Monday, June 3, 2013

Nigel Barber asks, "Will Atheism Replace Religion?"

Nigel Barber

Nigel Barber is at it again. Who is Nigel Barber? We have met him before on the pages of this blog, he contributes to the Psychology Today Blog scam. He promotes he "uncertainty theory" that says that religious belief is prompted by economic insecurity and will eventually wither away as economies grow and properer in the first world. he's a blogger for Huffington post and he's still at it. Still harping on the same old tired BS. trying to find ways to overinflated atheist statistics and give false hope to the down trodden atheist are getting pretty tired of losing arguemnts by now.
....Never too shy to  point out the brilliance of his own thinking, he says:

My blogs on this topic generated millions of hits and plenty of skepticism. Resistance to overwhelming scientific evidence for the decline in religion is nothing new. Objections come from religious people and some atheists who argue that there will always be weak people, unlike them, who need religion. Does either camp have a point?
In the past, some social scientists pushed back against the idea that economic development promoted atheism -- the secularization thesis. In recent years, the pattern became so clear that not even the most myopic social scientist could miss it.
The generalization that more developed countries are more secular is every bit as clear as the generalization that developed countries have smaller families. It is not impossible for people in modern societies to have large families, of course. It is just unusual. Similarly, it is not impossible for individuals to be deeply religious in developed countries. They are just thin on the ground. (Barber: Huff Post Science, 5/30/20)

 That second link leads to his own book by the same title. It's so brilliant not only could the academics not miss but they couldn't be called upon for a quote about it either. His thesis is that economic development stops religion.
....He assumes that religion is in sharp decline in all the major countries where economic development is at it's peak. Of course like all geniuses he assumes this is a linear development that can't ever change and will stay the same until religion is eliminated. He further assumes that religion is going great guns in third world becuase they need to be comforted since they are so miserable. In the first world they don't need comfort becuase they have it already. Their standard of living is so stable and hasn't declined at all in the recent past (kind of makes you wonder what planet he's studying).

The market for religious comfort is strongest in the most miserable places in the world, where life is hard, life expectancy is short and life can be expunged at any moment by infectious diseases, violent criminals, starvation, brutal political leaders or natural disasters.
In the most advanced social democracies, the quality of life is much better, with expectations of good health and long life expectancy. There is less need of the security blanket of religion, and its emotional functions are supplanted by medication, psychotherapy, sport and entertainment.
So the answer to the question of whether atheism can replace religion is clearly "yes." It not only can replace religion but has done so in the most advanced social democracies, such as Sweden and Japan.(ibid).

Barber Answers Counter Arguments.

....He seeks to respond to counter arguments such as the resilience of religious revivalism to come back again and again despite secular trends. O but this time for sure. He alludes to (but doesn't document) theories such as Wallace's maze ways and argues that since such upswings in religious belief are responses to modern complexity they are just flashes the pan and there wont be any more of them. Wallace's theory offers no comfort to Barber, it says nothing about religion dying out or about being a flash in the pan. That's his assumption and he presents no data to prove it.
 ....Of course he seems almost totally ignorant about history. For example the process of secularization has been going for a long time, several hundred years. The resilient nature of religion has not been a flash in the pan or it would have abated by now. What he's missing is the fact that secularization is our friend. It never spelled doom for religion but actually did us a favor by stopping the religious wars. It gave us a vocabulary that both sides (Protestant and Catholic) could use and communicate with each other through; and created a neutrality in the public square so that religious people could stop killing each other. That enabled both Protestants and Catholics to grow in peace and make alliances and learn to work together.[1] Famous liberal theologian Harvey Cox (Secular City) argued for the aspects of secularization as beneficial to religion. The process has been going on for about three or four hundred years it's doubtful it's going to stop now.[2] He brushes off any real analysis on the part of his opponents,"Other objections involve rarified theological claims about the meaning and purpose of life, the existence of God and so forth that are irrelevant to the secularization debate. Perhaps the silliest of these ideas is the argument that a gambling skeptic should put some money on God's existence just to avoid being wrong after death." Hey don't confuse me with the facts. Actually actually understanding the complexity of trends is too rarefied. I would rather make simplistic correlations and pretend they really give me insight into causes. That's exactly what he's doing with this argument. The deepest analysis he presents:

So economic development is weakening religion around the world. If the global economy went into a tailspin maintained over many decades, religion would unflatten itself like a cartoon animal after meeting a steam roller. Yet that is distinctly unlikely.
Global economic growth is on a torrid upward path that is being accelerated by technology, urbanization and globalized trade. The world is going secular. Nothing short of an ice age can stop it.

