1. AP: “More Americans Say They Have No Religion”

A new poll conducted by Connecticut’s Trinity College helps resoundingly confirm our answer to what Ken Ham has asked audiences for years at seminars: is America growing more Christian or less?

The survey of 54,461 American adults in the 48 contiguous states confirmed that the United States is less Christian (at least in numbers, if not also in influencing society) than in the past, with a dramatic decline in mainline Protestant denominations accounting for 90 percent of the drop in total number of people identifying themselves as Christians..

That prompted Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program at Trinity, to state that “it looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism—mainline (generally theologically liberal) versus evangelical—is collapsing.” He continued, “A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the percentage not identifying with any religion—including atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other irreligious—has seen dramatic growth of 193 percent since 1990. Of course, evolution-based secular humanism (and similar beliefs) are, themselves, religious.

Among the survey highlights (both official and what we saw):

  • Although Catholicism has held nearly constant as a proportion of the U.S. population, it is quickly losing adherents in the U.S. northeast who are being replaced by Latino immigrants. California now has a higher proportion of Catholics than New England, and Catholics comprise a third of the population of both California and Texas.
  • The only religious identification to increase in every state are the irreligious. Vermont is now by far the least religious state, with over a third identifying with no religion, and northern New England has surpassed the Pacific northwest as the least religious U.S. region.
  • When asked whether they identify as “born again” or “evangelical,” 18.4 percent of Catholics, 38.6 percent of mainline Protestants, and 60.2 percent of other Christians said yes.
  • To a question asking about the existence of God, 69.5 percent said that there is definitely a personal God, with 12.1 percent saying there is a higher power, but not a personal God. Less than 10 percent each answered that there is no God, there is no way to know, or that they were not sure.
  • Asian Americans are the most likely group to disavow religion; as a group, they also account for effectively all the adherence to Eastern religions and nearly all of the adherence to Islam (with black Americans accounting for a small percentage).
  • The gender distribution for all Judeo-Christian religious groups was greater toward females. Males account for more of those in Eastern religions, Islam, and new religious movements. The identity with the greatest disparity between men and women is the irreligious, composed of 60 percent men.
  • Most Judeo-Christian groups have an age distribution older than that of the overall United States population. Conversely, adherents of Eastern religions, new religious movements, Muslims, and the irreligious all have age distributions that are younger than the overall U.S. population. Muslims have the youngest age distribution of all groups, with 87 percent of American Muslims below the age of 50 and 42 percent below the age of 30.
  • The two religious groups tied for the highest rates of divorce are Pentecostals/Charismatics and those in new religious movements (defined in note 8 below). Surprisingly, Muslims had both the highest percentage who identified as “single never married” and the second-highest percentage (after those in new religious movements) “single living with partner.”
  • The share of college graduates has risen for each religious group with the exception of Muslims and those in new religious movements.

We’ve summarized the main table from the poll results (PDF) showing U.S. religious identification (in estimated percentages of the total population):

Religious identification 2008 2001 1990 Category definitions
Total “Christian” 76.0 76.7 86.2
  1. Roman, Greek, and Eastern Rites.
  2. Methodist, United Methodist, African Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian/Anglican, United Church of Christ/Congregational, Reformed/Dutch Reform, Disciples of Christ, Moravian, Quaker, Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Eastern, Christian)
  3. Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Free-Will, Missionary, and African-American denominations
  4. Christian, Protestant, Evangelical/ Born Again Christian, Born Again, Fundamentalist, Independent Christian, Missionary Alliance Church, Non-Denominational Christian
  5. Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Full Gospel, Four Square Gospel, Church of God, Holiness, Nazarene, Salvation Army
  6. Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Mennonite, Brethren, Apostle, Covenant, Christian Reform, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Messianic Jews
  7. Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Baha’i, Shintoist, Zoroastrian, Sikh
  8. Scientology, New Age, Eckankar, Spiritualist, Unitarian-Universalist, Deist, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, Indian Religion, Santeria, Rastafarian
  9. None, No religion, Humanistic, Ethical Culture, Agnostic, Atheist, Secular
Catholic1 25.1 24.5 26.2
Mainline2 12.9 17.2 18.7
Baptist3 15.8 16.3 19.3
Christian generic4 14.2 10.8 14.8
Pentecostal/Charismatic5 3.5 3.8 3.2
Other major denominations6 3.1 2.9 2.6
Mormon 1.4 1.3 1.4
Other religions 3.9 3.7 3.3
Jewish 1.2 1.4 1.8
Eastern7 0.9 1.0 0.4
Muslim 0.6 0.5 0.3
NRM/Other8 1.2 0.9 0.8
No religion9 15.0 14.1 8.2
No answer 5.2 5.4 2.3

