Signs that religion is waning among America’s youth

A new “American values survey” by the Pew Research Center gives some good news about faith: it’s weakening in America’s youth.  (You can get the full report here; the religion and social values analysis begins on p. 67.) 3008 adults were sampled by telephone according to what seems a pretty good protocol.  A quick summary of the data, though, is best seen here, and you can click on the tabs on the right side to divide up the data by sex, race, age, income, and so on.  On the left you can look at the different questions. Three are religious, involving agreement or disagreement with 1) “Prayer is an important part of my daily life”; 2) “All will be called before God on Judgment Day to answer for our sins”; 3) “I never doubt the existence of God.” In all three cases the youngest people show less faith than their elders. though over the last 25 years belief has been pretty static in the older cohorts.

Individuals were divided into five age classes:

  • Millennials: 1981+
  • Gen X: 1965-1980
  • Boomers 1946-1964
  • Silent generation: 1928-1945
  • Greatest generation: born before 1928

The confidence intervals vary, of course, but the survey’s appendix shows that the 95% confidence intervals for these data are probably around plus or minus 2 – 4%.

There’s a report and data from TPM (“Talking points memo“), a political website:

The younger generation is abandoning God in droves.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.

Pew, which has been studying the trend for 25 years, finds that just 68 percent of millennials in 2012 agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.” That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007.

Among other generations, belief in God is high and has seen few changes in recent decades. Between 81 and 89 percent of older generations say they never doubt the existence of God, although the older the generation, the more likely they are to believe in God.

The chart below reflects the Pew survey’s latest findings.

The results suggest that a new movement of atheist or agnostic thinking during the the last decade — spearheaded by high-profile authors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris — is steering younger people away from traditional beliefs long held by their parents.

The trend was also reflected in declining numbers of millennials who agreed with the statements “Prayer is an important part of my daily life” and “We all will be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.” Answers to those questions also didn’t change much among older generations.


The TPM plot is better than the Pew Plot as it expands the scale.  The results show this year’s survey compared to earlier surveys:

Here’s the Pew plot for the importance of prayer (note: the colors differ from those used in the TMP plot, so check the key).  Again, there’s stasis in the older generations but a drop in faith (granted, less pronounced than seen above) among “millennials.”

And the plot for the judgment day question, showing the same trend.

Pew summarizes the data for the “God” question (and the two others) as follows:

As a result, the gap between the oldest Americans—the Silent generation – and the youngest, which was just six points in 2007, has increased to 21 points today (89% of Silent generation vs. 68% of Millennials) There have been smaller declines in the percentages of Millennials agreeing to the other two statements about core religious beliefs – the personal importance of prayer and belief in a Judgment Day. Still, just 55% of Millennials agree with all three religious values; among older age cohorts, two-thirds or more agree with all three religion statements.

Is this a real trend among young people? I think so, for I’ve always felt that the secularization of America is inevitable, and will follow the pattern of Europe.  These data, though, show that it’s proceeding faster than I envisioned.  But perhaps the young people will become more religious as they age, a trend that’s been seen in some surveys. Nevertheless, I think this is cause for a bit of celebration.

Is the trend due to the efforts of the New Atheists, as Pew suggests? We don’t know for sure, of course, but the declines begin around 2007, when The End of Faith, The God Delusion, and God is Not Great had all been published.  Now surely lots of these a-religious youth haven’t read those books, but some have, and at any rate those books have helped promote a climate in which it’s less shameful to be seen as a nonbeliever.  It’s only my guess, but I think those books contributed to the erosion of faith among the young. If true, that in turn shows what most of us feel: it’s far more useful to appeal to young people, who may be on the fence about faith, than to try to convert their already brainwashed elders.

All of us who dislike religion and love evolution should be happy about this trend if it’s real.  For acceptance of evolution will follow unbelief as the night follows day. The only people who will mourn this trend will be those misguided faitheists and accommodationists who have an unshakable belief that religion is somehow good for the masses, even if they don’t buy it themselves. Expect to see some blog posts taking issue with the Pew Survey.