....I see, The future belongs to us! Where I've heard that before? What is the real justification for this strident triumphalism? The only real evidence is a misunderstanding about the level of religious atrophy in Northern Europe and Japan. One might also include the opinion poll that says atheism world wide went up to 13%.  I have reasons for doubting that. One of the major reasons is supplied by the Greeley study that disproves the supply side of religious belief theory. Barber is clearly using the supply./demand theory side theory, as we seen in the quotes above about Sweden and Japan. Of course he's taking his ques from the bogus study of Zuckerman.[3] This means it's extremely flawed. In part 3 on Zuckerman I present a lot of evidence for Japan as a religiously conscious nation. The epithet of "athirst nation" is certainly not applicable. We can't be sure that the term "atheist" means the same thing between he East and West. In the West it's supposedly a default position, lack of belie fin God, period. We have seen on this blog time and time again that it really means is an organized movement with a particular ideological slant (see Best of Atheist Watch above in the "sand alone" pages).
....Even if atheism has reached 13% in world population that is hardly evidence that religion is going to die out. More propagandist bravado. Aside from the resiliency of religion and the overestimated view of the strength of irreligious that is blown out of proportion, 13% is just not that big anyway. There are 12% blacks in America, are we in danger of losing white people? Is the white race going extinct? Certain kinds of alarmists think it is but do we want to be counted in their ranks?


In modern Japan 80% of Japanese are Buddhists. Atheists want to pretend that Buddhists are atheist but they are not. It's a religion and they have a religious outlook. See the part 3 on Zuckerman shows a strong robust religious fabric to Japanese life. It seems different to those those who don't understand the East. We Americans have an either/or mentality. Either you believe in God or you are an atheist. Either you are religious or you are not. You are a member of one religion you can't be a member of others. The Japanese don't look at it that way. They have never the either/or mentality. When we tally the number of Japanese who are members of Buddhist temples with the number who are members of Shinto the number exceeds the population of Japan (95 million Buddhists and 106 million Shinto). [4]That's because the Japanese can be members of both religions with no problem. The are not exclusivity. So for this reason it makes a confusing time trying to decide if they are atheist or not.

Approximately 80 percent of Japanese people get married in a Shinto or Christian ceremony and 90 percent hold Buddhist services for a funeral ceremony. For them, Shintoism plays the role of governing the joyous side of life and Buddhism the somber side. This syncretic tendency is so prevalent among the Japanese that which religion they belong to may seem confusing.
The variety of Japanese religiosity cannot be comprehended as an “either or” situation, as in the case of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, but rather as an “as well as” situation. This all embracing nature has permeated Japanese life so deeply that religion appears to be virtually invisible, except when it surfaces at concrete events. Therefore, both Buddhism and Shintoism are like peaks of an iceberg which emerge above the surface of the sea; and yet they share a common background of the numinous, upon which the Japanese way of life is based.[5]
That's a pretty good indication that the vast majority of the Japanese are religious and futile to say they are atheist in any sense that is meaningful in America.


....Sweden has long been regarded as the most atheist country. Greeley shows that it's Atheism is mostly soft core. Religion is changing shape in Sweden but it's not dying out. In part 1 of my Zuckerman paper I show that religion was a major part of the coalition that built the social welfare state in Sweden. It was primarily Chrsitain social reformers in the nineteenth century who cleared the ground work and got the ball rolling.


Sep 1, 2006
"Are Swedes losing their religion?"
by: Charlotte Celsing, freelance writer

Annika Gustafsson is a theology student whose studies have included work experience in congregations and at confirmation camps. She says that almost all of the young people she meets are open to questions relating to religious and spiritual matters, even though they may have objections to ecclesiastical matters.

The role of religion has changed

Religion has not become less important in Swedish society but it has changed color, according to a report from Åbo Academy (Finland). In the secularized Nordic area the Protestant Lutheran church has to be liberal and open to a modern interpretation of the Christian message. Otherwise the church feels too authoritarian – an attitude that most Swedes do not accept...
Yet many Swedes express a longing for a spiritual dimension and a deeper meaning. Modern society has left a void that neither science nor a high material standard can fill.
Within Christianity the Catholic Church in Sweden is also large. Today it has a total of 80,500 registered members.

