walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Secularism In Retreat
Secularism Dying, Religion on the Rise

In case you missed it, Pew has fascinating new projections out about the global state of religion in the year 2050. The study is interesting throughout, containing such fascinating tidbits as the predictions that, globally, the number of Muslims will equally the number of Christians between now and 2050, while every religion except Buddhism will see at least some absolute growth. Other findings include:

Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population. […]

In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

These projections are notable for a number of reasons. In the first place, the absolute growth of religion and the decline of the nonreligious gives the lie to the “secularization thesis,” that saw religion dying out as the world entered a wealthier and more progressive future. This might cheer up the religious citizens of the West who are living in secular or secularizing countries. Yet as the center of gravity of Christianity shifts to Africa and other non-Western countries, the public face of the that faith is likely to take on a different character than it has in Europe. That also means that we can expect the God wars—the violent clashes between various religious bodies that we already see in parts of the globe—to continue, and perhaps grow.

Though we can’t know how these predictions will pan out, one thing seems reasonably clear: anyone who wants to understand our world and its future can’t dismiss the relevance of religion.

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  • solstice

    This study fails to take into consideration how exponential leaps in technological progress and scientific knowledge will transform the world in the years and decades to come. For example, Ray Kurzweil (Director of Engineering at Google) predicts that a computer will attain human-level intelligence by the year 2029 and that computers will be billions of times more intelligent than all of the humans in the world combined by the year 2045. Genetic modification and nanotechnology (which will allow humans to significantly alter their own biology) will also be far more advanced in a couple of decades. It is hard to imagine how religious belief will remain unaffected or even survive the massive changes that will arrive by the middle of this century.

    • Ellen

      Your argument is so 19th century. That is what precisely what people said then, and the result is the world we have today where faith is dead in Europe and in a decayed and emaciated state in America and other places. But it is growing elsewhere. The old conventional wisdom that as people become rich they would become permanently secular is being fatally undermined, as my friend Spengler would put it, by the indisputable fact that rich secular people don’t reproduce themselves. They will die out before religious faith does.

      Scientific discovery doesn’t replace the world of belief and faith. It can’t because it doesn’t address the same issue or ask the same questions. Knowing how to make a better bit, bite or search engine doesn’t tell a person how to live their life or what purpose their life has, period. Secular Europeans don’t think their lives have any purpose, and so they will die out. And so may Google someday.

      • solstice

        Science does ask the same questions–it just doesn’t claim to have answers that it doesn’t have and it doesn’t make assertions that are unsupported by empirical evidence. Prominent atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchers and Richard Dawkins have never claimed that science has all of the answers and have acknowledged that what scientists don’t know far exceeds what they currently do know. Science is far more humble than faith, which claims to have answers it doesn’t have and makes extraordinary claims unsupported by evidence. The reality is that with the current exponential rate of technological progress, a major paradigm shift will take place some time this century (some people refer to this event as the “Singularity”) and human beings will no longer exist in their current biological form. It is possible, as Stephen Hawking and Nick Bostrom have hypothesized, that a future super-intelligent artificial intelligence will choose to exterminate the human species. Others, like Ray Kurzweil, argue that humans will merge into technology and adopt a different, more advanced form. Neither of these two scenarios leave much room for the survival of the immoral, bronze-age myths we call religions.

        • Corlyss

          “Science is far more humble than faith”

          But scientists and the politicians who embrace science for their own purposes are not. Science has been attributed with an aura of absolute finality that it does not have and if practiced as conceived, never will have absolute finality. “Science” is not going to solve any problem we have.

          • solstice

            Science has for the most part solved the problems of small pox and polio and has made great strides in solving the problems of heart disease, HIV and other debilitating and deadly diseases. Imagine if the germ theory of disease and meteorology had emerged a thousand years earlier. People would not have attributed disease, bad luck, bad weather, and crop failures to the supernatural and those pesky witch trials would have been avoided.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Perhaps the only way humans might prove themselves actually smarter than computers in the future would be to pass laws (tax or otherwise) to prevent themselves being permanently out-maneuvered in financial trading by the owners of certain computers. If we really had much sense, we would know that we’re already WAY further down that unfortunate road than most people think. Why wait until 2029 or 2045 to address the problems we already see with this?

      • Corlyss

        “Why wait until 2029 or 2045 to address the problems we already see with this?”

