The Internet greatly disrupts religious belief 1

If you are religious and you are also rather eager to keep your religious belief intact and safe, then you need to stop reading right now, log off, kill your social media accounts and never ever log back in again. You might perhaps think I’m teasing and am not serious, but I’m dead serious because there is some rather clear evidence that using the Internet will indeed put your religious belief at extreme risk.

Something very dramatic is taking place, there is a huge cultural shift underway


In the 1990s about 8% of the US population had no specific religious preference, and since then tens of millions have have joined them because they have put their beliefs down and moved on. This then leads to a rather obvious question – what is going on to cause such a change?

OK yes, I guess the title gives it away, but is that simply speculation from a correlation, or is there something more solid to this?

Allen B. Downey has a paper (pdf here) within which he examines data from the General Social Survey. He measured the effect of education and Internet use on religious affiliation and discovered that Internet use is indeed associated with decreased probability of religious affiliation.

His conclusion reads as follows …

Someone who has taken an introductory statistics class might insist that correlation does not imply causation, and that is a useful reminder. Nevertheless, correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely.

So until there is another explanation for the associations reported here, it is reasonable to conclude, at least tentatively:

  • Religious upbringing increases the chance of religious affiliation as an adult. Decreases in religious upbringing between the 1980s and 2000s account for about 25% of the observed decrease in affiliation.
  • College education decreases the chance of religious affiliation. Increases in college graduation between the 1980s and 2000s account for about 5% of the observed decrease in affiliation.
  • Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation. Increases in Internet use since 1990, from 0 to nearly 80% of the general population, account for about 20% of the observed decrease in affiliation.

The remaining 50% of the decrease in religious affiliation is accounted for by generational replacement, but this “explanation” only raises the question of why, even after accounting for education and Internet use, people born later are more likely to disaffiliate.

It is perhaps inevitable that it is like this, and it might in fact have been a surprise if the greatly increased flow of information did not change anything. It is also an on-going change, and there is much that is yet to come. How we think and how we interact will perhaps yet be changed and rapidly transformed again and again in unexpected ways because we now all have almost instant access to new ideas, and so when something emerges that tickles the human mind, it will be rapidly transmitted and spread in a completely unprecedented manner.

Some might at times look back and wonder what it might have been like to have lived in an age when the printing press suddenly introduced a flow of new ideas that ended up transforming everything … well wonder no longer, and don’t look back, instead look around you, because it is happening again, right now.

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One thought on “The Internet greatly disrupts religious belief

  • Chrispy

    Mr. Gamble, when one nearly daily posts against something, one can’t help think the case is driven emotionally, and then one has reason to guess how much your own personal bias plays into your opinions. (After all, you accuse your opponents of doing the same for the same reasons)

    Emotion/intentions are the poison to objectivity, and yours are blatant :)