Why atheism will replace religion

By | May 20, 2010

http://xenophilia.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/atheism20outlives20all20gods.jpgAtheists are heavily concentrated in economically developed countries, particularly the social democracies of Europe. In underdeveloped countries, there are virtually no atheists. Atheism is thus a peculiarly modern phenomenon. Why do modern conditions produce atheism?

First, as to the distribution of atheism in the world, a clear pattern can be discerned. In sub-Saharan Africa there is almost no atheism (Zuckerman, 2007). Belief in God declines in more developed countries and is concentrated in Europe in countries such as Sweden (64% nonbelievers), Denmark (48%), France (44%) and Germany (42%). In contrast, the incidence of atheism in most sub-Saharan countries is below 1%.

The question of why economically developed countries turn to atheism has been batted around by anthropologists for about eighty years. Anthropologist James Fraser proposed that scientific prediction and control of nature supplants religion as a means of controlling uncertainty in our lives. This hunch is supported by data showing that the more educated countries have higher levels of non belief and there are strong correlations between atheism and intelligence (see my earlier post on this).

Atheists are more likely to be college-educated people who live in cities and they are highly concentrated in the social democracies of Europe. Atheism thus blossoms amid affluence where most people feel economically secure. But why?

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.

In addition to being the opium of the people (as Karl Marx contemptuously phrased it), religion may also promote fertility, particularly by promoting marriage, according to copious data reviewed by Sanderson (2008). Large families are preferred in agricultural countries as a source of free labor. In developed “atheist” countries, women have exceptionally small families and do not need religion helping them to raise large families.

Even the psychological functions of religion face stiff competition today. In modern societies, when people experience psychological difficulties they turn to their doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They want a scientific fix and prefer the real psychotropic medicines dished out by physicians to the metaphorical opiates offered by religion.

Moreover, sport psychologists find that sports spectatorship provides much the same kind of social, and spiritual, benefits as people obtain from church membership. …

via Why atheism will replace religion | Psychology Today.

27 thoughts on “Why atheism will replace religion

  1. Ann

    About time! God died a long time ago, according to Nietzsche and bunch of others before the beginning of the 20th century.

    Actually, it’s not that “God died” in the metaphysical sense, but it’s that Western culture has displaced Him, according to these thinkers, with materialism … etc. – you know it’s like money, consumerism and technological gadgetry (which include mind-altering pharmaceuticals) is more important to us than anything spiritual or supernatural (except for the paranormal on the internet – HA! our new spirituality: It’s UFOs, ghost hunters and parapsychology not atheism, but a kind of animism!).

    So,why shouldn’t the next step be complete denial of any kind of deity?

    Karl Marx talked about religion as the opiate of the masses, not spirituality. A BIG difference! He was actually more “love your neighbor as yourself” type of thinker than many of his contemporaries or people since. For a long time, a lot of writers (Christian and non-Christian) have found a lot of Christian values in Marxist thinking (which has very little to do with Communism as it was practiced in the former U.S.S.R., Americans). A big part of being Christian should be how one lives one’s life, not waiting to be rewarded in the present, or after one dies. It’s suppose to have something to do with love … huh?

    1. Intrachresodist

      Atheism well predates technological society as you should know.

      If there’s a common thing to being religious, other than believing in a god, it’s that they lie and misrepresent to protect their belief system. They misrepresent opponents’ positions; they misrepresent scientific conclusions; they spin their own beliefs to avoid being caught out in logical contradiction.

      Fact is, you have no evidence for the existence of your god. Right-minded people won’t accept that your god exists without such evidence.

      I have some quotes from famous, intelligent people on the subject:

      Bertrand Russell – “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”

      And again – “The objections to religion are of two sorts – intellectual and moral. The intellectual objection is that there is no reason to suppose any religion true; the moral objection is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.”

      Clarence Darrow – “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”

      Clark Adams – apropos to Cole below – “If Atheism is a religion, then health is a disease!”

      Daniel Dennett – “The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight — that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything [that] a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.”

      H.L. Mencken – “Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration–courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.”

      Mark Twain – “During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for 800 years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.”

    1. Intrachresodist

      Presumably you are religious, or you would not misrepresent atheism so.

      Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity. It is very likely that you are an atheist with respect to at least 10 of the deities mentioned in the post’s image.

      From the Wikipedia page on religion, first sentence:

      “Religion is the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship[1], usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

      Atheism has no belief in a god, does not worship a god, has no devotions, no rituals, nor a moral code. So atheism is the definitional opposite of religion.

