I get email — theistic tears edition


This one guy keeps sending me faux-sincere emails asking me to confirm that atheism is in trouble.

Dear Mr. Myers,

Recent reports point to British atheism being in trouble.

With atheism faltering in Britain, is American atheism headed for trouble?



He only sends me links to two blogs, one titled “Examining Atheism” and the other called “Combatting Atheism”, which sound exactly the same, and are almost certainly also written by my very concerned correspondent. The kinds of ‘evidence’ he uses to show that atheism is doomed are the number of google searches for the word “atheism”, the number of immigrants to Great Britain, the publication of yet more apologetics from the likes of the tiresome Lennox and McGrath, and — get this — Ray Comfort’s new movie, The Atheist Delusion. It’s pathetic, wishful thinking on his part, nothing more, and the insincerity of his polite requests suggest nothing but dishonesty on his part. But sure, I’ll answer his question.


I would make two general explanations of that answer.

One is that we are seeing a shake-up within the atheist movement — there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the kind of atheism that is easy to measure with the crude metrics my correspondent wants to use. Let’s call it “Charismatic Atheism”, where people happily embrace the points of view offered by “thought leaders” like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, often without doing much thinking for themselves. That is a legitimate gateway into atheist ideas, and had a surge of success in the 2000s. It was a way to bring in a strong cohort of people who were quite open about saying that they were atheists.

But it’s not a long-lasting effect, and it’s actually antithetical to the strengths of atheism, which ought to be freethought, evidence-based thinking, and self-criticism. Hero worship is the path to orthodoxy and dogma. So while I might like Hitchens personally, and find many of his ideas worthy and beautifully expressed, I also consider him entirely wrong on some other ideas. Meanwhile, there are some atheists who practically worship the guy, use photos of Hitchens as avatars, and get very irate if you point out that he was also a war-mongering neocon. That represents a split within the movement, and demonstrates a growing dissent. We also see a lot of authoritarian atheists, for instance, or nonegalitarian atheists who despise feminism, and a robust atheism will not simply hide these significant conflicts in the name of protecting the idea that there is no god as dogma. But that’s all good. Atheism is not the kind of monolothic institution that, for instance, the Catholic church is, or other churches try to be, and that is exactly the way it should be.

For many people, atheism has become something we take for granted, and is not the primary cause we struggle to advance. There are other, more important battles to be fought. The label is less important than the body of secular ideals, and the failure of religion to recognize secular goals. More atheists are openly embracing humanism, especially in Britain, where the BHA is very successful.

Which brings me to my second explanation: that you’re finding fewer google searches for the word “atheism” (as if that is even a useful metric) does not change the fact that religion has failed to provide one word of truth, and that the defense of religious belief has collapsed into absurdist irrelevance. If you are citing Ray Comfort, or Kent Hovind, or Ken Ham to support your ideas, you’ve lost — they’re people who actively promote counterfactual nonsense. I see a lot of desperation for affirmation in Paul’s sad little letters, not confidence. That’s where I like to see believers, weak in their faith and grasping at straws.

Nowhere in Paul’s blogs does he present a speck of evidence for theism. He just whines endlessly about atheism, and he can’t even muster any substantive criticisms of atheist thought — it’s solely about how he thinks atheism is becoming less popular. That is not evidence that theism is correct. If I was the last person on Earth calling themself an atheist, it would not make any difference at all in the validity of that mish-mash of bullshit called Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism.

He can keep sending me his emails, though. His irrationality and desperation only serve to make me stronger.


  1. Jake Harban says

    Recent reports of Martin Luther’s activities indicate trouble for the Church. Would you agree that Christianity is failing?

    …fewer google searches for the word “atheism” (as if that is even a useful metric)…

    While not a perfect metric by any means, a decline in google searches for the word “atheism” is suggestive of a decline in the number of people who are vaguely interested in atheism but don’t actually know anything about it.

    So it seems maybe atheism has passed the initial recognition barrier— there may still be loads of theists, but we’re running out of people who are theists simply because they don’t realize there’s any other option.

  2. marcoli says

    I suppose Paul is indeed referring to the divisions among atheists, and thinking that that means that atheism per se is on the decline. But Paul should look at polls. Atheism is growing, and the Christian religions are declining in the West.

  3. Sastra says

    I’m wondering about what sort of answer he was hoping for.

    “Yes, atheism in America is headed for trouble! Curse you and your internal harmony — and curse your apologetics, too! I’m converting right now, damn you.”

    Okay, yes. He was probably hoping for that.

