Because there are so many more religious believers than atheists, even if the rates of conversion to and fro were equal you’d still get more believers becoming atheists than the other way round. (Eventually, though, the numbers would be equal.) But the rates aren’t really equal: it seems that the rate of loss of belief exceeds that of acquiring belief—at least if you accept the statistics about the secularization of the West.
That’s one reason it’s surprising to see an atheist regain belief in God. The other is that it makes more intellectual sense to give up belief than to acquire it, and that’s because there’s no evidence for Gods. Since most people live their lives in an evidence-based way, you might expect that despite the religious indoctrination of children, those who come to think for themselves would eventually give up faith. On the other hand, acquiring faith seems weirder, since it means you’re believing in spite of the evidence. (I consider the absence of God as evidence for his nonexistence, since any decent God would have given us that evidence, and would not have given different groups of people wildly different faiths.)
So I was disappointed when, according to several sources (including the Washington Post), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he is no longer an atheist (he’s previously mentioned his nonbelief on his site). It started with this post on his Facebook page:
And then a reader followup:
Zuckerberg identified himself as an atheist for years, but on Facebook on Christmas he wrote back: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
Well, that’s a bit ambiguous because you can say that being religious is important without yourself being religious, but given the positive connotations of “important,” that’s unlikely. What’s unclear is whether Zuckerberg has reclaimed his Judaism, or adheres to another faith.
In fact, HuffPo suggests that Zuckerberg has been toying with the idea for a while:
He didn’t provide details about his faith. The title of his holiday greeting on Facebook was “celebrating Christmas.”
He and wife Priscilla Chan met with Pope Francis at the Vatican last summer and discussed how to bring communication technology to the world’s poor. Zuckerberg said at the time that he was impressed with the pope’s compassion.
“We told him how much we admire his message of mercy and tenderness, and how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world,” Zuckerberg posted. “It was a meeting we’ll never forget. You can feel his warmth and kindness, and how deeply he cares about helping people.”
So long as the helping doesn’t involve giving them contraception!
If Zuckerberg were an ordinary person, a return to faith would be an unimportant curiosity. It’s a bit more distressing since the guy is smart and creative. But, as head of Facebook, he does have some power, and part of that power is to defend faith and do down atheism. Facebook already has a tendency to censor criticism of Islam, though that might not be on Zuckerberg’s orders. Perhaps nothing will happen, and I hope so, but I sense that criticism of any faith will become more a part of Facebooks modus operandi.