      1. Cole


        a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
        a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.


        -Most atheists believe the universe and everything in it created by a “Big Bang.”
        -Most believe in evolution.

        I support the Wikipedia project 100%, but that article has been changed so many times, the definition switched back over and over again, it’s had to be semi-protected. I wouldn’t trust that particular page’s content at the moment.

        Look, atheism is a religion whether you want to believe it or not. Look at what the atheist movement has been doing, they’re trying to convert people. Why else would they be trying so hard to disprove other religions? It even has a great religious leader like the Pope. Richard Dawkins has all these “conventions” and such for atheists. You know why this is similar to what religions do? Because atheism is a religion. Face it, you might not want to say you are, but in all sense, you are one.

      2. Intrachresodist

        It seems a poor argument. Firstly, dictionary.com contains 8 meanings for the word and you picked possibly the least relevant one to hang your argument on. So be it:

        You neglected to show how atheism satisfies 3 of the 4 parts of that definition, namely (1) creation of superhuman agency or agencies, (2) devotional and ritual observances, and (3) containing a moral code. This is because you are unable to show how atheism fits any part of these. Atheism is a lack of belief in such a superhuman agency; there are no rituals, nothing to worship or fear or pray to, and no proscribed moral code.

        The Big Bang is a scientific theory supported by many observations. The theory predicts certain outcomes which have been demonstrated to be true by later observations.

        Evolution is an observed fact. The Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory which describes the mechanisms through which evolution occurs, and makes predictions which have been verified through observation. The pattern of speciation from a common single-celled ancestor through to all forms of life on the planet today is verified by paleontological evidence (fossils), morphology, genetics, molecular biology, statistics, computer models, field observation of evolution, animal husbandry, and laboratory observation.

        Both of the above are logical descriptions of how the world works backed up by plenty of evidence and independent observation and analysis. They are not beliefs as religions teach, like “Noah saved all the animals aboard the ark” or “Jesus died for our sins”. They are not in the same class, not even the same ballpark.

        Furthermore, the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang are orthogonal to atheism, that is to say, it is possible to accept or reject either theory independently of one’s atheism. Or else there are a lot of Catholic atheists out there, who accept that evolution occurred, believe in Jehovah, yet are somehow atheists according to your assertion. Most atheists believe in the Post Office too; that doesn’t make it a religion.

        Now, on to your final paragraph. The atheist movement (and I’ll restrict my comments to recent times, since I think that’s what you are referring to) recognises the incredible harm which religion is doing to our society and indeed has done for thousands of years. Recognising that harm, what right-minded person would not want humanity to progress beyond the dark age of religious belief and superstition? Additionally, it seems that the world has progressed to the point where atheists can “come out of the closet” without too much fear of being persecuted by the religious. At least in the Western world. There have been atheists for thousands of years, but for the vast majority of that time, speaking one’s mind contradictory to religious teachings has been a fast track to punishment. Even today, Islam specifies that the punishment for rejecting Islam is death.

        The logic behind atheism is pretty simple :-

        – there’s not a shred of evidence supporting the existence of any deity;

        – it doesn’t make sense to believe anything specific about an entity whose
        existence cannot be demonstrated and whose attributes, if it exists, cannot
        be known.

        There are plenty of reasons to reject all religions :-

        – Mankind has invented thousands of gods through the years; your god is just
        one more in a great big list;

        – The major religions follow ancient texts full of brutality by both man and god, espouse abhorrent moral codes and require meaningless rituals to satisfy said god;

        – One look at how religion has held up progress in the world should be enough to see how bad it is. Islam is particularly backward and barbaric; Judaism is backward; Christianity breeds generations of uncritical people who will accept any old tosh about a saviour and dying for your sins, yet will fight bitterly against well established scientific facts which just happen to put the lie to some things they read in their bible.

        You say that atheism has a “great religious leader like the Pope (Richard Dawkins)” and that’s just silly. It’s just another example of religious misrepresentation; you prove my point. Dawkins is a highly regarded evolutionary biologist, the author of many good books explaining about evolution for the layman, and an outspoken critic of religion. That doesn’t make him Pope just like nobody calls Einstein the Pope of Relativity. I don’t know what “conventions” you are referring to; whether you mean events or rituals. If you mean events, the 2010 Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne was organised by the Atheist Foundation of Australia, Inc and Atheist Alliance International; I am pretty sure that Richard Dawkins is not on the board of either organisation.

