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Atheism/re: World Christian/Religions Database (WCD).


QUESTION: Dear Mr. Eldred,

I left something out of my previous message to you. Please disregard the last inquiry and use this instead.

In relation to the number of global atheist and global Christians you did a review here of the accuracy The World Christian/Religions Database (WCD).

It seems to to me as if you did not fully disclose how reliable the secular scholars said the The World Christian/Religions Database (WCD) was.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract which can be found here:

"We test the reliability of the WCD by comparing its religious composition estimates to four other data sources (World Values Survey, Pew Global Assessment Project, CIA World Factbook, and the U.S. Department of State), finding that estimates are highly correlated. In comparing the WCD estimates for Islamic countries and American Christian adherents with local data sources, we identify specific groups for which estimates differ. In addition, we discuss countries where the data sets provide inconsistent religious estimates. Religious composition estimates in the WCD are generally plausible and consistent with other data sets. The WCD also includes comprehensive nonreligious data. "

So it seems as if these secular scholars concede that WCD is a quality resource.

Second, it does appear as if they use a wide variety of sources when collecting their data.

The MacroDataGuide which is an international Social Science Resource reports concerning the WCD:

"Mainly demographic data on religious groups and denominations, based on a variety of sources: statistical questionnaires returned by churches and other organisations, field surveys and interviews, various published and unpublished documents, and national censuses." See:

Next, you wrote:

"Looking more into it, I have found this article which is evaluating the WCD data from a secular perspective[8]. They find that the WCD is comprehensive and based in reality, but does suffer in comparison to more scholarly sources partly because it is so focused on using the data for missionary goals."

As far as this complaint, I would point out that the purpose for which data is used does necessarily mean how the data is collected is wrong. That is akin to saying because a gun was used to commit a murder the gun design is probably flawed. It simply does not follow.  One could easily argue for example, because Chistians had a real world application for the data and would be expending manpower and money based on the data, the researchers could conceivably take greater care in their collection and analysis.

Also, it is appears as if the purpose for which the data is used has changed over time.  

I cite from this excerpt:

"The data were initially collected to be used by religious leaders and others involved in Christian missionary efforts (Grim and Finke 2006: 4; Hsu et al. 2007: 4), but they are also widely used by journalists and scholars (e.g., Grim and Finke 2007; Warf and Vincent 2007). The database is currently published by Brill, an international academic publisher."

ANSWER: Note: Sorry I accidentally answered the other question instead of posting my response here. I've posted the same response for each, hopefully addressing all the points that you have raised.

1) The validity of WCD, as reported by the article by Hsu et al
Firstly,  I did not realize the article that I had linked had a paywall blocking general audiences from reading,  I should have made a better effort of summarizing it.

The claim that the WCD over-estimate the Christian population is a conclusion supported by the analysis found within the paper: "Figure 1 shows that the WCD tends to overestimate percent Christian relative to the other data sets. Scatterplots show that the majority of the points lie above the y=x line, indicating the WCD estimate for percent Christian within countries is generally higher than the other estimates. Although the bias is slight, it is consistent, and consequently, the WCD estimates a higher ratio of Christians in the world. This suggests that while the percentage Christian estimates are closely related among the data sets, the tendency is for them to be slightly higher in the WCD."

The claim that the WCD over-estimates atheists from the former Soviet Blok comes from:
"The second group includes Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, countries that share a history of religious repression under Communism followed by varying degrees of religious renewal after the collapse of the Soviet Union. WCE data reflect part of this story, showing percent nonreligious/atheist growing from zero percent to 64 percent in Albania and from zero percent to 42 percent in Uzbekistan between 1900 and 1970. However, the WCE does not show nonreligious/atheist percentages declining to pre-Communism levels after the collapse of Communist governments; rather, they remain on the order of 20 percent to 25 percent. While these estimates may reflect the reduced significance of religion in post-Communist countries, CIA data and Pew survey data from Uzbekistan show that such high estimates for percent nonreligious are unwarranted. Pew shows that 96 percent of Uzbeks still identify with either Islam or Christianity. Although the inclusion of percent nonreligious is often a strength of the WCD, evidence from former Communist countries suggests these figures should be used carefully, especially when performing cross-national analyses including Islamic countries. WCD estimates for the nonreligious may be inconsistent across Islamic countries, with figures for former Communist countries running high relative to those of other nations. This leads to an underestimation of Muslim and Christian populations."
To be clear, the fact the WCD did not show that Communist does not show atheist percentages declining to pre-Communist levels (prior to now) is the directly related to reason why WCD shows atheism is declining now (because other world religions surveys have already accounted for the fall of the Soviet Union).