  4. jacksprocket says

    I recently went to a religious (well, Church of England) funeral. Apart from the bumbling, clueless, well- meaning vicar, and one or two old people (much older than us, we’re only in our 60s), everybody who expressed an opinion said things like “we only sang the hymns for the sake of the occasion, we don’t go to church”. I think this is actually the state of religion in England (I can’t speak for Scotland or wales, and certainly not for Northern Ireland)- a few kindly fuzzy bumblies, and the majority of the popuation split (uneveny) between non- believers (ranging from soft “maybe there’s something there” via agnostics to active atheists, but the vast majority don’t-cares), and religious fanatics, owners of the only and entire truth. The latter are an annoying and occasionally murderous minority.

  5. says

    You’re more generous than I am, Sastra. I assume he hoped he’d needle me and make me miserable.

    He doesn’t seem to be aware of the concept that one can favor a philosophy while rejecting big chunks of the common ideology. More Christians should be conscious of that possibility.

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Q – Do you agree that cigarette smoking is in decline?? hmmmm?
    A – No, not at all, I’m on my way to buy a carton and light up!!!

  7. strangerinastrangeland says

    Most likely this is again good old “Conservative” (aka Ken DeMyer) over from Conservapedia. He claims the end is nigh for atheism for years based on metrics like Google searches. Also, he wrote currently about the two blogs PZ mentioned in his text, although claiming they are not his. (He also claims to be multiple persons, which nobody believes either.)
    I can just recommend to everyone to go over to CP and have a look at the main page and its corresponding talk page: Comedy gold, especially Conservative.

  8. says

    Just 20 years ago you couldn’t find a single Google search for “Jesus”. Now, people are searching him on Google all the time. Ergo, Christianity is exploding out into the world! Hallelujah!

  9. blf says

    No idea if this is Ken DeMyer or not, but from The Encyclopedia of American Loons:

    #617: Ken DeMyer

    A.k.a. Conservative, Peter Moore, Kdbuffalo, Peter Moore, [see RationalWiki for a longer list].

    Among other things Kenneth D. DeMyer is probably the most highly profiled sysop at Conservapedia apart from Andy Schlafly himself, and generally in control of Conservapedia’s articles on evolution, atheism, and homosexuality. […] His general attitude toward atheism and evolution is that atheism is already dead and evolution is dying, and neither need be taking particularly seriously, although [one] cannot help but notice that DeMyer spends a surprising amount of effort trying (flailingly) to flog a horse he desperately and loudly claims is very much dead. […]

    DeMyer’s favored debate and reasoning techniques are sockpuppetry, quote mining and wildly and willfully misunderstanding more or less anything and everything […] (he was eventually banned from Pharyngula for spamming).

  10. raven says

    The fundie churches on the west coast are in big trouble right now. I get a fundie xian newsletter sometimes.
    They are usually clueless and relentlessly upbeat. Jeus is lord, liberals are going to hell, Trump is jesus’s BFF etc..
    1. One private xian school just shut down for lack of students.
    2. Two ministries just shut down for lack of…money.
    This has been a common pattern for a while. They are suffering from lack of money and people.

  11. Rich Woods says

    @PZ #1:

    Maybe that teardrop on Jesus’ face is a tattoo, meaning he has killed someone?

    I thought a teardrop tattoo meant that someone the person loved had died while the person was in prison. But it could very well vary by culture.

    Recent reports point to British atheism being in trouble.

    Going by the UK 2001 and 2011 censuses, Christianity is currently losing about 1% of the population each year while atheism is gaining about 1%. And that’s a very conservative count, because while the majority of people may put the religion they were brought up in census returns, when asked directly about their religious beliefs and attendances, over 50% say they are non-religious (with anyother 25% saying they are not very religious at all). Given that barely 2% of the population attends church regularly (and it’s mostly elderly people), I don’t think it’s British atheism which is the one in trouble.

  12. blf says

    Isn’t is spelled “Conservapœdia”?

    Usually “isn’t” is spelled isn’t, albeit I presume Conservapœdia has its own spelling of “isn’t” — iznit, maybe — to go along with its own facts, et al

  13. says

    does not change the fact that religion has failed to provide one word of truth

    Hey, they’ve only had a couple thousand years. Give ’em another couple thousand years and maybe they’ll come up with something.

    In the meantime, they’ll come up with the kalam cosmological argument once a month for the next couple thousand years, and throw in some galloping gish to lighten it up.

  14. mond says

    I have discovered that Google is in trouble, almost no-one is googling the word ‘google’.
    This means that Yahoo! is on the rise again and the sooner we all make it our default search the better it will be for all of us.

  15. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Love thy neighbor as thyself is one “truth” in there I agree with, until specific actions by the neighbor makes me reconsider. so uh I guess so

  16. Ichthyic says

    I thought a teardrop tattoo meant that someone the person loved had died while the person was in prison. But it could very well vary by culture.

    or location, as the well accepted meaning of a single teardrop in prison is that you have a murder under your belt.