      3. Cole


        I’m pretty sure that most dictionaries arrange definitions of a word in order of relevance. I picked the first two. Please notice how the definition you claim I failed to attribute atheism to states “esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Especially when, is what it says. That means the parts following are not necessary, yet most religions have them. Atheism fits fine within that definition.

        Now, evolution is NOT proven fact. It is a theory. There are many holes in it. I don’t want to get into that, but here is one of many links that could explain some:

        Would you not agree that most well-established atheists believe in the Big Bang and evolution? There aren’t too many alternate theories out there.

        You’re statement that Islam’s penalty for rejection is death is entirely false. Nowhere in the Qu’ran does it say that. That is only believed by a minority of extremists who are misinterpreting their own religion.

        This is the first time I’ve heard of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, Inc. or Atheist Alliance International. But now I realize they exist atheism seems even more like an organized religion! You’ve got foundations and organizations, like a church body!

      4. Intrachresodist

        On evolution – These claims are all nonsense written by an author profoundly ignorant of the processes and mechanisms of evolution. All these claims have been debunked and some of them are so silly they aren’t even worthy of debunking.

        (1) Evolution of the bird … I don’t know any of the details about bird evolution but we can see in the fossil record that birds most definitely did evolve, most likely from theropod dinosaurs.

        Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_birds and then come back and argue that birds couldn’t have evolved.

        (2) Species without a link … it’s just a nonsense claim; look up phylogenetic analysis. Straw man.

        (3) Single Cell Complexity … refers to abiogenesis, not evolution.

        (4) Human egg and sperm … incorrect in detail (an X chromosome in the sperm results in a female, not a male), ignorant of mutational processes and how environmental and genetic factors influence morphology.

        (5) DNA error checking … ignorant of homologous recombination during cell meiosis.

        (6) Chaos from Organization … misunderstands 2nd law of thermodynamics.

        (7) Chromosome Count … argues from factually incorrect premise; that species with different chromosome counts cannot produce offspring.

        (8) Origin of matter and stars … that’s cosmology, not evolution.

        (9) Lack of life on Mars … we don’t know for sure that Mars does not currently contain life. We don’t know for sure that Mars didn’t have life in the past. If Mars wasn’t suitable for development of life, it in no way disproves the observed fact that life evolves on Earth.

        (10) Radio silence from space … nothing to do with evolution.

        Death Penalty for Apostasy … See http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/811/apostasy

        “if he does not repent, then he will be killed”

        Foundations and organisations … if their existence makes something a religion, then by your standard almost anything can be classified as a religion, from the “AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety” to the Wikimedia Foundation.

      5. Cole

        I noticed the x-y chromosome mix-up too. But I didn’t think you would use an honest mistake like that to try to prove a point.

        I COULD bring up other problems with evolution, but I won’t. We aren’t talking about whether evolution is true or not, we’re talking about whether or not atheism is a religion.

        You got me on the death for desertion of Islam thing. I did not know that. Yes, some religions have punishments like that, but not all do. Most do not.

        A foundation alone can’t be a religion, it has to have a religion behind it, and not all religions have foundations at all. A lot do though.
        Anyways, the Wikimedia Foundation and the AAA don’t constitute religions particularly because they don’t fit within the criteria sating a religion must have a collective belief in the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.

      6. Intrachresodist

        It just shows the level of fact checking these people do … i.e. none. And you ignored the other part of my answer: “ignorant of mutational processes and how environmental and genetic factors influence morphology” which isn’t dependent upon their mistake.

        If you have some other reason to deny evolution, by all means bring it up in xeno’s Evolution Is A Fact article. I doubt it will be either novel or convincing, but feel free to raise the issue.

        Over the last few posts you have failed to show any relationship between atheism, being the lack of belief in any deity, and religion: evolution and cosmology are scientific theories not religion; atheism has no devotions, no rituals, no moral code, no deity, no pope. You have to show some of these things to back up your assertion, otherwise it’s just hot air, a kind of “you’re no better than us!” argument which tries to avoid responsibility for religions to show the evidence which supports their claims about a supernatural creator.

      7. Cole

        Why are you ignoring what I say? You’re arguing that I have failed to show how atheism has devotions, rituals, moral code, deity, or pope; meanwhile my argument has been that it doesn’t NEED to have those to be a religion. Stop coming back to an issue I’ve already showed isn’t an issue at all.

        I have not failed, sir. You are simply ignoring my argument.

        Atheism, by definition, means the doctrine or belief that there is no god or supreme being.
        Religion, by definition, is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.

        See? Believing in a god isn’t a requirement.

