Nigel Barber writes:
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 expect to die young. In social democracies, people who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives. So there is less need of religion.
[From Why Atheism Will Replace Religion | Psychology Today]
Interesting thesis. He hasn’t published his research yet, so we can’t assess the quality of the statistical analysis. Suppose it’s entirely proper and correct in methodology and number-crunching. Is there anything in his conclusion, anything that Jesus Christ himself didn’t tell us? Consider
- Psalm 12:5
- Psalm 34:6
- Isaiah 25:4
- Isaiah 61:1
- Matthew 19:23-26
- Luke 4:16-21
- Luke 5:31
- Revelation 3:14-22
In other words, this finding has no impact on the truth or falsehood of the Christian gospel. Barber predicts that religion will be a “salve for the difficulties and uncertainties in their lives.” He finds data that’s consistent with that hypothesis. It’s also consistent with Christianity’s message that God doesn’t force his way upon those who think they have no need of him. He helps those who ask him for it.
What about Barber’s opinion that atheism will replace Christianity? Suppose atheism is negatively correlated with fear and uncertainty. Does he think that’s going away any time soon? What social researcher could claim any credibility after saying this?
Why is religion in decline in fast-paced countries where ordinary people enjoy a good standard of living? It seems that with better science, with government safety nets, better health, and longer life expectancy, there is less fear and uncertainty in people’s daily lives. As a result there is less of a need for religion to help people cope with the feeling that they have little control over their lives.
The fast-paced modern world brings plenty of food, scientific medicine, climate controlled homes, reliable weather forecasts and many other innovations that put God out of business. The fast lane thus leads to atheism. Of that, there can no longer be any doubt.
Do these “many other innovations” include environmental control, so that we can predict no more hurricanes will hit New Orleans, no more earthquakes and tsunamis will strike Japan? Does modern medicine promise freedom from MRSA, or from car accidents? Does ten percent, or even thirty percent, longer life expectancy resolve the question of what follows death? Do government safety nets ensure universal human justice? Does all this mean that each person is relieved of having “little control over their lives”? Not yet, my friend. Not ever in the predictable future.
What then is demonstrated in this research? Not much. It doesn’t show the superiority of either atheism or Christianity, for the two systems of belief both predict the same outcome.
What conclusions can we draw from the conclusions that Nigel Barber himself draws? Not much again, but a little. We can observe that he is
- Apparently ignorant of Christianity’s predictions with respect to religion among the poor and needy,
- Amazingly naive with respect to the future of humanity, and
- Surprisingly confident of his conclusions in spite of the above (“Of that,” he writes, “there can no longer be any doubt.”)
This is suggestive of his being
- Blithely self-satisfied in his unawareness.
This is consistent with a pattern among atheists and skeptics that I myself cannot support with research but seems anecdotally evident (with all the caveats that apply to drawing conclusions from anecdotal experience).