Americans are less religious these days thanks to the internet, according to Allen Downey, a Computer Science Professor at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts.
Analysing 20 years of general social survey data accumulated by the National Opinion Research Center, he discovered that the number of people listing no religious affiliations rose from eight to 18 per cent between 1990 and 2010.
Using Python scripts to analyse the data, he found that two of the three main factors that influenced people to forego religion are their parents and having a college education. However, the level of education and how the children were raised are only estimated to account for about five per cent and 25 per cent respectively of those who are forsaking religion.
“Although a third unidentified factor could cause both disaffiliation and Internet use, we have controlled for most of the obvious candidates, including income, education, socioeconomic status, and rural/urban environments,” he noted.
Aside from those two factors, internet use likely reduced religious beliefs, argued Downey, given that the phenomenon was virtually non-existent in 1990 but was adopted by three-quarters of the population 20 years later.
“Also, in order to explain changes over time, this third factor would have to be new and rising in prevalence, like the internet, during the 1990s and 2000s. It is hard to imagine what that factor might be,” Downey added.
Interestingly, internet use is also a headache for some denominations. For instance, the Mormon Church became controversial when word spread about its refusal to answer questions regarding founder Joseph Smith.