Atheists Declining Says One Study, WND Gloats

Posted: July 25, 2013 in religion
Tags: , , , ,

This is an interesting two-paragraph prep for a link to a conservative news organization, where WND’s headline is, “Global Study: Atheists in Decline. I’m posting because it shows two ways to misinterpret science.

First is the “one study” approach. The first paragraph of the original CNS News article states:

Atheism is in decline worldwide, with the number of atheists falling from 4.5% of the world’s population in 1970 to 2.0% in 2010 and projected to drop to 1.8% by 2020, according to a new report by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

In contrast, every poll I’ve read or seen in the last several years is that atheism is on the rise. For example, here’s a Washington Post article from a year ago saying it’s on the rise in the US. What gives?

Based on the name, this could very easily be a biased report. Even if the pollsters didn’t really intend for it to be biased. So I went to Wikipedia for some background info because I thought atheists were actually a much larger percentage.

But, according to Wikipedia’s page on the demographics of atheism, it is only 2.01% of the world’s population who identify as atheists. That leads to the second way to misinterpret science: the next sentence fragment states, “and non-religious a further 9.66% of the world population.”

In other words, it’s very easy to get a false dichotomy from these kinds of polls: Do you count non-affiliated or just “spiritual” people as atheists? Or non-theists? Or do you lump them into the religious? This is an important question because polls very clearly show that the younger generations are much less religiously affiliated than the older ones. So regardless of how you spin it, Christianity is on the decline. And the only article that comes up when you do a Google News search for “atheism decline” is the WND one.

Update July 26, 2013: And here’s a study headlined as, Religion to Disappear by 2041 Claims New Study. To be honest, I don’t believe this any more than I believe the WND one. Projections like these are fun and get you papers and press releases, but they are usually way too speculative.

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