Why do people become atheists? Researchers have the answer

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 10, 2022
Updated 2022/01/10 at 7:17 PM

In the past few years it seems to have been a real one atheism-Trend to have developed. Not only is there evidently ever louder criticism of religious institutions, but also of religions themselves. Apart from the public discourse, individuals can also be carried away by this kind of new enlightenment and “converted” to atheism. But why is that?

The 5 world religions:
Christianity (approx. 2.3 billion followers: inside)
Islam (approx. 1.8 billion followers: inside)
Hinduism (approx. 1 billion followers: inside)
Buddhism (approx. 500 million followers: inside)
Judaism (about 14.5 million followers: inside)

Atheism: what is it anyway?

In its broadest sense, atheism is defined as the absence or rejection of any belief in a deity. The term is in contrast to theism, but cannot be clearly distinguished from agnosticism, anti-theism and apatheism with this definition. Specifically, atheism is defined as the consideration that there is no plausible, demonstrable and thus real deity (s).

What was once propagated by Enlightenment philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, but also by Marx and Nietzsche, has long been the subject of modern studies. One of the reasons for this could be that, according to the Weltanschauung research group in Germany, a good 13 percent of the world’s population described themselves as atheists as early as 2012.

Researchers sometimes want to clarify when and, above all, why people become atheists and turn their backs on religious institutions, but also deities themselves.

Why do people become atheists?

Joseph Henrich was Professor of Culture, Cognition and Coevolution at the University of British Columbia. In 2009 he proposed the idea of ​​Credibility Enhancing Displays (CREDs). He tried to identify people who “convey a mental representation, but actually believe something else”. That is, beliefs are spread more effectively through actions than words alone – because actions provide information about the actor’s true beliefs. He also argues that CREDs are an integral part of tribalism.

They are designed to help you identify with a group and strengthen bonds within the group. Rituals like running a fire or animal sacrifice “convey a higher degree of religious commitment and thereby promote cooperation and success in competition between groups or institutions,” writes Henrich. The fact that performances like these are only practiced in a few parts of the world today could explain an increasing presence of atheism.

… and when?

Joseph Langston, a PhD student at Victoria University in New Zealand and a researcher with the Atheist Research Collaborative, wanted to know when people become atheists. He occasionally refers to earlier studies that position CREDs as at least partially influential for intergenerational religious belief. You would lead him to suspect that CREDs would also provide information about the age at which a person becomes atheist.

In a study published by Langston in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior in 2018, 5,153 atheists were interviewed. He wanted to find out how the relationship between CREDs and atheism is influenced by religious significance, religious choice and religious conflict and what role the acquisition and transmission of religious beliefs play in this.

The results of the research indicated that the present tense and place in the individual context predicted a delay in the age at which people became atheists. At the same time, options could accelerate this process. Langston also found that CREDs actually resulted in an earlier commitment to atheism.

Conclusion of the researchers

The following can therefore be concluded from the results of the studies:

  • The elimination of common “rituals” makes people more likely to become atheists.
  • The more choices people have, the sooner they will turn away from the “one” belief.

Great physicists have already shown that atheism is not always easy to pin down. Stephen Hawking, for example, did not want to deny the question of whether there is a God, but considered himself an atheist. With us you can also read what the four horsemen of the biblical apocalypse are all about.

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