New Report: ‘A Third of Adults Under 30 Have No Religious Affiliation’

According to a report released today (PDF) by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (in conjunction with PBS’ Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly), the Nones are on the rise — again. More people are atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with religion than ever before. (In fact, 46,000,000 Americans are religiously unaffiliated, by Pew’s count.)

Here’s what the headline should be, though:

A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.

A THIRD! It’s never been higher than a quarter before. That’s incredible.

Not only are we increasing in percentages across the board (in red, below), the percent of adherents to major religious faiths are in decline (in blue):

Compared to five years ago, there are more male, female, white, black, educated, rich, poor, and single religiously unaffiliated people. We’re also spreading throughout the country, not just in one particular religion:

Also, we’re heavily Democratic:

In the 2008 presidential election, they voted as heavily for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants did for John McCain. More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.

Our friend Jesse Galef of the Secular Student Alliance was thrilled about that one:

Pew’s numbers were met with elation among atheist and secular leaders. Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, said that the growth of the unaffiliated should translate into greater political representation for secular interests.

“We would love to see the political leaders lead on this issue, but we are perfectly content with them following these demographic trends, following the voters,” Galef said.

“As more of the voters are unaffiliated and identifying as atheist and agnostics, I think the politicians will follow that for votes.

“We won’t be dismissed or ignored anymore,” Galef said.

So, here’s the big question: Why is this happening?

The researchers offer four theories:

1) Political Backlash

… young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and do not want to have any association with it.

2) Delays in Marriage

Aggregated data from Pew Research Center polls [shows] that among adults under 30, married people are more likely to have a religious affiliation than are unmarried people.

3) Broad Social Disengagement

… some observers contend [that there] has been a general decline in “social capital” — a tendency among Americans to live more separate lives and engage in fewer communal activities, famously summed up by Harvard’s Putnam as “bowling alone.” In this view, the growth of the religious “nones” is just one manifestation of much broader social disengagement.

4) Secularization

… societies in which people feel constant threats to their health and well-being are more religious, while religious beliefs and practices tend to be less strong in places where “existential security” is greater. In this view, gradual secularization is to be expected in a generally healthy, wealthy, orderly society

I would argue #1 is the most plausible of those theories… but I’m surprised there’s no mention at all of the Internet. That’s a religion destroyer as much as anything else we’ve ever seen — open access to information, the ability to prove your pastors wrong, the overwhelming number of atheists who make their case online… how is that not a force to be reckoned with?

Anyway, here’s the kicker to the religion: 88% of Americans surveyed said they are “not looking for a religion.”

So long, seeker services.

As with any survey, there are some weird results in the mix of all the awesome…

… like that. 24% of self-proclaimed atheists/agnostics are “absolutely certain” or “fairly certain” there’s a God or a “universal spirit.” What?! This word “atheist”… I do not think you know what it means…

I would prefer separating God from the more loosely-defined “universal spirit,” but the idea that there’s anything supernatural out there at all should be anathema to all non-religious people. Those numbers should be 0% across the board. It just goes to show: Being an atheist isn’t the same as being completely rational. We might use the same labels but how we interpret them is far from universal.

Finally, just to feed the stereotypes, the survey shows that the Nones are the least likely to want to be part of a shared community:

There will be a lot of analysis of these results over the next few days, but here’s the one-sentence summary: This is good news for the non-religious. Our numbers are growing. I doubt we’ve hit the plateau yet.

But these results won’t mean anything unless we can find a way to harness these numbers and use them to achieve our political goals (like equal rights for all people and church/state separation). That has always been the case, but rarely have the numbers been handed to us on a silver platter like this.

***Update***: The American Humanist Association is (obviously) pleased with the findings:

“Millions of Americans are discovering that religion isn’t required in order to lead a moral and purposeful life,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

Traditional religions may be unwittingly accelerating the secularization. Speckhardt explained, “We’re seeing evidence that our numbers are bolstered when there’s religious opposition to progress on issues like same-sex marriage, women’s reproductive freedom, and concern for the environment. Young people especially can’t stomach such backward thinking.”

***Update 2***: American Atheists is “jubilant” according to a press release:

David Silverman, President of American Atheists said, “Each year the statistics show that our country is becoming more and more non-religious. One in five Americans are non-religious overall. Yet one in three people in the 18-29 year old demographic are non-religious. These young people are the future leaders of our nation. It’s exciting to know that these men and women will lead us into a more secular, and balanced future.”

***Update 3***: The Center for Inquiry says the report “holds promise for the future“:

“Though the ‘unaffiliated’ are not entirely made up of nonbelievers, the fact that one in five Americans have rejected traditional religion means that the enormous influence religion has had over policy and culture will continue to wane,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Furthermore, thanks to the high percentage of ‘nones’ among the younger generations, these numbers tell us that we are closer than ever to realizing a society in which religious dogma has no significant influence on public policy — that is, a society based on reason and science rather than myth and superstition.”

***Update 4***: The Secular Coalition for America is enthusiastic about the news:

“The study indicates that not only are the religiously unaffiliated an ever growing community within the country as a whole, but that we have the potential to hold a lot of political clout,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “The findings lend credence to the growth of the secular movement that we have seen on the whole and the strides we are making in every state across the country.”

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jeremy Mullins

    I’d say that #2 is the opposite effect.  People are delaying marriage because they aren’t buying into a religious system that makes them feel forced into it.

  • Jacob

    Looking good, and not surprising in the least.

  • Sailor

    Nice to know I think differently to 90% of my age grop

  • Barry Pearson

    I believe that in the UK it is none of the above, but instead #5: The organisations and processes needed for people to become and remain religious are becoming weaker. 

    It needs some degree of consistency among parents and schools to achieve early indoctrination, then consistent and repeated reinforcement (daily, weekly, and annual rituals, etc) to maintain it. Parents with different faiths, or only one with a faith, result in children with perhaps half the chance of being religious. Children mixing with those of unlike faith, or being “bombarded” with anti-religion or atheist messages have their reinforcement disrupted. Forced reinforcement can’t be sustained as it can in a theocracy.

    In this sense, it has more of a “mathematical inevitability”, a bit like measuring immunity in societies which can’t achieve critical mass or “herd immunity”. The UK is losing its “immunity to non-belief”, and doesn’t have “herd immunity to atheism”. “Inoculation against non-belief” isn’t consistent or strong. Read “Secularization: In Defence of an Unfashionable Theory” by Steve Bruce.

    If true, then keep up the pressure against “immunity to atheism” and wait. Within 2 generations the young in the USA will be half as religious as now.

  • Gus Snarp

    This is great news. I’m disappointed that so many people surveyed don’t seem to understand what atheism means but still call themselves atheists, but I’m willing to accept that all of those “nones”, even the ones who claim a belief, are much closer to our values than to Romney’s, Ratzinger’s, Phelps’, and Ham’s. Almost twenty percent over all and a third of young people? That’s just fantastic. And I agree that the internet plays a large role, but I think that’s sort of wrapped up in reason three. To the old guard, “social disengagement” means spending time on the internet being socially engaged with people you aren’t face to face with.

    I also find reason one reassuring, it it’s true. To think that the links that the Republican party have so carefully cultivated with religious fundamentalists and hate groups are becoming liabilities both for Republicans and religion brings me great joy. I hope that trend continues. I think Republicans could win some of those “nones” back if they’d stop hammering on social issues, dog whistle politics, and science denial. This data seems to suggest that in the future, they’re going to have to rein it back in. That can only be good for America.

