Atheism vs Religion: The Final Countdown?

Atheism vs Religion: The Final Countdown?

Congratulations, godless heathens- you’re winning! According to biopsychologist and blogger Nigel Barber over at our favorite aggregator, The Huffington Post, atheism will “defeat” religion by 2038.

I didn’t know they were in a timed fight to the death. But I suppose, in media, everything is really an epic battle.

For Barber, the equation is simple: “Countries with the best standard of living are turning atheist. That shift offers a glimpse into the world’s future.“ He adheres to a version of the secularization thesis – the “view that religious belief will give way to atheism” – he refers to as the existential security hypothesis. It basically posits that people are only religious because they’re scared of dying and not being able to support themselves, and so “as people become more affluent… they are secure in their own existence. They do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities.” Ok.

Barber’s (misguided) understanding and (negative) opinion of religion hinges on a reductionist and, for a biowhatsitwho, un-academic approach to religion itself. This ain’t your grandparents’ field of study. We religion-studiers have moved on from the “silly simple people with their silly simple beliefs” angle of old.

Barber builds his case on two “measures of religion”: belief (or disbelief), and religiosity. “The notion that improving living conditions are associated with a decline in religion is supported by a mountain of evidence,” he writes, citing three different works on the subject (two of which are his own).  This addresses the belief angle. “The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth,” he writes. “This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.” Referencing what he calls the “nine most godless countries” and the average global GDP growth rate for the past 30 years, he estimates the “atheist transition” is mathematically due in 2035.

But, graciously, he allows that belief is “not the only relevant measure of religion.” Sometimes people are totally superficial and kind of believe without letting it effect their daily lives! So he advises asking “whether they think that religion is important in their daily lives” a la Gallup. If fewer than 50 percent agree – mazel tov! The country is secular! Again calculating economic improvements and the growth rates of godless nations “by religiosity,” he estimates that by 2041 the global population will be at that atheist threshold.

Ergo, add the sums and divide by the mean, ipso facto… 2038. Atheist World. Welcome.

You must be this tall to ride the rides.

Call me a cynic, but I don’t have to be one to say that there’s a whole lot of wrong in his writing. Religion isn’t just belief in (a) God(s) or spirituality, it isn’t just someone saying “oh, yea, it matters to me.” The secularism thesis has pretty much been debunked by actual scholars of religion. Max Weber may have predicted the disenchantment of the world, but the truth is, it just isn’t happening. Peter Berger, one of the original proponents of the secularization thesis, has reversed his own ruling. “I think what I and most other sociologists wrote in the 1960s about secularization was a mistake. Our underlying argument was that secularization and modernity go hand in hand. With more modernization comes more secularization…. But I think it’s basically wrong. Most of the world today is certainly not secular. It’s very religious.”

Religion is lived, and practiced, and expressed, and experienced, in a myriad of ways that a man like Nigel Barber simply does not comprehend. He’s undoubtedly a brilliant scientist. But the problem with so many atheists – of which I am one – is that they don’t take religion seriously. Derision and dismissal makes for great soundbites, and a lot of people are going to agree with a lot of comments about silliness, and simplicity, and religion causing conflicts, and religious oppression, and so on. I do.

But what’s missing here, and in so many similar arguments, is that religion works. It works in people’s lives, whether it’s about meaning or morals or structure or faith or whatever. Economics are a part of life. But life is about more than just the money, honey.

By Ashley Baxstrom


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  1. Seamus Ruah says:

    Clearly religion DOESN’T work, science does, that’s why we’ll win.

  2. Hail Sagan

    After Religion becomes truly irrelevant, the world will descend into – Swedish chaos, aka high HDI.

  3. LadyBlack says:

    What’s religion got to do with morasl? Is that the bit about stoning women? Or killing children? I’ll take atheistic ‘no morals’ any time!

    Why would we take it seriously? I don’t think we’re close to ridding the world of religion, but I’m going to carry on doing my bit, and maybe one day, people will wake up. See it for what it is, a load of rubbish.

  4. Um… religion works? Are you serious?

    Organized religion kills people. Just look all throughout history at wars, crusades, sacrifices, withholding medical treatment today, etc. Religion celebrates ignorance and anti-intellectualism, impeding progress everywhere. It makes shallow thinkers feel a little better for a few hours.

    Science, on the other hand, really does help people! Think of medicine, all the technology we have around us, and all the great advancements we’ve made. In personal lives, too, science encourages critical thinking.

    At the end of the day, truth feels a whole lot better than religion.

    • Um…science works? Are you serious?

      Organized science kills people. Just look at the increasingly indiscriminate havoc and bloodshed of total war – and the enhanced killing technologies – that the scientistic mindset and its view of humanity has unleashed etc. ‘Science’ celebrates a levelling standardisation and is anti-intellectual in the original sense of the word ‘intellect’, thwarting the unfolding of the spirit everywhere. It makes shallow thinkers feel highly superior for a lifetime.

      Religion, on the other hand, really does help people! Think of every charitable act, every heroic act, every glorious, dignified act in human history. In personal lives, too, religion encourages a critical thinking, yet not one stripped of depth, compassion and wonder.

      At the end of the day, truth feels a whole lot better than ‘science’…which is in principle incapable of grasping it.

      • Pretty funny that you can blame the tools derivative of science, ie- weapons, yet you fail to mention the death and violence of religion over the years. Science is ‘havoc and total war’, while religion is heroic and dignified acts? lol

        Religion encourages critical thinking? No. Bypassing evidence in favor of ‘faith’ is anathema to critical thinking. You are living in bizzaro world. :)

      • How ironic that you use technology provided by science, not religion to spread your contemptible nonsense.

        Most of the problems of the world have been caused by religion. Think of the crusades, the inquisition, the dark ages, the witch burnings, the restrictions on learning, free speech, instilling guilt and shame into children, and the wars fought in the name of religion.

        More recently, think of family planning clinic bombings, oppression of gays and non-believers, murders of doctors and homosexuals, imposition of religious beliefs by force of law, and illegal use of public funds to promote particular religions.

        Mankind will never truly be free until the black yoke of religion is lifted by the clear light of truth and rational thinking.

  5. BOTH are right … ONLY bigotry and obfuscation, from BOTH sides, prevents the “middle ground”, that NEITHER side are prepared to enter, from being accepted; “The Science of Spirituality”.

    • “Middle ground?’ How can there be a middle ground with people that insist you are condemned to an eternity of torture because you decline t accept their unprovable beliefs? When they reject obvious facts and refuse to accept rational statements how can they be looking for a “middle ground?”

      The religious claim they are about peace and love but their actions disprove their lies.

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