For the past few days, we have looked at facts about atheists compiled by the Pew Research Center. We saw that people who identify as atheists in the United States are primarily male and younger than the general population. We also saw that they scored higher than the general population in a religious knowledge survey that included Christianity-related questions. We also pointed out that they often grew up in a church but left their faith in college. Why do people choose atheism over faith in God?
I think it is safe to say that some choose atheism because they don’t want to follow the moral standards of Christianity. By rejecting God, they can reject His moral standards without pangs of conscience. Living immorally becomes easier when we can pretend that there is no higher authority who sets standards of moral conduct. According to Pew Research, less than half (42%) of Americans believe that it is necessary to believe in God to have good moral values. But that is much higher than in France, where only 15% think that belief in God is essential for good morals. Interestingly, in some Muslim-dominated countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia, 98% to 99% say that a person must believe in God to be moral.
Atheists not only refuse to believe in God, but they also think that faith is a negative factor in society. In the U.S., 71% of atheists say that the decline in religious influence in public life is a good thing. About the same amount (70%) say that churches and other religious institutions do more harm than good. They overlook how many hospitals, orphanages, and charitable organizations have been founded and are supported by Christians. Many Western European countries, such as Belgium, France, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, have high rates of atheism (14-16%). That contrasts with the percentage of atheists in many Eastern European countries, including Romania, Ukraine, Bosnia, Poland, and Lithuania (1-2%). Even in Russia, only 4% of the population claims atheism. Could that be because the people of those countries lived for years under atheism, and they understand its consequences?
Reading the atheism data on the Pew Research Center website brings many questions to my mind. Why do people choose atheism over faith in God? The answer is as complex and diverse as human beings. At Does God Exist? our mission is to share evidence for God’s existence, the truth of the Bible, and Jesus Christ as the one who can restore us to a relationship with our Creator.
What is an atheist? We may use the word around like we know what an atheist is, but do we? According to Merriam-Webster, an atheist is “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods.” Historically, Christians were called “atheists” for believing in only one God instead of the pantheon of pagan gods. Today, data from the Pew Research Center (which we talked about yesterday) indicates that it is not easy to define what an atheist is.
Reading through the Pew Research Center findings, I found some interesting facts. In 2009, 2% of Americans described themselves as atheists. In 2018 and 2019, that increased to 4%. However, 18% of those who self-described as atheists said that they “believe in some kind of higher power.” Even more surprising is that 54% of atheists say they “often feel a sense of wonder about the universe.” Apparently, even atheists have an innate spiritual sense. Could that be because humans are created in God’s image? When we ask, “What is an atheist?” perhaps we also should ask what keeps them from believing. Could it sometimes be the actions of believers?
Surprisingly, about a third of American atheists say they think about meaning and purpose in life at least once a week, and they “often feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being.” Two-thirds (63%) listed family as a source of meaning. That compares to 73% of Christians finding meaning in the family. However, Atheists placed much greater meaning on money, hobbies, and travel than did Christians or Americans in general. Is that an attempt to fill the empty spiritual void?
When we ask, “What is an atheist?” we should keep in mind that most U.S. atheists are men (68%). They are also relatively young, with a median age of 34, compared to 46 for the general public. Of the American general public, only 27% have a college degree. Among those who identify as atheists, 43% have graduated from college. Can we blame the high percentage of college-educated atheists on atheistic professors in American higher education? Maybe some blame lies in the many churches that teach anti-scientific doctrines, which college students quickly learn cannot be accurate. Hold that thought until we continue this discussion tomorrow.
On January 24, 2024, the Pew Research Center released 2023 data on American religious beliefs. It suggests that the rise of religious “nones” may be slowing. The “nones” are people who claim no religious affiliation, and they have been the fastest-growing religious belief group in America. In the past 50 years, “nones” went from less than 5% to 30% of all Americans. However, this latest report put the “nones” at 28%. Some of the other numbers reported are:
Nones are 17% atheist, 20% agnostic, and 63% nothing in particular.
Thirty years ago, 90% of Americans were “Christian,” and now that number is 60%.
69% of nones are younger than 50.
97% of nones attend religious services a few times a year or not at all.
56% say they believe in “some higher power” aside from the God of the Bible.
The Pew Research Center has a good reputation for gathering data, but still, there is no such thing as an infallible academic survey. Sampling is complex and affected by many variables, but Pew Research has worked hard to avoid pitfalls as much as possible.
The “Does God Exist Ministry” began in 1968 when we were concerned about American religious beliefs. We saw massive ignorance about the evidence for the existence of God, the validity of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, and the inspiration of the Bible. There is a tendency for churches to pretend that everyone believes in God. Believers have suggested that teaching about the evidence for believing in God, Jesus, and the Bible is a waste of time. There have even been attempts by religionists to shut down this ministry, and the refusal to look at science-based evidence has grown.
Our concern about American religious beliefs is why we offer free correspondence courses and a variety of video lessons on our website doesgodexist.tv. We want anyone with an open mind to see evidence from science and to share that with others. We encourage everyone to know why they believe what they believe. Understand that science is simply knowledge, and it strongly supports faith. If someone thinks there is a conflict between science and faith, they either have bad science, bad theology, or both.
The Pew Research Center has released data on studies of the number of Americans identifying themselves as Christians or having no religious affiliation from 1990 to 2020. The data shows a significant decline in Christianity.
The number of Americans identifying themselves as Christians dropped from 90% in 1990 to 64% in 2020. At the same time, the number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation rose from 16% in 2007 to 20% in 2020. More recent data has shown these numbers to be conservative. Atheist and skeptic numbers put those claiming to be Christians at well under 50% and those claiming no religion at over 40%.
There is an adage that says, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Of course, we can argue about these numbers, and the sampling techniques need to be defined. However, the fact is that there is a significant decline in Christianity as the number of Americans who claim to be Christians is rapidly shrinking, while those who claim no religion is growing.
The message to those involved in Christian preaching and teaching should be clear. We need to provide church members, visitors, and others with evidence for faith in God and the validity of the Bible. Ignoring skeptics’ claims and not answering the questions of seekers and church members is a destructive practice.
This ministry has been dealing with the challenges to belief since 1968. Our materials are free and available for all ages. We welcome questions sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or our mailing address at 1555 Echo Valley Drive, Niles, MI 49120. In addition to this website, doesgodexist.org has information, links, and a catalog of materials. You can also find our daily postings on Facebook.
We can know why we believe what we believe. We must take the instructions of 1 Peter 3:15 seriously, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and respect.”
In today’s anti-Christian climate, kids not only don’t know anything about Christianity or the Bible, but they are also profoundly ignorant about religion in general. In today’s world, religious knowledge is needed.
Pew Research Center has released some of its findings on what American kids know. Since a majority of kids go all the way through school with no education on religion of any kind, their ignorance of religious knowledge is profound. Here are some of the things the Pew Research Center found:
50% of high school students think that Sodom and Gomorrah were married. A majority of Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible. 17% believe Ramadan is the Jewish Day of Atonement. Many teens think “Moby Dick” is from the Bible.
This is not just a teen problem. George W. Bush was told about the Sunni and Shiite conflict in Iraq and responded by saying, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims.” Jeff Stein of the New York Times reported that in his work with congressional leaders most didn’t have a clue about the difference. There have been attacks on Sikhs by people who thought they were attacking Muslims.