to rock the boat because they feel the social cost is too high. I’m hoping with the way girls are raised changing, you see an uptick in female atheists.

        1. It is women who do most of the raising.
          I haven’t participated at all in this area of humanness but I have wondered why, given that women play such a crucial role in the raising of kids, how those roles persisted.
          My only answer, based on limited input, is that, 1, women at any given time are enmeshed in the general conditioning of the time, as we all are.
          And 2, more so, that a parent wants to equip there kids as best as possible for the world as it is, and if that means encouraging male traits in boys, to help them succeed and girl traits in girls, for the same reason, so be it.
          It would be a bold parent that would try to equip their kids for a future that may not obtain.

          I think this will change, and change exponentially once critical numbers are reached.
          In general and in gender and in religion.

      2. Using the theory that the more risky life is the more religious people will be, women are more at risk of poverty than men, so therefore more likely to feel they need religion to support them. When women are not socially and financially disadvantaged they will be as atheistic as men.

  8. I haven’t read the report, but glanced at some reports about the report – did it show that in some U.S. states “unaffiliated” was the majority response?

    1. For state-by-state results you want to look at appendix D, pages 143+. The state with the largest ‘none’ population is Vermont (37%) and the city with the largest ‘none’ population is San Francisco (35%).

      So no, there are no majority-unaffiliated states or cities.

      1. I should add that there are a few states where the nones achieve a plurality; i.e. they are the largest group in the state/city among the groups PEW tracks. However, that is an artifact of how PEW groups believers, because they divide Christians among 8 different groups. If you’re asking if there is a state or city where Nones outnumber Christians, the answer to that is no.

  9. Religion is starting to turn into an embarrassment to some people who used to visibly show their faith. Gold chain crosses are more often tucked into shirts. And those who do show their faith and more likely to be closer to fringe than moderates and they are causing the most embarrassment from within their faith.

    It’s a very welcome implosion.

  10. I think the books and public stance of the Gnu Atheists has helped speed this trend. Along with many prominent figures (especially in entertainment) “coming out” as atheists.

    It’s less of a problem to be an atheist than it has been in the past. And it seems to me that this trend is accelerating.

    Just like with gay people, when the generality of USian folks realize that their nice neighbors are (clutch my pearls!) atheists, they will start to see us differently.

      1. They won’t care. They’ve already been pwned by the data in the past, this won’t register with them.

        I haven’t been watching too closely (he makes be nauseated) — is Walker looking like he has a chance for the GOP nod? Isn’t there a lot of juicy dirt to be dug up on him?

        1. Given that the entire Republican field is bat-shit crazy, he’s got at least as good a shot as the rest, IMO. And the Koch Bros. have his back.

            1. Not necessarily. The establishment is throwing their money at Bush, last I checked in on things, and even the Kochs don’t have that much money.

              b&

        2. At this stage he’s looking pretty good. Most, perhaps all, serious commentators are putting him in the top tier of candidates.

  11. I’m looking forward to the Part II of the report, where they’ll go into the specific practices and beliefs of the various groups. Like in 2007, I expect to see a lot of confusion among the nones, with weirdly inconsistent numbers of nones believing in God, spirits, an afterlife, etc… and even some self-identified atheists claiming they believe in one or more of these things. Oh well, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    1. Yes, as interesting as the increase has been, I remain skeptical that the reasons for getting there (mostly) involve an increased appreciation for reasoning and science. It doesn’t seem to me to be a good thing if atheism was picked up for bad reasons.

      1. Why not?

        If nothing else, we won’t have to deal with Biblical justification for bullshit, and any remaining bullshit will have to stand on its own merits. Just not having the Bible as a source of authority is worth it alone.

        b&

        1. Yes, but that closes down one avenue of bad arguments. I’m thinking mainly of the “spiritual but not religious” angle, who don’t affiliate with official religions or doctrines per se, but can still come up with their own dodgy alternatives.

