Quantcast

«

»

Dec 16 2010

Is God disappearing from literature?

Google Books has scanned over 15 million books so far, and a team at Harvard University has been crunching the numbers. They’re looking for various trends that can highlight the evolution of language, and their results are fascinating. Ed Yong has a wonderful review that you should check out, with everything from grammar to Nazis (but no Grammar Nazis).

But I wanted to point out one trend they’ve been seeing in the books over the years:
In the lead researcher’s own words, “‘God’ is not dead; but needs a new publicist.”

And just because I’m a biologist who wants to rub it in…
Woooo! But more than just bragging about it’s growing popularity compared to God*, this graph is still pretty awesome. Not only does it show approximately when these discoveries were made, but look at evolution in the 1940s. Looks like people were a little scared to be talking about it, maybe thanks to Nazis? That would be fascinating to look into more.

This is only the first report from the project, and I can’t wait for the rest to come out! Mmmmm, data and literary nerdiness combined!

*Remember, it’s comparatively. Look at the magnitudes on the y axes. The atheist horde still has some work to do. But at least science is on the upswing, while God isn’t looking too hot if this trend continues!

29 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    asonge

    God is still ~10 times bigger between the two graphs :(

  2. 2
    Gregory Colby

    I hate to correct you on this, but it’s actually on the order of 100x :-( :-(

  3. 3
    Rhb

    Not at all a biologist (PHYSICS BOVVER BOYS RULE OK?), so I’m probably asking a stupid Q; but why the DNA blip around 1900?

  4. 4
    asonge

    at the end of the graphs: .25 x 10^-3 is 2.5 x 10^-4 compared to ~3×10^-5.

  5. 5
    Jeffrey A. Myers

    We shall overcome. Sure it will probably take a couple hundred more years, but eventually people will look at the Abrahamaic Faiths and find them quaint and stupid – the same way we presently describe Zeus and Athena.

  6. 6
    Shaun Pilkington

    When you talk of a ‘god’ deus ex machina has lowered the bar to of transcendent consciosness to a point that the Righeous have nothing solid to reach for let alome preach about….

  7. 7
    Jen

    A lot of research on DNA was happening in the early 1900s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D…. It’s just the exact structure that wasn’t identified until 1953.

  8. 8
    Margarete

    I don’t think that Zeus and Athena are quaint and stupid. The idea of a pantheon of very human gods who are each responsible for a facet of the natural world that the Ancient Greeks didn’t have the tools to understand is to me much more logical than Abrahamic religion. When you don’t understand nature, I think it’s much more logical and beautiful to see a spirit in every natural event, and to see that those spirits are in many ways just like us, (or worse), than everything being overseen by one creator who is all powerful, and all knowing and very inhuman.

  9. 9
    the_Siliconopolitan

    Interesting to see The Origin didn’t actually spark an evolution explosion until some twenty years later. But Chuck didn’t actually use the word “evolution”, did he?

  10. 10
    Gus Snarp

    It appears that god has had a bit of a resurgence of late. It’s small of course, but he does seem to be on the upswing.

  11. 11
    cr0sh

    Thank’s for posting that link; I was wondering the same thing myself about that blip…

  12. 12
    Cbc

    Wasn’t the Nazi philosophy based in part on eugenics, which was a perversion of evolutionary theories? I’m not saying evolutionists=Nazis, I’m saying it’s weird that evolution wasn’t on an uptick then, if only because it was being used for evil ends.

  13. 13
    Julietosborne

    God is probably talked about more through other means now though, for example hip-hop/r&b/soul music; you can’t listen to a Kanye West song without hearing ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’. It would be interesting to see whether there has been any change in trends as far as music goes.

  14. 14
    bob42

    Despite the y axis magnitude delta, this is still a positive trend. Perhaps the inhabitants of our planet are approaching the realization that to define their god is to limit her.

  15. 15
    Rev. Ouabache

    It would be interesting to see the God graph as a percentage of total books. There are a lot more books published today than in the 1800s. That means the percentage of authors writing about God is plunging like a rock.

  16. 16
    matt

    Ed Yong, not Ed Young.