There’s a long way to go, of course: nearly 70% of “millennials” still say that they never doubt the existence of God.

h/t: JJE

88 Comments

  1. BilBy
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Yes, it’s good news, but your final line is a bit depressing. Graph 41b – over 75% of most generations believe there will be a judgement day? To me that’s kind of like seeing a graph that says over 75% of people believe Zeus abducted and then seduced Aerope when in the form of a bull.

    • Frank
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      The important point is that the number of young nonbelievers may exceed a threshold frequency – above which they no longer feel that they are alone or unusual, they are not inhibited to share and defend their (non)beliefs, and they become likely to encounter fellow rationalists often.

      We are social primates, with an obvious need for approval and belonging (some have this need more than others), so there is a big difference between belonging to a group represented by 5% vs. 25%. Both percentages are minorities, but the latter minority is much less likely to feel alienated or ostracized. And the network may spread …

      • gbjames
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        This is the value of atheists “coming out”. It encourages others to get out of the closet.

  2. gbjames
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    Yes, these graphs will make Robert Wright sad. The rest of us can chip in by making a contribution to the Secular Student Alliance which is growing at a fast pace.

    http://www.secularstudents.org/

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

      And tune in to CNN today at 9:40 to hear the Secular Student Alliance’s Jesse Galef discussing this survey and the SSA in general!!

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        I just caught a bit of it, with the ridiculous question about whether a secular student group in a high school campus isn’t prosletyzing… huh? Great answer though – that Christians have their groups and the SSA is for secular kids to have a safe place to meet.

        • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          The whole video can be found here! http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2012/06/14/nr-millenials-belief-in-god.cnn

          • Notagod
            Posted June 15, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

            Thank you Jessica.

            I missed the original broadcast and couldn’t find it on youtube so I’m very appreciative of your followup comment. I could nitpick a couple of things but really Jesse did great, even avoiding a couple of traps setup by the reporter.

            Due to your and gbjames comments and the fact that I would have been overjoyed with being able to join an SSA group when I was in school, I will be sending a, unfortunately small, donation to SSA.

            My thanks to both of you.

            • gbjames
              Posted June 15, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

              Every little bit helps! FWIW, Freethought Blogs has been running a “blogathon” fundraiser for SSA this week. PZ posted that they are up to $76K this morning.

  3. JBlilie
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    My cohort (which for feels more like Post-Boomer, though we are included in the Boomers “officially”), in my experience, displayed a reaction to what the religiously inclined aomngst my cohort viewed as the excesses of the 1960s (What, women and (clutch pearls) blacks want equal rights? People want to be in charge of their own sexuality? Gays want to be treated as fully human? EEK!).

    This helped drive the surge in suburban mega-churches and a big upsurge in conservatism and the election of Reagan.* Many of my former work colleagues (and current ones) and people I spent time in the outdoors with we (IMO) crazy conservative.

    I am really pleased to see a reaction against that reaction amongst the millenials.

    * Everyone needs to carefully study what has happened to the middle class (especially the lower end of it) since Reaganomics took hold:

    Graph

    Article

    The Reaganites convinced people that giving money to the top would generate jobs. It did not and has not. The money went to the top and, surprise, surprise, the kept it!

    The jobs come from demand for products produced (No one thinks, “Hey, I feel rich, I’ll hire some people.” No, they hire people when demand requires it and never sooner.) And demand is driven by the middle class buying products. If you strangle the middle class to enrich the top, and then when things go poorly, do more of the same (the GOP is a one-trick pony: Times are good? Give more to the rich. Times are bad? Give more to the rich): Press the gas pedal harder as you drive towards that cliff, then you put the economy into a death spiral. You get our current situation where the GOP is throwing themselves under the bus to prevent the wealthiest, most privileged tiny slice of the US population form ponying up a another tiny slice of their riches to re-right the ship of the economy. Hey, even Reagan realized that balancing the budget required both budget cuts and tax increases.