      8. Intrachresodist

        You have tried several gambits, and they didn’t work. I answered them all:

        – inability to meet the dictionary definition of religion;

        – claim that belief in the Big Bang theory makes atheism a religion;

        – claim that belief in the Theory of Evolution makes atheism a religion;

        – claim that atheism is a religion because atheists try to disprove religions;

        – claim that atheism is a religion because Richard Dawkins is its pope;

        – claim that conventions make atheism a religion;

        – that evolution has holes (and so is false);

        – that death isn’t the penalty for apostasy in Islam;

        – that foundations and organisations make atheism a religion.

        For a one-sentence jibe at atheism you sure have made a lot of claims.

        At the last you selectively quote two definitions and hope I won’t notice the omissions. The dictionary doesn’t say “esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs” just to make a fat book. It’s important context to understand the term being defined. If you are unable to show how atheism encompasses these attributes of religion as stated in the dictionary, then your correlation of atheism with religion is weak.

        You tried to show trappings with talk about how Richard Dawkins is the atheist pope and stuff about conventions, but it fell flat. Your argument in a nutshell was “religions have foundations and atheists have foundations; therefore atheism is a religion”. You said that, and when I pointed out the Wikimedia Foundation you said a foundation “has to have a religion behind it”, and it’s a complete non-sequitur. If a foundation has to have a religious body behind it to be a religious foundation, then you can’t point to the mere existence of a foundation and say it proves that the body behind it is a religious one.

      9. Cole

        Way to completely twist all my points by taking them out of context so they can work for you. Let me show you:

        – inability to meet the dictionary definition of religion;
        *Ridiculous. The “esp…” part is there because dictionaries, as they should, try to describe as many variables as they can. Plus, when it gets down o it, “especially” means “especially.” Dictionaries are supposed to be easy to use, Why would they use that word if they meant “always?”

        – claim that belief in the Big Bang theory makes atheism a religion;
        *Well, there aren’t many non-creationist alternatives are there. I’m pretty sure MOST believe there was a Big Bang. The people with other ideas that believe in no god would still be part of that religion due to the fact that they don’t believe in a god.

        – claim that belief in the Theory of Evolution makes atheism a religion;
        *Same as my above point. Not universal, but it doesn’t need to be anyway.

        – claim that atheism is a religion because atheists try to disprove religions;
        *Not “because” they do. It already is a religion without that, it fits the definition. This merely adds to it. This is a practice that many religions do: convert people. While already a religion, by doing this they reinforce it by ACTING like a religion as well.

        – claim that atheism is a religion because Richard Dawkins is its pope;
        * Complete misquote. He is LIKE the Pope in a way that he heads many atheist movement campaigns.

        – claim that conventions make atheism a religion;
        *Again, complete misquote. This, like the two above, it adds to it.

        – that evolution has holes (and so is false);
        *Irrelevant, nothing to do with atheism’s definition as a religion.

        – that death isn’t the penalty for apostasy in Islam;
        *Also irrelevant, ad hominem.

        – that foundations and organisations make atheism a religion.
        *Like the conventions, the leadership, and the conversions, this just makes it seem more and more like a religion, but is not a vital part.

        The omission in those definitions is justified by it not being vital. Atheism fits the definition as give perfectly.

        As I just showed, having affiliated foundations is not necessary, and is only part of what SOME religions have.

        Your arguments so far have consisted of twisting what I say to make me appear ignorant or outright dumb. You have also taken things said on the side and turned them into arguments of the main discussion.

        I think I see the main impasse. We both interpret the following definition of religion differently:

        “A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

        Let’s drop everything else and say what we think and why, and then end the discussion if no further agreement is reached.

    2. Xeno Post author

      Cole, i agree, in a few ways, it is like a religion. Science “followers” place faith in peer review, for example. I personally have no radio telescope, so I place faith in the findings of those who do. Human nature is to be lazy and to trust experts rather than verifying things for ourseves and that goes for both science and religion.

      Sent from my iPhone

      1. Cole

        Yeah, I think that’s a good point. But even those who do have radio telescopes could fit into the religion. “Enlightened ones” in certain religions, that are said to have a higher connection to their god and whose responsibility it is to relay messages between the god and the followers is similar to that, but I guess not too much. In another way, experts have to have faith in each other as well, to compare findings and to be told of things that they themselves have not seen.

      2. Intrachresodist

        I think the problem here is that “faith” is such a loaded word. Faith in a religious sense is “you just have to believe what I tell you is true and no I don’t have any evidence for it, and if you ask for evidence you are a bad person, God wants you to believe everything I tell you is true without question, because you have to have faith to get into heaven when you die”.

