Atheism dwindles

IN 1960, Time magazine declared God dead. Half the world seemed officially atheist and the rest were expected to soon join.

The tables have obviously turned.
Now, only about 2.4 per cent of the world’s population is considered atheist, according to the World Almanac and other sources, and the numbers are dwindling.

Meanwhile, spirituality is experiencing a global resurgence.

In his book The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, historian and theologian Alistair McGrath examines where the atheist dream went wrong and explains why faith is destined to play a central role in the 21st century.

Interestingly, he also makes it clear that, despite a resurgence in faith, Western Christianity has not recovered from a faith crisis of the ‘60s.

McGrath says the origins of atheism lay primarily in a protest against the power, privilege, and corruption of church institutions—beginning with the French Revolution and ending about the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The atheism that swept across Europe in the 19th century and dominated most of the Western world in the 20th century was encouraged by a cerebral Christianity with its emphasis on cold doctrines, which might have engaged the mind but left emotions and imagination untouched.

Atheism envisioned a glorious future for a humanity freed from outdated dogmas and moral restrictions, with the unlimited potential of scientific advancement and the human imagination. Humans could not only be good without God, but they could be much better.

God was chased out of heaven by Marx, banished to the unconscious by Freud and announced by Nietzsche to be deceased. Well, not quite.

McGrath, a lapsed atheist, documents what he says are the philosophical inconsistency and moral failures of atheism, especially when it acquired political power, for example in the guise of communism.

But he also documents religion’s “failures of imagination’’ and complicity with oppression that often fostered an environment in which atheism could thrive.

Atheism proclaimed science was God.

But scientific advances often coincided with moral confusion and environmental disaster.
Science was expected to reveal a universe that was random and mechanical. Instead, science uncovered even more layers of intricate order that suggested an intelligent design.

The discovery that the universe began with a creation-like Big Bang around 13 billion years ago encouraged the argument for a creator as the first cause of nature.

The discovery that the fundamental laws of nature contained constants that appear to have been fine-tuned so that the cosmos would eventually yield intelligent life, lent new credence to the design argument for God’s existence.

Quantum theory made the cosmos seem more like a thought than like a machine.


45 thoughts on “Atheism dwindles

  1. What on earth does “considered” mean??–> (“Now, only about 2.4 per cent of the world’s population is CONSIDERED atheist,”)

    I’d suppose that the kinds of people who believe in fairy-tales are the same kinds of people who have trouble with reality.
    And arithmetic.

    China/Indo-china (‘officially’ atheist States) alone comprises about a third of the world’s population ~ and if ONLY half that population is “considered” to be atheist that alone means over 16% of the world’s population is atheist.

    Even in Australia, according to the ABS the numbers of christian ‘believers’ have CONSISTENTLY fallen year-on-year from 1901, when they numbered 96.1% of the population, to 2011, when they numbered 61.1%. That’s a DECREASE of 30%

    In the same period atheism has INCREASED consistently (though at an ACCELERATING RATE) from constituting 0.4% of the population to 22.3% of the population. THAT’S an INCREASE of over 3300%

    Oh…and incidentally, the fastest-growing religion here in Oz is hinduism (which any good christian wouldn’t “consider” to be a legitimate ‘religion’ at all; that indicates that the christian brigades are losing ground across the board, to atheists AND heathens!

    “Other key developments have been the continuation of a
    long-standing trend of decline in Christian affiliation (from
    96 per cent in 1911, to 68 per cent in 2001 and 61 per cent
    in 2011) and the growing proportion of Australians who
    identify as having ‘no religion’ (from 15 per cent in 2001
    to 22 per cent in 2011). Among the Christian faiths, Angli
    -canism recorded the most significant decline, from 21 per
    cent in 2001 to 17 per cent in 2011, while Pentecostal affil
    -iation rose from 1 to 1.1 per cent in the same period. Young
    people (aged 15-34) were the most likely to profess no faith,
    at 28 per cent in 2011.”

    There’s NO reason to suppose trends in other parts of the world are significantly different, if you “consider” the realities.
    ….and the spread of education. 😉


      • Sez who??
        How’s that.. (“People who say they follow no religion are not the same as atheists.”) any more than an unfounded assumption??

        It’s nit-picking at best, and why I asked for an explanation for your use of “considered”. (Which is still not explained.)

        But in any case the question ‘are you an atheist’ WASN’T asked, so anyone who DID consider himself an atheist ~ and still needed to declare his ‘religiosity’ ~ had no choice but to list himself as not following any religion.

        Otherwise, according to your argument, there are NO atheists in australia.

        btw. The “figures” aren’t ‘mine’; but I bet the ABS will be surprised to learn they got it wrong.
        ….even though ‘my’ figures pretty-much reflect the figures you provide in the next thread. (eg 69% claim to be believers of some kind or another, which, one assumes, includes those who ‘believe’ in Lady Luck, Tealeaf prophecy and the like.)
        Even there, 31% appear NOT to be ‘believers’.
        And, as I say, to claim those self-declared ‘non-believers’ aren’t atheist by definition is nit-picking at best.