The survey results pretty well speak for themselves. The United States continues to grow less Christian, with compromising mainline denominations on a path to almost disappear completely within the century. (Next week, we will be reviewing another new survey that examined the attitudes of mainline Protestant clergy.) What is clear is that for long-term success, the church needs to reaffirm God’s Word as its starting point—then repent and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we try to take back the culture for biblical truths..

2. LiveScience: “Scientists See God on the Brain”

Scientists are once again reporting how the brain processes religion—or does it simply create it?

It’s been trendy for years for researchers to run brain scans on the religious and the irreligious, searching for signs that the supernatural is only in our heads. A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers the latest look at the relationship between brain functioning and religious attitudes.

In a two-part study, participants—both believers and nonbelievers—were first exposed to “a range or spectrum of religious beliefs relating to God’s perceived involvement in this world, God’s perceived emotion, and personal experiences as opposed to abstract doctrine.” In the second part, the participants heard “religious statements reflecting those beliefs.” An fMRI scanner recorded brain activity as they heard and considered the ideas.

The scans revealed that participants “fell back on higher thought patterns” when reacting to and considering the statements given them. A certain aspect of the brain consistently “lit up” when participants were presented with a “detached” God, but individuals’ brains varied significantly when considering an involved God. For example, when read statements contradicting their own religious beliefs, some participants’ brains showed disgust, while others’ showed conflict.

Some results were unsurprising. Statements about God’s love stimulated brain regions associated with positive feelings. Statements of religious doctrine affected the part of the brain that deals with abstractness. Statements about religious experience stirred brain regions associated with memory retrieval.

None of the results are mystifying, nor do the results as a whole affirm or deny the validity of religion. In fact, if we were to proclaim that the disparate results supported the reality of the supernatural, the irreligious would have a field day attacking us! But read how cognitive neuroscientist Jordan Grafman interpreted the results: “[It] suggests that religion is not a special case of a belief system, but evolved along with other belief and social cognitive abilities.” Grafman hopes future studies will look at non-Western religions so “we can better define why those brain areas evolved in humans.”

Talk about proving one’s presuppositions, since many evolutionists already believe religion is the product of evolution! A much more reasonable view is that God created various parts of the brain to process different types of information and emotions, and all people have similarities and differences in thought patterns and mental reactions. Statements about religion clearly trigger various areas of the brain; the same would probably be true of any complex topic that involves both abstract ideas and personal emotions.

For more information:

3. ScienceNOW: “Arrest That Chimp!”

The almost humorous—yet sad—story of a frustrated chimp throwing stones at zoo visitors could come straight out of a children’s story.

Instead, it’s the intriguing account of Santino the Frustrated Chimp at the Furuvik Zoo in Gävle, Sweden. It seems that for the past 11 years, Santino, when agitated over the presence of zoo visitors, stomps around his enclosure and hurls stones at visitors. Now, observations have revealed that Santino stockpiles stones each morning in preparation for zoo visitors’ arrival—and his counterattack!

The question is, can Santino really prepare for future mental states—in his case, anger? While there is some evidence that animals can plan for the future—from hibernating rodents to lab apes in careful experiments—none of these involve future mental states.

