2011 Perseids

It slipped my mind to put up a reminder about the Perseid meteor showers for this year, so the peak has already gone by. But that doesn’t mean the shower isn’t still active and wonderful. At least until the 24th.

The decline of religion

There is a post making the blogging rounds about the decline of religion and rise of non-belief amongst the younger generations. It has some interesting facts:

  • The number of secular student groups is growing rapidly.
  •   The more that people stand up and are vocal about their unbelief, the more it encourages others to do the same. As [Adam] Lee notes, “psychological experiments [find] that it’s much easier to resist peer pressure if you have even one other person standing with you.) Student activists like the ones I’ve mentioned are no longer just scattered voices in the crowd; they’re the leading edge of a wave.”
  • Atheism increases with each new generation in America.

There are links embedded within that writing. Go to the original link to see them.

The fact is, more and more people are declaring their lack of religion or even outright atheism as the years march on and younger generations come of age. This has been a distinct trend since the end of WW2: each generation of young people has more nonbelievers than the previous generation of young people. Currently we have 25-30% of people in their 20’s declaring they have no religion, a number that is four times higher than for any other period.

The originator of this blogging meme, Adam Lee, has a good idea why we’re seeing this decline in religious affiliation:

I’d love to say that we atheists did it all ourselves; I’d love to be able to say that our dazzling wit and slashing rhetorical attacks are persuading people to abandon organized religion in droves. But the truth is that the churches’ wounds are largely self-inflicted. By obstinately clinging to prejudices that the rest of society is moving beyond, they’re in the process of making themselves irrelevant. In fact, there are indications that it’s a vicious circle: as churches become less tolerant and more conservative, their younger and more progressive members depart, which makes their average membership still more conservative, which accelerates the progressive exodus still further, and so on.

I am more willing to give some of the credit to the Gnu Atheists. It isn’t that we’ve turned so many people to atheism – these numbers primarily reflect a lack of religious affiliation, not atheism – but modern atheists have helped to create an environment where it is okay to criticize religion more openly. Part of that has been due to the writings of people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, but an even bigger part has to do with the rise of the Internet. Atheists don’t tend to get together very easily. We have no unifying philosophy or normative claims, so it makes things difficult. But with the Internet, it’s a matter of a simple click to a website. This has given us more of a voice, and it has made people realize there are more of us than they thought. That not only gets people thinking – I remember as a kid at a Catholic school being astonished to hear atheists even existed – but it brings more people out of the atheist closet. After all, nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd of people.