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Economist editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge shocked the secular West in 2009 by announcing that God Is Back—starting with China, of all places. Here were two epitomes of British reasonableness explaining that Europe was the modern exception in viewing God as dead, an irrational shadow of the past, with its Continent declining in population and power and the rest of the world resembling America in having religion as a part of their cultural dynamism.
China’s atheistic communist government conceded that its Christian population had doubled to 21 million over the past decade, worshiping in 55,000 official Protestant and 4,600 Catholic churches. The underground church, it’s widely known, was much larger—by foreign estimates perhaps 77 million, which means larger than the Communist Party. A Pew Global Attitudes study found only 11 percent of Chinese saying religion was not important in their lives, compared to 31 percent saying it was very or somewhat important. Indeed, everywhere the authors looked outside their European homeland, religion was booming in the early 21st century world.
Six in 10 Americans today tell Pew pollsters that religion plays a very important role in their lives. Over 80 percent believe in God or some higher power, with only four percent choosing agnosticism and merely two percent atheism. Only eight percent said they did not pray, as against 73 percent who said they prayed at least weekly, while 83 percent said God answered prayers. Sixty-three percent said they belonged to a church. The most recent Pew poll reflected some changes, with a plurality agreeing that gays had a right to marry, but a majority also thinking that homosexuality was sinful. Seventy-two percent agreed that religion was “losing influence” in America, but 56 percent of these thought that this was a bad thing.
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What is often overlooked is international data. WIN-Gallup International statistics show that 59 percent of the world population says it is religious and only 13 percent is atheistic, almost all of the latter in China, Japan, the Czech Republic, and France. The people of Africa, Latin America, India, Asia, and the Muslim world almost all consider themselves religious. Tempering the Micklethwait/Wooldridge thesis somewhat, even many in Europe say they believe in God (with Sweden registering the lowest polling number–apparently we ought to call it Secularism Central); and many Europeans also say they pray.
The Science Times section of the New York Times became part of this reawakening in the person of Nicholas Wade, one of its former editors and earlier editor of the prestigious journals Nature and Science. He issued a book the same year titled The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures. Religion is merely an evolved instinct, Wade argued; but it was essential to the evolution of human beings from frail animal to master of the world.
Wade’s jumping-off point was chimpanzees, asking why humanity’s closest living cousins have not evolved much since their species split some five million years ago, even as humans have changed dramatically merely in the last 50,000 years. His explanation is culture, which evolutionists have only recently taken seriously. They’ve learned that culture can feed back into the genome, “accounting at least in some part of the vast differences between people and chimpanzees.” Moreover, evolved humans are “vastly preferable—kinder, more prosperous, less warlike, less profligate of the environment and more knowledgeable.” With the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric times, war deaths reached 15 percent of the population, compared to war deaths of one percent even in a horrible century (the 20th).
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