Last week an interesting article appeared in the New York Times looking at Google searches about God and religion. The article stated that search trends—how people look up things on Google and other search engines—is another piece of evidence showing the slide away from religious belief.
Writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers several examples in the piece:
Despite the rising popularity of Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, Google searches for churches are 15 percent lower in the first half of this decade than they were during the last half of the previous one. Searches questioning God's existence are up. Many behaviors that he supposedly abhors have skyrocketed. Porn searches are up 83 percent. For heroin, it's 32 percent.1If that wasn't disheartening enough, Stephens-Davidowitz tried to broaden his examination to include concepts such as how to treat one's neighbor:
"Love thy neighbor" is the most common search with the word "neighbor" in it, but right behind at No. 2 is "neighbor porn." The top Google search including the word "God" is "God of War," a video game, with more than 700,000 searches per year. The No. 1 search that includes "how to" and "Walmart" is "how to steal from Walmart," beating all questions related to coupons, price-matching or applying for a job.2
What Does It Mean?As Stephens-Davidowitz notes, one cannot assume too much from the data. People Google things all the time that they may be partly confused on or even things that they do believe, but don't quite know how to explain. In fact, the article even stipulates that in more spiritually active areas of the country should show an uptick in searches about God. "If people somewhere are searching a lot about a topic, it is overwhelming evidence those people are very interested in that topic. Jambalaya recipes are searched mostly in Louisiana; Lakers statistics are searched mostly in Los Angeles."3
I think it's interesting what Stephens-Davidowitz uses as a comparison to the declining searches for God: neighbor porn, how to steal from Wal-Mart, heroin. It's as if the author was trying to correlate the increase in lasciviousness with the decline in religious belief. Perhaps, but it simply could show that without religion people become more self-absorbed. With no deity to believe in, you aren't ultimately accountable to anyone but yourself.
The Opportunity for WitnessThe key to the article, though, isn't that smut searches are on the rise. It is that the people who have questions about God are taking them not to a pastor but online:
The No. 1 question in the country is "who created God?" Second is why God allows suffering. This is the famous problem of evil. If God is all powerful and all good, how could he allow suffering? The third most-asked question is why does God hate me? The fourth is why God needs so much praise.4Stephens-Davidowitz is correct when he explains "People may not share their doubts with friends, relatives, rabbis, pastors or imams. They inevitably share them with Google." That means ministries that give good answers to these kinds of objections need to not only be online, but need to be Google-friendly. That's why I've been doing online apologetics and evangelism since 1996. The mission field is now a digital one. That's where people are looking and that's where those who wish to topple Christianity are trying to capture the seekers. We need to be there, too.
Of course, it's difficult. This ministry runs on an extremely limited budget and we could use more help to reach even more people. If you'd like to help support the online efforts of Come Reason to provide real answers to those who are questioning God, just click here. We greatly appreciate your support.
2. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
3. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
4. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.