The claim that the article does not know/trust how the WCD collects its data on the nonreligious is from here:
"Nonreligious is a category that data sets treat differently. It is unclear what method is used in the WCD to measure the nonreligious. In the WVS and Pew, respondents are classified... [how other dataset do it]...The surveys ask about religious belonging, which may impact their measurement of nonreligious. In countries where ethnoreligious or traditional indigenous religions are widely practiced, a respondent may indeed say that he or she is not a member of any of these religious denominations. However, if the respondent practices indigenous religions without being a member of a formal organization, this will not be accounted for in the data set."
After saying it doesn't know WCD's methods for the nonreligious, it goes on to explain why methodology is especially important for this group. It also talks about the distinction between personal belief in God and participation in religious practices, thus implying the purpose for which the data is collected is relevant to the results it generates.

I would also note that the article shows that the WCD has about a 0.7 correlation with other world religions surveys on surveys in estimating nonreligious population, compared with about 0.85 correlation between the other world religions surveys on surveys in estimating nonreligious population and about 0.9 correlation between all the world religion surveys in estimating Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu populations. That would tend to imply that although different world religions surveys find difficulty in estimating nonreligious population, that the WCD would be the least reliable choice for doing so (or at least, the one that differs the most from the others).

This really isn't cherry-picking from the article either. This is just about everything the article has to say about the WCD estimation of nonreligious populations. On the one hand the article recognizes the WCD as a legitimate data source for researchers, but it simultaneously identifies many flaws in the study relative to the world religion surveys performed by other groups

2) The number of sources
I believe the only disagreement we have here is semantic. When I meant one source,  I was treating the WCD as one source. All the links that QuestionEvolution used ultimately traced back to the WCD, not two separate studies.

Of course in order to put together a world religion survey such as the WCD, one has to use a variety of research tools, dataset, surveys, and other methodology to put it together. Those are multiple "sources" for the WCD, but the WCD is the same one source for all the QuestionEvolution links mentioning a statistical decline in atheism.

My point about the sources was that all the QuestionEvolution links were right or wrong together, depending on the validity of the WCD. I then attack the validity of the WCD for different reasons, namely the article I linked and the method of using Communist affiliation as a proxy for atheism I found in WCT. Hopefully this clears up that point.

3) The purpose for which the data is used.
I agree, the motivation for and consequences of the WCD do not necessarily mean the data collection methdology is wrong. I am not trying to commit the genetic fallacy[9]. Instead I thought that the motivation for compiling the WCD would help illuminate why the data collection flaws occurred, and put into context the conclusions the data could be used to draw. For example, Communist affiliation in former Soviet blok nations is a bad estimate of the atheist population, no matter how the data is used. However measuring the population with a dogmatic adherence to Communist could be a good way to assess the strength of a cultural competitor to a (Western-style) Christian missionary effort. Therefore for missionary purposes the data may be more reliable than the same data would be for more academic purposes (which may need to decouple political affiliations from religious affiliations), even though the data would actually be the same in both case.

The Hsu et al article mentions how the missionary purposes of the WCD affect its estimation of Christian populations:
"The use of categories such as “crypto-Christians” (those who are secretly Christian) shows that the WCD sometimes treats religion as a matter of personal belief and is consistent with missionary interests, but it also relies on membership numbers from religious organizations"
Although the article doesn't make the connection explicit, it could be explanatory of why the WCD consistently over-estimates Christian populations. Either A: Because the WCD is more interested in a personal statement of affiliation with Christianity than participation in Christian sociocultural groups (ie it counts "crypto-Christians") or B: Because the WCD relies on reporting from religious organizations which may have some incentive to over-report Christian populations (either as a conflict-of-interest or a observer-expectancy effect[10])

