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It's official: Religion will be extinct by 2035.

Atheism is likely to replace religion.

Just as antibiotics replaced humours and democracy replaced the feudal system, and coral has replaced some other colour as the ‘hottest hue of the season’ – new evidence suggests that atheism is set to replace religion.

In an article published in Psychology Today, evolutionary psychologist Dr. Nigel Barber argues that atheism increases along with quality of life. Studies show that atheists are most heavily concentrated in developed countries, while in underdeveloped countries – such as sub-Saharan Africa – there is almost no atheism at all.

Anthropologist James Fraser argues that people who live in economically developed countries are more able to predict and control forces of nature – thus, science supplants religion as a major belief. However, nations where citizens feel economically stable are even more likely to see a high concentration of atheists – regardless of that community’s ability to control or understand acts of God. (That is, forces of nature.) Why is this?

Barber argues that:

Countries with a more equal distribution of income had more atheists.

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives.

In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young.

People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion. Hence my finding of belief in God being higher in countries with a heavy load of infectious diseases.

In my new study of 137 countries (1), I also found that atheism increases for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates). Moreover, countries with a more equal distribution of income had more atheists.

In other words, when people believe that there is a government system in place to support them, they feel less compelled to believe in a God who will help them pull through when life gets tough. If people have a longer and higher quality life expectancy – they feel less of a need to believe in an afterlife.

Think about it: if you were never sure where your next meal was going to come from, or thought you were in danger of losing your job, or were worried about how you were going to provide for your family – you might want to believe there was a God, too. Because you would feel safer knowing that someone (or some entity) had your back.

Other findings of the study were that religion ‘promotes fertility’ and that atheist families are often smaller.

Barber sums up his argument:

The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarised in market terms. First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people’s daily lives and hence less of a market for religion.

Obviously, there are other factors that contribute to faith and belief. But these statistics do suggest that as the world modernises, religion diminishes.

What you think – and feel – about this news, will probably depend on your personal views about religion.  Some atheists and religious folk alike think that religion has the potential to impact negatively on politics and society. If you fall into this group, you might think the secularisation of society is a positive trend.

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However, if you are someone whose personal belief in God has helped them through tough times, or provided them with clarity in times of crisis – you might worry.

Because religion has – whether this is true or not – been perceived by many as the backbone is society’s morality for hundreds of years. Some people believe that without religion, humanity would be cast adrift in a sea of temptation and ambiguity, unsure of right and wrong. Conversely, there are some atheists who argue that organised religion does more harm than good – condoning biases and prejudices, and amplifying a fear of ‘the other’.

Alain de Botton.

Not all atheists, however, are ‘anti-religion’. Perhaps the world’s second most famous atheist writer (after the controversial Richard Dawkins) is philosopher Alain de Botton.

In his book Religion for Atheists, he argues that while supernatural claims of religion are entirely false, there are lessons in religion that are important for the secular world.

Religion has been known to help build a sense of community. Make relationships last. Help people overcome feelings of envy or inadequacy, and promote generosity and charity.

Alain de Botton has even suggested that there should be ‘secular temples’: places of, if not worship, then contemplation.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from Botton’s stance is not that everybody needs somewhere quiet to think about morality (whether that place be a church, or a secular church, or a mosque, or a synagogue); but rather, that we should respect the beliefs of people who believe differently to us, and try to see the value in their practices.

If atheism is set to replace religion as the world’s most popular belief system – or anti-belief system, perhaps – when is this changeover likely to occur?

In a piece for The Huffington Post, Barber argues:

The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth. This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization. In deriving this estimate, I used the nine most godless countries as my touchstone (excluding Estonia as a formerly communist country).

The countries were Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom… Using the average global growth rate of GDP for the past 30 years of 3.33 percent (based on International Monetary Fund data from their website), the atheist transition would occur in 2035.

There you go, folks. We may be living in a secular world by 2035.

Are you religious? What do you think about the suggestion that atheism will overtake religion in the modern world? 

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