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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Friday, March 04, 2005

the demography of atheism

Atheism is more common among people whose social obligations are weak

William S. Bainbridge of the National Science Foundation is one of America's premier scholars in the field of the sociology of religion. In his latest paper (published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion Vol.1, No.1, 2005) he addresses a hitherto largely neglected area of research: Atheism as a social or psychological phenomenon

Bainbridge notes that there is "a fairly large and disputatious literature in which Atheists and their opponents argue matters of belief" but that nevertheless little is known about atheism from a social-scientific perspective. (Tertius would point out that atheists tend to make a lot of noise, far in excess to their actual numbers.) Bainbridge highlights the dearth of research on atheism in comparison to the extensive body of material that exists on religiosity. He points out that the historical studies that do exist are largely written within the perspective of the history of ideas. However systematic attempts to understand Atheism as a social or psychological phenomenon, employing rigorous theory and quantitative research methods, are rare.

Bainbridge then examines two recent studies, based on international surveys, that do offer interesting data about atheism, and which he uses a springboard in order to advance the theoretical understanding of atheism.

The studies reveals the following data:
1.Atheists tend to be young, male, unmarried, and well-educated
2.Men are significantly more likely than women to be atheists
3.This gender difference is universally consistent
4.The very young and very old are less likely to be atheists
5.Atheism is more common among people whose social obligations are weak

In a nutshell Bainbridge advances the hypothesis that "lack of social obligations encourages disbelief in God" based upon the "compensator theory of religion". His analysis also traces "connections between Atheism and the demographic fertility collapse that has been occurring in most advanced industrial nations, suggesting
that secularization might best be understood in the context of declining social obligations". These findings contradict the popular view - especially among atheists themselves - that atheism represents the spearhead of secularization, as science supposedly sweeps away the superstitions of the past. He also questions the thesis that "atheists experience no need for religion".

The paper is well worth reading.
[But I note in passing that Bainbridge seems unaware of the work of Professor Paul Vitz on the psychology of atheism...]

8:43:00 pm