Michael Shermer, a monthly columnist for Scientific American and also the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine writes a rather interesting article in the December issue of Scientific American all about the decline of religion and the rise of the Nones. The point he build up to is this …
A 2012 Pew Research Center survey, for example, found that the fastest-growing religious cohort in America are the “nones” (those with no religious affiliation) at 20 percent (32 percent of adults younger than 30), broken down into atheists and agnostics at 6 percent and the unaffiliated at 14 percent. The raw numbers are staggering: with the U.S. adult population (age 18 and older) at 240 million, this figure translates into 48 million nones, or 14.4 million atheists/agnostics and 33.6 million unaffiliated. That’s a powerful voting block.
In other words, a very dramatic and rather recent change has been taking place during the past decade, something quite new has happened to many human minds. Belief is a very potent force within our culture, so clearly something with even a greater potency has come along and is disrupting it.
Step back and it soon becomes clear what it is. It is the same thing that is disrupting and rapidly changing a lot of other things as well — the Internet.
In essence the flow of information has suddenly shifted into a higher gear. We have, as a species been here before. Previous landmarks that dramatically transformed us includes the emergence of language itself; it enabled ability to rapidly communicate complex ideas. Written communication enabled us to persist these ideas on clay tablets, then papyrus, and finally paper. The advent of the printing press enabled us to mass produce written communication and so spread new ideas even faster, and that in turn transformed us and led to the reformation, the enlightenment and the rise of the modern scientific age. Newer even faster forms of communication arose – the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, television – and they enabled us to communicate on a global scale.
Now we have the Internet, and so once again the flow of information has shifted into an even higher gear. This is now not only disrupting the more traditional business models such as how we buy and sell, or rippling into the traditional information publishing business, but is also impacting what we believe and think. Slowly slowly during the past decade a rising tide of non belief has risen and this is only just the start.
Why has this happened?
Well, when faced with various claims, one need only pull out a smart phone, tap in a query and rapidly fact check, then respond, “Nope, that’s bullshit”.
What is also interesting to note is that it is the younger generation, those that are more willing to question, and not so emotionally invested in a specific belief that are capable of a skeptical stance when faced with religious claims, hence the nones may be an overall 20% now, but for the under 30s that rises to over 32%
Will religion completely vanish? I suspect not, we adopted it because it pulled us together into a tight social group and so imparted a distinct survival advantage, but clearly the entire concept of belief is indeed being greatly disrupted by the Internet, and so beliefs will try to rapidly adapt to survive.
One thing is clear – a huge social transformation is underway and is still taking place.
Mr Shermer brings up a few good observations, his article is indeed worth a read.