Religious skeptics are becoming younger and more diverse


That is the finding of the 2015 survey on theState of Atheism in America by the Christian polling outfit Barna Group that puts atheists and agnostics under the common label of skeptics. They find five major shifts within the last two decades, as shown by this graphic.

barna skeptics

The report says that while the percentage of men who are skeptics has increased, that of women has increased even more thus closing the gap between the genders, a welcome development indeed.

As for the racial mix, the report says:

Religious skepticism has become more racially and ethnically inclusive. While whites represented 80 percent of all skeptics 20 years ago, that figure had dropped to 74 percent by 2013. This is largely a reflection of the increasing Hispanic and Asian adults among the skeptic cohort. Asian Americans, the least-Christian ethnic demographic in the United States, especially tend to embrace skepticism. While a growing number of skeptics are Hispanic, they still remain, along with Blacks, less likely than other ethnic groups to accept the idea of a world without God. White Americans, who constitute two-thirds of the country’s total population, are well above average in their embrace of atheism and agnosticism; they comprise three-quarters of the skeptic segment.

I find the increase from one-third to half of college graduates among the ranks of skeptics a little troubling. I would like skepticism to be increasing across the board and not be the province of just those who have more education and thus are likely to be better off. We already have enough divisions based on socio-economic factors.

Measuring religiosity is not easy and general questions such as “Do you believe in god?” are open to wide interpretation. The Barna Group has developed what they refer to as a post-Christian metric to fine-tune belief in terms of lack of commitment to religious beliefs and practices that are more amenable to measurement.

To qualify as post-Christian, individuals meet 60 percent or more of the factors (nine or more out of 15 criteria). Highly post-Christian individuals meet 80 percent or more of the factors (12 or more of 15 criteria).

Based on Barna’s aggregate metric, nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population qualifies as post-Christian (38%). This includes one in 10 Americans who are highly post-Christian—lacking engagement in 80 percent or more of the measures of belief, practice and commitment. Another one-quarter is moderately post-Christian (28%), refraining from at least 60 percent of the factors.

The report adds that there are three components of disbelief.

Just as believers arrive at their belief in God by amassing a variety of information and experiences, skeptics piece together different inputs to draw their conclusions. According to our research, however, it seems the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.

Skeptics dismiss the idea that the Bible is holy or supernatural in any way. Two-thirds contend that it is simply a book of well-known stories and advice, written by humans and containing the same degree of authority and wisdom as any other self-help book. The remaining one-third are divided between those who believe the Bible is a historical document that contains the unique but not God-inspired accounts of events that happened in the past, and those who do not know what to make of the Bible but have decided it deserves no special treatment or consideration.

Given their antipathy or indifference toward the Bible, it is remarkable that six out of 10 skeptics own at least one copy. Most have read from it in the past, and a handful (almost exclusively agnostics) still read it at least once a month. The fact is, most skeptics have some firsthand experience with the Bible, and most had some regular exposure to it during their youth.

Actually, I do not find it that surprising that many skeptics own or read the Bible, at least from time to time. Skeptics tend to be quite familiar with the Bible, were often Christians in the past, and thus are likely to have a Bible somewhere around.

Comments

  1. brucegee1962 says

    I think it’s interesting that they start their focus with the “unchurched.” I often wonder what a survey like this would do with me — due to a variety of factors relating to my family, I attend a church regularly. I just don’t have any use for anything that happens there; it’s just a wasted hour in my week. Well, some of the songs are nice.

  2. says

    According to our research, however, it seems the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.

    It sounds like they were guilty of poor research. My refusal to believe came from both observation (the complete lack of any evidence for the claims) and when I started reading science on my own, seeing that the scientific argument stood up to challenges and answered questions. Religion only sought to prevent difficult questions from being asked. I’m sure that’s true for many other people.

    Actually, I do not find it that surprising that many skeptics own or read the buybull, at least from time to time.

    Many/Most religious people fail to grasp (and it appears Barna too) that atheists generally argue from knowledge, from learning the opposing person’s point of view and using it to argue (e.g. “If that’s true, then….”). It’s easier to defeat an argument when you know where it’s weaknesses are. The religious, on the other hand, view learning other POVs as a bad thing, as a danger to belief (e.g. “I’m right because the buybull says so, therefore I don’t need to know your argument”).

