There are many reasons for atheism’s decline among children.
Some of them are a direct result of a concerted effort to convince them that their parents don’t believe in God.
Others are the result of their own beliefs and their children’s own lack of faith.
Still others are simply the result, in part, of children who are simply not prepared for the consequences of belief in a supernatural creator.
This week, I spoke with Dr. Robert P. Young, an evolutionary biologist at the University of New Mexico who has been studying how children are able to become so deeply alienated from their parents.
Young told me that he and his colleagues are interested in the ways that people, especially parents, are able and willing to “deny their children the ability to learn” because they are afraid of how their children might respond.
“When I was a child, it was very difficult to have a conversation with my parents about what it meant to be a person,” Young said.
“We had a lot of conversations about being religious or believing in God, but we were always afraid that if we spoke about these things, our parents would see them as somehow harmful or inappropriate.”
“There is a very strong link between having religious parents and not being able to have an informed conversation about the world and the universe,” Young continued.
Young’s research has found that when parents don “denigrate” their children, they are more likely to see these children as being ignorant or selfish, which can lead to a deep sense of insecurity and even isolation.
Children who are taught by their parents to “believe in God” may have a hard time accepting that they can have doubts about how the universe works.
And this isolation leads to a lack of self-esteem and the belief that they aren’t worth anything.
The same goes for children who receive no instruction from their families about the universe, whether it’s from a textbook or a parent’s own book.
Even more than a generation ago, the belief in the supernatural was the norm among young people.
But as the number of people who are raised in a nonreligious household has grown, so too has the number who aren’t.
In the late 1990s, the Pew Research Center found that among adults ages 18 to 29, the percentage of adults who said they were raised by a nonbeliever had risen from 13 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 2007.
By the time Pew began measuring this cohort in 2009, it found that the percentage had risen to 29 percent.
By 2015, the number had risen further, to 36 percent.
A growing body of research also suggests that young people are more prone to being ostracized than their older counterparts.
A recent study from the University and Carnegie Mellon universities found that children who were raised in religious homes and who were asked about their beliefs by their mothers were more likely than children who weren’t raised in such homes to report feeling unsafe, or to have felt ostracised by their peers.
As we’ve heard before, a lot more research is needed to understand why so many young people choose to be atheists.
But it’s clear that the religious experience for so many of them is more than simply an opportunity to escape their parents’ expectations.
If we want to stop the decline in the number and type of religious people in our society, we have to take seriously the need for them to be educated about the supernatural.
Dr. Robert Young, a evolutionary biologist and evolutionary psychologist, is a senior scientist at the Center for Inquiry, an independent organization dedicated to improving science communication and public education.
He can be reached at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter @RPSYoung.