I tend to be pretty critical of research methodology. I am skilled at identifying proper methodology and I have seen many real-life examples in which a small methodological mistake has serious consequences. I think that researcher should be careful what they say so that they aren't forced to unsay it. You might see all the same information about the WCD and view the source more favorably than I do. But hopefully you understand that my reservations about the WCD stem from legitimate criticisms more than a disagreement with the conclusion it draws about the decline of atheist populations.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Mr. Eldridge,

I had indicated to you earlier that it appeared as if global atheism and internet atheism is shrinking and I have some updated data:

Internet atheism:

Global atheism/religion/atheism:

Furthermore, Christian internet evangelism is becoming more and more skilled while atheist internet evangelism efforts are crude, disorganized and ineffective:

Next,  Reddit atheism may very well be the largest online community of atheists with about 2 million reddit atheists.

A June 14, 2013 Mashable  article declared: " In recent years, r/atheism has become known for memes, images, quote pictures and other content viewed by some as "low brow."   See:      This again would point to internet atheism being crude and not well designed.

Next, there is now additional data pointing to global atheism becoming weaker and weaker and facing great difficulties:    For example, PZ Myers says the atheist community is on the "cusp of a crisis". PZ Myers admits atheists are largely a bunch of: geeks, "scattered society of Internet nerds" and a "largely irrelevant subset of the population". See:

Next, evangelical Christianity thrives in time of economic difficulties although it has done well in the United States too while atheism does better during times of ease and the prospects of the global economy in the near future looks poor:

So my questions, given the new data :

1. Is atheist PZ Myers right? Is atheism on the "cusp of crisis". Is it in a crisis right now? If no to either of these questions, why?

2. What do you think the probability of secularism reversing itself in Europe by 2021?  By 2050?  See:

ANSWER: Atheism & Decline Statistics:
That website is a maze so I can't precisely be sure I know which "updated information" you are referring to. I believe, however, you may be referring to the articles claiming that the atheist retention rate is lower than other religious attitudes. Ultimately they link to a study by Georgetown's CARA[1] and a study by Pew Forum called Faith in Flux[2]. Looking into the details, you might be surprised to learn that both studies indicate an increase in atheism (if anything). CARA says 432 were raised atheists, 131 of those raised atheists stayed atheists, and 1387 were now atheists. Doing the math, atheism lost 432-131 = 301 and gained 1387-131 = 1256. So even if atheism has lost 70% of those raised atheist, they gained four times that from other religions. Similarly, the Pew links says that 401 + 360 = 761 Christians (Catholics & Protestants) became "unaffiliated" while 148 were raised unaffiliated and then became affiliated. That study found that the unaffiliated gained five times what they lost. Also, I would also be careful to note that several of the news articles commenting on Pew's results conflated "unaffiliated" with "atheist" which is a mistake (as CARA explains on its next blog post[3]). Actually working with the "unaffiliated" as a proxy for "atheism" is dangerous because of things like the base-rate fallacy[4] (which is initially what I thought the problem was going to be).

I would still say that I am surprised that the retention rate of individuals raised in atheist households is so low. I would have figured it to be higher, despite the social and cultural pressures encouraging everyone to be Christian. Still as I argued before (when explained why
Eric Kaufmann's predictions are wrong), atheism grows from people leaving religion, not by having many children and subsequently indoctrinating them. So results about atheist retention rate are interesting, but really don't have any bearing on the future growth of atheism.

I don't know why it is so important for Question Evolution to try to prove that atheism is in decline in Western countries. Its simply not true, and even if it were, it serves as poor grounds to argue that atheism is untrue. See NPR's summary[5] of Pew and Gallup, as well as other results from Pew[6] and Gallup[7] themselves. Both organization are reputable demography and polling institutions. Moreover, Question Evolution implicitly endorses their methods by linking to their results. Both institutions tell the same story - The dominate trend is that "unaffiliated" or "nones" are on the rise in American and Christianity is losing ground to those. Christianity is making back some of its loses from immigrants, but its still losing more than its gaining. Not all of those nones atheists, in fact most aren't, but atheists appear to be slowly but steadily rising and the importance of religion in America overall is declining. The increase in unaffiliation is mostly coming from those under 40, and the younger demographic you look at the more secular that group will be. (That alone shows a strong future projection for the number of unaffiliated and atheists.) The Pew results also indicate that the unaffiliated are an increasing important voting demographic (especially for Democrats, who they are increasingly voting for).