    I have a buybull, but was a free ebook download. I would never pay good money for that tripe, and being an ebook makes it easier to search.

    Given their antipathy or indifference toward the buybull

    Antipathy is a loaded word (the myth of the “angry atheist”), and indifference suggests that atheists don’t care about easy religion is to use and abuse. Disdain and bewilderment (i.e. “Who believes this crap?”) would be better words for it. I’ve heard it labelled bibledygook (see: gobbledygook) for good reason. It’s jabberwocky before Lewis Carroll.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Does the label “post-Christian” (oh God: “PC” again!) include those Asians, Jews, et al., who may never have had any Christianism in their personal or family histories?

  4. Chiroptera says

    According to our research, however, it seems the three primary components that lead to disbelief in God’s existence are 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview.

    #1 is true in my case, but that was the fault of the literalists. When I realized that science pretty much demolished the creation story of Genesis, I couldn’t really take it seriously as a “book of facts,” and, again because of my “brainwashing” by the literalists, with the Bible I had no reason to continue believing in the existence of a god.

    Looking back in hindsight, I think another thing that was percolating and getting me ready for the break (perhaps not consciously) was the realization that the rightwing, conservative political pronouncements coming from the pulpit and the contemporary religious right organizations were completely contradicted by the social justice message clearly stated in the Gospels.

    As far as #3, I don’t know whether my non-belief was reinforced by the culture, but my secular friends never cared very much whether I was a fundamentalist or an atheists. To them, it was never an issue either way.

  5. Nightshade says

    Chiroptera says
    May 7, 2015 at 10:44 am
    .

    “Looking back in hindsight, I think another thing that was percolating and getting me ready for the break (perhaps not consciously) was the realization that the rightwing, conservative political pronouncements coming from the pulpit and the contemporary religious right organizations were completely contradicted by the social justice message clearly stated in the Gospels.”

    Chiroptera, if you’re deriving your metaphysical worldview from your political position you’ve got it backwards.
    The theist are generally correct at least, in getting this right.
    And I’m not sure exactly which ” conservative political pronouncements coming from the pulpit and the contemporary religious right organizations were completely contradicted by the social justice message clearly stated in the Gospels.”

    Care to elaborate?

  6. raven says

    Chiroptera, if you’re deriving your metaphysical worldview from your political position you’ve got it backwards.

    Huh? What!!!

    This is exactly what the fundie xians do.

    Fundie xianity is just right wing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show. The crosses aren’t important any more.

    It’s just tribalism.

    They have a magic book they never read, frequently pull quotes and beliefs from it that aren’t there, have no idea what the dogmas and doctrines are of their cults, and don’t care. People recreate xianity and their gods often, in their own image.

  7. raven says

    Chiroptera, if you’re deriving your metaphysical worldview from your political position you’ve got it backwards.

    Who made you the chief theologian of all religionists? I was looking up at the sky last night and didn’t see any gods handing down assignments.

    It was the creationist fundies that drove me out of xianity. I thought they were extinct. And many other exxians as well. Making believing ancient mythology is real a litmus test works both ways.

    But that was just the start. My sect didn’t have a problem with science and said so right on their website. But it called the whole religion into question.

    I read the bible which they never really emphasized for the best of reasons. What a horrible, pointless book. Read some books by Dawkins and some biblical scholarship. And realized there was absolutely no evidence for any of it. And a lot of evidence that xianity is just an entirely human construct.

  8. Chiroptera says

    Nightshade, #5: Care to elaborate?

    Not really. Since I’m no longer a Christian, I don’t feel that it is my place to interpret Christian scriptures or to tell Christians what they are supposed to be believe (although I will occasionally throw some Bible verses at them to see how they respond). If you want to know what I was reading at the time, just look up the “Jesus was a socialist” or “Jesus was a socialist” memes.

    Chiroptera, if you’re deriving your metaphysical worldview from your political position you’ve got it backwards.