  • machintelligence

     like that. 24% of self-proclaimed atheists/agnostics are “absolutely certain” or “fairly certain” there’s a God or a “universal spirit.” What?! This word “atheist”… I do not think you know what it means…

    Deists can legitimately call themselves atheists. They don’t believe in a theistic God.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

     Yes, But that’s a lot of Deists.

    Perhaps the question they answered was something along the lines of  “Are you absolutely certain or fairly certain about your belief in god”, to which I would reply, as a atheist, that I am very certain of my belief in god. I don’t believe in god(s). Period.

  • MegaZeusThor

    1/3 under 30? Great news. 

    I get the reasons put forth regarding why people are leaving religion. I’m sure that opposing gay and women’s rights doesn’t help them. BUT if they held super progressive positions on those things I still wouldn’t join a church.

    Could it not be that the reason people reject religion is because they think the idea of God is made up – that are gods are likely made up. It’s hard to sit in church and hear them ramble about things they couldn’t possibly know.

  • advancedatheist

    I can see why many atheists don’t like the #4 explanation. Firebrands on both sides of the god debate have framed it as an ideological struggle for the allegiance of the human mind, yet the evidence from social science suggests that people hold religious beliefs as superficial opinions useful for anxiety management. When the physical and social conditions of life provide people with considerably fewer reasons to experience anxiety, then they lose interest in religion. That would explain the implosion of religious belief in well run countries where people can believe anything they want consistence with public order. This has happened without deliberate policies to bring this about, unlike the case in communist countries, and it certainly didn’t happen  because atheists have successfully won wars of indoctrination and propaganda in those societies. 

    Refer to psychologist Nigel Barber’s Kindle ebook:

    Why Atheism Will Replace Religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky

  • Baal

    Reason #1 above is a big reason why religious sectarians should value secularism.  Yes, I mean that sentence in that order.  Having the government push your religous views may feel powerful and awesome but when the people change their mind on the government, they also change their mind on your religion.  

  • WB

    is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing
    good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad
    things, it takes religion.


    Weinberg (physicist and Nobel Laureate


  • C Peterson

    Here’s the sad reality: most people have a world view rich with beliefs, very few of which they can articulate or give much basis for. People usually believe what they believe for reasons largely disconnected from rational analysis or critical thinking. And the younger the person, the more likely this is to be so. It applies to political opinion, to social opinion, and to religious/spiritual ideas. Evidence of it is seen in the sort of bizarre contradictions that show up in a poll like this.

    It is good that we see more atheists, since they are much more open to secularization issues and are less swayed by religions attempting to define culture. But we should not expect it to substantially increase critical thinking in our population. While critical thinking very often leads a person to become an atheist, simply being an atheist does not improve one’s thinking skills in the slightest.

  • Gus Snarp

    Wait, why wouldn’t we like that explanation? I don’t think you actually explained your opening point. I see no reason that any atheist would be predisposed against  the notion that people drift away from religion when things are going well.

  • Tom

    Are you fucking retarded?

  • who cares

    Its because they include agnostics and atheists in the same group.  An atheist doesn’t believe in god and agnostic isn’t sure ether way.

  • advancedatheist

    The firebrand atheists have a definite opinion about the god question, while explanation #4 shows that their opinion doesn’t matter in practice.  In fact, something like a traditional god could still exist in the universe where #4 happens, but people stop believing in that god any way. If you’ve read Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World, the character Mustapha Mond in Chapter 17 describes his society’s situation along those lines. 

  • TengFow

    That certainly explains why the world is in the shape it is! More Bibles for everyone!

  • Bkmiller

    Which one?  There are so many.  The Koran?  the Roman Catholic version? the Torah? 

    And when has the world NOT been in a mess?  During the religious wars of the middle ages?  when the Catholic Church was busy slaughtering the Cathars (an early version of the Holocaust), during the Islamic conquest of North Africa? 

  • Nate

    I agree.  When you don’t think you HAVE to get married to be/live with a S.O. without being brandished to hell, your life is substantially more logical and you get married when you are ready and financially able to.

  • C Peterson

    Do you have something constructive to add to the discussion? Or are you just helping to make my point here?

  • Bkmiller

    I don’t like “that” explanation because there is an underlying assumption that things will contniue to go well.  Given climate change and related ecological collapse, economic uncertainty, resource wars and shortages…it leasds one to fear that hard core religion will come roaring back.  Especially in the hands of a “firebrand” who can provide an “explanation” for whyone no longer has what one “deserves” (c.f…”the American Way of Life is no negotiable” LOL)  If one is laid off and in deep trouble, one might be more willing to listen to the Falwells and the radical Imans of the world. 

  • Gus Snarp

    Sorry, I don’t follow. How does number 4 show that anyone’s opinion matters or doesn’t matter? Whether or not some people believe in god never has had anything at all to do with whether a god exists. I think you’re reaching here. Even firebrand atheists know that any number of real world situations affect people’s relationships with religion.

  • John

    Such a sad time we live in

  • Crystal-Dawn

    Responding to….”like that. 24% of self-proclaimed atheists/agnostics are “absolutely
    certain” or “fairly certain” there’s a God or a “universal spirit.”
    What?! This word “atheist”… I do not think you know what it means… ”

    Lots of people use Dawkins’ spectrum of theistic probability (1-7 scale), most people I know (and Dawkins himself, in fact) don’t claim to be a 7, based on the fact that if you cannot disprove something there is always (if very small) a possibility. Dawkins self identofies as a 6; I’d say I’m a 6.66. =)

  • Nope

    I have to agree with Tom.

  • Jon Peterson

    Someone’s doing their math wrong… and I don’t know who. The figures (second image) show that the total is 19.6 percent, not a third. I believe it’s the graph that’s misleading. Each area is stacked on TOP of the other (Agnostic accounts for 3.3, not 5.7) but the graph is being read as if it is just a standard area graph.

    It would make more sense if the other groups were represented, and the scale went fully up to 100%. With all groups shown on the graph, it would always be full (like this: 

  • Gus Snarp

    Perhaps I’m taking the term “like” differently here. I’m assuming advancedatheist means that “firebrand atheists” will reject the explanation as invalid because of some ideological predisposition. What you’re saying is that the explanation doesn’t make you happy. So does “not like” mean not accept, or does it just mean “find discomforting”. Do you find the explanation plausible, whether or not you like the ramifications?

  • Walter Jackson

     I have to agree with C Peterson;  if you are incapable of providing a rational and civil response,  you should probably avoid making your side look bad.

  • Alan Zanabria

    Peterson, you are absolutely right Tom just made your point.

  • Alan Zanabria

    I hope so

  • Crystal-Dawn

     who still uses internet explorer???

  • Gus Snarp

    You’re looking at the wrong graph. The stacked area graph (a poor technique, I agree) is for all ages and does add up to just under 20%. Scroll down to the bar graph below that for the numbers of young people, which is 32%, roughly a third, as the post says.