        Your arguments were always sounder when you made up the numbers as you went! 😉


    • pps. Have just wasted half an hour looking for stats on religion (including taoist and confucian followers) in china.

      All sources make the point that accurate stats are probably impossible to compile; however, by ANY count (including the claims of the various religious congregations) the number of ‘believers’ is nearer 5% than 10% of the population.
      Which leaves 90% unaccounted for who may legitimately be called ‘atheist’.
      So right there we have 25% of the world’s population as being “considered” atheist.


      • Well, I, for one, declare myself an atheist and also state that I follow no religion, and that’s a “fact”. What’s more, all the ‘atheists’ I know ~ quite a few in fact ~ will tell you the same thing.
        I’d contend your generalisation about non-followers of religion being “not generally atheist” isn’t a fact at all, unless you can come up with statistics where the question was actually put : ‘Are you religious, a non-follower or an atheist?’

        ….and it may be that the question ISN’T put because the ‘general’ misconception (s) about what an atheist is might indeed tend to skew the numbers. But that, too, is an unfounded assumption.

        Mind you, the same applies to ‘believer’, ‘religious’, etc. ~ and to date such confusion has always worked to the benefit of the religious lobby.

        Education cures nearly as many ills as do antibiotics 😉


      • Yep intelligent answers to questions asked on this blog being the very top of the list. I guess there just ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding in the bottom of this cracker jack box


      • Perhaps then you should ask an “intelligent” question Bubba! Or you could just keep talking about memos and such. Not holding my breath mate.


    • Oh Bryan,
      I’d suggest that the readers here just call up ‘The Twilight of Atheism’ on their computer and read some of the reviews. There appear to be some very telling weaknesses in the book.

      And as far as world stats on atheism are concerned, from the same source I got the following link that tells an important story. content/upl

      Dont know if it’s just me, but I find it more than a little irritating when I repeatedly see the term ‘god’ given as a proper name with or without a capital G. Christians like most theists use the word freely without specifying often enought, that they refer exclusively to their own individual deity. When a Christian states that on one hand, Islamics believe in God, and in the next breath assert that this Islamic God is not the same deity that they worship, – and indeed can be derined as a false or nonexistent god or even a manifestation of the devil, it appears to be very poor use of words.

      In fact that would suggest that Islamics DONT believe in ‘God’ at all. They believe in A god.

      What say you all?



      • I say, again, that I have this sneaking suspicion that you’re reading my mail! 🙂

        That’s why I’d no more capitalise ‘god’ than I would capitalise ‘totem’.


    • What part of the question didn’t you understand. Just let me know if you’re struggling to pick things up and I’ll dumb it down for you.

      I’m starting to realise that making glib statements is more your forte, actually providing anything of substance seems to be beyond your depth.


  2. “Saying I hate people with religion because I hate religion, is like saying I hate people with cancer because I hate cancer” Ricky Gervais


  3. PS…. McGrath (whoever) is wrong in every single claim made in the header. eg:-

    “The discovery that the fundamental laws of nature contained constants that appear to have been fine-tuned”:-
    Not only did ‘science’ (unbelievably!, since it contradicts the ‘Word of God’) discover the ‘constants’, there’s NO basis for supposing that those constants have been “fine-tuned”. Apart from anything else that claim would mean the ‘constants’ MUST perforce have previously existed in an ‘untuned’ state before the ‘tune-up’ took place.

    Sheer rot! That would not only second-guess the ‘WOG’, but also defy ‘science’.

    Moreover, to pontificate: “…so that the cosmos would eventually yield intelligent life.”
    is nonsense without acceptable definitions for ‘intelligence’ and, more particularly, ‘life’.


  4. That’s the trouble, believing in science is only a narrow view of the bigger picture just as science-ignorant faith is. Atheism seems more like a backlash toward faith that ignores scientific discovery. On a whole, we seem to be starting to head in a more balanced direction these days. Hopefully that will continue.


      • Scientific discoveries don’t always tell the whole story. Discoveries about food are a prime example – a study will come out that determines a specific food is unhealthy, and then a couple years later a study will come out that demonstrates that the same food is actually quite beneficial.

        If you only have faith in science, then you are going to have one yo-yo of a diet. This is where a more broad view, or belief, has its benefits. It is important to take scientific discoveries into account within the belief though, of course.


      • ” a study will come out that determines a specific food is unhealthy, and then a couple years later a study will come out that demonstrates that the same food is actually quite beneficial. ”

        Hmm I can’t say I’m aware of anything like that, can you give a specific example ? As far as I know the basic food pyramid hasn’t drastically changed since inception.

        if you were following that advice you’d
        EAT MOST
        vegetables, fruits, nuts, dried peas, beans and lentils, breads and cereals (preferably wholegrain).

        fish, lean meat, eggs, chicken (no skin), milk, cheese and yoghurt.

