Does “We Believe as We Are Taught” Explain Christianity’s Popularity?

by Lenny Esposito

The vast majority of people across the globe believe in some type of deity. However, much has been made of recent polls showing that in western nations such as Europe and the United States there is a growing number of people who do not believe in God. One recent article pointed to a poll of Icelanders that claimed no Icelander under the age of 25 believes God created the world. 1 Given the fact the poll was conducted by an atheist group and they also found 42% of those that same 25 and younger set identified as Christian, I would question the poll’s methodology before making the grandiose claim of 0.0%.

But the desire of those like the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association to trumpet how more and more people are disbelieving God raises another issue. What are they trying to say? How does the fact we see some growth in the number of atheists and agnostics correlate with that is true and what is not? Certainly, such an argument would be counter-intuitive for the atheist. If truth was found by percentages, then the theists’ numbers provide overwhelming evidence for God’s existence.

Usually, atheists don’t argue that point. They take the tact that religious beliefs are held because they are taught or caught like a virus. Richard Carrier claims “The most fundamental reason for the persistence of religious belief is the very simple fact that we believe as we are taught.” 2 Atheists sometimes make the related argument that goes something along the lines of, “If you were born in Afghanistan, you’d be arguing for Allah’s existence right now!”

However, there are several problems with this claim. We can look at least three…

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