The Nonexistent Angels of our Nature: Why Religion Has Declined (and there’s no going back)

Yes, I’ve shamelessly cribbed from the title of Steve Pinker’s last big book, but his thesis (and that of his new one, Enlightenment Now) is relevant to this 16-minute TedX talk (below) by Dr. David Voas.  When this was given in 2015, Voas was at the University of Essex, but he’s now Professor of social science and head of the Department of Social Science at the UCL [University College London] Institute of Education.

Voas’s argument, which I firmly believe, is that religion is in decline in the West (and probably everywhere); and as it wanes, there’s no going back. He then suggests some reasons for this decline. First, though, he establishes the decline with graphs like these, which hold widely in the West. Here we see the decline of faith in the last 70-80 years in Canada and the U.S.—even though the U.S. is an outlier in being a developed nation but also a religious one:

 

 

As Voas notes, this decline doesn’t occur because individuals become less religious with time; rather, it represents a decline among generations—the replacement of more religious cohorts with more secular ones. And although the new cohorts may adopt  “spirituality” in place of religion, this still represents a general decline of belief in the supernatural. While I have issues with the more numinous forms of spirituality, I’d contend that spirituality does less harm than religion, for it doesn’t follow the dictates of a God, usually doesn’t involve proselytizing, and isn’t tied as tightly as religion to a moral code (which, after all, is supposed to come from a deity). But by all accounts, full nonbelief is increasing as well.

What is causing this decline? Voas first shows, as I and others have done, that there’s a strong negative correlation between the degree of development of a country—its “well being”—and its degree of religiosity. The most religious countries are the least well off and the least developed; while the least religious countries, like those in northern Europe, are the most developed and most well off (and the happiest as well, as judged by the UN’s Happiness Index).

To Voas, this confirms what he and others call “the secularization thesis”: the idea that “there’s something about modernization that erodes religious commitment, that reduces the respect accorded to religion.” Voas suggests four possible reasons for the connection between modernization and religiosity, and I think all of them play a role (watch the talk to see his thesis). But they’re all connected with what Pinker suggested in his last book: that the world is, over time, becoming better off healthwise, materially, and in almost every way we can measure. If Pinker’s thesis be true—and he makes a compelling case that it is—then we should expect to see religion gradually disappear from our planet.

I think it will, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to see the secular world arrive (I could if I moved to Sweden!). As the last Christians die off, though, you can expect to hear them still squawking that religion will return, and the decline is due to bigotry against the faithful.

As for whether this change is reversible, Voas explains why he thinks it’s not. In short, if you grow up a nonbeliever as future generations will, it’s unlikely that you’ll acquire God:  “You have to be raised with religion to find it natural.”

It’s nice to see a respected British academic, and a soft-spoken one, make these points. Nobody can accuse him of being “shrill” or “strident” as he speaks the truth.

59 Comments

  1. Dave
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “I think it will, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to see the secular world arrive (I could if I moved to Sweden!). As the last Christians die off, though, you can expect to hear them still squawking that religion will return, and the decline is due to bigotry against the faithful.”

    A slightly Christian-centric view of things, if I may suggest it. The problem in Sweden, and much of Europe, is that Christianity may indeed be dying off, but only to be replaced by Islam. This due to the criminally irresponsible policies of mass immigration pursued by European governments, largely without the consent of their citizens. Of course, we can hope that Europe’s muslims will eventually secularise too, but personally I think it would be naive to assume that they will.

    • Posted February 27, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      No, the Muslim immigrants will stick to their religion but their children, or their grandchildren, will secularize.

      • Dave
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        One would hope so, but the opposite can also happen. In the UK, the muslim immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh who arrived in the 1950s and 60s mostly just wanted to fit in, make a decent living and keep their religion to themselves. Their children and grandchildren are the ones who go abroad to fight for ISIS, commit acts of domestic terrorism and join child-rape gangs.

        The argument that muslims are still just a minority, so there’s no need to worry about their future influence, seems dangerously complacent to me. It’s like the proverbial frog being slowly-heated in a pan of water: “Well, it’s only getting a bit warmer, so no cause for alarm”.

