Another atheist myth

Densa’s inability to understand the implications of comparing a large population to a small one got me thinking about some of the other myths about atheism. One of the many misapprehensions of the New Atheists is that the rapid growth rate of godlessness over the last 20 years will have grand ramifications for American society. And yet, the example of various former atheists such as CS Lewis and Anthony Flew indicates that atheism is nothing more than a transitive state for many individuals. The implications of this philosophical transience are often forgotten even when shifts in religious identification are being discussed. For example, the 2008 Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey is often cited to show that there is a national trend away from religious faith.

“Overall, 3.9% of the adult population reports being raised without any particular religious affiliation but later affiliating with a religious group. However, more than three times as many people (12.7% of the adult population overall) were raised in a particular faith but have since become unaffiliated with any religious group.”

That sounds like conclusive proof that lots of people are abandoning their religious faith, although a closer reading reveals that 36% of those “unaffiliated” people consider themselves to be religious. But even if we take the numbers at face value and assume that a loss of religious affiliation is tantamount to a loss of faith, the statistics don’t actually show what they are usually cited as showing.

Consider this. That 3.9% of the population that was raised without religious affiliation and eventually found one represented more than half of the 7.3% of the population that was raised without an affiliation. That means that the retention rate of the non-affiliated was only 46.6%! Whereas that seemingly impressive 12.7% who abandoned their childhood affiliation represented less than 14% of the religious affiliated population. So, religious affiliation has a much better retention rate at 86.3%.

The retention rate is even worse for the full blown atheist population. 60% of those raised atheist abandon atheism; 0.5% of the population was raised atheist and 0.3% of it left atheism. And while 1.4% of the population became atheist, the fact that nearly all of the nation is not atheist means that the non-atheist population has a retention rate of 98.6%, which is nearly 2.5 times better than the atheist retention rate of 40%. Therefore, the perceived rapid growth of atheism is nothing more than an artifact of the atheist population’s statistical insignificance. Even the dying Episcopalian church has a better retention rate than atheism does and the fact that 75% of atheist households contain no children under the age of 18 merely underlines the fact that atheism would be in decline if it were not already such an insignificant portion of the population.

Anyhow, it appears that this may call for the addition of another slide or two to the Against the New Atheism slideshow.

Adios 401k

With all of the unfunded public pension liabilities that are so rapidly accruing, there is virtually no chance that the federal government isn’t going to transform the 401k plan into a centralized pay-out-as-needed one like Social Security:

One of the nation’s largest labor unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is promoting a plan that will centralize all retirement plans for American workers, including private 401(k) plans, under one new “retirement system” for the United States. In effect, government pensions for everyone, not unlike the European system and regardless of personal choice.

For those who have more than the median 25k in their 401k, I suspect the penalty for early withdrawal may eventually be seen as cheap at the price.

Mailvox: applied reading

JB sends an update:

Perhaps you can recall the previous email I sent you requesting advice about staying in college or leaving? Just a brief update; I left the PhD program and got a regular job…best choice I’ve made so far. Thank you for your advice (and that of the Ilk). Also, after reading the blog for a while now, I’ve finally started contesting the atheists I know when the usual arguments pop up, (using your new slide show has been a huge boost to the discussion), and I can now see why the ilk are so entertained by the trolls who drop by the blog.

Welcome to the workforce! That’s a very smart move in this economy. It’s always good to see when the ongoing discourse here inspires people to step back, look at their situation, and actively think about what they’re doing. So much of life happens to people because they never stop to consider if the assumptions that put them on their present course still apply. Pursuing higher education was an excellent occupational choice 40 years ago, rather less so 20 years ago, and is arguably a terrible choice today thanks to the inexorable logic of supply and demand. Speaking of atheism, one result of the recent flood of the education bubble and the degree-selling it involved is that the irreligious are no longer much more highly educated than the norm; 21 percent of atheists have post-graduate degrees, which is a lower percentage than that of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Unitarians. And, since atheists are such a tiny fraction of the population, there are 16 times more Protestant Christians with post-graduate degrees than atheists.

One thing you are quickly forced to recognize when maintaining a blog like this is how most people think in a completely unoriginal manner. They simply repeat arguments that they heard and half-understood at some point in the past. I don’t post even a tenth of the critical emails I receive; if I did most readers would quite reasonably assume I was constructing really retarded strawmen in order to make myself look better. What the slideshow does very well is to not only show the atheist that his arguments are incorrect, but that they are not even his arguments. It can’t prove the existence of God or the truth of the Christian faith, of course, but it completely undercuts the atheist’s claim to any rational or intellectual superiority. That’s why none of the atheists who have attempted to belittle the slideshow have dared to do more than nibble about the edges; they know they can’t successfully argue the substance. Of course, in the event that any of that nibbling should turn out to be correct, I’ll simply utilize their criticism to update and improve it.