Right wing news outlets like the Worldnetdaily and CNS News are trumpeting a new report by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, which claims that the number of atheists and agnostics is decreasing around the world. But let’s just say there are some methodological problems with that report:
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 its report, Christianity in its Global Context, 1970-2020: Society, Religion, and Mission, researchers analyzed data on church membership and activities from thousands of Christian denominations and other religions worldwide, presenting that data from 1970 and 2010 for a 40-year comparison and, using that information and related demographic data to forecast the world religious makeup in 2020.
What on earth could that even mean? The report itself says that organization “collates and analyzes data on church
membership and activities collected by thousands of Christian denominations around the world” and “combin[es] this with other relevant demographic data.” What does that mean? I have no idea and they don’t bother to say.
On the other hand, you could look at another report from Gallup that offers a clear and simple methodology of polling populations around the world and asking them if they consider themselves religious, non-religious or atheist. They polled 50,000 people in 57 countries and found entirely different numbers.
59% of the world said that they think of themselves as religious person, 23% think of themselves as not religious whereas 13% think of themselves as convinced atheists.
Comparing this to data from the same study in 2005, it finds that those claiming to be religious have dropped by 9%, while atheism has increased by 3%.