Is the Internet eroding our faith in God?

A new study suggests that the rise of the Internet has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation. From Technology Review:

Back in 1990, about 8 percent of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.

That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith?

Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.

Read more. Do you think this computer scientist is onto something or is it coincidence that as the Internet has become a powerful force in our lives, religion’s power has waned?

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  1. tgflux

    I think the Internet has helped to reaffirm and intensify all sorts of identities.

    Hence, those w/ religious identities become MORE religious hanging out online w/ the like-minded…

    …but they already did so IRL anyway.

    For atheists/agnostics/questionsing, the effect has been far greater (and more likely to push the questioning into agnostics, the agnostics into atheism), because they had been more isolated before.

    I don’t think there’s a direct cause&effect here, but a correlation caused by the (non-god) group-connection.

    JC Fisher

  2. I agree with JC Fisher that “correlation isn’t causation.” Also agree with the business of “intensification of identification.”

    That said, I am almost certain that, in my own life, one of the things that most helped me stick with the Episcopal Church through a very difficult, dark time in my parish, was Facebook. I am grateful I discovered many of my “Episco-geek” friends at a time my own parish was slowly imploding. It’s the connections beyond the insular familiarity of the local environment. I think it used to be in America, churches had more of a lock on that sort of connection, and now they don’t…which is why we need to “be the church” in the added dimension where the Internet weaves through our lives.

  3. Erin Garlock

    I find it interesting that this “scientist” did not do a correlation study with other nations whose decline of religious affiliation is worse the the USA, and whose decline started far earlier.

    Here are a couple of other highly correlated events, but probably not at all causal – higher incarceration rates and cellphone adoption:

    Disclaimer: yes, these are from wikipedia, but these still serve as good examples for not jumping to conclusions.



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