  4. Dominic
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Who invented these strange names for the age groupings? Presumably the next group will be the Worst Generation or maybe the Last Generation!

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      I don’t think they invented all of them, but William Strauss and Neil Howe would appear most proximately responsible for their current use.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        A very interesting read, that book.

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Oh, and the next cohort is currently being referred to as “The Homeland Generation”.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        How I hate the “homeland” designation.

        It’s just way too “fatherland” for me.

      • PeteJohn
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Just out of curiousity, do you know why? I have never heard the term before.

        • Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Well, that’s the term Howe has been using of late. “Generation Z” is probably more prevalent, for the moment.

    • Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      I think older folks have been calling the youngest generation the Worst Generation and the Last Generation since…well, forever.

  5. Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    §

  6. Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    in my own experience, people get older and if exposed to the nonsense of religion, often run back to it to get their foot inside the pearly gates. The fear of death makes a lot of people quite stupid.

    • Neil
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Religion is like bed-wetting. People outgrow it, but for some it comes back in old age.

      • Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        So THAT’s what’s wrong with my incontinent cat! He’s “got religion!” So how to convince him that Ceiling Cat isn’t watching him all the time…

  7. Greg G
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Even if they haven’t read the Gnu Atheist books, they have seen YouTube videos produced by people who have read the books and were inspired by them.

    By the time I got around to reading several of the books, I was familiar with the arguments from comnebtaries on the books or the arguments, and even from lectures and debates by the authors themselves.

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Yes. Even though only a small fraction of a-religious youth may have read the New Atheist books, the others may be influenced by the disdain for religion that is seeping into our culture because of the NA books; in other words, they are getting their a-religious tendencies secondhand.

  8. Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    What we as atheists need to do is make sure that people know there is an alternative to believing.

  9. Don
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this, Jerry. Genuinely heartening. But you mean, of course, ” . . . acceptance of evolution will follow unbelief as the DAY follows NIGHT.

  10. darrelle
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    That is good news of course, but what really jumped out at me was “68 percent of millennials in 2012 agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.””

    This is the least religious cohort, and still 68% never doubt the existence of God? I think that is bullshit. I think a lot of people are lying about that one.

    Like I said, I acknowledge that this is good news, but I just can’t get excited about it. Perhaps because I live in an uber conservative small town with nearly half the population proudly redneck, and the other half boomer or older filthy rich people that have fun throwing Tea Parties. And there are two churches at every lighted intersection, and one at every non lighted intersection, even in residential areas.

    Then I remind myself that this town is not representative of the entire country. Then I look at my kids and I feel a little more optimistic.

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Regarding your third paragraph:
      Wow, are we neighbors? :-)
      Sounds so familiar.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        I hope so. Aside from the welcome sense of companionship that would give me, I hate to think there are other towns out there as religion soaked as this one.

        Yeah, I know. There are plenty of them out there, some even worse. It doesn’t feel that way though, when you are stuck in it.

    • DV
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      Your town must have very big blocks then.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Not really. Starting from my driveway a tour through the residential area that I live in would, no exaggeration, pass by at least a dozen churches within three or four miles. Everything from a “Primitive” (how ironic) baptist church that claims it is the oldest in town, to a ritzy catholic church, to a gigantic first church of god (think wanna be mega church). And there is a UU church and LDS mini temple thrown in for good measure. Oh, I almost forgot about the seventh day adventists and the kingdom hall of the jehovah’s witnesses. There are many others but they kind of blur together after awhile.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

          Sounds like paradise… for arsonists :)

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Given the combined 2000-2010 GSS answers about the question of God’s existence, it’s probably a bit high. (Note the small 1990s cohort sample size gives confidence intervals too wide to tell diddly.) Maybe a bit over 50% seems more likely, from the GSS data; with those have generally believe but occasionally have doubts relexively lying in the Pew response but not the GSS.

      • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Whoops; that was the combined 1972-2010; actual 2000-2010 summary….