Atheism Reputation Problem:
Yes, there are some atheists on reddit that have ugly sexist attitudes and yes, its got PZ Myers upset. Its easy to get PZ Myers upset, he gets hyperbolic and he talks about everything as though it were the end of the world. Even he, however, has parodied the idea that disagreements among atheists is an indication of the decline of the atheist community[8].

Sam Harris' comments about atheism having very negative brand-association predates the controversies that PZ Myers is referring to. The solution the atheist community came up with, modeled after progress made in gay rights, was that the more people who actually knew an atheist the less negative feelings they would have about them. Maybe because of that strategy and maybe not, the atheist brand has actually gotten better over time[9].

I think the atheist community actually has less sexism than average, but atheists care about the issue more and reddit can be an awful place for sexism. I could give a long history on gender issues in atheism, but I'll spare you the details. I think the feminist atheists are mostly right, but sometimes they haven't done a great job at educating sexist atheists, sometimes they haven't done a great job at ignoring trolls, and sometimes they haven't done a great job at eliminating collateral damage (identifying someone as an ideological enemy who really isn't). I think we'll get through it, one way or another.

I think there are basically three scenarios, in order of most probable to least probable: a) The atheist community realizes that they are growing to large to expect ideological purity[10], there will still be strong discussions and cultural trends among atheists but it will not longer carry the same urgency. b) The feminists win, just like belief in global warming gained rapid acceptance among atheists, and atheists find something new to argue about (while continuing to expand). c) The sexists win, atheism continues to grow mostly among males but after waiting for a much later, much broader cultural movement then feminism truly gains universal acceptance among atheists.

I can see this being a pivotal moment in deciding the future of gender politics in atheism, I can see this being a pivotal moment in deciding which atheists individuals and organizations are most popular, but I cannot see this as a pivotal moment deciding whether atheism will continue to grow. This is all qualitative. If there is something new going on with atheism, it should show up in the numbers in a couple of years from now. If there is such a new trend, I wouldn't expect to find it from Question Evolution. They show time and time again that they simple don't know how to use statistics and analyze demography well enough to be a credit source of commentary on the issue. As always, if you find another study I will examine it in good faith and comment on it, but hopefully you can understand if I start to feel a little bit like a pawnbroker[11].

Odds of Atheism Reversing Itself in Europe:
I think atheism will very likely keep increasing in Europe. Let's talk about the scenarios which might cause it to reverse:

a) Among individuals currently living in Europe and individuals who will grow up in Europe atheism is still increasing, but for whatever reason Europe increases its immigration rate dramatically enough that the overall rate of atheism starts to decline. Although I know of no such plan to dramatically increase immigration, this seems like the most plausible scenario. Of course, atheism rates would immediately keep rising once either the immigration policy is changed, but it would technically reverse the atheism trend in Europe. I should note here that in this case I'd imagine that Islam, not Christianity, would become the most popular religion in Europe.

b) European governments begin to collapse. As I've said before, I find it moderately likely for individual European governments to collapse and undergo heavy reform, but I find it very unlikely for all European governments to collapse. And as I explained before, I don't think either of us could say with any degree of confidence whether that would increase or decrease atheism rates. You seem to think it would decrease atheism, but I would naively think it could increase them. Even in a country where atheism is the most popular religion, a failure of government wouldn't seem to indicate a failure of atheism - Europeans I think are more likely to associate governments with institutionalized religion. It just sounds too much like an American Conservative fantasy to associate their dislike of European socialism with their dislike of European secularism and to wish doom on them both. Politics and religion in Europe is more complex than following or repelling from cultural differences between Europe and America. The biggest threat I see in institutional collapse is if education stops function and people become afraid for their personal livelihood. In that case only, international demographics on religion would predict that atheism would decline.

c) Eric Kaufmann's scenario. I reiterate that Kaufmann's argument is poor. If ideological trends always followed fertility, knowledge of Multivariable Calculus would have been wiped out years ago. Moreover if Kaufman had made his projections ten years ago, they would not have been able to see the rise of atheism is America and Europe since then. Industrial transition, not the Idiocracy[12], is the evidence-based projection for the interaction between fertility and ideology. However, let me think about what I think would have to happen for Kaufmann to be right (through no fault of his own). Immigrants converting to atheism would have to come to a sudden stop. Without institutional collapse, the only way I see that happening is if immigrants completely fail to integrate into European society and a language and cultural barrier causes immigrants to essentially be living in their own societies which happen to reside on European soil. Either Europeans permit this to happen or their efforts to stop it actually exacerbate it. Then even if the immigration rate does not increase rapidly, the demography would be on the side of the religious and the atheism rate in the country would decline.

