Patt Morrison for August 17, 2012

Is atheism gaining popularity in America and beyond?

National Atheist Organization Holds "Reason Rally" In Washington, DC

Allison Shelley/Getty Images

A man looks through an umbrella with a hand-drawn message during the National Atheist Organization's "Reason Rally" March 24, 2012 on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

The belief in God, or gods, is changing and some new research shows that the practice is on the decline worldwide.

According to a new poll by WIN-Gallup International, the percentage of Americans who identify as “religious” dropped 13 points — from 73 to 60 percent since 2005. The number of Americans who identify as atheists jumped from 1 percent to 5 percent in the same period.

The poll posed the same question to 50,000 people in 57 countries and five continents: “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?”

“When we say religious, the definition of religious and religiosity has changed, especially for Americans. And so you ask the question, ‘Are you more religious?’, the answer may be that I’m not religious or as religious or more religious but I’m spiritual,” Dr. Carolyn Gordon, associate professor of communication and preaching at Fuller Seminary, told Patt Morrison.

Critics of the study say that the changes took place too rapidly to be taken seriously; for example, Ireland saw a decline of 22 percent in just seven years — the second biggest drop and only a point behind Vietnam’s 23-point dip.

Whether the results of the study hold up over time and further testing, the increase in self-identifying atheists is a positive trend for Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.

“It’s important to remember that atheists are voters. And there are certainly more atheists than there are for instance, practicing Jews in America. No politician would dream of insulting the Jews and no politician should dream of insulting the atheists. We’re a large number of people, some of us don’t talk about it and some of us do,” Dennett told Patt Morrison.

Although 60 percent of Americans still consider themselves to be religious, atheism has been garnering headlines since the last time the poll was conducted 2005. Authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have sold many books that indicted religion’s benevolence. A ‘Reason Rally’ in Washington D.C. drew thousands of nonbelievers to the National Mall on a rainy Saturday in late March.

“I think it [the study] says we are growing up. Whatever it was that happened in Europe to today most Europeans are thoroughly secular. They have these gorgeous empty churches over there. Whatever it was that happened there seems to be starting to happen here especially among the younger generation for whom atheism really is cool,” said Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. .

WEIGH IN:

What accounts for the shift? Are human beings losing their need for God or have they just lost their way?

Guests:

Dr. Carolyn Gordon, associate professor of communication and preaching at Fuller Seminary

Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based organization that promotes the constitutional principle of separation of state and church and to educates the public on matters relating to nontheism


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