        • Notagod
          Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          It says “GSS 1972-2010 Cumulative Datafile” but, the data presented is only up to 2000. Any idea why that is? Or am I doing something wrong?

          • Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            Because the URL link is to a result filtering a subset of responses from years 2000-2010. The usual way to play with it is the web interface. However, that doesn’t readily allow linking to the results you get.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Sounds familiar. Bunch of children of labor who like to bash unions. Grew up in now mostly minority municipalities but blast those areas as dens of vice and crime and icky minority-ness. Are members of churches just to say they are and bash anyone who thinks religion is a waste of time. Plus the folk who think they’re “country” and therefore can drive their rusty trucks and spit tobacco and drink Busch Lite and complain about “them libruls.”

  11. Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    1. What would the older generations have replied if they were asked these questions when they were the same age as the “Millenials”? Older folks tend to hold stronger religious beliefs, or at least they talk about it more. And people often become more publicly religious when their children are born.

    2. Note the slight but steady last-five-years uptick in belief in God for the “Never trust anybody over 30″ generation as the looming presence of the Grim Reaper reminds them that they won’t be 25 forever.

    3. I never heard of the “Silent Generation” but my parents (1930s) are both lifelong atheists. Their families went to church sometimes but I don’t remember either set of grandparents being overtly religious.

    I rejected religion at a very early age and nobody saw anything wrong with it. My public school experience was very secular and religion was considered a private family matter. It was only when I went to college (beginning of the Reagan era) that I began to see widespread intolerance for atheism.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      The most important comparison to make is that between the Millennials and the Gen-Xers. These are the only two generations completely represented in the data set. The difference between them is dramatic. This is telling us something about the environments that these different groups grew up in. The Millennials are the post-9/11, Gnu-Atheist-exposed group. This, to me, is the heartening side of the story.

      • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Actually, looking at the GSS religious identification, it looks mostly to be the continued logistic curve acceleration of pre-existing trends. The Gnu Atheists are just more of the same Old.

        (Though there was an anomaly in the recent PRRI/Georgetown study; the Millennial “Nones” may tend to be more atheist leaning than the historical “None” norm.)

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      The People-Press link given provides information on how the generations have answered over the years. Answer: over the last quarter century, minimal sustained change within generations. Looks like variation might all be short-term environmental response and normal sampling variation.

  12. TJR
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I belong to the Blank Generation.

  13. Greg Esres
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    “A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.”

    Isn’t that a distortion of the data? From the Pew question, all you can say is that this 15 percent are people who sometimes question the existence of God, which isn’t quite the same thing.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      That is correct, but the 3 trends covary and at least one of them correlate to generic strength of religion (prayer practice).

      However, I think it is the most reasonable prediction anyway, seeing that there seem to be no elasticity in the groups participating in these movements. I.e. having less fundamentalists means pushing some moderates over to agnosticism et cetera, precisely as education moves religious to agnostics and agnostics to atheists.

      [In which case one would predict even more ardent atheists in the end of such an inelastic wave.]

  14. Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I don’t blame Dawkins. I blame the Internet.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      As did Galef in the CNN interview linked above.

      He should be informed, and it is a good hypothesis as it partly predicts generational differences everything else alike.

  15. John K.
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    A bit surprising that all the groups line up in order on every graph. It makes sense that older generations would be more inclined towards traditional attitudes, yet all but the youngest group seemed to be fairly static.

    This goes along with the idea that some bad ideas need to die off with the generation that came up with them. It seems that sometimes you just need to start over with a new brain to change certain attitudes. It is depressing and encouraging all at the same time.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      A bit surprising that all the groups line up in order on every graph.

      I wonder if the data were broken out by year, it would show a continuous downward declining line?