I'm not an expert in European sociology or international banking. I do not think that I carry much authority in assigning probabilities to these scenarios and I think also in this sort of area even the experts are probably unreliable at forecasting (I recommend Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise which also discusses forecasting with economics as a prominent example[13]). However if you need a number for the probability of these three scenarios combined, I'd put it at about 1%: Not impossible, but unreasonable to think it is likely to occur.

[10] I think of the history of Christianity. In the early days of Christianity there were so few Christians that they had to stick together or they would be destroyed. In the medieval and Renaissance periods, they were large enough to avoid being wiped out but still small enough they could convince themselves that everyone could be united under a single creed. Consequently Christians spent all their time fighting wars with each other in order to gain control of Christendom. Eventually either because they kept expanding or they quit fighting, they realized that Christianity was just going to become too big and too diverse to expect all Christians to agree on everything. Now there are Catholics, many kinds of Protestants, Mormons, Orthodox, etc and they may sometimes claim they are all one body, no Christian organization expects all other to think the same way. Given how atheists are only fighting Internet flame-wars and not actual wars, I think they'll be okay.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Mr. Eldred,

A few things:

1. First, if I indicated that our correspondence should be private and not public in my last inquiry, please feel free to publish it.

2. There are some things you are not considering in relation to Kaufmann.  For example, "In April of 2010, Eric Kauffmann declared that "the rate of secularisation has flattened to zero in most of Protestant Europe and France." See:

Also, recent studies about immigrants being resistant to secularization:  In addition, there is data showing that evangelicals are becoming more resistant to seculization in Europe:

Third, the rate of de-secularization in China (world's largest atheist population) is picking up as Christianity is now spreading into the cities where the elite of society reside. See: .  There are signs that Chinese Christianity will continue to see dramatic growth:

Fourth, there is a correlation between socialism and atheism. There could be an economic collapse, but even if there is not, highly indebted European nations with aging population will still likely have less socialism as austerity measures will trim socialism back.

Fifth, I realize there is increased gender politics and bickering in the atheist community. Division and caustic bickering does make a community less attractive. Setting that aside, what about PZ Myers' concern that atheism will not overcome its "nerd brand" and it is on the cusp of crisis due to this issue?

Sixth, does it appear to you that Christendom is making big strides on the internet technology and internet evangelism front. See:   For example, Global Media Outreach gave 120 million gospel presentations in 2011 and about 19 million of those people indicated they became Christians. The internet evangelism community does appear to be getting stronger and achieving stronger results over time.See:

Hello again, Paul. I see now some of the articles you wanted me to comment on.

2a. Kaufmann says secularism is flattening
Eric Kaufmann claims that secularism is flattening cited by Question Evolution[1] traces to an interview which you can read here[2]. The fuller quote is:
“This is a complex picture. We see strong secularism among the mass of the population in most Catholic countries, such as Spain or Ireland; we find some of this among state Protestant churches like the Lutherans in Germany and Anglicans in England. On the other hand, the rate of secularisation has flattened to zero in most of Protestant Europe and France – the places where secularism began early and religious observance is low.”

I think Question Evolution made a fair representation of what he says, but unfortunately neither source tell us what the numbers are or where they are coming from. I searched a little bit and came across similar numbers with Gregory Paul commenting on them[3]. These numbers are from the ISSP which you can read more about here[4]. Some of the increases and decreases shown on the chart may not be statistically significant, which would explain why both Paul and Kaufmann refer to them as flat. However, as Paul comments, this chart indicates that atheism is increasing or not-changing almost everywhere. The simple truth from the chart is the percentage of atheists in Europe has increased dramatically (for such a short period of time). One can look at the chart, as Kaufmann does, and assume the non-growth of atheism will be contagious in the future or one can look at the chart, as Paul does, and assume the growth of atheism will be contagious in the future. It is the difference between a local maximum[5] and an inflection point[6] – there is no way to tell from this data alone and one must look to the explaination of the data to project beyond such a point.