* Almost 8 out of 10 Swedes are members of the Church of Sweden - 7 million.
* Only 1 in 10 Swedes thinks religion is important in daily life.
* Around 7 out of 10 children are christened in the Church of Sweden.
* Just over 5 out of 10 weddings take place in church.
* Almost 9 out of 10 Swedes have Christian burials.
* Islam has around 130,000 adherents in Sweden (more according to Muslim
Many are turning to eastern religion. There's a burgeoning pentecostal movement in Sweden!

Greeley Study

....The Greeley study basically disproves Barber's theory. Greeley's abstract:

This paper examines the conflict between the "secularization" theory of religious decline and the economic model of religion which assumes a fairly constant need for religion and attributes variation in devotion to variation in the supply of religious services. First the analysis reveals that the number of "hard core" atheists (those who firmly reject the existence of God and the possibility of life after death) in seventeen countries are a relatively small proportion of the population. Then it turns to Norway to determines that one can hardly describe that country as "unreligious." Next it discovers that there is a higher level of Catholic religious practice in the competitive environment of Northern Ireland. Finally it considers the one thoroughly secularized country – East Germany – and concludes that the "demand" for religion can be diminished considerably if a ruthless government takes control of the process of religious socialization.[7]
 He finds that all the major Northern European countries used in the Zuckerman analysis and others are soft core in their support of atheism. That means the majority of their atheists are sitting on the fence, they don't reject life after death or even a supreme power in the universe.

Note that
  1. The proportion of Hard Core atheists is relatively small in all the countries except East Germany (42.7%)
  2. The proportion is above 10% only in former socialist countries (12.4% in Russia, 13.9% in Slovenia, and 11.3% in Hungary) and in the Netherlands (11.4%) and in Israel (12.1%).
  3. In the other eleven countries, the highest rates of Hard Core atheism are in Norway (6.7%) and Britain (6.3%). Thus if latent demand for religion is excluded only from the Hard Core atheists, there is still the possibility of a large clientele for those firms which might venture into the religious market place in such supposedly "secularized" countries as Norway and Britain.
  4. There are not all that many Hard Core atheists in the countries studied, nor indeed all that many soft core atheists either.
  5. The "Softest Core" Atheists are less than a third of the population in every country except East Germany. They are more than a fifth of the population only in four former Socialist countries – East German Russia, Hungary and Slovenia. With the exception than of East Germany more than two thirds of the population of the countries studied are willing to admit the existence in some fashion of God and the likelihood of life after death. Devout many of them may not be but on the two central issues they are more religious than not. They then may be considered as part of the religious market place if not always enthusiastic consumers.[8]

This must be some of that rarefied theological claims that he doesn't want to think about. We might also include Andrew Newberg's analysis in Why God Wont Go Away, becuase we are designed with God finder equipment on board, the vast majority of us have used that equipment and the atheists must represent those with faulty equipment. The more important question is why is it so important to them to make these triumphal statements and create the "hope" that religion is going away? That's what cults do it's what ideologically oriented movements do. It's not what unorganized loose collections of unrelated people who just happen to agree on one thing, do.

[1] Jeffery R. Stout, The Flight form Authority: Religion, Authority, and the Quest for Autonomy. Notre Dame Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, June 1987.
[2]Harvey Cox, The Secular City. New York, NY: Mcmillian, 1965.
[3] Atheist Watch. "Attempt at Atheist Social Science:Zuckerman." part 1. 3/29/10
Part 2 March 30, 2010
Part 3 April 1st 2010,
part 3 is about Japan
[4]Japanese Buddhism,"Part II, The Japanese and Buddhism:Secularization of Japanese Society." website presented by Buddhanet and Japan Buddhist Federation,  accessed 6/2/13

[5] Ibid.
[6]Charlotte Celsing, "Are Swedes Losing Their Faith?" Sweden.SE the official Gateway to Sweden,
June 2, 2013.
accessed 6/2/13
[7]Andrew M. Greeley, Wolfgang Jagodzinski, "The Demand for Religion: Hard Core Atheism and Supply Side Theory." On line resource, website:
 accessed 6/2/13.
Andrew M. Greeley is professor at University of Chicago and a priest.Wolfgang Jagodzinski, university of Cologne.
[8] Ibid.

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