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    i have to chime in with support for Hemant’s question about the internet. this is what i’ve longed believed is responsible for the growth of secular and atheist thought. religions rely upon limiting what their followers are exposed to, and with the internet, that’s pretty much impossible these days. i’m actually sort of old fashioned and old, and i don’t completely grok they way a lot of people younger than i use connectivity technology. but it’s clear they do, and that there’s a whole culture of younger people who understand that information, of any kind, is at their fingertips and when they want to access it, they will. it’s the same thing that’s been happening in the queer community; instant access has totally changed the dating situation and now so many queers are using stuff like grindr instead of hitting the bar scene for quick sex. i can only believe that all over the world, young people who’ve been brought up in some rigid religious culture are sneaking off to their computers when parents and preachers aren’t looking, and googling things like “evidence for the birth of jesus christ” or “did mohammed die among family or was he elevated off to heaven by a magic force” and the like.

    i also believe that the popularity of fantasy computer games has had an impact on orthodox belief. the buybull is pretty boring, as are most religious texts, when compared to some of the fantasy worlds you can find right now in the gaming world. boring, celebate jeebus,  or super sexy DD cup norse goddess with a flaming sword? i’m pretty sure what most teen boys would prefer… once you can come to see religious ideas as in the realm of fantasy, it’s pretty easy to let it go and treat them all the same, as fantasy and mythology. 

  • Matthews

    Sadly, the times are soon going to be the same as in the Old Testament and when the Testament was written. However, this was already prophesied in the Bible. Let’s hang on tight, it’s gonna be a rough ride! Still, if there were no believers at all in the world, it would not be the end nor alleviation of violence, evil nor injustice. Jesus bless you all!

  • George Faraj

    Not sure if joking or just really stupid.

  • TTN

    “The American Humanist Association is (obviously) please with the findings:”


  • Reg

    Genocide is immoral – are you willing to condemn the God of the Old Testament for commanding genocide?

    Or perhaps you want to say that genocide is only ‘sometimes’ wrong?

  • Findog53

    Me too! This f…king retard has to be in the KKK.

  • Gus Snarp

    The quality of the trolls around here seems to have really declined lately.

  • Findog53

    The latter!

  • František Nohejl

    I agreed with you and adding:

    Greetings from Czech Republic.
    We have valuable experiences just with the opposite!30% believers  and 70%  atheists here!

    Wishing you all a good ride, full of vital realizations, 

    What is this rising “trend” for ? … you ask ?
    When i encountered it as a kid, i named it for myself  (as i named anew many other things) “Selfactualzation in time”.

    Religious ones would kill themselves over some archaic issues, where life will not have the highest value for them !Higher authorities are here at play..even IF  NOT REAL..  and thats the BAD VECTOR FOR JOUNG PEOPLE.. THEY LOVE LIFE, they understand it more deeply than previous generations, full of predjudices and flase hopes and expectations.

  • PS Adair

    Points #5 and #6…let me add these.

    5. Access to information

    6. Strong secular voices

  • Chris

    2 points for C Peterson I guess. Nothing he said sounded all that controversial to me. 

    I consider myself an apathetic agnostic atheist, most of my friends are nonreligious, and a few even consider religion actively harmful. None of us identify as rationalists, and I personally find them incredibly obnoxious. I’m all for critical thinking, but many rationalists seem to believe that human emotions are invalid/shameful because they can’t be expressed in formal logic. Never mind that emotional invalidation is a form of abuse commonly embraced by sick religions & cults, or that emotions are an important part of the evolutionary toolset that allows us to actually function as a group society… To add insult to injury, most self-identified rationalists you meet in the wild aren’t even that logical — they just loudly self-identify as rationalist and cloak their arguments in layers and layers of  Latin terms, hoping that nobody will notice the flaws in their own arguments. Many are also just as sexist/racist/homophobic as their religious counterparts, and use a combination of pop evo psych and logical fallacies (!) to justify their bigotry. Even Dawkins was guilty of this. Just as there is a backlash against religion in mainstream society (because its loudest practitioners are embarrassing assholes), I think there is a backlash against the current culture of Critical Thinking (TM) in some atheistic circles (because its loudest practitioners are embarrassing assholes). That the baby is thrown out with the bathwater is a shame but not too surprising. 

  • Claus_Nielsen


    The fact that atheists and agnostics are put under the same heading here really means there is no confusion.

    58% of the combined group are selfidentified as agnostic, so it is not surprising that 24% of the total group (corresponding to 41% of the agnostic group) are leaning in this direction, considering the prevalence of monotheistic faith in the rest of society.

  • bookie

    yes unfortunately 2/3 still conform to outdated ridiculous beliefs

  • Findog53

    Don’t you f…king people have anything better than trolls. Aren’t trolls scary creatures? You all afraid of something?
    Mentally challenged people can think that stuff up. I know, you all are afraid we’ll snatch you up from under the bridge an exstinguish you all and you won’t be able to have any cheese with your whines.

  • Conradxu1

    being an athiest is a choice as a result of rational thinking. you cant choose to be an athiest if you werent rational to begin with.

    rather than over think the situation, the reality is that with education, more people are starting to question and think on their own. This is a plus for society and thats pretty much it.

  • Ross Disney


  • bob

    Yep, this is no longer very quality trolling.

  • SJH

    Not sure I understand why atheists would be so happy to see their numbers grow. Does that contradict the findings that they don’t care to be involved in a shared community?
    Also, religion has been an overall source for good despite its flaws so having less religion is not necessarily a good thing.
    Thinking hypothetically, I wonder what our world would look like if there was no religion or no belief in God. Obviously most of us can be good without believing in God (I believe God created us to be innately good so this is consistent) but here are a few questions to ponder: Would relativism be the default understanding of morality? To what extent would societies allow people to use relativism to justify their behavior? Would the strong rule? If the claim is that people use religion to dominate others then what would they use if religion did not exist? The government perhaps? Guns? Technology? Science? I’m not trying to make any accusations about atheism but as an engineer it is natural for me to ask questions and look for the problems within a set of circumstances.

  • Android

    This is frightening…70% actually believe in some form of life after death…yikes

  • Albert Pratt

    There is no survey that can determinant the reason someone is atheist, Nor is there a formula for determining the future impact to society. The fact is the conservatives out there want to scare the crap out of people and make them believe that the world is going to end if we don’t believe in god or that we’ll just kill and eat each other without the so-called moral compass that they think religion gives. Religion is a social group like any other, but with fanatical believers. Try bashing FACEBOOK and see what kind of response you get from diehard Facebookers. Same thing people will defend a belief till the end even if it is not true or highly improbable.

    And By the way i was a very religious child, and my family was not, But I’ve grown-up and don’t believe in santa or the easter bunny anymore , now I’m an atheist.

  • Fatty Bunter

    Missed the sarcasm there huh?

  • AJQ

    The only thing that bothered me about these surveys was the idea that “atheism” and “unaffiliated” are not the same thing.  The literal meaning of being an atheist means you have no belief or religious affiliation…it’s redundant and makes “atheism”  look like a religion itself.  Even though the results of the survey showed a good trend, it could also be used against atheism if a religious nut wanted to point out that “atheism” and “unaffiliated” were not the same thing.  THEY ARE.

  • bookie

    what you just described as a world with the absence of religion is exactly what religion does with  its presence .. the fact of the matter is that religion while doing some good puts huge social limitations everybody not only the religious but non-religious as well.

