Former atheist Mark Zuckerberg goes backwards, finds God

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:

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-9-14-55-am

And then a reader followup:

“Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Priscilla, Max, Beast and me,” he wrote, naming his wife, daughter and dog. Then a commenter asked him: Aren’t you an atheist?

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.

65 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Sounds like Zuckerberg is trying not to really say anything. I wonder if he’s trying to recant his atheism for political reasons as he didn’t come out gung ho for religion either.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Maybe he’s trying to expand Facebook in the Islamic world, and considers that explicit atheism is not tactically astute?

      Who knows, lots of people who lack belief in gods avoid the a-word for various reasons (and many of them clutch on to the other a-word, agnosticism).

      Also, many Jews consider religion “important” for social and family reasons without believing the theological side. I don’t think that Zuckerburg has declared any actual belief in any gods.

    • Rita
      Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I thought that too. He was pretty vague about it. I think if he really did revert to theism, he would have been more straightforward.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      My thought exactly.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      The evidence is a bit vague. When he renames his networking service as Faithbook, I’ll be a bit more convinced.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Politics.

      He has also mentioned a new years resolution to visit and meet with people in all fifty states this year.

      Zuckerberg 2020.

      Ceiling Cat help us all.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Provides more evidence to remind all people that money, and large amounts of it are no measure of intelligence. It seems to generally be the reaction but it should not be. Kind of like we sometimes think getting elected president is also a measure of the grey matter but again, the results are out on that one. Or maybe they are in?

  3. Christopher Bonds
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    From the quoted comments above it’s impossible for me to tell whether or not MZ has become a believer. If he has, he’s playing his cards really close to his chest.

    I am not worried that Facebook atheist groups are in any more danger than religious-themed groups were when he was known as an atheist.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I’d think the danger level for atheist groups would be a priori higher because of the greater market clout of the religious along with the inherent authoritarianism and intolerance of dissenting views that goes along with most religions. A zealous Zuckerberg could harass atheist group with only a small concern about the bottom line. Not so the other way around.

      That said, I think there is little to worry about here. Just highlighting that the situations are not really symmetric.

  4. CB
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    It also makes more intellectuall sense to give up belief in any fixed meaning of words and language. I sure agree MZ’ statement is pretty slippery-so who knows what he is really or not saying. Scientists do their best to pin down definitions of words but even there the terrain gets slippery from time to time. Whereas poets take delight in enriching meaning by playing around with multiple connotations and referents.And mostly words and possible ranges of meaning are used kind of blindly and habitually.
    ‘The question is, says Alice, whether you can make words mean what you want them to?’In response and agreement to Coel and Christopher Bonds.

    • Christopher Bonds
      Posted January 6, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I love that exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty! I’ve quoted it many times…

  5. Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    His mind may be infected from being 30 years old and worth $50 billion?

    But, more likely, in my opinion, he just said “religion is important” and doesn’t want to be known as an atheist even though he probably is…Very vague one-liner to go off of.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      If I came into a gazillion dollars practically overnight, I might go all wishy washy.

  6. jay
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Never been a fan of his. But I don’t take any of this very seriously. Certainly not a big concern for Facebook making changes (not that I ever touch Facebook anyhow).

    Zuckerberg was never defined by his atheism, there’s a whole range of people who are not hardline atheists but have no real belief in gods either. And certainly wishing his friends and customers a happy Hanukkah or Merry Christmas hardly defines him as religious. I’m very solidly atheist, but have not problem wishing people a good holiday.

    But more than any religions, I suspect he is heavily into the cult of conspicuously nonjudgemental American liberalism, where everyone’s religion and culture is equally good, and criticism is bad.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Yes well, if criticism is bad, he sure has himself in a position, with a platform to spread a great deal of it.

  7. NicholasV
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    If human qualities have nuance, “smart and creative” certainly do. These only imply a scale above the average, and not a guarantee of intellectual rigor.

    An intellectually rigorous parent would/could not raise a child ‘Jewish’ unless extenuating circumstances demanded otherwise, such as raising the child in a theocracy.

    Without a doubt he is an above average opportunist, with an above average sociopolitical sense, but neither of these skills should be misinterpreted as an adequate intellectual capacity available for rigorous scientific or philosophical application.

    This Zuckerberg narrative only supports the general evidence that children religiously indoctrinated continue to display emotional and conceptual discontinuity until an actual intellectual rigor is achieved, whether it be the result of focused scientific discipline or the slow maturation of the cultural psyche.

    If power were given only to the honest and wise, Shakespeare would only have written non-fiction.

  8. Kevin
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Politicians often claim to have faith when they do not otherwise their constituents may leave the island. His equivocation makes him a fool.

    Fortunately, Zuckerberg is non-influential in my life. If he has anything to say about science then he might actually do something with his life.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      “…then he might actually do something with his life.”