        You answered your own question, Friend. We don’t know enough.

        We spot something we don’t like, we call it a problem, jump to conclusions about the nature and extent of the “problem” and what caused it, don’t do much if anything in the way of relevant study, and then come up with laws masquerading as solutions to impose on everyone. Voila! Even bigger problems. Humans have become intolerant of the amount of time it takes to understand what’s going on in 99% of the subjects that become public policy factories.

        • FriendlyGoat

          We should definitely wait until we are more certain of our absolute disadvantage in trading against fast computers before we gather the sense to ask whether that is happening? How much concentration of world wealth in fewer and fewer hands is required for you to decide you now “know enough”?

      • Andrew Allison

        The market has already responded to the high-speed trading issue. See, e.g. http://www.iextrading.com/about/

        • FriendlyGoat

          I don’t think this addresses the type of AI problems which will arise from the predictions of solstice.

          • Andrew Allison

            It address the non-issue which you raised in your reply to him.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You can ask Michael Lewis about that if you are actually interested in knowing anything about the subject.

    • Corlyss

      So?

      • solstice

        Religions make claims that violate the laws of nature, so, no, science and faith are not mutually compatible. Faith does not “humanize” science–it contradicts science. The idea of immaculate conception, or resurrection, or miraculous healing, or that a man can travel overnight from Mecca to Jerusalem and back on a winged horse is ludicrous nonsense. The world will witness technological progress and an intelligence explosion on an unprecedented scale in the coming decades. It remains to be seen how faith will be affected by this but I personally don’t think it will remain unscathed.

        • Fred

          Utter nonsense. Science in fact grew out of religion in the Middle Ages. It’s no coincidence that Descartes was educated by Jesuits. Pascal and Leibniz were theologians as well as scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers. Hume was a skeptic but as Elizabeth Anscombe put it, he was a “mere–brilliant–sophist.” Your scientism is as narrow, shallow, and false as the most naïve, ignorant fundamentalist’s religion. You really need to read and think outside your tiny gnu atheist box.

          • solstice

            What’s your point? That because certain brilliant thinkers who lived in previous centuries were theists, they couldn’t have been wrong about anything and weren’t fallible mammals like the rest of us? I can point to other gifted intellectuals (Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, Sagan, Hawking etc.) who have examined the supernatural claims of “revealed” religion and rejected them. Does this mean they were never wrong about anything? No, it does not. No other force in human history has done more to impede scientific progress and retard human enlightenment than religion (see: Galileo, the Inquisition, the witch trials etc.). If it were not for the stultifying influence of religion, the many technological innovations that exist today would have emerged hundreds if not thousands of years ago. And nothing could be more “narrow, shallow, and false” than the notion that the god who allows thousands of children to die in agony of diarrhea every day takes an active interest in and listens to the prayers of religious believers. Far from pointing to the existence of a higher power, what the mutually irreconcilable and immoral religions of the world reveal is that humans really are only half a chromosome away from chimpanzees and have nothing to flatter themselves about. When we eventually join the 99.9 % of all species on Earth that have ever been in existence and that have gone extinct, no one and nothing will miss us.

          • Fred

            What’s your point? That because certain brilliant thinkers who lived in
            previous centuries were theists, they couldn’t have been wrong about anything
            and weren’t fallible mammals like the rest of us?

            What’s my point? English is your native language, is it not?
            You said “no, science and faith are not mutually compatible. Faith does not
            “humanize” science–it contradicts science,” a laughably false
            statement. I demonstrated its falseness with counterexamples. The people I
            mention don’t have to be right about everything to support my point. The fact
            that science grew out of Christianity is powerful evidence that it is
            compatible with at least one religion. The fact that scientists, from the 17th
            century to now, can be believers certainly counts against your bald assertion. The
            fact that, other than certain Protestant fundamentalists (a minority of
            Christians), ordinary Christians accept science, including evolutionary
            biology, is further proof. By the way, Jefferson, Franklin, and Payne were not
            atheists; they were deists. All three believed in God. Franklin, in fact, went
            through a period of polytheism on his way to Deism. Later in life, Jefferson
            came to belief in a much more traditional, personal God than the Deist one,
            though he never did become an orthodox Christian. I can’t believe you gnus are still trotting
            out the Galileo myth as though it hadn’t been repeatedly debunked. This comment
            will already be too long, but I’d be happy to tell you how it really went and
            provide links in another comment if you like. As for the Inquisition and witch
            trials, read a damn history book. They took place almost entirely in the
            sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at exactly the same time as the scientific
            revolution
            . Given that the West had been Christian for over a thousand years by
            that time, it stands to reason that Christianity was at the very least not the
            only factor at work there.