The difference in the two men's opinions is their method of forecasting in the future. Kaufmann's model uses demographics – which works very effectively for race and nationality, but is untested for religion. Moreover, Kaufmann's comment that atheists are demographically disfavored is nothing new – if that didn't prevent the increases in atheists we've seen in the recent past, its not clear why he thinks it will prevent increases in atheists in the recent future. I've cited Paul's work since the beginning[7], and in contrast to Kaufmann Paul's work actually makes an attempt to understand that mechanism for atheism's growth. Given that, I find his work a much more credible explanation of what factors would affect the trajectory of atheism in the future.

Anyway, Paul disputes the decreases of atheism in both the US and Russia in the ISSP data I and sites his reasons why. I cannot be sure how Kaufmann would read the data. With regards to the US I think the evidence is fairly solid that atheism is increasing, with regards to Russia I am not as familiar with the data but I would believe that atheism is decreasing. The increasingly authoritarian Russia is promoting religion as a political tool rather than suppressing it as a political threat[8][9][10].

2b. Eric Kaufmann says Muslims are resistant to secularism.
Again, if Question Evolution shows Kaufmann's evidence, I can't find it from their website. I did, however, find this[11] rather lengthy article by Kaufmann in which he does describe data that he hopes to underscore this point. This article[12] by demographer-academic Anshuman Mondal is a direct rebuttal of Kaufmann's article and I highly recommend reading it as well. Much of the Kaufmann article re-hashes the same arguments that a) religion is demographically favored (which I have argued is demostrably flawed) and that b) immigrants to Europe are more more religious than native Europeans (which only changes religiosity temporarily). However, Kaufmann does have a couple of points that get at the crux of the issue – whether or not Muslim immigrants to Europe will be secularized by their host country. I will examine them one at a time.

Kaufmann says that “Muslim youth are often stricter than their elders: a 2006 poll discovered that 37 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds want to live under sharia law compared to 17 per cent of those over 55.”
Anshuman Mondal attacks this claim effectively. The first thing to notice is that this data does not actually indicate radicalization. A case for radicalization would be made by comparing attitudes of the same individuals over several years of being in Europe or to compare immigrants who have been in Europe longer to immigrants who have been in Europe for a shorter period of time. But the data Kaufmann cites only shows a generational difference. Those 16-24 years might have the same opinion when they grow older (as Kaufmann assumes) or their opinions could match current demographics (fewer would want sharia like the 24-55 year olds).
The other big problem is that the two demographics mean different things by the word “Sharia”. Mondal's in-depth surveys on the same subject in Young British Voices indicate that young Muslims' concept of Sharia is so watered down that it becomes less controversial to approve of it. In fact, I would add, this makes for better evidence for secularisation among the young.
The last thing I want to mention is that an increase in radicalized Muslims is actually compatible with an increase in secularized Muslims. As long as the sum of both groups is less than the total number of Muslims (as would appear to be the case), both groups can grow as the number of moderate Muslims shrinks. The polarization of the Muslim community could indicate that their beliefs are being challenged by their new environment. Compare with my previous posts, in which I state that Evangelical Christianity can rise cocurrently with atheism (and that for some time people assumed one was a reaction to the other).

Kaufmann says that “Roughly a quarter of European Muslims attend religious services on a weekly basis, five times the rate of west European Protestants. There is little evidence that time modifies this pattern. In Britain, home office surveys in 2001 and 2003 reveal that the second generation of south Asian Muslims has about the same proportion of weekly attenders—nearly 40 per cent—as the immigrant generation.”
As Mondal points out again, the fact that different generations attend religious services does not indicate that those religious services necessarily mean the same thing to both demographics. Now as it happens, most South East Asian Muslims are not typically very strict adherents to their faith and are notably tolerant of other religions[13], so they don't really fit the caricature of the isolated fundamentalist religious immigrants.
Notice also the subtext when he says that there is little evidence that time modifies this pattern –  he would state his claim in a bolder way if he had good evidence that time does not modify the pattern (of religiosity in immigrants).

