Unquestionably, the world is more atheist now than it used to be. Some of the most developed countries in the world have incredibly high percentages of atheists among their population. Some studies have estimated that countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland have atheist or agnostic majorities. Atheism is gaining momentum.
Let’s envisage some possible futures. Imagine atheism continues to gain momentum among the developed world, by using its cool rationale and precise logic in widely publicised debates and so forth. Let’s say that it becomes the dominant viewpoint in the population. There will be a brief period of history, possibly a decade or so, in which this surge of rationality might take place. Many people will be excited by the new thinking during this hypothetical atheist revolution. But since atheism has no intrinsic beliefs, this tidal wave of logic probably won’t last very long. Afterwards there may be a number of minority religions, and perhaps the major ones will survive better. But once the major religious presence has gone, there will be a “belief vacuum”. As time goes on new generations will rediscover religion and start believing in it again, or even inventing new religions.
With a world that is learning about religion again, with all of the major proponents of atheism now ageing or long gone. Religion will have no predator. It could easily become dominant again and then atheism would be rediscovered, and the entire cycle would repeat itself, moving into an oscillatory mode. As atheism is a response to religion, if religion goes, then so will atheism.
Of course, this speculation neglects changes in society or education. It is entirely possible to see that if religious education continues in schools, then atheism will always exist as a counterpart.
Also, less economically developed countries tend to have more religious populations. If atheism does experience a revolution, it won’t be a global phenomenon. It would have to wait for other nations to catch up. In which case there could be a continuous stand-off between largely atheist and largely religious countries.
Then there is the mark that religion has left upon the world in terms of architecture. No architectural preservationist will ever allow the Vatican City to be destroyed. The same goes for other religious buildings around the world.
There is also the question of whether human beings need religion in some way. It has often been remarked that as so many societies have religion, it must provide some sort of advantage either socially or evolutionarily. This is probably true. Religion certainly gives human beings emotional comfort. This could give religion the necessary fuel to keep going in spite of atheism.
And dare we even imagine that which is, to a religious person, heresy. Religion could evolve. It could develop in some way; this would be quite in contrast to its traditional stagnancy. Religion would become a public relations phenomenon, simply trying to grab the most popular ideas that are out there and gain momentum through them.
Unfortunately all of this leads to an annoying conclusion. Religion probably won’t ever disappear from humanity, and so atheism and its proponents will have to keep on arguing, forever.