Much has been written in recent days about a research study from the Pew Research Center that has many people either worried or rejoicing that the percentage of self-identifying Christians in America seems to be on the decline.
I don’t necessarily want to comment on the data of the research itself because that has been done in many places, but if you are interested in that, I would recommend this article from Christianity Today that hits on the highlights or of course the study itself linked above.
Rather, today I want to focus on the implications of this situation. Let’s say that the trend continues. What if Christianity does indeed continue to decline? I don’t think that it will, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that it does. I have a feeling that many media outlets, websites and bloggers would be celebrating the fact that they had finally defeated the cult of Christianity, but I don’t know that it is safe to make that leap in logic.
Here is the question that needs to be brought up. What makes Christianity true or false? How would one go about defeating Christianity?
No belief will never be defeated by a public opinion poll. Atheism has not lost because a minority of the population is atheistic. Any belief could be true even if no one believed it. For example, Christianity may have a majority in America right now, but it certainly has a minority in Iran. Does that mean that Christianity is false in Iran and true in America? That might sound appealing for postmodernists, but it is contradictory. Has it been defeated in Iran but not in America? That is simply illogical. Christianity does not make claims that are tied to specific subpopulations; it makes claims about all humanity and would therefore need to be true for everyone or false for everyone.
The ultimate truth value of Christianity comes from the degree that it matches up with reality rather than the raw number of people who believe in it. That is true of any worldview.
There is of course value in research and polls (I was a statistics major; I value data). It is reasonable to expect that in a free marketplace of ideas, the best idea will attract the most people. No marketplace is entirely free, but if people truly are reasonable, and if one worldview does match up with reality better than any other, you would expect to see that reflected in public opinion. Even though people might not be perfectly reasonable, the marketplace of ideas might not be entirely free, there is of course something potentially significant about ideas that have the majority of public support, but it is certainly not everything. Christianity is not true only because it is more followers than any other belief system in the world; it is true because it describes reality most accurately. There are always things that can color the data.
The main point I am trying to get across is that it is slightly concerning that particularly Catholic and mainline Christianity have seen large decreases in numbers (evangelicals decreased slightly in percentage but increased in raw numbers). Perhaps we are not communicating our message as well as we should, or perhaps we’re not displaying the love of Christ as we should be. In the church made up of imperfect people, there are obviously things that you should be doing better.
However, for those of us who seek to defend the Christian faith specifically as apologists, very little has changed in what we need to do. The truth of a claim does not rise or fall on public opinion. Truth is truth even if fewer people believe it. Therefore, that is where our endeavor needs to continue to proceed. Truth needs to be communicated.