Kaufmann says that: “ fertility differences based on theology do not fade like those based on ethnicity.” and later: “the most devout Muslim women in Europe are 40 per cent more likely than the least pious to bear three or more children. In the large cities of the Muslim world, women most in favour of sharia bear twice as many children as those most opposed.”
The claim that fertility differences don't fade is an odd one, because this is contradicted by his earlier statements: “The most notable is the rapid decline in the Muslim birth rate. This is partly due to plummeting fertility rates in immigrant source countries and partly because of assimilation to host society norms. In England and Wales, Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant total fertility rates (TFRs) dropped from 9.3 to 4.9 between 1971 and 1996. Both groups now have TFRs of less than three. So there are grounds to think European Muslim fertility will come to resemble that of the majority.”
The only way to reconcile these two points, is if the fertility of ideological extreme Muslims remains the same but the overall extremism of Muslim immigrants is decreasing. But that conclusion would be exactly opposite of the one that “Muslim immigrants are resistant to secularism”! Only two out of the three claims can be true; the claims with the strongest evidence are the first two, therefore this may actually evidence that Muslim immigrants are being secularized in Europe.

3. I'm not surprising that Christianity is increasing in China, in fact I expect it. The type of atheism that I expect to be a permanent and ever-growing feature is one that is based in science, skepticism, and an understanding of religion. One can find many quotes by Harrris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and other New Atheists figures that indicate that authoritarian adherence to atheism is not the same as scientific and skeptical atheism. Chinese atheists are mostly from the brutal repression of religion in that country, and therefore one would not expect their atheism to be enduring. Where there is no religious ideas or there is only disorganized folk religion, I expect that organized religion can spread rapidly as occurred in South America (Catholicism) and Africa (Islam). In contrast, Western-religion is a type of post-religion phenomenon that occurs among groups that are stable and mostly well-educated. Furthermore instability in China is much higher than its religiosity, so Paul's model of religion predicts that China would become more religious. In so far as China is influenced by the West, one still expects it to absorb more Christianity than Western-style-atheism at the very least as long as atheism is the minority worldview among Western nations. So now matter how I look at it, I would expect Christianity to be on the rise in China and I see no contradiction between this and my predictions about the rise of atheism in developed nations or the correlation between atheism and stability.

4. I feel like I've answered this question before. See section 3 of this post[14]. Not all nations with a strong social programs also have a high amount of debt. Therefore also, nations with a high amount of debt and a strong social programs do not necessarily have to decrease their debt by decreasing their social programs. Reducing spending on military programs, raising taxes, or changing immigration policy could be possible alternatives. The probability of an individual European nation changing its social policy in the next x years is not something I am well equipped to answer. I do agree that social welfare programs promote a sense of stability and therefore help promote atheism especially among the mainstream.

If a European nation were to scale back its social programs without undergoing any calamity, I am not sure it would actually decrease its number of atheists. Instead it might just decrease the rate at which atheists are generated - after all, the US has a lowly but steadily increasing atheist population and it spends much less on social programs than European nations do.

5. PZ Myers calling atheists “nerds” just goes back to the gender politics and PZ Myers lack of civility when criticizing people. Nerds are known for being intelligent and socially inept (and historically male). He sees intelligence as a virtuous, therefore he is calling people he disagrees with socially inept. Of course, if he actually thought someone was socially inept, I would think he would feel bad about calling them out for it, just like its not socially acceptable to use “autistic” as an insult. So he's calling people who he disagrees with socially inept even though he does not believe they are because he hopes to turn them against their social actions. What social actions does he disagree with? It goes back to the gender politics. So you see, its really all the same thing. And as I said before, PZ Myers is speaking both hyperbolically and qualitatively here so I don't see it as an serious prediction of the future.

