Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Does atheism thrive on economic prosperity? Does religion prosper when people are desperate and ignorant?

On June 18, 2012 the atheist PZ Myers wrote in an article entitled How about some good news to cheer you up on a Monday morning?
Atheism thrives on economic stability; religion prospers when people are desperate and ignorant. Here in the US, the theocratic party, the Republicans, have no interest in keeping the majority in good economic shape — they’d like to destroy the social safety net and increase economic inequity.

First, there is no clear cut case for atheism necessarily thriving on economic stability and religion prospering when people are desperate and ignorant -  even an atheist academic agrees on this matter.

Atheist professor Derek Bickerton writes:
Nigel Barbers' post Why Atheism Will Replace Religion (henceforth WAWRR) is based on two assumptions: that improvement in economic conditions is the major driving force behind the spread of atheism. and that atheism will triumph globally when similar conditions spread to Asia, Africa and South America. Both assumptions are dubious indeed. With regard to the second, it's even dubious whether Europe and North America can maintain their current level of economic development. Plenty of civilizations have suffered economic collapse--why should ours be the one exception? But even if we do come out of the current depression, what difference will that make to the rest of the world?

Bickerton offers various pieces of data and arguments to support his contentions.

In Brazil, evangelicalism is experiencing signficiant growth while seeing economic conditions substantial improve. Also, in China Christianity is seeing explosive growth during a time when they have had significant economic growth. In addition, historically the United States has one of the highest rates of religiosity while possessing a strong economy. One of the big reasons for this is that America has a strong tradition of religious freedom (At the opposite extreme, persecution and martyrdom has been known to cause Christendom to expand too and this was the case in the Roman Empire).

In July of 2010, IPS News reported:
At the global level, the number of people living under the international poverty line of less than 1.25 dollars a day declined from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion: a reduction of about 500 million people.

The argument by most critics is that these figures are distorted because the successes are mostly in a few countries, primarily China, Vietnam and Brazil, and to a lesser extent, India.

Also, while the world as a whole saw increased wealth, atheism fell as a percentage of the world's population. A worldwide poll indicated that in 1991 the global figure for atheists was 4.4% of the global population. By 2006, it was estimated that merely 2% of the world population were atheists.

The economists Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy reported in 2010: "World poverty is falling. Between 1970 and 2006, the global poverty rate has been cut by nearly three quarters. The percentage of the world population living on less than $1 a day (in PPP-adjusted 2000 dollars) went from 26.8% in 1970 to 5.4% in 2006."

Perhaps, an argument can be made that increased prosperity plus socialism (which is an ideology of the secular left so atheistic thought would be expected to be more prevalent to begin with) increases atheism as proposed by atheist Niles Barber may be true, but this may only be for the short term as socialistic Europe is currently experiencing a significant economic crisis due to high levels of sovereign debt in some Eurozone nations and may suffer severe hardships in the coming years. Plus, we must remember that these countries do not have the same degree of religious freedom as the United States and have had state religions. Rodney Stark argues that a more competitive landscape for religions/worldviews is beneficial to religiosity.

Now there are certainly instances of history where people or cultures have gotten "fat and sassy" and have abandoned faith. Also, it is true that men in desperate times are more apt to turn to God. The ancient Israelites certainly had their ups and downs in this regard. And the New Testament does warn about the deceitfulness of riches and not allowing greed to overcome faith. In addition, there is some data indicating a correlation between wealth and atheism, but as you can see above Myers's dogmatism is simplistic and unwarranted.

It is also important to note that it is far more likely that prosperity breeds atheism than atheism breeding prosperity.  After all, the atheists involved in the economic system of communism were not financial geniuses. In addition, as noted above secular Europe certainly has it share of economic problems at the present time. As an aside, the article at Creation Ministries International's website entitled Biblical Private Property Versus Socialistic Common Property by Reverend Professor. F.N. Lee makes some good points.

Will religion disappear? Is atheism a religion?

Moreover, atheists who opine that one day religion will disappear are not only ignore the vast amount of evidence supporting Christianity and ignoring the fact that atheism has no proof and evidence that it is true, but they neglect the very pertinent matter that man's religiosity has historically flourished while atheism has had a tradition of being far less prevalent. Even in Japan, which is more atheistic than many countries, children see the world as designed. See also: Christianity is on the upswing in Japan

In 2012, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) reported that every day there are 800 less atheists per day, 1,100 less non-religious (agnostic) people per day and 83,000 more people professing to be Christians per day (see: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary - status of Global Mission report).

Eric Kaufmann using a multitude of demographic studies argues in an academic paper entitled Shall the Righteous Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century that the decline of atheism in terms of its global adherents is an established trend that will persist for the foreseeable future and the rate of decline will accelerate. In the Western World, due to immigration and the higher birth rates of religious people, Kaufman writes: "Committed religious populations are growing in the West, and will reverse the march of secularism before 2050."

Of course, there are plenty of strong arguments that atheism is a religion and I recommend reading these articles:

 Atheism: a religion 

 Summary of Kitzmiller’s Error: Using an Exclusive rather than Inclusive Definition of Religion


Lastly, secular religions such as atheism and agnosticism, like many false religions, often breed misery.

For further information, please read our upcoming article Atheism is rudderless and unseaworthy.

Other resources:

Question Evolution! Campaign

15 questions for evolutionists

Responses to the 15 Questions: part 1 - Questions 1-3

Responses to the 15 Questions: part 2 - Questions 4–8

Responses to the 15 Questions: part 2 - Questions 9-15

Refuting evolution

Photo credits:

English: PZ Myers in London.
français : PZ Myers. Photo prise à Londres.
Date October 2006
Source emailed from PZ Myers
Author Larry Moran (Per e-mail to PZ Myers)
(Reusing this file)
GFDL granted via email from PZ Myers,

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Source of picture:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pzm_london_lg.jpg

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