    I’m not sure I believe this. If your “metaphysical worldview” consistently leads you to conclusions that are empirically false or leads to conclusions that you realize are morally repugnant, then I think rather than continue in error you need to reexamine your “metaphysical worldview.”

  9. Storms says

    I heard a statistic on SGU that folks entering college actually get less skeptical in their first couple of years, then get more so as they move toward graduate level classes.
     
    I agree with you Mono in that we need better skeptical education in high schools. I know this is one of the targets of the Secular Student Alliance.

  10. Nightshade says

    My own personal metaphysical view is,well, undecided.I guess you could call me agnostic,since I accept Kant’s epistemological phenomenalism and like him I’m skeptical that we can have certain knowledge of the ‘thing-in-itself’ as/if it exist independently of our minds.

    My point is that our view on political/social issues should be based on our view of humanities place in the grand scheme of things which requires at least a theory of the grand scheme of things, or a metaphysical worldview.

    I sometimes get the distinct impression many people arrive at their views on political/social issues first and then hunt for a metaphysics that support it.

  11. Chiroptera says

    Nightshade, #10: I sometimes get the distinct impression many people arrive at their views on political/social issues first and then hunt for a metaphysics that support it.

    That would probably describe me, but you still haven’t really explained why that is “backwards” beyond saying that you feel that way.

  12. Nightshade says

    @11) “…but you still haven’t really explained why that is “backwards” beyond saying that you feel that way.”

    Social and political issues are fundamentally ethical in nature,because they almost always involve opinions about what we “should” or “should not ” do as a society.What behaviors we “should” permit,prohibit,or compel.( for this reason complete separation of the religious sphere and the political is impossible,because both spheres have an ethical component.)

    But whether or not there is IN FACT a way humans “should” behave,(that is an objective moral order),and not just ways people DO in fact behave,and ways people BELIEVE we should behave, depends on the nature of reality,a question of metaphysics.

    It seems to me that if Mind/Consciousness/Spirit (which ever word one prefers) is not in some way a, or the, fundamental component of reality, then ultimately there is no meaning,purpose,good or evil that exist beyond the beliefs of humans.Since according to some views,humans and their beliefs are nothing but accidents of a particular and perhaps peculiar set of accidental conditions, there is no OBJECTIVELY GOOD/RIGHT way to organize societies are to behave.

    If that’s true,then a Social Darwinist can ask,”Why should I be forced by law to help those who can’t make it on their own?’
    If we answer ,”Because it is the right thing to do”.How do we show him it is in fact the “right” thing to do,and not just how we, or even most people believe,it is the “right” thing to do?By what right do we compel him to live according to our beliefs?

  13. raven says

    met·a·phys·ics
    /ˌmedəˈfiziks/ noun
    the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.

    abstract theory or talk with no basis in reality.

    Nightshade is consfusing metaphysics with religion. Religion can deal with metaphysics.

    It usually doesn’t though. It’s culture and politics more often. Most people are born into a religion and socialized by relentless childhood brainwashing. Plus ever method of social control every invented including murder of defectors.

    Most people never ever think of the metaphysics behind their religion. If they did they wouldn’t find anything anyway. It’s just about all fairy tales and fiction with no basis in reality.

  14. raven says

    If that’s true,then a Social Darwinist can ask,”Why should I be forced by law to help those who can’t make it on their own?’

    If we answer ,”Because it is the right thing to do”.How do we show him it is in fact the “right” thing to do,and not just how we, or even most people believe,it is the “right” thing to do?By what right do we compel him to live according to our beliefs?

    That is a valid question at least. But you probably aren’t going to find the answer in metaphysics.

    1. We use our evolutionary programming and common sense to invent ethical systems. We are group living, social omnivores. This is what we do.

    2. Reciprocal altruism. Stuff happens to everyone. There is no guarantee that the social Darwinist is not going to end up on the streets. In the past it happened a lot. Wars, epidemics, and economic disasters were common and still a feature of life.

    3. Pragmatic. Humans will kill other humans for food if they have to. If you don’t have a social safety net, you won’t have a safe and orderly society. Which is in everyone’s interest, especially the ultrarich. It’s no accident that the Ebola epidemic took off in three of the poorest and most chaotic countries on the planet. While we had a whole two cases of in country transmission.