  • C Peterson

    You never met an irrational atheist? Don’t get out much, do you? :) Seriously, becoming an atheist does not require a rational decision making process. Like any other decision, it may be based on pure emotion or on very faulty reasoning. In some cases it may be based on nothing at all, as when a person grows up exposed to nothing else (the same way many acquire their religious views).

    Certainly, there’s a correlation between increased education and atheism or reduced religiosity, but improved education offers no guarantee of improved thinking skills, and in the U.S., at least, there’s pretty good evidence that the quality of education that most people experience is actually decreasing in quality.

  • SJH

    So according to this philosophy, good people can do no wrong and bad people can do no good? So are there only three types of people, perfectly good people, perfectly bad people and good people who also do bad things? In Mr. Weinberg’s line of thinking I am guessing he is one of the perfect people? I think he needs to think through his philosophy a little more.

  • Tainda

    I agree with you Hemant, when I was reading the theories as to why, I was wondering where the internet was.  Especially in rural areas like where I grew up and there is no support for atheists.  Granted, there wasn’t such a thing as the intarweb when I was growing up, but kids now can see a whole big world from the comfort of their own homes.

  • Brock Lee

    The fraud of evolution exposed:

  • Bosseswings

    You are the coolest old man I know.

  • Walsh41

     Roughly the same number of people whom associate with a religious group? Maybe these are the same people… maybe it is their lack of access to the internet which keeps them associated with religion.  Firefox, Chrome, Opera… internet browsers that lead the athiest movement!

  • Arthur Bryne

    Cool! A new Pew report!

    I’m not inclined to think the Internet is the biggest factor in the shift. The rise of the Nones has been ongoing for a long time; the GSS data has had a logistic curve in the numbers versus generational cohort since the 1970s, and does not seem to have had a major inflection with the major increases in Internet access. The 30% for the Millenial cohort is about where that trend would point to. Not really much in the way of news.

    On the other hand, the chart on page 16 of this Pew report seems to indicate a non-trivial “rise of the Nones” over the last five years within cohorts Boomer and on. I’m not sure if this is simply a bit of ebb and flow, as if mirror image of the temporary bump in religiosity during the 1980s, or an actual trend. For within-cohorts I’m inclined to the former (though it’s too early to tell); for across-cohorts, it’s clearly the latter. My suspicion would be that #1 (and maybe the Internet) was behind short-term trend within cohorts, #4 behind the long-term between cohorts.

    Though it’s not clear whether it’s multi-cohort or mostly from the Millennials, Pew’s numbers on page 13 hide a slow shift of internal composition within the Nones, pointing to confirmation on the indications from the PRRI/Georgetown study of Millennials. In 2007, the percentages within the Nones were  (10.5):(13.7):(75.8)  Atheist:Agnostic:NothingInParticular . In 2012, they went  (12.2):(16.8):(70.9) Ath:Ag:NIP.

  • SJH

     I can see that to some extent this is true. People have misused religion throughout history but the overall effect of religion on the modern world, especially since Christianity has been positive but this is despite the questions I ask. By asking these questions, I am attempting to discuss the alternative that is being suggested, a world without religion. What would the world look like?

  • Tainda

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people living for today

  • RobertoTheChi

    And may the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless you with reason.

  • Walsh41

     Like using internet explorer…

  • Arthur Bryne

    The exact question wordings are in one of the Appendices.

  • Arthur Bryne

    “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

    And who does not see that the same authority which can establish either, may later establish Atheism as a “sect”?

  • wesvvv

    “… societies in which people feel constant threats to their health and well-being are more religious, while religious beliefs and practices tend to be less strong in places where “existential security” is greater.”

    Makes one wonder if the real vitriol against decent healthcare is the hit to their god cult recruiting.

  • Geoff 21

     - CPeterson –

    “Here’s the sad reality: most people have a world view rich with beliefs, very few of which they can articulate or give much basis for. People usually believe what they believe for reasons largely disconnected from rational analysis or critical thinking. And the younger the person, the more likely this is to be so. It applies to political opinion, to social opinion, and to religious/spiritual ideas. Evidence of it is seen in the sort of bizarre contradictions that show up in a poll like this.”

    Your fifth assertion here ‘the younger the person…’ seems flawed. Age is not the principle operant component. As we have known from developmental psychology at least since Piaget, young children accept what they are told without analysis and develop reasoning skills around the age of eight or thereabouts (remember De Loyola’s supposed assertion ‘give me the child until he is eight and I will give you the man’).

    Upbringing (education) has a far more significant effect than actual age on all opinion.

    - Chris –

    “Many are also just as sexist/racist/homophobic as their religious counterparts, and use a combination of pop evo psych and logical fallacies (!) to justify their bigotry. Even Dawkins was guilty of this. Just as there is a backlash against religion in mainstream society (because its loudest practitioners are embarrassing assholes), I think there is a backlash against the current culture of Critical Thinking (TM) in some atheistic circles (because its loudest practitioners are embarrassing assholes).”

    Quite a comprehensive Strawkins you’ve got going there Chris. Speaking of embarrassing assholes have you anything in the way of justification for any of these assertions?

  • Arthur Bryne

    Your reading comprehension seems poor. Weinberg says good people can do bad things. He just indicates religion is a necessary condition.

    Not that I agree with Weinberg’s thesis there, but you’re engaged in pretty pronounced Message Distortion — “selectively processing or understanding a persuasive message in a way that favors one’s original attitude”. Though the quote looks itself like Social validation — “bringing to mind important others who share one’s original attitude”. (See doi:10.1207/S15324834BASP2502_5 for more details.)

  • wesvvv

    That’s because due to no child left behind education has to ditch all creative thinking opportunities in favor of rote memorization.  Kind of like the sunday school I got sent to for 12 straight years. 

  • Arthur Bryne

    Nah. Not all high-SDOs are KKK types.

    Atheism appears to have a relatively high fraction of high-SDO/low-RWA personalities about.

  • wesvvv

    You clinched it for me. How could they possibly know? Seriously. Just pretending to know, isn’t that the pinnacle of hubris, which is supposedly a mortal sin? It’s just so circularly fatal to the soul and tissue paper thin, like the first bible some guy dressed like the devil handed to me as a child on a street corner once. Kept that thing for years. No idea why.

  • wesvvv

    What scares me is that they believe it for the guy they are aiming their gun at. Not their problem if their target didn’t make peace, and if they did, no harm no foul, straight to heaven. 

  • wesvvv

    I read Age of Innocence last year. NY seems terribly cosmopolitan but it was, like you said, about 75 years behind London, culturally. I hadn’t thought of that as still true, but on this, I think you are dead on.

  • Arthur Bryne

    Actually, I think the trend here is more a result from younger people not having ossified in their ideas, and more accepting of novelty — EG, irreligiousity. As people get older, they tend to get more set in their ways. So, younger cohorts tend to start out less religious than their elders, and during ages 14-30 shift relatively rapidly from the ideas they were initially taught, but then tend to ossify and shift relatively less and less frequently.

    I’d agree, being an atheist does not necessarily improve one’s critical thinking skills; however, it tends to broaden the range of preconceptions one is willing to submit to such critical thinking. This in turn can increase the areas where alternatives are explored, which increases the chances of encountering better ideas on critical thinking skills. So, it’s not a sure bet; but it seems to be the local tendency.