          And as for atheists, I’d like to know how many are of the school of thought that treats atheism as some kind of mental attitude rather than a position on belief. I’m thinking in particular of the sort who talk about theism and atheism as if they were synonyms for hope and hopelessness, respectively. People who just don’t get what the point of atheism is.

          I’d like to know what proportion they make up before I can say we’ve made good progress.

          1. I think there’s a not insignificant number of people (ie, I know many of these people) who equate simply not attending church, or not observing commandments, with atheism.

  12. OTOH, globally there is this:

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/02/living/pew-study-religion/index.html

    “Islam, the world’s fastest-growing faith, will leap from 1.6 billion (in 2010) to 2.76 billion by 2050, according to the Pew study”

    At that time, Muslims will make up nearly one-third of the world’s total projected population of about 9 billion people.

    Christianity is expected to grow, too, but not at Islam’s explosive rate. The Pew study predicts Christians will increase from 2.17 billion to 2.92 billion, composing more than 31% of the world’s population….. Atheists, agnostics and religiously unaffiliated people will increase in the United States (from 16% to 26%) but decline as a share of the total worldwide population.”

    That’s extrapolating a lot, obviously, mostly from demographics. A lot could happen to change those predictions. Still, a world with fewer Christians and more Muslims doesn’t necessarily sound like a world that is greatly improved.

      1. Muslims are increasing fastest because of a high birth rate. Considering that there is currently low internet penetration, and lower average education, both of which are fast increasing, I wonder how many of those people will remain Muslim.

        If you estimated the number of Catholics in the world based on reliable survey data, it would be tens of millions less than the number of adherents the Church says it has imo. Once you’re born into the faith, they keep counting you.

        1. Considering that there is currently low internet penetration, and lower average education, both of which are fast increasing, I wonder how many of those people will remain Muslim.

          You forgot the semi-regular killing and exile-as-flight-from-threat-of-death of apostates. That tends to keep people in the flock, at least outwardly.

        2. I do assume there will be an acceleration of Muslims leaving the faith due to these factors, though as eric says, greatly dampened by various powerful sanctions against it, including jail, death, and the range of social sanctions.

          I find my crystal ball very murky concerning the future of Islam. It’s possible that modern information sharing is so corrosive to belief that change will be very rapid. It also seems possible that Islam might be in for a hundred years of struggle before a reformed Islam emerges that gives enough breathing space for people significant numbers of people to free their minds, and in many cases bodies, enough to take advantage of that information.

          1. Any predictions a century into the future are going to have to take into account the fact that we’ll long since have stopped mining oil, and that alone has huge repercussions for civilization as an whole and the Middle East as a region.

            As such…if civilization is still thriving a century from now, I’ll confidently state that Islam is nowhere near as influential as it is today.

            b&

          2. The worry is, being a third of the world population, if they decide to cause serious trouble they can. My main comfort is they hate each other as much as they hate us, so are very unlikely to unite to try to take the West down. I do fear that as they sink back into the irrelevance of the pre-oil 19th century, they may lash out in pain and be a hazard to civilization.

    1. It doesn’t sound good, but conditions may be a lot different then.
      Islam is riding on the back of ignorance and oil money.
      When the real power, money, wains, technology should win the day. And, despite protestations otherwise, the bulk of that power, knowledge as power, will lie with the secular.

  13. in 1960, only 19% of married people were of different faiths, but that figure has risen to 39% in the latest survey. I suspect, but am not sure, that mixed-faith marriages are more likely to breed unbelievers than same-faith marriages.

    Not only that, but I’m fairly certain this is indicative of the degree of religiosity. I couldn’t imagine marrying a theist who was anything more than the cultural type, and I imagine if you take your religion seriously mixed-faith marriage would be more problematic.