        • Pierluigi Ballabeni
          Posted February 28, 2018 at 4:04 am | Permalink

          The same is true for France.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Muslims are about 8% of Sweden’s population, according to Wikipedia. At levels like that it is unlikely that theocracy will thrive there.

      • dabertini
        Posted February 28, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        And they will be on the margins of Scandinavian society looking in. So you can bet the young will secularize.

      • Posted March 10, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        Until very recently, they were 0%. The proportion changes only upwards. I wonder, what percent of Muslims is considered optimal, and how will this percent be kept when reached?

    • Kosmos
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Swede here. Because of continued immigration and I believe slightly higher birth rates among the immigrant population the percentage of Swedes with a muslim background will probably continue to rise in the coming decades. Perhaps settling around 20%. But I’m not worried that the political debate or society in general will be noticeably influenced by religious beliefs.

      First off, as others have pointed out, muslims leave their faith as well. There is for example a thriving ex-muslim community on the internet. I believe that many who worry about increasing muslim populations in Europe see their beliefs as fixed.

      Secondly, religion is completely absent from the political debate in Sweden and I don’t see that changing. I can’t remember the last time a politician took the word God in his/her mouth. A politician who would e.g. thank God would be highly ridiculed. Even our Christian Democratic Party which lingers on with a support of around 4% don’t mention their beliefs other than maybe claiming that western values are based on Christianity.

      My biggest worry regarding a larger muslim population is that it may lead to more extremists and a higher risk for terrorist attacks.

      • Posted February 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        ” Perhaps settling around 20%. But I’m not worried that the political debate or society in general will be noticeably influenced by religious beliefs.”

        It was Steven Pinker who said in an interview: A minority determined to commit violence can seize a society.

      • David Billingham
        Posted March 1, 2018 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Isn’t there a crime epidemic sweeping through Sweden at the moment caused mainly by immigration on a huge scale in recent years? That’s what I’ve read recently, there’s been stories in the UK media(where I live) about it

    • Posted March 10, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I see similarity with the Roman Empire, where average people also became more and more secular, until Christian fanatics took over.

  2. rickflick
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Finally. Some really good news.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    “And although the new cohorts may adopt “spirituality” in place of religion, this still represents a general decline of belief in the supernatural.”

    “… spirituality does less harm than religion…”

    PCC(E) – please promise me you’ll read Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen as dessert after the 5-course meal that appears to be Enlightenment Now – and I’ll promise the same, just the other way ‘round, possibly part audio book, part … the other way. Visual book…?

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      …. ok, no promises. Fair enough.

      But remember – after a god-shaped hole is formed by the excision of _religion_, what’s it going to fill back up with, or, how do we heal it?

      “The great compromise between the American religious impulse and the American Enlightenment in the 1700s permitted any and every conceivable sect to bid and blossom. The fanciful and religious and cryptoreligious parts have gotten over-ripe, bursting and spilling their juices over the Enlightenment-reason parts, spoiling our whole barrel. Holders of any belief about anything, especially and incontrovertibly if those beliefs are ascribed to faith, are now expected to be immune from challenge. […break in quote…] More and more in lots of ways, Fantasyland has started to pick our pockets and break our legs.”

      Kurt Andersen
      Fantasyland (2017)
      Towards the end…( I read this part today, so, …)

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

        Typo : bud not bid

  4. alexandra Moffat
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Secularization may get a yank on the reins as the 4 horsemen afflict humanity. It seems likely that plague or famine or nuclear war
    would turn people back to a god of some sort from desperation and fear. Maybe that faith would be shallow and quickly denied as times improved and secularism would recover. Also we should beware the death throes of religion –
    Anyway,for the moment those stats are worth celebrating!!

    • Historian
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I agree that secularization is a trend we should welcome, but not take it as foreordained that it will continue. As always, the World War I example illustrates this best. For about 100 years after the fall of Napoleon, Europe was at relative peace. Yes, there were wars, but they were not cataclysmic. In early 1914, pundits of the time had no glimpse of what was about to happen. In June 1914, the British fleet visited Kiel, Germany. For that matter, who would have predicted Trump in 2012? The 1929 stock market crash came as a great surprise to many. Secularization is under siege in places like Turkey.