There is a more serious criticism made against atheism, that atheism is a “religion for elites”. That atheists are lucky individuals who do not need religion like others do or that atheism is a type of “curse of knowledge”[15]. You will are unlikely to see an atheist say this and this is certainly not what PZ Myers is saying (in fact a big part of why PZ is so hard on “faithiests” is he finds their accommodation of religious masking an underlying condescending attitude). I would say the characterization of atheist as a religion only for elites is inaccurate on demographics alone – You can't have a nation of all elites, although Sweden is a highly secular nation. Instead it is a nation of well-educated individuals who take good care of each other, it is only in a place where with more economic inequality like America where having education, healthcare, and free-time makes you an elite. Moreover the “atheism is a religion for elites” meme is essentially a genetic fallacy[16] and ad hominem[17] – it makes no case for atheism being untrue, it essentially just tries to cast atheists as “the wrong sort of people”

6. Internet Evangelicism Growing
First of all there is nothing implausible about the web-presence of Christianity growing. Many Churches established themselves in older media advertising and it makes sense that they would start favoring more and more Internet activity as a more efficient way to spread their message.

This link is about a Google trend showing a particular Christian website increasing and a particular atheist website decreasing[18]. I've said before its hard to know a trend in search terms means for a website and its hard to know what a trend in a particular website means for the movement as a whole.  For example, I and other atheists I know, use BibleGateway quite a lot. And of Bible-reading websites, I wouldn't be surprised if BibleGateway was getting an increase of the market share. I would also believe that people who already read Bibles are increasingly doing so online (for example, that more people have Internet-capable ebook-capable tablet-PCs). All of those trends would be consistent with data without a single person converting to Christianity (although the number of Christians in the world may well be increasing too).

There is also the link about Global Media Outreach[19] which you mention as receiving 19 million responses indicated a prayer to receive Jesus out of 120 million emails sent. I don't think that those 19 million should be interpreted as individuals who made a commitment to Christianity solely on the basis of those emails, instead I think the vast majority are people who are already committed Christians taking the email as a chance to reaffirm or simply as a survey response. The corresponding behavior in the real world, committed Christians reaffirming their commitment to Christ verbally, is a common phenomenon. A response rate of 16% is about half of the percent of the world population made up by Christians (33% [20]) and the percentage of people with email addresses who are Christian I imagine is even higher. The estimate that 5% of those responses were new to Christianity is a number pulled out of thin air. Instead think about how plausible it is that at least half of Christians receiving an email like this would give a positive response back. It would say very plausible, and given that, it leaves very few of those emails to be newcomers to the faith. Moreover, if I think of the typical newcomer to Christianity who would respond to an email, I imagine the majority of those would already have some familiarity with Christianity from a previous missionary effort. If so, than the emails surely helped but the email campaign is also “taking credit” for souls that were mostly converted by other means.

The heat-map[21] for the Global Media Outreach program doesn't seem to be functioning at the moment, but the screen-shot looks like it could plausibly be a product of the Christian demography map[22] and a world population map[23]. This would be consistent with my hypothesis that the vast majority of the responses are coming from people who are already believers in Christianity.

After all is said and done, I would believe that Christianity will increase in the developing world and that more and more of that spread of organized religion will occur over the Internet. Still I don't think that this means that (Western-style) atheists have anything to fear from this development. I am very familiar with the atheism-Christianity debate as it can be encountered on the Internet, having spent a lot of time on it especially as I became an atheist. Everywhere it seems like the atheists are winning and the Christians have nothing new to say. Since the Internet facilitates communication and the atheists have the advantage of being right, its pretty difficult for them to lose. Of course, though, that's probably exactly what you'd expect an atheist to say about it.

[14] (section 3)


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Jeffrey Ellsworth


I am well versed on the arguments for both sides about the existence of God and am especially aware of the philosophical ramifications and psychological reactions to atheism. Also, if you have a question about atheism as that pertains to Science or Skepticism, I may be an especially good pick. However my knowledge of non-Judeo-Christian religions and Biblical archaeology is generally limited to knowledge about directions to more informative resources.


I've been an atheist for 14 years now, open about it for 9 years after being raised in a Roman Catholic family. In that time I have held many different philosophical perspective on the subject and had different emotional and psychological reactions to atheism. I have absorbed many internet articles, video debates, atheist publications, and secular podcasts in my process of understanding and supporting the atheist movement. I routinely hold conversations on the subject.

One article in If Journal, an interfaith publication.

I have a BS in Physics and Mathematics from the College of William & Mary I am pursuing my Ph.D in Physics at Indiana University at Bloomington. I have very little formal training in philosophy or sociology.

Awards and Honors
I was president of the William & Mary Students for Science & Secularism before graduating.

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