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Researchers: Rise in “religious Nones” masks growth in evangelicalism

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Last week, we looked at a recent pollster’s finding that the number of Religious Nones was increasing. Given that the main losses were due to the collapse of mainline denominations, it’s unclear, we suggested, how much is decline in belief and how much is decline in social ties

Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark and others offer some answers:

“The entire change [toward none-ness] has taken place with the non-attending group.” “In other words,” he adds, “this change marks a decrease only in nominal affiliation, not an increase in irreligion.” Stark says the wealth of data he has studied, as well as that his peers have, “does not support claims for increased secularization, let alone a decrease in the number of Christians. It may not even reflect an increase in those who say they are ‘nones.’” …

Some very recent research conducted jointly at Harvard and Indiana University supports Pew’s conclusion. These sociologists of religion find that the apparent growth of the nones is “solely a function of the decline in moderate religion.” Glenn T. Stanton, “No, Non-Believers Are Not Increasing In America” at The Federalist

And get this:

The Harvard/Indiana University researchers found the same thing, explaining “evangelicals are not on the decline” but “grew from 1972 when they were 18 percent of the population, to a steady level of about 28 percent” from the late 1980s to the present. This “percentage of the population” measure is very significant because it shows not only growth in terms of real numbers, but enough growth to keep up with or even exceed the rate of population growth. That’s not nothing. Glenn T. Stanton, “No, Non-Believers Are Not Increasing In America” at The Federalist

Atheists have also grown from 1.6% of the adult population to 3%, which is a significant increase. But the smaller the starting number, the easier it is for any increase to be significant. It certainly won’t save Darwinism.

Hat tip: Philip Cunningham

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See also: For the first time, “No Religion” is the most popular choice for Americans. People who, forty years ago, would have cited the church their parents once attended as their “religion” now say “no religion.” That’s probably because, in current urban society, they no longer experience social penalties for being honest. It’s still a decline but to discuss it intelligently, we need to see clearly what it is a decline in.

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