      My study of history makes me leery of projecting current trends far into the future. There are too may examples of social and political trends that have been reversed and very suddenly at that. I would love to see religion disappear. But as Yogi said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

      • Mark R.
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        Nasim Taleb calls these highly improbable events (9/11 is another one) as Black Swan events and wrote a book about it, aptly named The Black Swan. It’s been a while since I read it, but it has a lot of interesting theories as to why humans are so blind sighted by massive, world-shaking events that look easy to predict with hind sight.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I think secularization is, in the long run, as ineluctable as the second law of thermodynamics. But, as with 2LOT, subsystems within the universe of world religions could experience temporary reversals of that trend. I think, as you say, cataclysmic events could do it — nuclear war or a rapid acceleration in the pace of global climate change, for example.

  5. Hempenstein
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Then there’s the rise of the TV and physical- building mega-churches. I was thinking about this earlier today. Is their rise because:
    a) it’s easier to go to church in your livingroom, where you can go get a snack when so-moved?
    b) with the TV kind you don’t have to encounter people you can’t stand but who nevertheless go to the same church you do?
    c) the physical building kind are so large you can easily avoid people you can’t stand?
    d) nobody notices when you’re not there?
    e) we have Mc-everything else so McChurchs fit with the rest?
    f) Some of all of the above.
    g) Or?

    • Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      “nobody notices when you’re not there”. Spot on.

      There are very few people equipped today with spending their time on religion, except monks and nuns. There is too much distraction. It’s not like secularism has to rise, so much as life just getting in the way.

      Every religious person I know interacts with life in almost the same way that most secular people do. They breath air, they drink, eat, sleep, poop, work, laugh.

      Modern life is removing the time to spend on religion and, likewise, it is easier to hide as a religious person when faith no longer occupies the time it once did.

  6. YF
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    In the socioeconomically dysfunctional USA, it appears that the substitute for religion has become opiate addition, with many overdose deaths considered ‘deaths of despair’.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      So opiates have replaced religion as the opium of the people?

      Seems a bit redundant and uninspired on the people’s part. (Back in my William Burroughs’s days, we thought of opium as the religion of the elites.) 🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Not sure why I made Burroughs’s name possessive there; maybe some kind of flashback.

        • Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          Or maybe those days weren’t so long ago?

  7. Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    My daughter is a senior in college. I know statistically my observations are not significant, but I have seen a real skepticism if not hostility toward organized religion on her campus. Of course, there are exceptions and a smattering of ultra-faithful, but the attitude of my daughter seems prevalent. She is involved with Hillel and has Shabbat dinner, but her Jewish ties are cultural. She and her friends feel strongly that religion has no place in education or government and look upon ultra-conservatives as little more than bigots. They few evangelicals as out of touch and churches as money grabbing institutions.

    How refreshing!

  8. glen1davidson
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    There are numerous reasons for religion to decline. I think that for the US the end of communism in most places was significant, since there was always that opposition to “godless communists.”

    These days I think a newer one is just the fact that one thing drives out another. With all of the texting and social media and the rest of electronic distractions, there’s just not a lot of time for religion. So it takes a back seat, if any seat at all.

    Glen Davidson

  9. Henry
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Have you seen John Gray’s brand new, wholly vicious and intemperate, review of Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” in New Statesman? It amounts to little more than hurling insults, with no substance to his criticism whatsoever.

    Link: https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2018/02/unenlightened-thinking-steven-pinker-s-embarrassing-new-book-feeble-sermon

    • Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I saw that. What dross.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes Gray is a vile arse with a message he HAS to get out there at any cost. Truth & reason be damned!

      Reader Saul Sorrell-Till gave John Gray a memorable & well deserved bashing a year ago in WEIT comments HERE :-

      …I recall an extremely accurate quote from the writer Francis Wheen after he’d been subject to some predictably nasty attack by Gray: “it’s a treat to be accused of splenetic grumpiness by John Gray, the Screaming Lord Sutch of academe”.

      He is consistently unpleasant, and intellectually inconsistent: he lashes out at anyone with optimistic, progressive views about humanity, especially anyone with Enlightenment leanings, and his arguments are so scattershot and lazy it tends to be a waste of time getting involved.

      Every now and then his name pops up because he’s compared Stephen Hawking with Hitler or described scientists as neo-fascists or called atheists the new Stalinists or something…you read the article in a daze of combined disbelief and irritation, feel dirty for having done so, and then you get on with your life, only you’re a little bit worse off for having made intellectual contact with Gray’s fatuous, credulous, joyless vision of the world.