      Bit of a non achiever so far, I guess! 🙂

  9. Amy
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Although there is possibility that Mark Zuckerberg truely finds his God, but it is more likely that what he does is just a business behavior, or, some human beings think they are superior, they look at their own speciesl pitifully and think: It is necessary to have a God to pacify and watch them.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      So far, I have this impression as well, along with many others above. His statements seem to be more about being nice to the religious than in being religious.

  10. Christopher
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I’m not surprised. Mark Zuckerberg is a grade-A tw*t.

    and, btw, in case you hadn’t heard, William Christopher, aka Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H has died. What a crap way to start 2017.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    The wait can’t be long enough for a sequel to The Social Network.

  12. Posted January 1, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    “Zuckerberg said at the time that he was impressed with the pope’s compassion.”

    I must say I find it astonishingly naive when anyone gets so impressed by the posturing of figures in senior positions in religion, politics, or even business. These are areas where Virtue Signalling becomes an artform. I particularly admire, for example, the way the Queen pulls it off. The Pope is hardly a sluggard when it comes to posing as one of “extreme compassion”. Well, it’s his job isn’t it? The question I always ask is, what is such posing COSTING the poser versus what do they have to gain by the act of posing?
    If one wants to be biblical about the whole thing Matthew 12:33 comes to mind: “Ye shall know them by their fruits….even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” So we just need to judge the Pope by “the fruit” of the Catholic church which I must say is pretty rotten indeed.

    • Zetopan
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      “Zuckerberg said at the time that he was impressed with the pope’s compassion.”
      I also immediately recognized the hollowness of that statement. The pope spouts empty platitudes and the Catholic church’s compassion stops abruptly and firmly with maintaining, when not increasing, the wealth of the church.

  13. Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Maybe a case of one (Anthony) Flew over the cuckoo’s nest?

  14. Rita
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Maybe he’ll be running for some office soon….

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 4, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      He plans a 50-state tour this year, so… seems like it.

  15. Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I wonder why a commenter, seeing a Christmas & Hanukkah greeting from Zuckerberg, suspected that the latter may have renounced his atheism. These are traditional holidays of communities. Of course, one can choose not to celebrate them, but I’d like to hear a stringent atheist explaining to his children why there will be no Christmas tree in their living-room! When I meet Muslims on Eid, I wish them happy Eid, though I am an Islamophobe. This is simple civility.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      That was my first thought, too. I’m an atheist, but I love Christmas! Maybe this isn’t something that makes sense to believers.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 1, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, believers who feel Christmas is for them and them alone, don’t like it when non-Christians celebrate Xmas. Jews are different because Judaism seems to allow for atheism. Of course, this Christian concept of exclusivity is ironic given that virtually everything about the celebration was stolen from pagan practices.

        • Posted January 1, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention that almost everything about Christmas (and certainly everything *I* like, such as the tree, the lights, the music, etc.) has nothing to do with Christianity anyway!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 1, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

            Hedonistically, I mostly like the time off work &a the gifts.

            • Christopher
              Posted January 1, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

              and not to mention it’s another great excuse to stuff your gob, get pissed, and fall asleep in the middle of the day.

        • Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

          As long as history and, probably before, human beings have had recognition and special ceremonies at the time of all four solstices. They were considered to be times of great danger from departed spirits when the doors between the live and dead were open. When the time of danger had passed, they celebrated still being alive and relatively well. We carry on this tradition in many forms and at various times of the year (Christmas, Easter, Halloween). Those of us who’ve passed through the trauma of 2016 surely are entitled to celebrate 2017, or any other darn thing we wish.

          I, too, send out cards at Christmas. They usually don’t reference Christmas, but “Happy Holidays” or some variant. I still celebrate the end of one year and start of another by having a “Winter Solstice” feast with family.
          For many of us, Christmas was never about the religion.

        • reasonshark
          Posted January 2, 2017 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          It’s not just a question of not liking it. Some of them – I’m not even ruling out atheists here – genuinely don’t seem to understand how Christmas can exist independently of religion. Hell, I’ve argued with faitheists who seem to think a compelling defence of religion is pointing out that even atheists celebrate Christmas, a “religious” festival. I can only sigh at such muddled thinking.

  16. keith Cook ¿
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    “It’s a bit more distressing since the guy is smart and creative” and now we can add, a tad delusional. Let’s hope the wealth the guy has at his disposal does not end up promoting this delusion as in the Templeton foundation or similar.

  17. jwthomas
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    What Zuckerberg thinks about anything is of no importance. The poisonous influence of Facebook is.

    http://tinyurl.com/zz25ofp
    http://tinyurl.com/92wahs7

    • reasonshark
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 5:02 am | Permalink

      The article in that second link says a lot that seems to fit what I’ve learned and observed from elsewhere, though it’s a lot more nuanced that decrying Facebook as a “poison”. One of the subtler points was that much of the loneliness epidemic for which it is blamed occurs outside of Facebook, and that one of the more pressing issues is the increasing focus on pretence and, by extention, the increasing narcissism that thrives in such an environment.

