Science and God, ngrams

Last week I looked at how frequently we use the name “Jesus” compared to how frequently we use the name “God.” This week let’s compare “science” to “God” and see who gets more press time.

As always, an intro to Google’s ngram viewer is here for those who are just tuning in.


First a quick note. There is an interesting history of the use of the word “science;” sometimes it is capitalized and sometimes it is left lower case. That’s a subject for another day, but for today it is important to note that I have added together both uses of “science” – whether upper or lower case – as well as both uses of “God.” The intent is to capture absolutely every use of both words in order to provide the best comparison of the two concepts, regardless of capitalization.

I found this one intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, we are told that during the age of “enlightenment” science ran supreme. Humanity rapidly placed extreme trust in science as the solution to all its woes, and religion began to fall by the wayside.

Or, so we are told. However, around 1800 we were still roughly 10X more likely to talk about God than we were to talk about science. As an aside, I did check back into the 18th century – all the way back to 1700 – and the ratio only gets closer to 0%. So even at the height of the “enlightenment” we were still roughly 10X more interested in God than we were in science.

But change takes time, and with time science has been gaining momentum. There was a fairly steady climb in the popularity of science relative to God until about 1975. But even at its peak, the popularity of science never surpassed about 2/3 the popularity of God in the literature; for every hundred times we discussed God, science was only brought up about 60 times. At no time in history have we ever been more interested in science than God, at least not in our written literature.

And after it peaked in 1975 the ratio has been fairly steadily declining. In fact, I extended the range up to 2008 (the latest year that Google has such data) and the decline actually accelerates after the year 2000. The ratio drops back down to about 33%; thirty three mentions of science for every 100 mentions of God.

My theory is that the 1970s were a turning point. From the age of the “enlightenment” on, Western Civilization was fed a pretty steady stream of non-Theistic ideologies under the guise of “progress.” We were constantly told that science was displacing God, and we had some kind of glorious pro-human, anti-religion, future ahead of us. Liberation for all, etc, etc.

[An interesting exploration of the history of this ideology right from the time of the Roman Empire until the early 1970s is described by Francis Schaeffer in “How Should We Then Live?”]

The full impact of that philosophy really grabbed hold in the 1960s with the sexual revolution and all the associated social upheaval. Then, shortly thereafter, we started seeing all the consequences of this alleged “progress” and started putting the pieces together. As well as all the undeniably beneficial technological advances, “science” (more accurately, our abuse of science) also brought us new ways of killing each other and destroying our planet. While we enjoyed the alleged “freedom” of sexual liberty, we were leaving in our wake a generation of broken families, broken people, and all the mental, physical and social health consequences associated with that.

[I’m working on a new book exploring just how far-reaching and devastating the impact of the sexual revolution truly has been on individuals, families and society at large. Stay tuned…]

In short, in the 1970s we just started waking up to the fact that we had been duped. And we started realizing that this whole set of empty promises was rooted in an evidently misplaced trust in humanity, and a misguided distrust of God. So, for the first time in a couple of centuries, when the “enlightenment” had run its full course, we got smart, went back and questioned its very foundations.

Starting in the 1970s we began to take a fresh look at God instead of simply trusting what the “enlightenment” thinkers were telling us. After all, they obviously didn’t have the best track record on these issues.

At least that’s my theory.