    Contrariwise, I’m not sure how much critical scrutiny you’ve given to your own apparent resolution to Hume’s Is-Ought problem.

  • modlib

    The above mentions that the internet is one of the major reasons for the rise in dis-inclination to affiliate with religion.  This is probably a very likely explanation for the increased disinclination of thinking individuals to become distanced from organized religions, and perhaps also would imply that non-religious people are likely to be more informed than they used to be.  The flip-side, however, is that religious fundamentalism also feeds on the machinery of the connecti-webs.  And since there is no exogenous cure for defective thinking, the availability of the internet will probably never be able to convince irrational individuals about the defects in their reasoning process, regardless of where they stand.  Which is not a bad thing.  Diversity in thinking helps to promote flexibility in consideration.  We need the nuts (wherever they might stand, and this is not to imply that non-religious nuts are as numerous as religious nuts, but merely to note that the fringe thinking itself) to help us reorient our thoughts and cause us to question beliefs we hold as dogma.

  • Arthur Bryne

    The total is 19.6%, for the population overall. The 30% value is specifically for within the Millenials. Within the Silent Generation, the number remains much lower — under 10%. 

  • Tonyg123

    Unaffiliated could mean a person who believes that there is a god, but we have no way of knowing any specifics, and does not choose to affiliate with a religion. An atheist does not believe in the exist of any deity.

  • Arthur Bryne

    Short answer: the logistic trendline curve on Cohort long predates the general availability of the internet. You also should remember that the religious can use the Internet to spread apologetics just as much as atheists can spread counter-arguments. (Patheos has a lot of other blogs besides this one.)

  • Bryan R Grossman

    This is fantastic news!  Slowly the human race is waking up….

  • Tonyg123

    Religion had its chance to rule the world. That time period became known as the Dark Ages.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    ASK ALL:
    Q.53 Do you believe in God or a universal spirit, or not?
    Q.54 How certain are you about this belief? Are you absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain?

    If I read this correctly, it’s not even asked of people who say they don’t believe in god.  Color me confused.

  • Guest

    Darn, two thirds of adults under 30 are still completely retarded.

  • Tonyg123

    Can’t tell if trolling… or seriously believes we came from dust and a rib.

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    it’s really sad that you religious types just can’t wrap your brains around one, simple idea: ‘good’ and ‘religion’ are not synonymous, or dependent upon one another in order to exist.

    i do good all the time. i rescue animals, give money to women’s and homeless shelters, volunteer to work in soup kitchens and on GOTV efforts…. and it’s not because i believe in a mythological being, but because i know *it’s the right thing to do.* i don’t need an invisible sky father to tell me so, esp one who seems perfectly willing to disregard his own commandments and kill the innocent when he feels like it. science itself proves to me and anyone else willing to accept it: it makes sense, as an individual and member of a species, to do and be good.

    and as far as Christianity being a “positive” force in the world, i suggest you look at its history much more closely. Pogroms, crusades, slavery, misogyny, sectarian bloodshed, the Dark Ages of Europe, Jim Crow… i could go on and on with the list of horrors people have done in the “name of Christ.” really, it’s you believers who should be proving to the rest of us that you’re not automatically evil. let’s start with the people today who give money to the professional pedophile organization known as the roman catholic church.

  • Tonyg123

    This overwhelming pile of evidence isn’t enough to convince me. You need more proof, and without it.. therefore.. God and Jesus.

  • Johnfromoceanside

    Strange comment or maybe just in the way I’m reading it… Not sure.

    My take on this is if you don’t fill a child’s head with stories, they are free to form opinions about a supreme being later in life. When that happens, my guess is that a large percentage of older children and adults tend to gravitate toward a non-theistic view of their world.

    It is easier to see this in non-colonial nations, such as China, where Atheism has been measured as high as 80% of the total population or just under 60% if you include the practicing of non-theistic customs as some kind of belief system influenced by a supreme being. There is no evidence for the latter, but it has been argued before.

  • Bryan R Grossman

    Your either a really bad troll or a pretty stupid Theist….  That link you posted doesn’t help your case….

  • Johnfromoceanside


    I agree because nations that have practiced some form of socialism with successful results tend to espouse a form of cultural security from their collectivist origins.

    That said, those with capitalistic and theistic blended views may have a somewhat more difficult time agreeing with this assertion or even understanding that it isn’t an attack on their way of life.

  • Arthur Bryne

    Ah. An engineer. That fits with the Salem Hypothesis. (Sorry.)

    Your first question comes closest to what I’d consider the heart of the matter. Ultimately, most religious morality mostly relies axiomatically on the is-ought bridge “you OUGHT to do what God commands” or equivalent. Atheism precludes using that bridge (or rather renders it trivial, if there is no God and thus no divine commands), but does not categorically preclude all axiomatic bridges. Since atheists use other axiomatic level is-ought bridges, this allows ordering relationships on is-choices to create preferences.

    The notion that religion has been a net-benefit is highly debatable; atheists are more likely than not to refuse to agree about the overall balance being positive. However, even granting that, it doesn’t rule out that newer social institutions may be able to provide similar benefits with lower side-effect costs, for a greater net benefit; in which case, less religion balanced by more of the other institutions yields net gains.

    Preference for higher numbers does not mean they want the same degree of community. Atheist social circles tend (anecdotally) to be much more loosely affiliated than religious — especially since most atheists don’t bother gathering on that basis.

    The “might makes right” indicates a neglect of the value of altruism; essentially, social Darwinism unmodified by post-1970s developments in evolutionary biology. Short answer: it’s possible, but would be stupid and such societies tend to fall to more sophisticated societies.

    I’d suggest tracking down Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” and wading through it.

  • C Peterson

    Apparently. I’m still missing it, in fact.

  • Arthur Bryne

    While it’s not an absolute determinant as to why, surveys where atheists are asked why and studies measuring differences between atheists and theists do help with probabilistic inferences as to what factors have causal tendencies.

  • C Peterson

    NCLB certainly hasn’t helped, but the downward trend was well established before it came on the scene. The problem is too complex to attribute to any one thing.

  • Arthur Bryne

    The Berkeley SDA archive is down with a disk crash at the moment, but by tomorrow or so it should again be possible to see the distinction in the General Social Survey data. RELIG asks about religious affiliation; RELIG=4 are the unaffiliated “nones”. GOD asks about belief in a personal God; I think it’s about a third of the Nones who say they still believe in a personal God.

    The two sets overlap, and the traits correlate, but neither set contains the other completely.

  • C Peterson

    What I’ve observed about the thinking of older people is that they go one of two ways- they either ossify or they become more open and more critical about their beliefs. In my experience, those who most identify with “conservative” tend to be in the former category, those who most identify with “liberal” in the second (although that’s not a hard rule).

    I’m not at all sure your assessment of younger people is correct. I’m around a lot of kids (I’m an educator) and I think the majority are even more convinced of their views then most adults, and with even less reason. This is so true in my experience that it’s a huge breath of fresh air to encounter a young person who truly thinks critically about a wide range of things, and is open to changing his mind.

    I confess to have given little scrutiny to the is-ought problem, perhaps because I don’t see how it applies to my way of viewing things. Could you expand on that a bit?

