“Turns out it has nothing to do with science. And everything to do with politics,” writes Nick Spencer at Politico:
Many expressed surprise recently when, in one of its periodic surveys of Americans’ views of other faiths, the Pew Research Center found that atheists fare poorly—fully 40 percent of those polled described their views toward atheists as “cold.” Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons—all are viewed more favorably than nonbelievers. Only around 2 percent of Americans identify themselves as atheists, even though religious observance, measured by things like church attendance and daily prayer, has been trending downward for decades.
You might think that America would be fertile ground for the rise of atheism. After all, the United States is the most scientifically advanced society in human existence, and as far as atheism has a history—and it is an oddly uncharted one—it is popularly believed to be of slow, steady scientific advance.
Once upon a time, so the story goes, people believed that the world was young and flat, that God made everything including people in a few, frantically busy days, and that earthquakes and thunderstorms were examples of his furious rage, which you ignored at your peril. Into this sorry state of affairs, emerged a thing called “science” and, despite the best efforts of ignorant, self-serving clerics who wished to keep the people in utmost darkness, “science” proved that none of the above was true. Gradually, wonderfully, the human race matured, with every confident scientific step forward pushing our infantile, crumbling ideas of the divine closer to oblivion. “Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science, as the strangled snakes besides that of Hercules,” as Thomas Huxley, the English biologist known as “Darwin’s bulldog,” memorably put it.
The problem with this particular creation myth is that whilst it is true enough to be believable, it is not true enough to be true. “Science”—if we can treat that collection of disparate disciplines as one single, coherent enterprise—did have something to do with the growth of atheism in the West, but very much less than most imagine. Those three great moments of scientific progress—the Copernican revolution in the 16th century, the scientific revolution in the 17th and the Darwinian in the 19th—were hardly atheistic at all. Copernicus was a priest; Francis Bacon, the father of modern science, devout; and Charles Darwin incredulous that anyone could imagine evolution demanded godlessness. “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist,” he wrote in 1879.
In reality, the growth of atheism in Europe and America has much more to do with politics and, in particular, ecclesiastically backed politics, than it has with science, something that is clear even from its earliest days…
[continues at at Politico]