  18. Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Maybe you should amend the title, Jerry: “finds God” → “friends God” … ?

    /@

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      😝

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      😀😀😀

      You won this thread.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 1, 2017 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      He has about as much chance of getting a response from God as his character had at the end of Social Network, sitting there all alone refreshing his screen over and over again, waiting for a response from the ex-girlfriend he’d insulted.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted January 2, 2017 at 3:42 am | Permalink

      “like”

  19. Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    one more middle aged twit trying to get his foot in the pearly gates because he realizes he’s mortal.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Middle aged? He’s 32. What are you, 12?

      • Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Yes, middle aged, in the 30s where guys get afraid of being old because their metabolisms aren’t what they used to be, that young women don’t look at them with interest anymore, etc. I do wonder why you are in such a snit about my comment.

        • Ken Phelps
          Posted January 1, 2017 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Careful. The Kzinti are volatile, to say the least.

          But apropos young women and their lack of interest in 30-something ( or 50 or 60 or put-some–make-up-on-the-corpse-something ) billionaires…

          …you’ve seen the soon-to-be First Lady I assume?

        • Posted January 1, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          Women don’t find men in their 30s attractive? Leonardo DiCaprio is in his forties, Brad Pitt is in his fifties, and I know women who still drool over Patrick Stewart in his seventies. The only women who find twenty-somethings attractive are teenagers.

          • Mike
            Posted January 3, 2017 at 6:16 am | Permalink

            I often wonder what Malania sees in the Drumpf.

            • Zetopan
              Posted January 4, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

              M.O.N.E.Y.
              Remember, she was an “alien” who signed a pre-nuptial agreement before being allowed to stay in the US and marry Trump.

  20. JoeB
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Paul Kalanithi also returned from atheism to the Catholicism of his youth. I still recommend his memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air”. He was finishing his residency in Neurosurgery and a budding superstar in neurological research when diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, metastacising to his brain, etc. Died at 37.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      I want to read that, but are you telling me that after his terminal diagnosis he went back to Catholicism?

  21. Posted January 1, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a fan of Zuckerberg, and wouldn’t be terribly surprised if this were the case, but his statements are no less ambiguous than some of the statements made by Bill Gates. For example he (Gates) sends his kids to Catholic church, his wife goes, and he “participates”.

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I meant to add that Gates has likewise made statements about the importance of religion.

      • Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        Some people feel that a broad knowledge of the
        arts, sciences, religions, cultures of humanity
        is beneficial to all. I was raised as a Nazarene. When I had children, I thought that I should take my children to churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. to experience all the different kinds of religions personally. Then, they could form opinions for themselves. But, I had been so affected by my religious background, that I couldn’t make myself go. The last time I was in a church was after 9/11 when my husband felt the need of some communal recognition of the terrible event.

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted January 2, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

          That’s an interesting point. One does not need to believe in any god to recognize that religion is culturally important. Some knowledge of the beliefs of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc is useful to understand why religious communities behave as they do, to understand some of the forces that have been important in world history and to understand and appreciate much art, music and literature. Of course it is entirely possible to learn about these beliefs without being required to sign up to them.

      • Zetopan
        Posted January 4, 2017 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Even worse, Gates (the college dropout) has donated over $10M to the Discovery Institute!

  22. James J Shumaker
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Everyday I am completely dumbfounded at the power of self-delusion, and the need for for some people to believe in something such as a god. Especially when that individual had previously stated that he was an atheist. I guess the power of many years of lies coming from the parents is more powerful than I could ever realize.
    Personally, I know that the power of abuse and neglect never seems to dissipate. The holidays are especially painful for me. What I find most difficult is that I have no power to change or get the emotional support that I so desperately needed. For years, acting out numbing my psyche with alcohol and drugs was effective until one day nothing worked and I was still alive. Despite my best efforts to end my life from 14 to 21 years old.
    I don’t know if that is a similar experience or not (maybe Dr. Coyne could weigh in? BTW Happy Birthday Jerry) but the trauma and the repeated lies seems as though it would be just as damaging.
    James

    • Posted January 1, 2017 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      It sounds as though you’ve fought your way through to a better place in life on your own. If so, congratulation, and I hope you have found the emotional support you needed, but didn’t get as a child. Every child needs and deserves love.

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    How does Zuckerberg speak for his d*g? Like, how can he know whether his d*g believs in G*d? Maybe his d*g’s just dyslexic and believes in himself? You know, like cats do.

    cr

  24. Posted January 2, 2017 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    To me, it seems like Zuckerberg is strategically positioning himself for a role in the US political system. For that, as we all know, one cannot be an open atheist if one wishes to rise to the top. Sad, but true.

  25. Posted January 3, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Eh, well: Zuckerberg is answerable to his shareholders and investors (and indirectly to Facebook users). Can’t expect anything other than equivocation on religion and politics from CEOs, etc.


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