Atheism is Rising, But…

Americans who don’t believe in God are still a very small minority, but their numbers have been slowly-but-steadily increasing since the turn of the century. From Gallup’s latest poll:

About nine in 10 Americans say they believe in God, and one in 10 say they do not. However, when presented with more than a “yes or no” option, about eight in 10 say they believe and one in 10 say they aren’t sure. Belief in God, regardless of how the question is phrased to Americans, is down from levels in past decades.

Does this mean that the arc of history is bending irrevocably away from faith and toward scientific materialism? Is atheist hero Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s “rationalia“—a land where decisions are made only “on the weight of the evidence,” (presumably evidence favored by liberal secularists)—just around the corner?

Not exactly. First of all, religious belief is still very powerful and widespread, and there is nothing inevitable about its decline. In fact, the proportion of people who say they believe in God actually ticked modestly upward, from 86 percent to 89 percent, since Gallup last asked the question in 2014.

Second, declining religiosity doesn’t necessarily correlate with a more “evidence-based” outlook in the sense that Tyson and co. would approve of. Even as belief in God has declined, the percentage of people reporting various supernatural experiences, including contact with a ghost, has risen sharply (such experiences are even more common among non-churchgoers). The decline of religiosity has also coincided with an increase in the number has the percentage of people reporting feelings of “spiritual peace.” Finally, it’s not a coincidence that religiously observant Christians were least likely to be seduced by Donald Trump’s “post-truth” style politics in the GOP primary.

All this is to say that there is little reason to believe that a world without God would be a more “rational” place.

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