General, Research, Technology

When and why do people become atheists?

Today, our planet is home to approximately 7.7billion people. Almost 6 billion of them classify themselves as one of the existing religions, which means that 84% of the world population believes in one or another God. And from the point of view of how we Sapiens evolved, this is quite natural. But not reckoning oneself with any of the religions existing in the world, on the contrary, raises questions. A graduate student at Victoria University of New Zealand named Joseph Langston was looking for an answer to questions about when and for what reasons people become atheists. His research, published in Religion, Brain & Behavior in 2018, involved 5,000 people who do not identify with any of the existing denominations. The results obtained in the course of the study showed that people tend to lose faith at a young age for two reasons: if the parents are devout but do not attend church, or, on the contrary, the parents are religious, but only in words. In this article, we'll talk about how and why people become atheists.

Recently, researchers have often wondered why some people become atheists.

What is religion for?

As he writes in his book “Sapiens. A Brief History of Humanity "historian Yuval Noah Harari, religion Is a system of human norms and values,based on belief in a higher, superhuman order. At the same time, the most famous religions in the world - such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism - combine the signs of universality and missionary work and, as far as scientists know, began to appear only at the turn of our era. The emergence of universal religions, according to Harari, is one of the key factors unification of humanity.

In turn, neuroendocrinologist, professorStanford University Robert Sapolsky notes that religions arise because they contribute to the overall cooperation and resilience of people in a group. However, it cannot be ruled out that inventing deities is a by-product of the activity of a socially oriented brain. Evolutionary biologist and popularizer of science Richard Dawkins, author of God as an Illusion, agrees with this assumption. Speaking about the reasons for religiosity, he puts forward the following hypothesis:

"Natural selection favored survivalchildren whose brains are predisposed to trust the opinions of parents and tribal elders. Such gullible obedience helps to survive. However, the flip side of gullible obedience is thoughtless gullibility. "

Meanwhile, the last three centuries are often called the era of secularization, as religions are gradually losing their meaning.

According to this assumption, an inevitable collateralthe product of religion is vulnerability to infection by thought viruses. Indeed, our brains are incredibly vulnerable to a variety of thinking errors and cognitive biases. More about where cognitive biases come from and why people believe in the supernatural, I've discussed in this article.

In general, speaking about religion, it is important to understand that itreflects the values ​​of the culture in which it arose and was adopted, and is extremely successful in transmitting these values ​​further. As he writes in his book "Biology of good evil. How Science Explains Our Deeds ”Robert Sapolski,“ Religion encourages both the best and the worst in us. And also religion is very difficult. "

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Who, how and why becomes an atheist?

In his work, Langston points to a number ofprevious research on the reasons why people become atheists. He focuses on the distance between religious choice and religious conflict: in postindustrial societies where existential security is common, parents are less likely to rely on supernatural authority for survival.

“Religious choices are likely to generate morethe number of atheists in future generations. However, authoritarian upbringing also creates atheistic tendencies through "alienation, personal disappointment, and rebellion." The lack of choice seems to increase the likelihood of atheism. "

The study involved 5153 atheists.In the course of the work, the subjects were interviewed according to two sets of criteria. After carefully examining the subjects' responses, Langston found that the importance of religion in childhood correlated with an increase in the age of becoming an atheist. Choice and conflict only accelerate this process. In other words, when children hear their parents speak but do not follow their words, they end up moving away from religion.

Religiousness, however, does not disappear. It is expected that in the coming decades the number of people professing one or another confession will only increase.

See also: Will Science Replace Religion?

In an interview with Big Think, Langston admitsseveral limitations, namely the fact that believers were not included in this study. “If we had conceived a study that surpassed ours, then for this study we would have collected a large sample of non-believers and believers. Then we can make direct comparisons between the two groups, ”says the author of the scientific work. In general, Langston sees no problem in the fact that only non-believers were involved in his work.

It is also interesting that in the work published inIn 2016, American researchers identified six of the most common reasons why people become atheists. The researchers noted that this is influenced by the politicization of the church, sex scandals, and the negative attitude of the church towards minorities. Moreover, people with higher education, as well as those who grew up in an atheist family or became disillusioned with religious teachings, are also not inclined to believe. Why do you think some people don't believe in God? We will wait for the answer here, as well as in the comments to this article.