“When a Catholic and a Jew . . .”
Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but Ben Shapiro (a Jew) and Edward Feser (a Catholic) discuss Feser’s new book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (which by the way is a great read) on Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire “Sunday Special.”
Here is a short clip from the show in which Feser answers the question “Why Atheism is Growing?”
Feser provides a nice answer in regards to academia: overspecialization. Feser means because of the hyperspecialization of academics today, they are essentially ignorant of the arguments and reasons for God’s existence.
I think Feser is right on this analysis, but another issue I want to examine is the original question itself: “Why Atheism is Growing?”
I question the question: is atheism actually growing?
Stark challenges the claim that atheism is growing in his book The Triumph of Faith. It is published by ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute). In May of 2015 the Pew Research Center released a study announcing the declining practice of religion in general and Christianity in particular. The promotion of this new book challenges this study: “Pew says America is becoming less religious. This book proves them wrong.”
Some of the commonly held beliefs today that this The Triumph of Faith dispels include:
- Why claims about Millennials’ lack of religion are overblown and historically ignorant
- Why Islam is NOT overtaking Christianity
- How 4 out of 5 people worldwide now belong to an organized religion
- How 50 percent have attended a worship service in the past week
- Why much-ballyhooed studies from the Pew Research Center and others get the religious landscape wrong
- Why atheists remain few, anywhere—despite all the talk of the “New Atheism”
In fact the Institute for Studies of Religion did a presentation in November of 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. challenging the secularization myth. Stark can be heard discussing this issue on the podcast of Institute for Studies of Religion. Dr. Stark reveals that:
Rod lists a couple statistics to bolster this point, including 81% of the world population claiming to belong to some organized religious faith, 71% saying that religion is important in their lives, and 51% having participated in some organized form of worship in the past week. Atheism rates remains relatively stagnant with only three countries registering more than 20% of the population as non-believers. Attendance and affiliation remains most flaccid in Europe. This continent registers low among individuals who attend religious services largely because Christianity was never deeply embedded in a number of these countries to begin with (particularly in Northern Europe) and monopolized state churches have little incentive to recruit and serve members, according to Prof. Stark.
He also wrote an article about the “3 Myths about ‘Irreligious’ America, Busted” in Intercollegiate Review. He concludes that article with “Secularists have been predicting the imminent demise of religion for centuries. They have always been wrong—and their claims today are no different. It is their unshakeable faith in secularization that may be the most “irrational” of all beliefs.”
Alister McGrath has also written on the demise of atheism in his work The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. McGrath describes the “high noon” of atheism starting with the French Revolution and Voltaire of the 18th century moving on to Feuerbach, Marx and Freud of the 19th century ending with the death of God in Friedrich Nietzsche.
The 20th century, according to McGrath, saw the unexpected resurgence of religion. This is congruent with Stark’s thesis. It does not seem to be the case that atheism is on the rise worldwide.
The Futures Centre has been tracking some current trajectories and implications that include:
- In 1970, nearly 80% of the world’s population was religious. By 2010 this had risen to around 88%, and could reach almost 90% by 2020.
- Religion will likely remain a significant component of individual, community and national identity in future, with the spread of representative governments providing an opportunity for some religions to become increasingly politically assertive.
Other studies are concurrent with the aforementioned trends:
“Atheism is Down” NPR
According the William Lane Craig, he reports that theism is growing in Germany and Japan while atheism has been declining.
There has been a misunderstanding on some studies on how a “none” is to be understood. The Pew Research Center, a few years back, indicated that more people are identifying as “nones” or no religious affiliation. A “none” is not synonymous with atheist or atheism. A none is simply someone who does not affiliate with any religious organization. They actually may believe in God, pray, even attend a religious gathering, but just choose to not associate with any officially organized religious group.
Rodney Stark wrote for the National Press Club in 2015 that the world is more religious than it has ever been stating that: “All of the great world religions are growing and contrary to uninformed accounts, Christianity is growing faster than any of the others,” Stark wrote, according to Johnson. “But the larger point is that we are now in the 21st century, contrary to [historical claims of the religion’s demise], the world is far more religious than it was a century ago, and quite possibly, it is more religious than it has ever been.”