  16. Sajanas
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Honestly, I don’t think its all New Atheism’s fault… for a lot of my friends, even the ones that never cracked an atheist book, its the sheer amount of vitriol that churches have been directing against the LGBT community, and against sex more generally that has caused a lot of people to doubt and part ways. I think my (the Millennial) generation has had the largest number of people out, and from a young age… and I think that a lot of people have started to notice that the more vocally religious people are also the same ones abusing the most vulnerable members of our population.

    I remember when I was a kid we used to sing, “They will know we are Christians from our love”. And honestly, these days, I think most people have started to notice people are Christians from their hatred, and their small minded bronze age bigotry.

    • raven
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      True, and what I said further down the thread.

      When xian became synonymous with hater, liar, ignorant, crazy, and sometimes killer for jesus,…a lot of people didn’t want to be one any more.

      What happened to me.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        “When xian became synonymous with…”

        You mean 380 AD?

    • PeteJohn
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      …and with the internet and 24-hour news networks it’s very difficult for hateful people who are in positions of prestige and/or power to hide. Every ignorant thing the late, not-great, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson said/says showed/shows up all over the internet and all over TV.

      • Sajanas
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, and demonstrated even more recently with the various pastors from my great home state of NC wanting to beat and intern and kill gays after the vote on Amendment One. You sometimes get the sense from the news media that anti-gay prejudice is something that people just have…. but I think its clear that it comes from the Bible and the pulpit, and those viral videos showed just how ugly pastors can be. And while I’ve seen a few nice pro-gay sermons out there… I can’t help but feel like they often cripple themselves by trying to reinterpret the ‘kill all the gays’ parts of the bible, rather than just saying “No, the bible is wrong”. Because they can’t just do that, can they?

  17. DV
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    If millenials are everybody 30 and under, then a third of them don’t doubt the existence of Santa Claus either.

    • ManOutOfTime
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Ha ha! Or “love” … !

  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    It’s both the influence of New Atheists (especially Dawkins and Hitchnes) and the increasingly batschitt crazy behavior of the religious in American today compared to 60 years ago, along with the increasing irrelevance of sane religion. Suicide cults, Westboro Baptist, 9/11. etc.

    There may be a strong accomodationism (Wright) and a more moderate one. Accomodationism doesn’t necessarily meaning wanting to actively promote (Wright) and preserve religion. It can simply mean not subjecting the more decent religious types to shame and social stigma, while still not worrying if religious institutions self-destruct and implode. I am an accomodationist in this sense, but not in Robert Wright’s sense.

  19. raven
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    The National Council of Churches yearbook reports that 1.5 million Americans dropped the churches last year.

    There are limitations on their data, not least that a lot of sects cook their numbers.

    The real number is likely to be more like 2-3 million.

  20. raven
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the atheist leaders had much to do with the fall of US xianity.

    They were created by the fundie xians who also created the New Atheists.

    The vaguely humanoid toad leaders like Robertson, Falwell, Hagee, Crouch, Parsley, Warren etc. make more atheists in a day than Dawkins and Myers do in a year.

    The New Dark Age program of the christofascists helped a lot. The Dark Ages were called that for a reason, and a lot of people don’t find living in them appealing.

    • raven
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      The fundie creationists were what finally drove me out of xianity.

      I thought they were extinct like the Flat Earthers until I started running into them.

  21. David T.
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I dislike the question “I never doubt the existence of god” — for the most part these days I don’t doubt the existence of a theistic god….I’m fairly certain it doesn’t exist.

  22. Ken Pidcock
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Because we’ve elevated faith to a virtue, I’ve no doubt this will be widely read as indicating a kind of moral indifference among younger Americans. That’s easily refuted by going through the question index. The Millennials are not rejecting traditional values. They’re rejecting superstition.