            If it were not for the stultifying influence of religion, the many
            technological innovations that exist today would have emerged hundreds if not
            thousands of years ago.

            That’s satire, right? You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? There have been
            technological innovations throughout human history, from the invention of stone
            tools, through the invention of the wheel and agriculture, Greek architecture, and
            Roman aqueducts. The stirrup was invented in the Middle Ages, as was the
            astrolabe and various agricultural techniques. The printing press was invented
            in 1450, nearly a century before Galileo, Hobbes, and Descartes inaugurated the
            Enlightenment. What the Enlightenment produced was the scientific method, which
            systematized something that had been going on since humans existed. In fact,
            more often than not, science does not produce inventions. They are produced by
            practical people for practical reasons; then, after the fact, science explains
            the principles by which they work.

            As for the rest of your comment, how could I possibly argue with such
            astute and original points? I’m sure nobody has ever thought of them. Hey,
            maybe we could call them “the problem of evil.” I mean it’s not like they’ve
            been ruminated on by philosophers and theologians for literally millennia.
            Again, this comment is too long to devote more electrons to such silly,
            shallow, clichés. But if you want a response to what I like to call the
            pseudo-problem of evil, I’d be happy to oblige that in another comment as well.

            You know, books have been written by people other than Hawkins, Hitchens, Dennet,
            et. al. If it wouldn’t strain your brain too much, you might try actually
            reading some.

          • solstice

            “The fact that scientists, from the 17th century to now, can be believers certainly counts against your bald assertion. ”

            No, it does not. Having scientific or technical expertise does not preclude someone from holding wildly irrational beliefs. For example, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri is a highly educated medical doctor. Convicted Al-Qaeda jihadist Aafia Siddiqui has a PHd in neuroscience. Usama bin Laden was an engineer. Jihadi John of ISIS was trained in computer science. The Unabomber was a brilliant mathematician. A prominent neurosurgeon named Eben Alexander recently wrote a thoroughly debunked book asserting that near-death experiences take place outside of the brain. The head of NIH, Francis Collins, holds profoundly anti-scientific Evangelical Christian beliefs. If you would care to explain how the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection, and miraculous healings do not contradict science and the laws of nature, please do so.

            “By the way, Jefferson, Franklin, and Payne were not atheists; they were Deists.”

            I did not claim that they were atheists. I said that they examined the supernatural claims of “revealed” religion and rejected them. Nice job putting words in my mouth, though. There is a reason why Jefferson published a book titled, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” omitting all of Jesus’ supposed supernatural deeds. Thomas Paine (not Payne) lambasted Christianity and other organized religions in his written works.

            “I can’t believe you gnus are still trotting out the Galileo myth.”

            What myth? He was imprisoned for propounding a scientific truth that contradicted church dogma.

            “There have been technological innovations throughout human history, from the invention of stone tools through the invention of the wheel and agriculture to Greek architecture and Roman aqueducts…”

            I never claimed that previous centuries were completely devoid of technological innovation. My point was that such progress would have occurred much more rapidly if it were not for the retarding influence of religon. And the innovations you refer to occurred in spite of religion rather than because of it. There is nothing in the sacred text of any religion that can teach anyone about producing a printing press or improving agricultural and water irrigation techniques etc.

            ‘As for the rest of your comment, how could I possibly argue with such astute and original points? I’m sure nobody has ever thought of them. Hey, maybe we could call them “the problem of evil.” I mean it’s not like they’ve been ruminated on by philosophers and theologians for literally millennia.’

            I have yet to encounter a convincing theistic response to the problem of evil. Theists have tried and failed to adequately address this problem.

          • Tom

            Galileo was not so much jailed for saying that the Ptolemaic model was wrong as he was for being a jerk about it.
            Also, your claim regarding the “retarding influence of religion” on the grounds that religious texts don’t provide instructions for technological innovation is utterly asinine. Why not complain about the retarding influence of literature, since I have yet to read a fiction book outlining how to build a starship, in detail?
            As to the problem of evil, that is your problem.