      … So it’s a nice article** but he’s still a berk.

      ** John Gray’s review of The Lion In The Living Room [a book by Tucker on the domestic cat]

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Given Gray’s similar “review” of Better Angels of our Nature the New Statesman presumably only gave it to him so they’d get more of the same, which is why I wouldn’t give them the reward they were after, i.e. traffic to their site. They’re cynical and intellectually dishonest.

  10. Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I walked by a field near a Catholic church the other day and saw a sign that said that the Presbyterians had bought it. I found that interesting because I though those folks were one of the “traditional” denominations drastically shrinking in membership.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      The Presbyterians might have bought it for $1.00 CAD – they are rather ‘entrepreneurial’ & the Catlicks & Baptists have reportedly been lazy picking up on the souls of North Africans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, West Indians, West Africans, Lebanese, Sri Lankans, Chinese, Russia & former Soviet Bloc residents that have come your way.

      Cote des Neiges Presbyterian Church:

      “Church activities reflect this diversity. Both our morning and evening services have a periodic French component and we have a bilingual Sunday school. Cameroonian, Ghanaian, Filipino and Sri Lankan choirs sing in their own languages to celebrate our common faith”

      • Posted February 28, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Maybe so – re: $1.

        Wow, that’s eclectic! And Cote des Neiges? As in Montreal? The part of the street named that near Victoria would sure count that way too.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 28, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Yes, the Montreal Cote des Neiges

  11. Posted February 27, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, I’ve shamelessly cribbed from the title of Steve Pinker’s last big book, ”

    No reason to be ashamed since Pinker himself stole the title; probably from Lincoln, who stole it from Charles Dickens, and he used it from Shakespeare’s Othello, as you can see: an endless series of cultural appropriations.

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree with his thoughts about the future and not going back. I think this is true for the same primary reason people get religion in the first place. It happens in those early years between 4 or 5 and 10 to 12. This is when the parents often pound it in, making the kids go to church, go to sunday school and (join the club). Today, with both parents working or single parent homes there is not time to get this indoctrination and many of the youth fall through the cracks and escape this torture. I was a good example of this. I never got the torture in my youth and so I escaped. Once you reach late teens, then it is likely nothing religious will get you. So the trend is always to less religion until finely you live in Sweden even if you live in Texas (hopefully not).

    • XCellKen
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      Do you EVER get tired of the Texas jokes ???

      I live in the largest city in Texas (and the South) We have an African American mayor. He replaced our Lesbian mayor. According to many sources, Houston is THE most ethnically diverse city in the entire US. In fact, I rarely go a day without seeing several women in, wait for it burkas.

      Houston is also the fastest growing city in the US. Most of the growth since 2000 has come from people moving here from the Third World. I remember one article which interviewed one such person . He said he had heard so many bad things about Texas before he moved here. But once he was here, he said that nothing could be further from the truth.

      Perhaps he was reading comments by no nothings such as yourself. Or perhaps he was reading Hemant’s blog.

      • XCellKen
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

        Know nothing

      • GBJames
        Posted February 28, 2018 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        I think you confuse Texas with Houston.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 1, 2018 at 3:08 am | Permalink

          Well, and a lot of non-USians confuse Texas with the US.

          Notice all the rest of TX that is blue:

          https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/11/analysis-blue-dots-texas-red-political-sea/

          Pretty typical of most of the States–big urban areas blue, out-state red. If I were a Texan, I’d get pretty tired of all the blanket condemnations, too.

          The last thing we need to do is fight each other regionally.

          • GBJames
            Posted March 1, 2018 at 7:05 am | Permalink

            Meh. Patterns actually do exist here in the world. Texas being a state that has harbored some of the most conservative politicians is simply a fact, despite the existence of liberal heroes who were Texan. (Molly Ivans, anyone?)

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Although spirituality is much less authoritarian than most Western religion, I think some spirituality does do harm, at least in the form that Deepak Chopra represents, insofar as it distracts folk from real problems and/or better solutions to them.
    Much more pragmatically sound and wise than Chopra’s fluff candy is something like Ursula Goodenough’s book “The Sacred Depths of Nature” (a book of which Richard Dawkins’ main criticism was his disdain for the title.)