  • Guest

    The most ironic part of this all is that I’ve recently converted to atheism (not really “converted” – I’ve always had my doubts) – but I’ve been doing research on the internet after seeing a Stephen Hawking vid. The internet (FireFox) has truly been my number one resource in coming to this viewpoint. I’m a young female (mid-twenties) and I’d say about 75% of my friends share similar views on religion. The hardest part is explaining to older generations on why what they’ve been practicing for their entire lives is ridiculous… Needless to say I use much more friendly words.

  • Findog53

    Ooh a new mentally challenged one!

  • Arthur Bryne

    Giving the internet credit for the change is seems fundamentally mistaken, because it doesn’t even have “post hoc ergo propter hoc” going for it. The logistic curve has now risen to where it’s presence is obvious. However, the trend to irreligion shows up existing in data from the General Social Survey all the way back to 1972.

    For the pedantic, yes, technically the Internet did exist back in 1972, but neither Usenet nor the WWW did, and it was limited to on the order of 30 machines at major universities and technology companies. If the Internet was the cause for the trend all the way back then, there would be six Christians and seven Muslims left on the planet now. That does not seem to be the case this week.

  • Gus Snarp

    I think it’s time for some comment moderation. Off topic links are nothing but spam. At least go find a post about evolution to drop your steaming excrement on. It’s not like they’re hard to find.

  • Hemant Mehta


  • thomas

    Coming from one of the most secular countries (Denmark) in the world ( There is a pretty good analysis about the reason for high rate of

    I don’t think I have any friends who are religious. I’ve have actually never discussed it with anyone. I think people would actually find you a bit weird if you said you where religious, at least among young people. A lot of churches in Denmark have services where the priest cancels because not even a single person shows up.

  • Steven

    Unaffiliated is definitely a broad category and your definition of someone in that range is acceptable. However I would also accept that a large number of those identifying as unaffiliated are in fact specifically atheists doing their best to be true to themselves while avoiding religious backlash from family and friends etc. I also feel there is a large portion of those identifying as unaffiliated that are unaware that their positions are specifically atheism due to widespread misinformation about the definition of atheism.

  • matt

    For me,  the simple fact that there is more than one “testament” automatically nullifies any chance of its divinity.

  • Arthur Bryne

    Whether or not someone self-identifies as Atheist is a different question from whether they believe in God. It’s among those indicated as “previously released”. It’s coded RELIG, with wording in the topline PDF report for the July 26 release.

    RELIG What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular? [INTERVIEWER: IF R VOLUNTEERS “nothing in particular, none, no religion, etc.” BEFORE REACHING END OF LIST, PROMPT WITH: and would you say that’s atheist, agnostic, or just nothing in particular?] 

    Of course, that’s a pretty confusing distinction the first time it’s encountered.

  • Liberated Liberal

    My neighbor, who is an extremely educated and in-demand engineer, says he noticed that quality of education really took a nose-dive in the 70s and has been steadily declining since.  The reasons are very complex, though I’m not going to pretend to have a real clue about any of it. 

  • C Peterson

    I credit my own excellent public education (in the 1960s and 70s) to the educational push that came from fear of the Soviets. When that fear dissolved, one of the motivators for a government commitment to good education was removed.

  • Shawn Harmon

    I would count Atheism as a religion. Mainly because believing there is no God is as much a belief as believing there is one.  And people running around condemning others for believing in God is just as bad as people running around condemning others for not believing in God. So really, where is Atheism any better than religion? It’s just the other side of the same coin.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Lets the kids hang out on his lawn and use the hoop and the skateboard ramp on his driveway, too.

  • Patrick Tang

    The math is correct. The first graph is “Growth of the religiously unaffiliated,” referring to the general population. The data here corresponds with that given in the third and fourth charts. The second chart is the only one broken down by age.

  • Lisa Martin

    Historically, religion has had its good and bad qualities. It has served to unite groups of people, build strong nations, and create rich cultures. It has also and continues to serve as a catalyst and an excuse for war, bloodshed, discrimination and prejudice.  Nowadays, however, in our modern and enlightened world, religion has become nothing but a burden, an excuse for hate and discrimination. It’s role in uniting peoples and shaping society and culture has long passed, and not it just stunts societal progress. We don’t need it anymore. Humanity needs to mature beyond its childish superstitions and leave religion behind, and it’s clear that is happening in the Western world. Without the conflict and friction religion brings humanity will progress towards a better future.

  • Bryan R Grossman

    “A lot of churches in Denmark have services where the priest cancels because not even a single person shows up.”
    For some reason this put a smile on my face….

  • Bryan R Grossman

    No not really…  No Atheist is praying to any kind of god to make them feel better.   We don’t have a book we read and then threaten everyone else with because they don’t believe.    We don’t go to an atheist church to pray to an atheist god and then perform rituals to make us feel more secure about what happens when we die.   You can sit there and try and rationalize Atheism as being “like” any other religion if that makes you feel better. But like anyone trying to tell someone else how they think they believe….. you are quite wrong.  

  • Jjjohnson

    Religionis an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doinggood things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do badthings, it takes religion.


    –StevenWeinberg (physicist and Nobel Laureate

    Why is religion an insult to human dignity? And why would it take religion to make good people do bad things?

  • Arthur Bryne

    While younglings may declare stronger conviction, it’s the “with less reason” that seems the key. In semi-Bayesian terms, a higher probability is attributed but a lower confidence interval associated. Ergo, it’s easier to shift just using more input.
    Being relatively (within cohort) open to experience probably helps increase the chance of change resulting from an experience. However, there’s more unfamiliar things out there for them to encounter  that they might find surprising/curious – triggering cognitive dissonance and a switch from reflexive to reflective cognition, and engaging what critical thinking skills they have. As they get older, more things are familiar, and there’s a greater body of evidence interpreted one way that would have to be re-sorted; major shifts become harder.That said, yes, such surprises are a bit rare, and significant shifts therefrom rarer. The effect day-to-day is unnoticeable, but can be incremental. Over the course of multiple years, it becomes more so. Multiplied out over the cohort, and it becomes noticeable how far the kids tend to shift from the upbringing from their parents by around college. Though it’s a stochastic process, with conversions as well as deconversions; and the reduced opportunities for initial attitude bolstering by parents in the college years may also play a role.The bit on the is-ought problem was pretty much a reflex quibble, from where you said “It is good that…”. The word “good”, similar to “ought”, appears to involve an ordering relationship on a set of choices. You give partial is-reason (more open, less swayed, etc), but that merely moves the goalposts a bit — what about those is-properties yields the ought-property of being better than the alternative?The question of “what ought-bridge” also relates to the Atheism+ “social  justice” stuff. A+ appears to be moving beyond mere is-questions, and the value of truth (an ought concept, but a narrow one), into ought-question territory, stirring up some controversy along the way. I think some of your other posts suggest you seem to have noticed some of that angle. To further complicate matters, there seem (unsurprising) trends in what sort of personality that finds such social justice related oughts objectionable. 

  • Lord Louis Gilbert

    Please check out are new youtube episode trying to become the number one youtuber in darwin

  • Cora Judd

    Cheery news for once.

    I agree with Mehta’s proposal of a 5th (and more accurate) theory for the decline of religious identity; the Internet.

    As an Ex-mormon, I’ve seen firsthand how Mormons onced received virtually all moral, doctrinal and even scientific input from Deseret Publishing (Mormon owned and operated).