          • solstice

            Because literature does not claim to answer the questions that religion claims to answer. Everyone knows that literature is fiction, whereas people actually believe the false and immoral claims of religion and act on them. My purpose in pointing out that “religious texts don’t provide instructions for technological innovation” was to refute Fred’s claim that “science grew out of Christianity.” It developed in spite of Christianity not because of it. The problem of evil is not just my problem–it is one of the most compelling reasons to reject the existence of a theistic deity.

          • Tom

            Do you read the words that you type? How in the world are the questions that religion claims to answer answered by the printing press?
            Furthermore, that fact that Scientific Revolution occurred in Christian Europe, as opposed to Confucian China, Muslim/Hindu India, or the Muslim Ottoman Empire, should tell you something. That you believe that men would not be inspired to work to discover how God ordered the world is an indication of your own limitations.
            As to theodicy–apparently, not everyone shares your concerns.

          • Fred

            As for science growing out of Christianity, Tom is absolutely right. It is not a coincidence that science only developed in the Christian West. Unlike the capricious pagan gods, the Christian God was a God of law, of reason, and of covenant. That guaranteed both that the world was stable enough to investigate and that our minds were capable of apprehending that stable order. Not only that, but the world had been sanctified by the Incarnation. Investigating how the world worked was a way of investigating aspects of God himself and giving glory to the creator. That never happened in any other culture or in ours until it had been Christian for several centuries.

            As for the so-called “problem of evil” it was more than adequately resolved in the Book of Job when God said to Job out of the whirlwind, essentially, “I’m God and you’re not.” That’s my facetious way of saying that it is perfectly logical that a finite being, which by definition man is, would be unable to comprehend all the methods and purposes of an infinite being, which by definition God is. But in addition, there is a logical problem with the argument itself. It is either self-contradictory or question-begging. The word “evil” is a moral term. Outside the context of an objective moral order, it is utterly meaningless. In the absence of an objective moral order, nothing is good or evil; everything just is. Such an order cannot exist in the absence of God (which I can establish independently and would be happy to do so in another comment, but it would take us too far afield here). So what your argument boils down to is “the existence of a thing that cannot exist without God proves God doesn’t exist.” Surely even with your limited grasp of logic, you can see how that is self-contradictory. Now, you could avoid the contradiction by re-defining “evil” as a non-moral category, as simply the meaningless suffering that just happens to exist in the world as it just happens to be. But suffering is only meaningless and can only “just happen to be” in a world that itself “just happens to be” if there is no God, but the existence of God is precisely what’s at issue. So you are assuming your conclusion in your premise. That is a logical fallacy known as petitio principii, or in good old Anglo-Saxon, begging the question.

          • Fred

            What myth? He was imprisoned for propounding a scientific truth that contradicted church dogma.

            That is precisely the myth. Galileo was arrested and tried for “vehement suspicion of heresy” (not heresy, a much more serious charge) for maintaining that heliocentrism was literally true. Copernicanism could be taught but only as a hypothesis that facilitated certain astrological calculations, not as a depiction of how reality actually works. The reason was because it apparently contradicted some passages of scripture. If you look at the text of the Index of Forbidden Books on Copernicus, his book was allowed to be published “with corrections.” Those corrections were primarily changing the language of realism to the language of hypothesis (i.e., changing things like “the earth is x; therefore, y” to “If the earth is x, then y”). It left untouched the substance of the theory. At the time Galileo began his writings on heliocentrism, a cardinal named Roberto Bellarmine argued that if Copernicanism was proven true, the Church would have to reinterpret those scriptural passages that seemed to contradict it, since Truth is one. Bellarmine later became Pope Urban VII. As Pope, he was very well disposed to Galileo, but he did not believe that Galileo had actually proven heliocentrism to be literally true. Nor was that an irrational belief (see here and here.)

  • OdinsAcolyte

    There is no hope in the cult of the dead and pointless universe.
    All existing religions fall short of reality but the cult of godlessness and death is pure hopelessness.
    I have no religion. I do have life and a firm faith in its endurance. I have a god. I have no religious tribe.
    We make a journey through eternity with god. Choose HIM.
    Forever never happens.

  • fastrackn1

    The biggest problem is the rise in the population of Muslims….

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