Dickson: The God-question
The world is a very religious place, and the much-heralded renaissance of skepticism dubbed the “new atheism” is unlikely to change things. An important minority of Westerners identifies as atheists but it is much smaller than the publicity suggests. The last World Values Survey (2005-06), the most reliable data set available, found that 10.4% of Britons, 9.9% of Australians, 7% of New Zealanders and 3.6% of Americans accept the tag “atheist.” And even these numbers may be inflated. Olivera Petrovich is an expert in the psychology of religion from the University of Oxford in the UK. In 2008 she caused a stir by presenting empirical evidence that infants naturally incline toward belief in some kind of Creator: atheism, in other words, is not the default position. More relevantly, in a recent interview for the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX) she outlined research revealing that respondents describing themselves as “atheist” 2 in surveys do not necessarily deny the existence of God. A significant proportion of them admit in post-survey analysis that the tag “atheist” functions more as a protest against formal religion than a description of their disbelief in any kind of god.(3) Openness to the divine is more dogged and widespread than we sometimes realize.
Even in my own country of Australia, which has often been described as the first post- Christian society in the world, surveys continue to reveal very high levels of spiritual, and specifically Christian, belief. Sixty-eight percent of Australians believe in a God or a Universal Spirit, and 63% believe in the possibility of miracles today.(4) Slightly more than that (75.9%) believe that Jesus himself performed miracles (while only 6% think he never existed).(5) Most surprising for those of us who live in this supposedly godless country, when asked to rate out of 10 “How important is God in your life? ” (1 being “not important at all;” 10 being “very impor tant”) 57.4% of Australians selected 6 and above; 28% selected 10.(6).
Despite the fact that atheist writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are on the bestseller lists worldwide, the larger point remains: the world remains a very religious place. For most people throughout most of human history the stunningly rational universe we see out there and the uncannily rational mind we experience within suggest the existence of some kind of Divinity or Deus responsible for this reality.