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:
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.