Saturday, 27 August 2016

Americans Leaving Religion Because of Science

Why some Americans left religion behind | Pew Research Center

New figures released by the Pew Research Center have revealed something interesting going on in the American religious profile and they make dismal reading for those trying to cling to the belief that religion shows little real sign of a major decline in the USA comparable to that in Europe and elsewhere.

They suggest the traditional American attachment to religion, which has made America such an outlier in the general distribution of religious belief and how it has changed over time, may be waning and even on the point of a major shift. It appears to be heading in the same direction that has seen a massive rejection of religion in the rest of the developed world.

Recently, Pew Research produced figures which showed the proportion of those non-affiliated to any one organised religion was now the second largest grouping in the US religious profile at 22.8%, close behind the largest (Evangelical Protestant) with 25.4%, but Pew Research has now revisited those who self-identified as "Nones" to discover why they decided to disafilliate.

The results make dismal reading for those who claim that the "Nones" are not actually non-religious, just non-affiliated. In fact almost 50% of "Nones" gave disbelief as their reason for disaffiliation and a further 18% gave religious doubt as their reason. Only 20% gave a dislike of organized religion as their reason and a further 10% said they were religiously 'inactive'.

Writing for the Pew Research Centre's Fact Tank, Michael Lipka said:

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.

But there are other reasons people give for leaving behind their childhood religion. One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.

Source: Pew Research Centre FactTank
These figures need to be seen in the context of a culture in which expressions of disbelief are still regarded wrongly as admissions of immorality, untrustworthiness, lawlessness or sexual promiscuity, in other words with a negative cultural stereotype. In most of Europe, by contrast, where Atheism is socially acceptable, even normal in Western European countries and carries few of the social stigma that it does in the USA, people will be much more likely to self-identify as Atheist and cite disbelief due to science as the reason. In the USA it would be fair to assume that something like a dislike of organised religion, or a claim to 'believe in something' but not needing to go to church to worship or pray, would be more likely to be cited as a reason for disaffiliation.

There also seems to be a difference in education and the way science, particularly the science of evolution, is taught in the USA compared to the UK, for example. One reason give by Americans for loss of belief was learning about evolution at college. In the UK evolution will be taught in basic science class but most children will have been brought up to understand that creatures have evolved and diversified over a long time, and that human beings and apes share a common ancestor. Few Brits would dispute or be offended by the idea that chimpanzees are our close cousins. But this reason in the USA suggests that children have to go to college to learn this basic biology, and what of those who don't go to college or don't go to study science?

This survey result strongly suggests the pronounced recent trend to non-affiliation in the USA is due at least to a significant degree to a growing understanding and acceptance of science. This in turn has led many people to the realisation that not only is there no evidence for any god (and so Christianity is no more valid than any other faith) but that science has now explained many of the things that were formerly attributed to the locally popular god, and will very likely explain many more in due course. In other words, there is growing acceptance that the track-record of science in evicting gods from gaps is proving too strong to be ignored.

What is likely to happen, probably quite quickly once the trend gets going in earnest, just as in Europe, is that as more atheists come out of the closet so more will follow and the public perception of Atheism will change leading to a lessening of the social stigma associated with it. This in turn will encourage more out of the closet and encourage more to question and reconsider the assumptions of the faith they were given at birth.

The fact that just a shade under half those who disaffiliated gave disbelief as their reason, demonstrates that the increase in "Nones" in recent years reflects an underlying increase in Atheism/Agnosticism and a triumph for science, rationalism and critical thinking. It also shows that education, especially in the sciences, is a good antidote to the God Delusion, and how spectacular is the failure of overtly anti-science propagandists such as the Discovery Institute in trying to discredit science by misrepresenting it as a tactic for keeping people under the control of religion.

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