In the war between religion and atheism, one atheist is already predicting victory. Biopsychologist Nigel Barber, writing for the Huffington Post, argued that atheism will overtake religion by the year 2038.
Barber’s asserted that “economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.” His argument is simple: “The basic idea is that as people become more affluent, they are less worried about lacking for basic necessities, or dying early from violence or disease. In other words they are secure in their own existence. They do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities.”
To prove this point, Barber compares the average per capita GDP of 9 most “secular” countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom) with the rest of the world (using 2004 data). Since their average per capita GDP’s are 3 times higher than the world’s average, he infers that richer countries are more secular than their poorer counterparts.
Barber’s analysis is rife with false assumptions and convenient leaps in logic. He does not give a list of the countries with the highest per capita GDP – perhaps because that list includes religious countries such as the United States, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Barber ignores geography; 8 of the 9 countries he cites as "godless" are European. Barber assumes that Europe is in the vanguard of progress.
Barber even deliberately skews his data. He states that he left Estonia off his list of godless countries, dismissing it as a “formerly Communist country.” He fails to mention that officially atheistic (and poorer) countries such as North Korea and China do not figure in his analysis. The only secular countries he cites are the ones that help his case.
Barber falsely conflates all religious people with religious fundamentalists. He only briefly mentions that “some serious scholars” believe “religious fundamentalists will outbreed the rest of us,” before dismissing religious men and women as “tiny minorities of the global population” who will “become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve.”
But the rapid increase of Islam in European countries casts doubt on Barber’s analysis. Barber argues that religious minorities assimilate into secular society once they attain economic success – an assumption that Islam confounds.
Barber also ignores the fact secularist countries such as Japan have negative population growth, and face economic disaster because of their inability to replace their populations. The fertility rates for all of the secularist countries he cites (except France, which has a high Islamic population) are below 2, the “replacement rate” for population.
Countries with low replacement rates have negative population growth. The 2008 documentary “Demographic Winter” describes the economic disaster that countries with negative population growth face. As fewer children are born and the number of retirees increases, the governmental safety nets that secular societies depend on crumble, because there are fewer and fewer workers to support increasingly aging populations.
Barber celebrates the supposedly inexorable tide of atheism as a dream, writing: “Godless countries are highly moral nations with an unusual level of social trust, economic equality, low crime and a high level of civic engagement.” His dream, based on shoddy analysis, would be a nightmare waiting to happen.