  23. Newman
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Interesting that one of the statements was “I never doubt the existence of God.” Even among the fully committed evangelicals of the Wesleyan church (of which I was a part for a long time), it was emphasized that doubts were a GOOD thing and part of the evolution of your ownership of faith…as long as those doubts didn’t lead you away from God, of course.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Exactly. No doubts, ever, is not a normal human condition either. Like I said above, lots of lying going on. Of course, that question was bound to produce a bunch of lies, which make the data pretty much worthless. They need to come up with better questions.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Not worthless, just not as good as we would like. These questions are measuring changes of some sort. And these changes have to do with religious belief. Better questions would make things more clear but you can’t go back and retroactively ask your historical sample your better-thought-out questions. So we are partially screwed. But not completely.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Agreed.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

          Definitely a lot of more or less conscious lying going on, which means we should not reject the results but find a way of calibrating them, using a sample where the same questions are asked along with a much more intensive survey.

          This should include interviews with friends, neighbours, and work associates, and apply polygraphs, fMRI, truth-sniffing kittehs, and waterboarding to find out what they really believe and practice.

          OK, maybe the sampling design needs a little more work.

  24. Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Looking through Reddit’s r/atheism which has a large number of Millennials supports their loss of religion.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    That is good news of course and really interesting to boot. The drop from one generation to the next is barely visible but seems like a significant trend. (No time to run the numbers.) But the youngest generation shows definite change.

    As for possible contributing causes, the news flashed past my eyes a few days ago that between group life expectancy has decreased to an all time low, with only a year difference. (I have to assume this observation was done in US, I can’t find it now.)

    This would go to making the society de facto less uncertain, it would happen over the same 5-10 years time fram I assume. Perhaps the more impressionable generation is picking up on that, and the usual “less uncertain society, less religion” correlation is acting.

    there’s stasis in the older generations but a drop in faith (granted, less pronounced than seen above) among “millennials.”

    Are you sure about that? The TPM graph shows about the same 10-15 % drop. (No time to check the actual data right now.) In fact, all 3 trends shows roughly the same behavior.

    The problem is that the TPM graph is misconstructed, you should never show trends with partial axes because people blow up the significance, and differ in scale.

  26. KP
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Also seemingly absent is an uptick in older generations. I tend to think that as people get closer to death they start to be more interested in an after-live and salvation by Invisible Sky Men. Hard to find support for that in the data here, though.

  27. Greg Esres
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    A hope that I’ve seen expressed elsewhere is that once a certain critical mass of non-believers is achieved, the trend will accelerate. But even under the best-case scenario, the growth rate must eventually plateau; belief hasn’t died off in Europe, so there’s little hope it will here in the next few generations.

  28. Steve Wagner
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Great! I’m happy to see good news like this.

  29. Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Those changes look more impressive than they really are because this is a Gee-Whiz Graph: it does not start at zero. For a look at the changes in proportion, re-graph with the Y axis starting at 0.

  30. Posted June 17, 2012 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    “All of us who dislike religion and love evolution should be happy about this trend if it’s real. For acceptance of evolution will follow unbelief as the night follows day. The only people who will mourn this trend will be those misguided faitheists and accommodationists who have an unshakable belief that religion is somehow good for the masses, even if they don’t buy it themselves.”

    The surveys findings look like good news, but I think we should be careful and not read too much into them.

    I disagree with some of what is said in the quote above:

    1.)””All of us who dislike religion and love evolution…”

    I do not see any reason why “disliking religion” and “loving evolution” should be related – I also find “love evolution” rather a strange idea – Accept evolution as fact, yes – but “love” it?

    2.) “For acceptance of evolution will follow unbelief as the night follows day”

    Why? It is perfectly possible to believe in evolution and to believe in a god – It is only impossible (if one is rational) to believe in evolution and god if one believes that the “holy scripts” are absolute inerrant accounts and were effectively “written” by god. I think that long before belief in god is abandoned, belief in the infallability of the “holy scripts” (or sections of them) will be abandoned – We have seen this occur with other scientific theories / discoveries which were vehemently denied until they became a potentially “fatal””problem” and the contrary scripts were “devalued” – The whole “firmament” idea clearly detailed in Genesis was proven false, and effectively acknowledged as false by the church eventually (after they had murdered the scientists who disclosed the truth) – but they just continue – ignoring the proven errors in the bible, and asserting infallibility for the other crap they have not yet felt forced to relinquish.