  17. 17
    Shac

    type in “Christ, Jesus, Santa” and Santa wins! yeah Santa. But add God and they all flatten :(

  18. 18
    Aaron Harmon

    But eugenics is not natural selection at all, it is exactly the opposite. It is herd-culling and I would guess also combined with something like the cross-breeding farmers do. In any case it is human-selection, not natural selection. Eugenics <> evolution.I am trying to think of a good simile so that I can finish the sentence “That would be like saying X is a perversion of Y, when they really have nothing to do with each other”, but I cannot thinks of a good (x,y) set.

  19. 19
    evilunderthesun_JLT

    and if you combine cell, evolution, bacteria, and DNA, you get approx. 1.2×10^-4 :)

  20. 20
    Ed Yong

    Seriously. Because if you google “Ed Young”, he doesn’t strike you as the type of person who’d enjoy the first graph.

  21. 21
    Jen

    Fixed, sorry for failing D: I’ve read his blog long enough that you think I could get it right.

  22. 22
    Dasunt

    Tried science, religion, homeopathy, chiropractor, astrology, etc.Science wins.Then I tried the names of god: YHWH, Jehovah, Allah, God, etc.

  23. 23
    Lindsay

    The first graph is really representative of periodicity, considering how American Romanticism turned to questions of morality outside of religious teachings (Melville) and also the rise of transcendentalism (Emerson, Thoreau). The modernists were, by and large, a group of agnostics and atheists who valued aesthetics over religion, and then the postmodernists came in, atheist agendas a-blazin’. It’ll be interesting to see what the next period brings, especially in relation to religion. Hopefully it won’t be a giant regression. :/

  24. 24
    Egoistpaul

    I wonder what happens if we plot “boobquake” on the graph.

  25. 25
    JPaper

    The results for “Santa” vs. “Jesus Christ” are pretty good:http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/g

  26. 26
    Dave Wright

    My grasp of the history is a bit hazy, but I was under the impression that the veracity of the Theory of Evolution lost a lot of support at the beginning of the 20th century (at least compared to it’s popularity following the release of Darwin’s Origin), partly because a plausible mechanistic explanation for it wasn’t particularily forthcoming, and also that there was initially some trouble reconciling Mendellian inheritance (rediscovered around 1915), and the emerging fields of genetics and population studies with Darwin’s ideas. I can’t really remember many details, but there have been a couple of creationist quotemines from the thirties of prominent biologists doubting the veracity of evolution for this reason, which is why it’s important to check the dates of quotes being supported!The pickup in publication on evolution around the mid-20th century is probably more to do with the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, where Darwinian evolution was thoroughly rethought in the light of more modern discoveries, which according to Wikipedia happened in the early 1940s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M….

  27. 27
    Eamonndmurray

    While the God percentage has gone down which I would expect in the more literate and educated world I wonder if the number of actual books on God has changed?

  28. 28
    REVATHEIST

    I always thought that God was some sort of bearded man sittting on a cloud, but now, due to the enlightenment brought by the Holy Graph, I know that GOD IS A BLUE LINE!! HAIL, OH GLORIOUS BLUE LINE IN ALL OF OF YOUR GLORY! QUICKLY, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, WE MUST FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF THE LINE LORD AND SHED OUR EXTRA PHYSICAL DIMENSIONS! THE BLUE LINE GOD AND HIS SON, TEAL SEGMENT JESUS, HAVE REVEALED TO ME THAT BY LYING IN THE PATH OF STEAMROLLERS WE CAN SHED ONE OF THESE ACCURSED EXTRA DIMENSIONS AND BECOME CLOSER TO GOD!! I’M SURE THAT THE LINE LORD WILL REVEAL HOW TO FURTHER LOSE THE OTHER SINFUL DIMENSION SOMETIME AFTER THAT! PRAISE BLUE LINE GOD!!!

  29. 29
    Tyrsson

    I hate to rain on the parade, but without proper context these numbers mean absolutely nothing. The word “evolution” is on the rise? Okay. In what contexts is the word being used? What percentage of its uses actually refer to the theory of evolution and not to generic change? Of those that do refer to the theory of evolution, how many of those references are favorable? It is, after all, entirely possible that the increase could be due to an increase in books that are denying the validity of evolutionary theory. I’m not saying that necessarily is the case. However, without a more detailed analysis, there is no way to rule that possibility out.

Leave a Reply