  15. Nightshade says

    @13) Nightshade is consfusing metaphysics with religion. Religion can deal with metaphysics

    I am not confusing religion and metaphysics.
    While all religions are based upon a metaphysical worldview,so is atheism which generally assumes a Metaphysical Naturalism,Materialism/Physicalism.

    One can ignore Metaphysics, but not escape it.

    @13) It usually doesn’t though. It’s culture and politics more often.

    Most people seem to believe that certain positions on cultural/social/political issues follow logically from a given metaphysics.
    Western Theist believe that God created humans in accordance with a template that existed in God’s thoughts prior to human creation.How humans “should” be/act is identical to the template.
    Here we see an ethical belief, derived from a particular metaphysics,shaping views on social issues.

    Non-believers do the same thing. We all have a metaphysics,even if it is only implicit in what we say or think.

  16. raven says

    While all religions are based upon a metaphysical worldview,so is atheism which generally assumes a Metaphysical Naturalism,Materialism/Physicalism.

    I’m not seeing that atheism makes a lot of metaphysical assumptions.

    Atheism is more based on empiricism. Where is the proof that the gods exist? There isn’t any. Where is the proof that they are even needed to explain anything. There isn’t any.

    The vast majority of religion is based on cultural transmission. The vast majority of theists have no idea what metaphysics is, what the metaphysics of their religion are, and could care less. Thought and religion as it exists are almost mutally exclusive. One of the innovations of xianity was to privilege faith over reason. Which led to a 1,000 year Dark Age after Rome fell.

    Western Theist believe that God created humans in accordance with a template that existed in God’s thoughts prior to human creation.How humans “should” be/act is identical to the template.
    Here we see an ethical belief, derived from a particular metaphysics,shaping views on social issues.

    Xian beliefs are very malleable and evolve quickly. They can change in an hour and change back an hour later. This is what happens when beliefs aren’t anchored in reality and don’t test themselves against reality.

    In practice, it’s probably the other way around. Xians adopt some variation of the prevailing morality and then retcon it into their magic book, the bible, whether it fits or not.

    Example. Most xians today would reject slavery. In the past, xianity was used to defend slavery all the way back to the New Testament. Augustine (a rather creepy guy IMO) was one of the worst, claiming that slavery was god’s punishment and slaves deserved to be slaves. People don’t often derive their morality from metaphysics. They derive it from their surrounding culture.

  17. Nightshade says

    @16) “I’m not seeing that atheism makes a lot of metaphysical assumptions.

    Atheism denies the existence of God/gods,in doing so it is making a claim about the nature of reality,a Metaphysical claim.

    Most atheist go further and claim that mind/consciousness is not a fundamental property of reality,like mass and extension are taken to be.Most atheist believe that every thing in existence is the accidental product of non-conscious forces and fields,which exist and have their properties,either necessarily or accidentally,and that they interact with each other in accordance with laws which emerge naturally from these properties.
    Atheism,in it’s broadest sense,rejects any and all forms of Metaphysical Idealism eg.Theism,Deism,Panpsychism.
    So metaphysical assumptions are implicit in atheism.

    @16) Atheism is more based on empiricism.

    An Empiricist believes all knowledge of the external world comes trough the senses.Thus it’s emphasis on observation,and measuring of that world, in short science.

    However what we actually experience are ideas,which occur internal to us,that internal world is the world we know.
    (That is the world empiricist/scientist study.Whether they realize it or not.)

    How accurately these ideas in our minds represent the objects in the external world that we believe cause them,we can’t know,because we can’t get out of our minds to see them as they are in themselves.

    Indeed we can’t even KNOW that there is an external world,much less anything about it’s nature.

    An empiricist can be a Metaphysical Realist as I believe John Locke was, or a Metaphysical Idealist as George Berkeley was.

    So Empiricism doesn’t dispense with Metaphysics,or even show us which Metaphysical view is likely to be true.

    The best we can do is infer the existence of something which causes our ideas.

    What that is,who knows?

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