  14. sensorrhea
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Colbert said “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

    This is correct because reality also has a well-known secular bias.

  15. John Crisp
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    “Voas’s argument, which I firmly believe, is that religion is in decline in the West (and probably everywhere); and as it wanes, there’s no going back.”

    Possibly true, though hard for me to accept the part in brackets – I don’t think that religion is in decline in most parts of Africa, and certainly not in a bit of it where I live.

    I suppose the question that arises, if the decline theory is true, is whether religion is purely a cultural artefact, or the embodiment of something fundamental about our evolved psychology. If we “need” something like it, what form might that need take? A pure personality cult functions very well in North Korea, and something not that dissimilar in Russia, Turkey, or even the US. All over the world, in different forms, we see a correlation between religion and the need for a “strong leader”. So the question is whether “strong leaders” recruit some kind of religious impulse to bolster their leadership, or whether it is some kind of innate religious impulse in us that prompts the desire for a “strong leader”.

    I always read SP’s books with great pleasure and interest, but also a certain amount of scepticism. He draws very broad conclusions from very broad evidence, which means that he sells a lot of books and appeals to a lot of people who are convinced by broad conclusions based on broad evidence. It is worth saying that his message that human beings are getting kinder, less religious and less violent doesn’t need to be true in order for him to sell a lot of books…

    • John Crisp
      Posted February 28, 2018 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      I should say that the remarks above about SP are mainly in reference to Better Angels, which has been criticized by on statistical grounds, notably the treatment of the 20th Century’s wars as “statistical outliers”. Statistics are hardly my forte, so I’m not in a position to judge. To be fair, a lot of the criticism comes from people who have an ideological objection to Pinker’s relatively benign perception of the US’s role in the world, so their reasoning may well be motivated. Anyway, I have bought “Enlightenment Now”, so I look forward to seeing how “Panglossian” I find it.

  16. JoanL
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    “As for whether this change is reversible, Voas explains why he thinks it’s not. In short, if you grow up a nonbeliever as future generations will, it’s unlikely that you’ll acquire God: ‘You have to be raised with religion to find it natural.’ ”

    Which raises the question of how religion started. I (admittedly unscientific, naive and optimistic) like to think of religion and science as just two points on a continuum of the quest to understand the universe, making religion a sort of forerunner of science.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 27, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you. I think that it’s perfectly natural to presume animation & intent in what are inanimate, natural processes & events. It took a lot of hard work to get away from wood, water, fire & air spirits and/or Sun/Moon/lightning&thunder gods. I think the move from polytheism to the 3-in-1 oil compromise of Christianity, was a serious error of judgement. Hunter-gatherer style shamen & women might have been useful & a happier cultural innovation compared to the robed thieves, rapists & brain washers of my youth 🙂

      We see it in our kiddos – giving agency & personality to whatever takes their fancy. We will always run the risk of falling back down the rabbit hole I think.

      What to do about the newish religions of Dr. Oz, Paltrow & the other monetary gurus?

  17. mehulhshah
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Amen!

  18. Diane G.
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    sub

  19. Posted February 28, 2018 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Interesting that religious belief is declining more rapidly in Canada than in the US.

    I hypothesize that the greater prevalence of Catholicism in Canada in comparison with the US is an important factor in the decline of religion, simply because Catholicism is more explicit about its beliefs and rules of conduct.

    Catholicism seems to me to be falsifiable, whereas some of the American religions seem to be based on commitment to fuzzy propositions about Christianity and its Judaic origins.

    I was born in Canada and attended Catholic schools and a Catholic college at University.
    Until age 28 I was trained in Catholic dogma, moral theology, Scholastic philosophy and social philosophy including Papal Encyclicals and Church history. I did all of this as a devout lay person without entering a seminary.

    Within two years after graduation. I decided that what I had been taught was a house of cards and opted for atheism. I become more philosophically materialist as I age, even as I become less attached to material possessions.

    In my opinion, I was able to abandon belief in religion because my beliefs were well-defined. I knew in detail the chain of evidence upon which the beliefs were founded, the degree of internal consistency, and historical evolution of the dogma. This was enough to give up the emotional and other investments in religious doctrine and practice.