        Sugars and fats

        And you would have been doing that for decades, no yo-yoing.


      • …..and then there are those who are expected to get by on verbiage, (sic), like :-
        “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”.

        ….that’s when he’s not eating his own words, one presumes.
        “…anyone want seconds? There’s plenty of drivel left.”
        No fat; but only nourishing if you’re on your knees.

        Why does it feel like Sunday??


  5. Humans are inherently gullible and credulous, constantly looking to be amazed or excited by something, even today, and they are still often prepared to believe anecdotal “evidence” of cures and unlikely happenings from people they know.

    Several thousand years ago people were all of those things, as well as being extremely superstitious and with no knowledge of what caused rain,thunder, lightning, earthquakes, droughts, floods, disease, birth and death. Jut about everything was seen as a miracle or a sign from some sort of god. If you don’t understand why the sun rises everyday, even that is some sort of miracle. So miracles were part of the fabric of everyday life.

    The reputations of “great” men were embellished by the miracles they were supposed to have performed, in much the same way as the North Koreans talk of the eleven holes-in-one managed by their “dear leader” the very first time he ever played golf. But “miracles” were everywhere. So if someone was to be considered great then he would have to have miracles ascribed to him as a matter of course, and moreover, miracles that were greater than those of others.. If he didn’t, then he could hardly have been considered great in the scheme of things at the time.

    All the talk in earlier times was of various gods causing all of these things. If something good happened, they praised whichever gods they worshipped. If it was bad they thought they were being punished and tried all sorts of sacrifices by way of appeasing their particular god or gods.

    These days people live most of their lives relying on the truth of science and the scientific method to ensure they are not electrocuted, do not die of a preventable disease, or from food poisoning etc. They apply this way of thinking to everything except their own religion, though they certainly apply it to everyone else’s..

    Today most Christians, if told of a miracle due to worshipping Ganesh ,would dismiss it out of hand, and would be forthcoming with reasons why they disbelieve such claims. They apply commonsense and their own experience to everything but their own religion. With that, they reinterpret everything as the will of God, or as an answer to prayer or as a sign of God,

    However,if People of today were transported to biblical times with the knowledge of today they would demand more proof of claimed miracles. Told of someone’s donkey actually talking, they would demand to hear it themselves before they believed. Yet for some reason today they are prepared to put the so-called “wisdom” of ignorant, ancient superstitious tribes of people ahead of the truth of their own senses and experience, while simultaneously trying to retrain their perceptions(and therefore their experiences) to fit the so-called “truths” of their religion.

    They make themselves immune to commonsense and do not ask probing questions because they know that if they were to look at their religious “facts” objectively, as outsiders (even religious outsiders) are quite happy to do, and put them under the same critical gaze that they apply to everyday claims, that their religious claims would not pass that test. They never read up on a sort of “Consumer’s Choice” for their religion that would see all the faults and bad points highlighted as well.

    They seem never to have heard of the saying:- “Error only, never Truth, fears inquiry.”

    But tit is always the belief that comes first, either because from the get-go they have heard “God” being prattled about as a matter of fact, or because they have been presented with some part of the Christian story at a vulnerable time and it appealed to some need of theirs. The kernel of the belief is formed much as the first impression of a stranger, and once formed, tends to stick.
    From that point on, if reason is ever used it is only ever to support the belief, never to analyse it critically.

    Believers must see, one would think, that Faith is no guarantee of truth. After all, they see Muslim terrorists blowing themselves and others up by the hundreds on a regular basis, and those terrorists do it precisely because of their faith that they have been guaranteed a place in Paradise. They also know that the believers of all competing religions can have a very strong faith, but are wrong, which is exactly what other religions think about Christians in turn. Yet the penny never seems to drop that only one, or none, of all the religions could be right, and given the opposing faith claims of them all, it is most likely NONE.

    I have heard people say that everyone should be able to believe whatever they wish, but I don’t agree. I think some beliefs are harmless enough, but any belief which encourages you to harm or discriminate against or massacre others who don’t share that belief is an immoral belief, even a criminal belief, and deserves to be expunged from any so-called Holy book.

    What could be a greater blasphemy than to ascribe the wickedness of men to the commands of a so-called god?.


    • I believe, Rol, that science has increasinly found the ‘supernatural’ to be natural, and will continue to do so. Not that all will be clear in the short term, though, this would take yonks, but is increasingly happening.

      Do you deny there is still much that is seen as supernatural? Some, like a wonderful atheist friend I have , do not believe such things even exist. .


  6. I came across this interesting clip on YouTube between an atheist and someone called Frank Turek who seems to be quite a bright man, but is able to explain things in a simple manner. I don’t like the header under the clip that says Turek teaches atheist a lesson, as I found both men to be very polite, not combative.


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