    3.)”The only people who will mourn this trend will be those misguided faitheists and accommodationists who have an unshakable belief that religion is somehow good for the masses, even if they don’t buy it themselves.”

    What is “good for the masses” or ‘bad for the masses’ is almost entirely irellevant – IMO, it comes down to what “the masses” want (or think they want) for themselves.

    Am I “accommodationist” if I think that SOME people are better off having personal (delusional) faith in their personal god than they would be if they were “forced” to accept reality? Am I “accommodationist” if I think that SOME people need (for reasons of mental health) the kind of authoritarian, regimented “club” to provide structure for their immature personalities – that they are incapable of moral behaviour without the illusory rewards and penalties this club shares as a common delusion?

    I do not “mourn this trend” at all – If it is real, I am unreservedly pleased..

    I do, however, see some possible reasons for the “accommodationist” perspective – We have a long way to go before “the masses” (who have been kept morally undeveloped by religion) are ready to be thrown into the real world – and it is possible that slow death of religion (with its influence reducing to nill) is required so that these people can adapt over several generations and be equipped to deal with a god-free universe.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 17, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      What is most offensive to me about the accommodationist position you advocate is its utter disregard for the potential of your fellow humans. “I don’t believe in any of that nonsense, of course, but those miserable huddled masses over there aren’t capable of understanding reality.” This is, frankly, a miserable position to be advocating, at least as far as I’m concerned.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        “humans. “I don’t believe in any of that nonsense, of course, but those miserable huddled masses over there aren’t capable of understanding reality.”

        Straw man!

        • gbjames
          Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Where’s the straw? You very last paragraph said, in so many words, that “the masses” aren’t “ready to be thrown into the real world”. Leaving aside the that nobody is talking about throwing people anywhere, you are (it reads to me) saying that while you can see reality just fine, these poor masses will need SEVERAL GENERATIONS to figure it out. I don’t know which masses you are talking about, exactly, but I see no reason to take such a position.

          • Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            “Where’s the straw?”

            Between your ears.

            LOL!

            • gbjames
              Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

              IOW, no need to take you seriously anymore. I’m cool with that.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      What ‘bothers’ me most about “new athiesm” or “darwinism” is that it IS starting to show the symptoms of religion.

      The religios gloat over every convert they hear about, they gloat over every (often bogus) survey which gives them what they want to believe – They are intollerant of those who do not subscribe to their beliefs, and they profess love for their dispicable gods.

      Athiests (or at least some of those who waste their time at sites like this) seem to be emulating these behaviours quite closely..

      “love evolution” ??? WTF ?? There is nothing “nice” about evolution – it is as cruel as any of the dispicable gods fathiest “love”.. Accept evolution is a fact, yes – Admire the brilliance of Darwin in his comprehensive realization of the idea, and his masterful documentation of the theory (On the evolution of species is, IMO, the most brilliant book ever written) Yes! Admire the person of Darwin – what he stood for both scientifically and morally, Yes!

      But when we start to use words like “love” for something like evolution, we are moving into areas of grossly wrong thinking – into fathiest territory..

      “You can take a horse to the water, but you cant make it drink” – We have taken the “horses” to the “water” – If they wont drink, jumping up and down shouting abuse at them aint going to make them drink!

      Those who are thirsty and overcome their fear of the water will drink – the others who are thirsty will drink when they are ready – And those who never get thirsty will never drink..

      Anyway – I have said all I can.

      I think most of what is really going on with many athiests is what went on in me for more than 30 years – I HATED religion and the religious, my attacks on their beliefs were much more to do with wanting to “get back” at them than to “help” them.

      It is the realization that there is a bigger delusion than the “god delusion” which changed me – The Free-will delusion underpins all human behaviour, and while it is held, the (by comparison, trivial) god delusion will remain.

      It will probably be millenia before we have “evolved” to a state where we have discarded the major delusion and adapted our psychology and structures to actually be “real”.