        Faith in science, if it exists at all, is an entirely different class of belief.
        The scientific process has been shown to work – it’s repeatable and self-correcting; mistakes and fraud are eventually exposed. All beliefs are provisional until better evidence and/or theories come around. Nowadays we know a fair bit about how the universe works, and it’s all due to the scientific method. Individual scientists may be biased and wrong, but they don’t become consensus views. It would be foolish to deny scientific consensus views because the scientists have far better data, far more understanding of the areas concerned, and far better analysis skills than you or I.

  2. Xeno Post author

    I know it is a bit devilish of me to bait conversations with posts like this but the optimistic side of me thinks that both sides of this debate need something the other side has.

    Getting together in a community once a week to talk about feelings, to sing, to celebrate, to help each other, to discuss problems, to learn and share good advice … these are good things! Religion has the disorganized atheists beat here.

    On the other hand, science has made significant progress in the past 2000 years and selectively ignoring parts of what we now know in favor of stories people invented 2000 years ago is really weird.

    1. Intrachresodist

      Atheists can sing and celebrate too; they just don’t need to do so because of atheism. There are plenty of secular ways to do all of those things.

      Where religion really succeeds is in indoctrination of children, rejection of inconvenient truths, promulgation of superstitious thinking throughout generations and special dispensation against tax and criticism.

      Science made almost no progress in the thousand years while religion ruled the roost. It’s only the last 300 years or so in which scientific thought and the scientific process has been able to drag mankind out of the murk of ritual, superstition, deference to ancient writings and vast quantities of wishful thinking.

      1. Xeno Post author

        Can, but don’t. Why not? Religion wins there. Also, there are ideas in science that held science back. Scientists can be dogmatic and narrow minded too, for example, if you aren’t an expert in my field, I won’t listen. But that is starting to improve. The faults are in ouselves, not in our stars.

        Sent from my iPhone

      2. Ann

        “Progress” is a funny word. It is often associated with development and growth, and we’re supposed to understand what these terms mean? Yes, because it is like an unspoken understanding. It is very cultural, Western, and also trendy. In the 19th century it was used to defend social Darwinism, slavery and what we today might call genocide – following Hobbes and his notions of brutish savages. Today it is still, obviously, used to defend science ignoring our global environmental devastation on a scale unprecedented in history, much of which is the result of the partnership of science and technology. This use of the term often ignores that more often than not “science” is a commodity, bought and paid for by industry, which, of course, slants its “objectivity” – so much for science!

        When people use the term, they usually have some ideal in mind about what it means, but often don’t say exactly what they’re talking about. Progress from what? Progress towards what? And why? And, how?

        1. Xeno Post author

          Define progress, eh? Well, we’ve greatly reduced the burning to death of nonexistant witches … how long a list do you require?

      3. Cole

        I hope you realize, Xeno, that the fact that “witches” aren’t burnt at the stake anymore isn’t a result of there being less religion, it’s a result of people knowing better now.

        1. Xeno Post author

          How did they know better? When I read about the end of the witch hunts, it seemed to me that logic was responsible, which is a foundation of science, a part of our awakening out of superstition, which is progress… But we can toss that out and go with the understanding that bacteria exists and causes disease as a better example.

      4. Ann

        That’s another word: “superstition” that’s loaded with all sorts of connotations, but means what? To whom? Or, better, to whom does it refer?

  3. Ann

    Yes, I know, Xeno. But it’s interesting to me to understand why religion is so interesting to so many, Christian and atheist alike.

    Why? I wonder. Is it because we’re afraid of dying? of suffering? of our seemingly meaningless world? Is it because we’re looking to find out if religion may help us, save us, or do us some good? Is it something about world we don’t like and religion offers a solution?

    In reply to the above comment:

    Of course, I know “atheism” is an old idea. I said that “God was dead” quoting thinkers from the turn of the century. He or She is dead, they say, because our culture has denied His/Her existence. Why? Because of OUR materialism.

    My personal beliefs has nothing to do with any of this. It was not me that said Karl Marx was more Christian than a lot of others. The people have been saying that for over 100 years.

    Just think about it. Do you really think Jesus was joking when He threw the traders out of temple? It is one of the few times Jesus actually got angry.

    Modern Christianity has absolutely nothing to do with being “Christ-like” or even wanting to try to be “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

  4. Ann

    From time immemorial the present was always “modern,” better than the past. Silly isn’t it? You’d think we would “evolve” to the point to realize, at least that.

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