BBC News reports that Santino only exhibits the stone hoarding/throwing behavior during the season when visitors are allowed. (Discovery News notes that this short visitation season lasts only 25 days each year, a possible further explanation for Santino’s hostility toward visitors.)

Lund University primatologist Mathias Osvath gathered zookeepers’ observations of Santino from the past decade that reveal how, when the zoo was closed and Santino was seemingly calm, he would painstakingly gather stones and bits of concrete and fashion “disk-shaped projectiles,” apparently anticipating the next day’s angry outburst. Santino apparently learned to identify weak parts of fake boulders (made of concrete) in the enclosure, then figured out how to work bits loose to add to his stash.

In a BBC audio interview, Osvath further distinguished Santino’s behavior from animals planning for hibernation by noting that Santino showed a flexibility of thought—reacting to and planning for a specific situation—as opposed to an instinctual behavior.

Osvath believes Santino’s behavior is “clearly identifiable as planning for a future [mental] state.” He added, “I hope that other zoos or those in the wild will look more closely at what is happening. I bet there must be a lot of these kinds of behaviors out there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find them in dolphins or other species.” Thus, the news isn’t being overtly used to promote evolution—though one News to Note reader joked some see stone-throwing chimps as “almost human,” others can almost dehumanize Neanderthals because of their alleged throwing inability.

And that’s the story of Santino the Frustrated Chimp. By the way, as far as we’re aware, Santino had no comment.

4. BBC News: “Obama Ends Stem Cell Funding Ban”

Federal funds can now flow into new lines of embryonic stem cell research, thanks to an executive order by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The decision overturned a rule signed by former president George W. Bush that restricted federal funds except for embryonic stem cell lines created before August 9, 2001.

President Obama pledged to “vigorously support” new embryonic stem cell research. Unsurprisingly, many scientists are championing the move and promising that medical breakthroughs will follow, though Obama hedged his action with the caveat that “the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown and it should not be overstated.”

A separate Congressional bill, the Dickey–Wicker amendment, restricts using tax money to create embryos, but Obama’s decision could lead to its repeal as well.

Sadly, this new executive order may push research away from non-embryonic stem cell research, even though such research has resulted in important breakthroughs and successful therapies. One reader brought to our attention that the last clause of the new executive order even revokes former president George W. Bush’s executive order 13435, which ordered research into non-embryo-destroying stem cell research.

For our full response, see The Debate over Stem Cells.

5. ScienceDaily: “Live Evolution Witnessed In Controlled Environment Of Microbial Predator And Prey”

Ooh! Live evolution! Could it really be!?

According to the news, French scientists have been busy watching predator and prey bacteria “evolve” over some 300 generations in a controlled environment—until the prey becomes “resistant.” Does that sound like the story of antibiotic resistance? The scenario is so similar that the news release refers to the predator (actually the bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus) as a “living antibiotic.”

The prey in the experiment was Pseudomonas fluorescens. Under starting conditions, the predator is able to penetrate most of the prey and eat it from the inside. However, as the “evolution” takes place, only two forms of the prey survive the predator: the “Wrinkly Spreader morph” and the “Fuzzy Spreader morph.” The former group colonized the top of the liquid medium the bacteria were in, forming a protective biofilm on the surface. The latter group retreated to the bottom of the bottles, where the lowest levels of oxygen are. (The “evolution” took place over 300 generations, with researchers continually agitating, sampling, freezing, and transplanting portions of the liquid medium to emulate natural selection in the wild.)

The predator bacterium “evolved” as well, eventually able to attack the “Fuzzy Spreader” morph—though the release notes that “[w]hat makes prey resistant or predators capable of attacking them again remains poorly understood.”

So, is this evolution? As we have written many times in the past, it all depends on how you define evolution. In the sense that P. fluorescens is changing, yes; in the sense that P. fluorescens could one day become a completely new organism with a more sophisticated genome programming novel capabilities, no.