  14. Linker’s piece makes a similar point, claiming that on a global basis, both Christians and Muslims will simply out-breed secular populations by a wide margin, making Dennett’s point moot at best. Linker opens the piece by dismissing Harris, Hawkins, and Hitchens as has-beens, and by wondering aloud (for rhetorical purposes) how Dennett missed the memo. I’ve never been a fan of the big four, but Linker’s links (is that a pun?) look suspect to me in that they appear to go to sources and arguments that – as best I recall – have been beaten to death many times on this site. He also relies on the argument that the New Atheist 4 only debunked know-nothing fundamentalists and therefore missed the boat on real religion. I presume he would justify his insulting style by contending that the other guys did it first.

    1. Dennett may not have been as up there as the other three popular atheists, as a popular atheist, but in his field as a philosopher dealing with modern subjects such as mind, cognition and AI he stands tall.
      He has collaborated with Douglass R Hofstadter and other luminaries, he himself is a luminary.
      Whatever sophistication there is to be claimed in religious belief, by Linker and his ilk, it pales into nothingness compared to the sophistication of work being done in science in fields like that which Dennett philosophises on.

  15. Downunder in NZ we can now find which suburbs have the highest percentage of believers/non-believers-helps in buying a house.
    <www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11447270.

    There is quite a good comment with the interactive map. Essentially it suggests religious belief declines as income increases and non-NZ born people have higher rates of belief (strong Pacifika influence). There are of course exceptions. Oriental Bay, one of the most expensive suburbs in Wellington, has a majority of believers surround by an ocean of majority non-believing areas. Them damn intellectuals up by the University top the non-belief suburbs. Interestingly "The earthquakes in Christchurch failed to bring people back to God – Christianity lost 16.5 per cent of the flock there."

    1. I was going to post that. (By the way your link is slightly borked. I’ll try:
      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11447270
      – of course it may not work any better).

      ANYWAY, NZ has gone from 55% Xtian in 2006, to 49% now.
      Somewhat embarrassingly, Auckland has gone UP by 1.2% – not my fault, honest!

      My bit of Mt Roskill (which used to be known as the ‘Bible Belt’ of Auckland) is now:
      % No Religion: 24.3
      % Christian: 34
      % Hindu: 24.3
      % Buddhist: 3
      % Muslim: 10.7
      % Jewish: 0.1
      % New Age: 0.3

      I’m surprised at the number of Hindus, though there are a lot of Indians around. Of course one can (usually) spot the Muslims, the only way one can spot a Hindu is to assume that anyone who looks Indian probably is Hindu. I’m surprised there aren’t any Sikhs, unless they got lumped in with something else.

      1. I later found the mesh block data on the Stats website which gets it down to about 90 people. Of those within about 5 houses either side there area 48 non-believers, 30 Christian and 3 Buddhist.

  16. This report about declining religiosity and an increase in atheism was fairly prominent on NPR news this afternoon.

  17. This report about declining religiosity and increasing atheism was fairly prominent on NPR news this afternoon.

  18. Unfortunately, as christians feel more threatened, they are spurred into passing more and more pro-religion legislation, especially here in the South. A bit like a retreating army burning the towns and salting the fields.

  19. pbs news hour’s coverage of this was revealing.

    like npr they must feel pressure not to ruffle the feathers of the religious for fear of losing funding/donations especially from the deep pockets of the templeton foundation.

    i assume templeton is the reason pbs is so gung-ho on religious programming and has such a pronounced pro-religion bias.

    the anchor felt the need to preface the segment “losing our religion” by reassuring the audience that while there was a relatively big decline christians were still the overwhelming majority.

    this was followed by a discussion with one of the pew researchers and a pastor from oklahoma who was relieved that the number of young black and brown pentecostals was growing, bucking the trend of the young to stray from religion.

    no meaningful discussion of the reasons for the rise of secularism.

    ended with the further reassurance that although religion was declining in the west it was growing worldwide though that might lead to misunderstandings between the two worlds.

    no specific mention of the rise of atheists/agnostics.

    at least there was no new atheist bashing.

  20. I global plague may turn this trend around, but, didn’t the Black Death help break the power of the church.
    It showed that there was no causal connection to punishment and reward, that prayer was useless and priest were dropping like flies.

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