Recently, “noted” biopsychologist Nigel Barber published a “study” saying that by 2041, religion will be all but irrelevant to the majority of people, and the rest of us who still believe will just be viewed as silly, poor, crutch-wielding, peasants eating the scraps of more the more “civilized” (or “evolved”?) and wealthy of societies finest.
Lets examine 2 of the assumptions embedded in this study, and a couple problems he seems to overlook.
1) Religion is only for the uneducated, poor, and “loud”–Giving a shout out to all those who think religion is just a crutch or an opiate, Barber conducts and interprets the study from the viewpoint that religion is beneath him–probably because he’s a hotshot scholar who is so successful at life, that he doesn’t need religion. Consider his quote, ““…Yet, noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve.” In his view, religious believers are already in the minority, and though they are loud, they hold no real influence into the ways of the world. According to him, they are already on their way out. Is it possible that he conducted a study that was unbiased enough to show accurate results, or did he just conclude what he wanted to see?
2) Wealth is the Antithesis of Religion–Well duh… it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in anything to figure this one out. Jesus was saying it from the very beginning of his ministry. Why does wealth decrease religious devotion? Because whereas wealth is mostly centered on the “I” (what I can have for myself), religion is mostly centered on the “other” (how can I serve, Christ, Allah, Yahweh). So yes… obviously as wealth increases in a country, religion decreases…. the only reason you would find this a good thing is if you hate religion already. I would like to believe there are still those “unbelievers” who, while atheist themselves, think that religion has its merits and should generally stick around in one form or another.
3) Causation Vs. Correlation–This scientist is breaking one of the first rules they teach you in science–Correlation is not Causation. In other words, just because B follows A, doesn’t mean A causes B. Therefore, just because religion declines as wealth increases, doesn’t mean that wealth causes (at least not exclusively, completely, or definitively) the decline in religion. Yes they are correlated, but that does not mean the increase in one will lead to the decrease in the other, only that there is some common factor which to some extent influences both. There are rich people who are religious, and there always will be. Just because wealth increases, does not mean that religion will become inconsequential.
4) The Foundation of Civilization–This is “speculative”, but I don’t believe that society as we know it, as a functioning body of people gathered collectively as a nation, would be able to flourish without religion. I a sense, our country would destroy itself and some sort of anarchy or mini-apocalypse would ensue. This could look something along the lines of what happened to Rome (and many other civilizations), and there are numerous theories about how a country’s “deteriorating moral fiber” can cause it’s society to crumble. While this doesn’t mean that religion won’t disappear, it does mean that if it does, it won’t result in an awesome society where everyone is happy because they’re atheists.
5) Religion’s Influence–Religion cannot be erased or become irrelevant because of its inherent influence in relation to the human person. From a historical perspective, religion’s influence has become inseparable from our history, development, and human narrative–it has been present in various forms since the rise of civilization, has shaped both the good and the bad of human thought, both hindered and saved technology. Whether you think religion is good or bad in and of itself, it has become an inseparable part of the human experience. Even deeper than that however, religion (at least in a broad sense) is actually intrinsically connected to human nature. While it may be feasible that someday particular religions will “die out”, the human person’s orientation towards the “religious” will never die out. This is not to say that every person believes in a “higher power” and worships it, but rather that humans in general tend to 1) believe in something greater than themselves (love, money, power, etc.), and then 2) orient their lives around it. This is religion in the broad sense, and because it is so deeply ingrained in us as humans, there is some part of religious sentiment that will never truly leave us, even if we deny it.
So what do you think about this study? Do you think he’s correct? Or do I think I’m correct (for either the right or wrong reasons?