Instead, this is a perfect example of natural selection acting on what are likely mutations. According to the news release, all P. fluorescens should have been identical as of the first generation. Assuming this was the case, the Wrinkly Spreader and Fuzzy Spreader morphs would likely have been the result of genetic mutations after the first generation that led these two morphs to behave differently—in this case, colonizing different parts of the bottles they lived in.

A simple analogy would be a population of humans in a forest who are being hunted down by Grizzly bears. (For starters, imagine speeding up the reproductive process so that we can observe 300 generations of human and bear population growth—transplanted among different experimental forests—within a few months.) Most humans are, sooner or later, eaten by the bears. However, a few diminutive humans are able to squeeze into tiny caves in the forest that the bears can't reach inside. This small human population survives and is able to thrive once most normal-sized humans have died out.

Does this new population have new genetic information that the earlier humans lacked (such as a new defense structure, sharp claws, superhuman strength, etc.)? No, and if the bears were gone and the “normal” human population were restored, the diminutive population might struggle to survive.

In none of these cases, either with the bacteria or in the fictional human/bear example, are the “evolved” species gaining genetic information or new capabilities. It’s probably the exact opposite of the gain in genetic information that would be required for bacteria to evolve into fish, into reptiles, into mammals, into humans, etc.

The news release even concludes by confirming that scientists haven’t yet sequenced the bacterial genomes. We’re confident that when they do, they will find that the evolved bacteria are not generally more fit than their ancestors, but rather less fit.

6. Washington Post: “The Genesis of a Debate”

The Washington Post follows along on a creationist journey through the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Will they fare better than those who have gone before?

Post writer Steve Hendrix accompanied Liberty University professors David DeWitt and Marcus Ross (both good friends and partners with Answers in Genesis) to what Hendrix dubbed “the lion’s den of evolution.” DeWitt and Ross brought along students in the former’s Advanced Creation Studies course, a trip he conducts each year.

“There’s nothing balanced here,” DeWitt said of the museum. “It’s completely, 100 percent evolution-based. We come every year, because I don’t hold anything back from the students.” Smithsonian spokesman Randall Kremer doesn’t disagree, emphasizing (in Hendrix’s words) that the museum is “fundamentally Darwinian.”

Along the way, Hendrix does a fair job reporting what creationists actually believe—for example, stating that “[m]odern creationists don’t deny the existence of dinosaurs but believe that God made them, and all animals, on the same sixth day that he created man” and that young-earth creationists believe “the vast majority of the rocks and fossils were formed during Noah’s flood about 4,000 years ago.”

Lest anyone think the creationists barge in and upset the calm museum atmosphere, Hendrix quotes Bill Jack, another AiG friend who conducts trips for Biblically Correct Tours. “I’m not standing up and saying to everybody in the room, ‘Gather around.’ That would be disruptive. But I’m speaking loudly enough for my people to hear and sometimes others join in.”

(A year ago we covered a heavily biased ABC Nightline report on a creationist tour co-led by Jack.)

There is also a mention of our own Answers magazine—which Hendrix calls “a leading magazine of the young-Earth movement” (and to which DeWitt, Ross, and Jack have all contributed). The cover story for the newest issue of Answers is “creation vacations” (subscribe now!).

Hendrix also reports on two quotes DeWitt finds and points out to his group while in Washington, DC. First, emblazoned on one wall in the museum is a Nigerian proverb, “The Earth goddess fashions the human body just as the potter fashions her pot,” to which DeWitt quips, “So there is some religion here.” Second, DeWitt stops by the Jefferson Memorial with the group before heading back to Liberty University and points out a rhetorical question Jefferson asked that is imprinted in the memorial: “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”

We hope not only DeWitt’s students, but also Hendrix and everyone who reads his article will walk away with at least a little more understanding (rather than caricatures) of young-earth creationists and what we believe.

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