Steve Jones at the Hay Festival: Falling birth rates in Europe and rising ones in Africa could spell decline in atheism


A combination of surging population growth in Christian Africa and population decline in Europe could signal the decline of atheism, a world-renowned geneticist has claimed.

According to Steve Jones, a professor in genetics at University College London’s Galton Laboratory, population decline in religiously sceptical European countries combined with rapid population growth in central Africa could see a resurgence of Christianity, leaving sceptics in a minority.

Speaking at the Hay Literary Festival he argued that religion grows rapidly during large population booms, particularly in poorer countries, while in Europe the Christian faith is stagnating as birth rates drop below the levels required to avoid population decline.

Prof Jones, who is one of the world’s experts on the genetics of snails and regularly appears on television and radio, pointed out that Britain was the only Christian country in Europe that is “replacing its population”

In comments at the festival reported by the Telegraph, he said, “We atheists sometimes congratulate ourselves that the incidence of religious belief is going down.”

Professor Steve Jones’ new book has been criticised for calling the Bible a ‘handbook’ Professor Steve Jones’ new book has been criticised for calling the Bible a ‘handbook’

“But religious people have more children,” he added. “Where are people having the most children? It’s in the tropics and in Africa. It’s clearly the case that the future will involve an increase in religious populations and a decrease in scepticism. We may not need more scientists but more theologists.”

It will come as no surprise to some religious affairs watcher, that, having previously updated Darwin's writings for the modern era, the geneticist Steve Jones has now turned his attention to the future of atheism and to the study of the Bible with a new book, which he was promoting at the festival.

Entitled The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science, it uses various biblical stories to discuss the origins of the universe, human life, evolution and sex. However it has angered some Christians for describing the bible as a “handbook to help comprehend the world” and listed the Book of Genesis as “the world’s first biology textbook.”

While speaking at Hay, Prof Jones said he believed that the three great religions of the Middle East developed when hunter-gatherer communities first became farms about 10,500 years ago, before this spread to Europe 7,500 years ago.

Prof Jones, who has advised the BBC on its science reporting, said that ‘religion began exactly at this time’ and that as communities expanded, a priests class was able to emerge, leading to increasing inequality and a stratified society.

And as these increasingly unequal societies grew, these priests used angrier and more vengeful god to keep the public in line, he claimed.

However he did admit that the he’d be “pushed” to argue with the statement that the “New Testament was one of the greatest political documents ever written.” He added, “Out entire society is based on tenets of the New Testament.”

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