In a controversial new study, author Nigel Barber claims that atheism will replace religion by 2041 as a result of rising living standards worldwide.
The bold assertion, which Barber introduced in a recent e-book titled “Why Atheism Will Replace Religion,” arose from a series of projections the bio-psychologist makes based on a study that he says will be published next month.
“Atheists are more likely to be college-educated people who live in cities, and they are highly concentrated in the social democracies of Europe,” Barber wrote in an article published last week in Psychology Today. “Atheism thus blossoms amid affluence, where most people feel economically secure.”
Barber continues in this vein, writing that his prediction that a majority of people will reject religion in favor of atheism by 2041 is also rooted in the rise of the “welfare state” across the globe.
“In my new study of 137 countries, I also found that atheism increases for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates),” he writes. “Moreover, countries with a more equal distribution of income had more atheists.”
It’s quite a leap of logic to suggest that rising financial security will lead inexorably to a rejection of religion, and a number of thought leaders have in fact drawn the opposite conclusion, predicting that religious beliefs will enjoy a resurgence as the world continues to develop.
Author and political scientist Eric Kauffman explained this line of thought in his 2010 book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” He uses demographic data to make a case that religious people will in fact be ascendant in coming decades.
“Kaufmann shows that the more religious people are, regardless of income, faith tradition or education, the more children they have,” a description of the book states, concluding that, “The cumulative effect of immigration and religious fertility will be to reverse the secularisation process in the West.”
Despite the much-touted rise of atheism among some segments of the world's population in recent years, as of 2012 only 13 percent of people identified themselves as atheists in a WIN-Gallup International poll.
Still, Barber maintains that a majority of people worldwide will reject religion by 2041 in his article.
“The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms,” he writes. “First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people's daily lives and hence less of a market for religion.”
Only time will reveal what the future holds for religion and atheism throughout the world.