Where Have All the Atheists Gone?
A new piece of research, snappily titled, Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and agnostics around the world. Interim findings from 2019 research in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, reveals some fascinating things about the ‘nones’.
One is that atheists and agnostics don’t have much conviction in their beliefs about unbelief,
Popular assumptions about ‘convinced, dogmatic atheists’ do not stand up to scrutiny. Atheists and agnostics in Brazil and China are less confident that their beliefs about God are correct than are Brazilians and Chinese as a whole.
Though there is nicely ironic corollary about our American friends, where “atheists are typically fairly confident in their views about God, importantly, so too are Americans in general.”
Perhaps the most interesting finding is how atheism wants to hold on to objective morality, rather than moral relativism or nihilism.
The report says this,
Another common supposition – that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe – also does not bear scrutiny. While atheists and agnostics are disproportionately likely to affirm that the universe is ‘ultimately meaningless’ in five of our countries, it still remains a minority view among unbelievers in all six countries.
Also perhaps challenging common suppositions: with only a few exceptions, atheists and agnostics endorse the realities of objective moral values, human dignity and attendant rights, and the ‘deep value’ of nature, at similar rates to the general populations in their countries.
As pointed out here last week – atheism is incapable of providing a moral foundation that is anything but relativistic, so this stubborn clinging to the objective is remarkable. It reminds me again of Nietzsche’s devastating critique of the ‘English flatheads’:
They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality… We others hold otherwise. When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God is the truth – it stands and falls with faith in God.
Positively, this report should serve as a great spur to mission – our agnostic and atheist neighbours don’t really believe in their unbelief. They want life to have meaning and purpose. They believe there are objective moral realities. All they need to make sense of this is a revelation of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Let’s tell them!