    However, I was completely knocked backwards by my brother’s death 25 yeas ago. At that time I borrowed a Catholic Missal from a neighbour and read through the Mass, mainly in English but also some bits in Latin where the English translation did not reveal the full meaning of the English text.

    That experience confirmed my atheism, because by then I was able to recognize Christianity as an ancient Greek mystery religion informed by the moral and social theology of Judaic teachers such as Hillel the Elder and his distinguished descendants.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 1, 2018 at 2:34 am | Permalink

      That’s an interesting perspective. I’d never thought to frame the more liberal Protestant USian sects as being less falsifiable, but that’s incontrovertible once one does. The vaguer things get, the easier they are to co-exist with–or ignore entirely.

      But it’s certainly the most dogmatic sects here–the evangelicals, fundamentalists, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., who are not only most responsible for our hyper-religiosity, but at least currently the most successful, politically and culturally. If only we could teach everyone to think critically, but I fear only a subset of any given population is born with the innate capacity to learn to do so.

      Perhaps a bigger subset of Canadians than Americans. 😀

  20. wpaolo
    Posted February 28, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    A bit selective in his appreciation of the data—

    In order for his thesis to be demonstrably true he needs to explain this giant counterfactual:

    https://www.google.com/search?newwindow=1&hl=en_US&biw=1366&bih=916&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=YsmWWtSVKYWe5gLNs6eoCw&q=christianity+in+china+by+year&oq=christianity+in+china+by+year&gs_l=mobile-gws-img.3…3848.5887..6026…1….84.690.9……….1..mobile-gws-wiz-img…….0j0i30j30i10.uoMc1mIRBWI%3D#imgrc=kc9U9MKzdX9z9M:

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 28, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      wpaolo. How is Voas a “…bit selective in his appreciation of the data”? The YouTube video description is as follows:

      “Religion is in decline across the Western world Whether measured by belonging, believing, participation in services, or how important it is felt to be, religion is losing ground.”

      His argument here is encapsulated in his final remark in the video: “There’s no way back for religion in the West” [an echo of the video title]

      • wpaolo
        Posted February 28, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        I am aware he focused on the West—-however his underlying thesis is that the change is caused by factors intrinsic to the countries “Well being” economically or via any other measure.

        China with its booming economy and simultaneous booming of religion presents a rebuke of the data when isolated to the West in terms of his causative theory that must be taken into account as a counterfactual.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 28, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          Your original argument then was incomplete – you didn’t bring up the “well-being” economically of the Peoples Republic of China – all you did was supply a lazy link to a Google image search of the past, present & projected future changes in China’s religious populations.

          If you had gone to the trouble of presenting a full argument we could then discuss if it REALLY is a counterfactual to David Voas’ thesis! Given that the Chinese economic boom is a peculiar kind of “well-being” indeed.

          Your “well-being” ignores the supersonically rising rates of economic inequality, human rights abuses, pollution & the big boot of “The Party” on peoples necks. It is perhaps hardly surprising that people seek solace in religion in the same way they do in Africa & [maybe] some southern US states.

  21. Sastra
    Posted February 28, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    On his list of contributing reasons for religion’s decline, I think Voas leaves out one critical factor: religious claims aren’t actually true. The devastating effects of the existence of choice can only be enhanced by the non existence of God. Once people start insisting that ones faith ought to be a “rational faith,” it’s pretty much Game Over, sooner or later. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.

    Most religious rebuttals of the Death of Religion thesis implicitly rely on the idea that God was and is involved in the issue. He gave us Special Knowledge, or we have a god-shaped hole without Him, or lack of belief is a critical part of a Master Plan in which All will soon be revealed at last — God’s not only in control, He’s in constant contact. Bullpucky. They’re assuming that doubt will be dispelled by magic, and there is no magic — nor is there a god to dispense it. That’s going to matter more and more.

  22. Posted February 28, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    If

    this decline doesn’t occur because individuals become less religious with time; rather, it represents a decline among generations—the replacement of more religious cohorts with more secular ones.

    And if at least some religions successfully encourage much more child-bearing than average;

    and if many of those same religions successfully indoctrinate most of the next generation …

    Well – you do the math. I think the decline of religion may be temporary.


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