    But the Internet and Mormonism have collided and now that church is, in their own words, “hemorrhaging members”. (They began counting babies as members years ago and 2 days ago announced they’re now sending out 18 years olds as missionaries — was 19 to 21).

    I’m sure this generalizes to the children of other religious families as well.

  • SJH

    I think your analysis of where religious morality comes from is flawed. Religion views things as being immoral because they are unhealthy for ourselves, our relationships, others or society. Because we as people do not have perfect knowledge, we do not always know what is or is not unhealthy. Because of this a religious person relies on their faith/God to inform their beliefs in lieu of having a complete picture.

    I’m not sure what you are talking about with the “is-ought”, “is-choices” stuff. It is way to much for my feeble engineer’s mind. It sounds to me like you are saying morality is based on choices and preferences? If so, then what type of society would be formed when the strongest people have violent preferences? If not, then please clarify (in English).

    Regarding the net benefit of religion, you talk about newer social institutions. What are these? In our modern times it seems that these institutions are either:

    Charities (mostly religious)
    Corporations (I don’t trust that they will look out for anyone’s best interests)
    Academic (have a very narrow focus and tend to not include morality)
    Government (We tried that in Communism and Socialism and look what happened)
    What else is there? Perhaps something in between? A balance of each?

    Regarding “might makes right”. I’m just thinking out loud but the more sophisticated societies you speak of have generally been more charitable religious societies have they not? Ex. US over Nazi Germany, US over communist USSR. Perhaps an older history might tell us something else?

  • SJH

     You can point out all the bad things that people have done in the name of religion all day but you need to start looking at all the good.

    Advancements in science
    Anti-war activism
    Day-to-day charitable activities
    Participation in feeding the hungry
    Housing the homeless
    Defending the disenfranchised
    Fighting oppressors
    etc, etc.

    I think it would be a good idea to look at this topic with an open mind. Also you may want to look a little deeper into some of your examples.  I think your opinion may be tainted by an inaccurate history.

  • sphires

     >simply being an atheist does not improve one’s thinking skills in the slightest
    So you are saying that losing a worldview like new earth creationism that necessarily / logically leads to more incorrect conclusions or at least forces  higher states of cognitive dissonance is not going to reflect even the slightest  improvement?

    I must disagree.

  • Guest

    FWIW, don’t cheer too loudly.  The same trends are being found among atheism.  Pew Research repeatedly finds numbers of professed atheists who believe in a personal God and admit to praying.  What do these numbers mean?  It means we live in a time where people are ill-educated, and all they know is to claim whatever, and then believe whatever.  The numbers merely mean unaffiliated.   Meaning, to translate: I make up my own fiscal beliefs, whether it’s believing in my own god, or gods, or being an atheist who prays, reality is my own invention thank you.  Given that this is the overwhelming message in most of our schools, media, and entertainment venues, I’m rather shocked that it’s only 32%.  But then, it has always been higher among young people, and it always gets lower as the ages get older.  But then, the lure of a philosophy that says you can make up your own beliefs, and your own ethics, and your own morality (conveniently centered around yourself), is going to be a powerful plus in winning people to a cause. 

  • dgriffey

    Here’s what I see.  I see in this many unaffiliated a general lack of interest in the subject gone way or another.  Call me old fashioned, but give me people who believe in God or don’t believe, who reject or accept, who love or hate.  Unaffiliated is a roundabout way of saying ‘too lazy to give it thought, whatever makes me feel whatever, let’s watch the next video’.  Not the intellectual cutting edge I would imagine modern atheists want to trumpet.  

  • Andy86

    I would consider myself to be unaffiliated and not an atheist since they are not the same thing. I detest organized religion period but I do believe that there is higher power(s). What they are, who they are and what not is still very debatable and hence why I detest religion, to be specific christianity , judaism, and islam since they assume that they’re way is the only way and the “right” way which is completely bs and leads to nothing but separation and strife! I don’t know if there is or isn’t a God but I know this that organized religion is WRONG! Hence I’m unaffiliated but that doesn’t mean that I do not believe that there are higher powers etc.

  • Arthur Bryne

    I’m referring to “comes from” in the sense of philosophical inference from premises.

    “Unhealthy” is one hand an ought-concept, dependent on the ought-bridge chosen; but in so far as it’s objective, there’s no reason why atheists can’t use some sense of “healthy” as their ought-bridge — though it will likely differ from the religious sense in certain key ways, such as considering a “healthy” relationship with God to consist of ignoring God as non-existent.

    For the is-ought stuff, you might glance at Wikipedia (on “Is-Ought Problem”, and “poset” if you’re in the neighborhood) if you won’t wade through the full of Hume. Summing up: morality, goodness, and so on involve having two or more possible choices that are available to consider, and a (partial) ordering relationship on them. A may be better than B, worse than B, equivalent of B, or incomparable to B (A > B, A < B, A=B, A||B). Existence of such orderings may be shown constructively from the existence of non-trivial sets of choices… but which the term “ought” refers to needs to be defined, since the construction is non-unique (except in trivial cases).

    For governments, you appear to be neglecting the degree to which the “American Experiment” of the United States is a product of the Enlightenment philosophical movement  – which is about as Religious as the Protestant Reformation was Catholic. And yes, if your engineering education was even vaguely competent, it would indeed address morality and ethics. I’m not sure which type of engineer, but most of the ones over ten years old have a professional association — with a code of ethics. You’ve apparently missed the regular discussion hereabouts of secular charities; while they’re commonly religious, they’re not necessarily.

    And, yes, it’s likely to be a mix of institutions, rather than a single one.

    While the more successful societies historically have had charitable religious elements, the current leaders on a number of metrics are the  Scandinavian countries — largely secular, religious elements vestigial, and with significant government safety nets and emphasis on education. Time will tell on that experiment.

    However, you’re misportraying the role of religion in Nazi Germany; the form may have involved fusion with Teutonic paganism, but the “Gott Mit Uns” whose work Hitler claimed he was about about was pretty clearly Christian in origin. (Lutheran, largely.)

    It’s too late to get into the Communism thing, but your characterization is again an oversimplification (though not quite as bad as with the Nazis). The problem wasn’t irreligion, but being excessively authoritarian — allowing dominance to overwhelm prestige.

  • Arthur Bryne

    I’d suggest you look up Dale Cannon’s “Six Ways of Being Religious”, and see if you can find examples of all six for Atheism (as he sketches for Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity). For most actual religions, or even pseudo-religions like the NFL, examples tend to be obvious. For atheism? One is easy, three are tricky, one lacks consensus if it’s not outright absent, one is apparently missing, and the last… does have an example, but one theologically inconvenient for theists.

  • Arthur Bryne

    The “numbers” found tend to be small. That said, yes, there are degrees of irreligion.

    As I noted earlier, while the 30% number is for the unaffiliated, there’s also rising numbers (relative as well as absolute) on the most and second-most irreligious segments within them. Also, the fraction does NOT always get lower as the ages get lower; see the chart on page 16 of the report. (For longer spans, see the GSS 1972-2010 data.)

    The “you can make up your own beliefs” is too twisted a strawman for the atheist position to untangle at this hour. Suffice to respond: WRONG!

  • Sindigo

    Not every atheist left a religion or series of irrational beliefs in order to become one. In fact, atheism should be  considered the default position rather than religious. Besides, an atheist could have chosen to identify in that way simply to piss off their parents (a no-less worthwhile aim than religious identification in the young, IMHO). 

