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No Religion Rising

on September 26, 2009
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USA Today: “People with ‘No Religion’ Gain on Major DenominationsMore and more Americans don’t identify with any religion. Are we to blame?

One critic emailed the linked article to us, claiming sarcastically, “Your support of ‘intelligent design’ seems to be effective at decreasing Christianity. Congrats!” We’ll have more on that in a moment, but first, what’s the news?

Trinity College has released “American Nones: Profile of the No Religion Population,” an assessment with those who claim no religious affiliation in the United States. The group is growing and may one day surpass the size of individual religious affiliations.

The research was a spinoff of the American Religious Identification Survey of 54,000 U.S. adults, including 1,106 who claimed no religious identification (casually called “Nones”) and were the focal point of the new study.

As with many studies of this nature, there were many highlights; these are the ones we found most notable:

  • Although the number of Nones in the U.S. is increasing, the rate of increase was actually twice as high during the 1990s, which the authors refer to as a “secular boom.”
  • Most Nones are not outright atheists, but rather agnostics and deists. In fact, more than a quarter (a plurality) believe a personal god exists, and another quarter believe in a higher power but not a personal god. Seven percent believe no god exists, though that proportion has not increased since the 1990s.
  • More than a third (35 percent) of first-generation Nones are ex-Catholics. Perhaps correspondingly, a third are of Irish ancestry; the other two most widely represented people groups among Nones are Asians and Jews.
  • The most common political identification of Nones is independent.

Unsurprisingly, Nones differed from the entire group of surveyed.

Of interest to us was the survey question, “Do you think that human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals?” Unsurprisingly, Nones differed from the entire group of surveyed; 61 percent answered “definitely” or “probably” to the question, compared to 38 percent from all adults surveyed. However, we find it interesting that 30 percent of Nones still answered “probably not” or “definitely not” to that question.

This brings us back to the critic who argued that creationists (specifically, us) are “decreasing Christianity.” We would argue that this survey shows no such thing, for multiple reasons:

  • Previous studies have shown that mainline Christian denominations—the ones more likely to accommodate evolution and old-earth ideas (see the March 21, 2009, and September 2, 2006, News to Notes)—are the same that are losing members the fastest (see the March 14, 2009, and March 1, 2008, News to Notes). While correlation does not prove causation, research published in Already Gone demonstrates the link between compromise on Scripture and departure from the church. (Those in mainline denominations are also more likely to accept pseudoscientific and paranormal ideas—see the September 27, 2009, News to Note.)
  • While the critic refers to “intelligent design,” what is interesting is that the survey’s question actually might encompass intelligent design (some intelligent design advocates effectively accept the old-ages story of evolution, simply positing some theistic “guidance” along the way). And the 30 percent of Nones who apparently reject human evolution is surprisingly high: it seems to suggest that many Nones are not driven away from religion because of creationist ideas.
  • Suppose insistence on the reality of Christ’s Resurrection was “decreasing Christianity” (e.g., causing churchgoers to stop attending)—should we abandon it as a doctrinal foundation and blind ourselves to the evidence supporting it? Likewise, even if it were true that young-earth creation were having a detrimental impact on what we might call Christianity’s demographic strength, we do not see abandoning it as an option.

The number of demographic “adherents” of Christianity as a proportion of Americans (as with other Western nations) continues to decline, even as Christianity is on the march in much of the Third World. We are called not to micromanage the demographics of religious identification, but rather to (among other things) “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15)—part of our mission to revitalize the church.


Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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