      And I think that a bit of realism is called for at this time – the “I don’t believe in any of that nonsense, of course, but those miserable huddled masses over there aren’t capable of understanding reality.” is not what anyone is saying – its not that people “aren’t capable of understanding reality” – Its that they DONT WANT TO!

      And the same is true about athiests who believe in free will!

      Fred.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Why, exactly, do you bother to tone-troll here? Oh. I get it. You can’t help yourself.

        • Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          “tone-troll” ?

          dont know what that is..

          And yes – I am simply following my script.. most of the time (fortunately) I am not aware that I am following my script – But there is no possible way that it could be otherwise.

          And you know that – and you know it for yourself – and it frightens the sh*t out of you!

          Fred.

          • gbjames
            Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

            Let me introduce you to the Google machine…

            http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Tone%20troll

            And no, I’m not in the least frightened by anything you have said.

            • Posted June 18, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

              Hmmm..

              The wrong thing about this is that it is you who “stalks” me, “correcting” what I say, not the other way ’round!

              So- me coming here and expressing my personal disagreement with “editorial” opinion, is “trolling” – Wheras you, stalking me on every post I make, declaring what I say as “offensive” are not “trolling” ?

              What is this about? Is there some sort of “thought police” patrol roaming athiest sites to enforce a “hard athiesm” and absolutely intollerant attitude on us “deviant” athiests ?

              Its looking even more like a religion than it did before!

              I have been in a religion before – I DONT LIKE THEM! AND I DONT LIKE THE IDEA OF AN ATHIEST RELIGION! SO I WILL EXPRESS MY OPINION HERE AND ELSEWHERE AND I WILL NOT BE BULLIED BY THE LIKES OF YOU!

              FRED.

              • gbjames
                Posted June 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                Dude. I’m not the one who is shouting. So cut out the persecution silliness. Not convincing.

                You are here, complaining about the tone of atheists who think it reasonable to directly confront religious thinking. Simultaneously you demean the very believers as incapable of escape for generations to come! And now you insist that atheists willing to confront religious nonsense have started a new religion!

                Hoo-boy!

              • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                “You are here, complaining about the tone of atheists who think it reasonable to directly confront religious thinking.”

                Read my original posting in this thread – the one to which YOU first replied.

                I never made ANY “complaint” about anything, particularly not about “atheists who think it reasonable to directly confront religious thinking”.

                What I did which caused YOU offence (the word YOU used!) was that I expressed MY opinion – an opinion different to yours and this sites host.

                If you find someone elses opinion offensive, that is YOUR problem! But please, dont invert it into saying that I am complaining – IT IS YOU WHO IS COMPLAINING!

                Fred.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted June 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, Fredjackm, but since you say that atheists are wasting their time at sites like this, you needn’t do that any more.

            I suggest you find somewhere else to troll.

  31. Glenn Borchardt
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    These data show that the separation of church and state is on the way. With youth spurning religious “education” and public budgets getting tight, support for religious tax exemption must also decline:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/atheists-challenge-the-tax-exemption-for-religious-groups/2012/06/14/gJQATltKdV_story.html

  32. KarenDian1
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    When I was younger, I was more outspoken about being a non-believer, but after being threatened, both socially and at work, I became a closet atheist.
    Your article, and the youth of America, has given me hope for a more rational and caring society…An end to superstitions, and the people who pray on the misguided.


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Research Center Values Study. Recently, 3008 adult Americans agreed to answer the questions, and Jerry Coyne has posted the results.  Coyne thinks the results are good news; however, while the results [...]

  2. [...] Signs that religion is waning among America’s youth (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  3. [...] their lives, and only 27% believe the Bible is the literal word of a god, both record lows. And as Jerry Coyne points out, while most older generations’ belief in God has stayed steady throughout the course of their [...]

  4. […] to the latest Pew Research poll numbers posted by Jerry Coyne, there is a massive difference in doubting god between my generation (born 1965 – 1980) and […]

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