    Atheism, in and of itself says nothing about a person’s beliefs in Alien visitation, alternative medicine, Bigfoot or 9/11 conspiracy theories and, although it may seem more likely that an atheist would have a more rational outlook, they frequently don’t.

  • C Peterson

    I think you’re reversing cause and effect. Whatever caused a person to lose their religious worldview in the first place is what also leads to higher quality thinking. Atheists who arrived at their atheism analytically already have developed their thinking skills- something that will be reflected in areas other than their atheism. Atheists who are atheists for other reasons may or may not have good thinking skills- I see no reason to correlate the two things.

    Being rational will tend to make a person an atheist; simply being an atheist doesn’t impel a person towards greater rationality, though.

  • SJH

     Obviously health can be defined in different ways if we draw conclusions from inadequate data however, if we have a substantially complete set of data then we can make judgements about the health of something. This is scientific not religious. Only time will tell if religious views are consistent with reality and in some cases science has proven religion wrong and in other cases religion has been shown to be correct.

    I read through some of the Hume’s Law info on Wikipedia and it seems interesting but don’t they seem to be over-complicating things? As I said before, unhealthy=immoral, healthy=moral. Are you hurting yourself, your relationships or others? If yes then it is immoral, if you are helping then it is moral.

    I do not think I was neglecting the American experiment. This is why I asked the question regarding a balance. The interesting thing about the American experiment though is that it has a deeply religious component even though the government itself is secular. Without religion, the US would not exist and I don’t think the enlightenment was as significant in our history as was Christianity. Though it may have been enlightenment ideas that help guide some of our forefathers, you cannot discredit was Christianity did to mold our morals and values as an new country and as enlightened thinkers.

    Regarding ethics, your point is well taken. Another set of social institutions that I should have added to the list are professional associations.

    Regarding successful societies and Scandinavia, what are your measures? Are they healthy or unhealthy? Would everyone agree that large government safety nets are healthy? Maybe not? It sounds like you are saying they are more advanced because they lean to the left.

    I wasn’t saying anything about the religion of Nazi’s. I was suggesting that the US was more sophisticated morally and that the morals of the US were guided by their religion at the time.

    You are right, communism can be saved for another day.

  • Baby_Raptor

    No, but the world would be a hell of a lot better if there were no believers in it. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    The little good religion does is vastly out-weighed by the bad. Religion could disappear, and things would only get better.

  • Baby_Raptor

    And your opinion is short-sighted as well. Nowadays, religion is not a good thing. It might have been back then, I don’t know. I didn’t live then.

    But now, it’s just one more vehicle for those who want power. And those who want to do harm. Even in a lot of the ways you listed as “good.”

  • Hair

     Just for the record, this usage of the word “troll” comes from the fishing technique where boats drag long hooked lines behind them and catch whatever comes along. It’s been in use on the internet since the early 90s though the meaning has slowly changed from when it meant asking stupid questions to bait newbies into answering.

  • SJH

     Had another thought over night:
    Regarding these other institutions, we must ask what drives them. What is the impetus for these institutions and what is it that determines their actions?. Obviously individuals can make good decisions but which one of these do you trust the most?

    Corporations – maximizing profits
    Government – maintaining power
    Academia – promoting ideology

    The two remaining are the charities and professional institutions.  These are probably the most noble.

    I do agree that it is in the blend of all these organizations that chaos becomes organization but hasn’t religion been the force that has acted as a balancing agent for all of these?

  • Arthur Bryne

    You’re missing the point on Hume’s law; whether or not something is considered “hurt” or “help” generally involves an ordering of is-choices, or alternately orders the choice of having the relationship continue over its ending. As with 2+2=4, the assumptions involved are so basic as to be difficult to recognize.

    I think you’re deeply underplaying the contribution of enlightenment era philosophy to shaping the American form of government — which is the heart of what is referred to as “the American Experiment”. I also think you’re neglecting some of Christianity more significant contributions are less venerated; most notably, that the more traditional Christianity such as the southern Baptists were more commonly associated with support for slavery, while abolitionism was more associated with highly heterodox Christians such as the Quakers and even more extreme freethinkers. You might also care to do some research on US religious leaders before the entry into  WWII; prior to Pearl Harbor, there was more than a little religious debate about whether we should enter… and on which side.

    Regarding the measure of society, liberalism is merely correlated, not itself a direct measure. The metrics I refer to include degree of access to healthcare, median education, cleanliness of public spaces, life expectancy, per capita GDP, and relative absence of violent crime. Whether any of those are “good” things may be debated; but I certainly wouldn’t use the word “advanced”.

  • Jon Peterson

    Ah. I didn’t see the second image (whether through blindness, or as I prefer to think: it not loading). >.>

    I stand corrected!

  • fin312

    Just for the record…… this usage of the word “troll” comes from the race of supernatural beings conceived as giants inhabiting caves or dwellings and a person who sleeps under a bridge or viaduct like a derelict, who’s been abandoned by society. Just like someone with your idealogy to use the wrong definition.

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  • E Tolstoj

    In the chapter “Why is this happening?” I seem to miss 5: Information; young peope have so much more possibility to investigate and  conclude the existance of a god for them is not plausible. This could become clear if the statistics would also show religion versus IQ?

  • James Smith

    What is most hopeful is the young “nones” will be the most likely to have children who will grow up thinking rationally.  It’s easy to see that it will not take too many gnerations for the “nones” to become a majority. That is if the USA can avoid becoming a totalitarian theocracy first.  

  •仁卷/861680556 仁卷

    Don’t overblow these “spiritual not religious” numbers. Yes it’s better than an organized institution of irreason but only the numbers that reject “god or a universal spirit” and firmly rejecting crap thinking/beliefs. That number (self identify as ‘atheist’) is still I believe 1% in the PEW and Gallup data though the total number who reject “god or a universal spirit’ is up to 5-6% Curiously more people in that 5-6% describe themselves as Christians than atheists.

    In any case “spritiual not religious” is essentially right next to religious, accepting the core mind style, rejecting the specifics/institutions. It is not right next to reason based nor is “no religious affiliation”.

  •仁卷/861680556 仁卷

    *only those numbers really count

  •仁卷/861680556 仁卷

    Right this comment and some of the responses to it confound/conflate the general problem of ignorance and a lack of education, with the specific issue of fundamental belief. This difference is most clearly shown in the contrast between Chinese and Chinese sphere of influence cultures where belief is spirits became intellectually passe in classical times and was dropped then by the literate classes and the rest of the world where the West and Islam have foisted the Abrahamic systems on the rest of the planet. For this reason polls like the Dentsu polls show >92% irreligious in China (vs what 20 something here?). This doesn’t mean that the Chinese have mastered critical thinking in those numbers, the numbers for the backward and ignorant there would probably be higher if there were as crisp a measure.

    As far as the person saying rationalists reject emotions and the like, that also is a related confusion of populations. There have always been people who weren’t taken in by made up bs. That population distinct from those with knowledge of scientific and mathematical truth and rationalism as such still exists and today it is likely that some from it may bloviate about reason when they’re actually just referring to their personal lack of gullibility.

  •仁卷/861680556 仁卷

    *belief in spirits