Googling for God

Sep 21, 2015

Sogeti Labs

By Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

IT has been a bad decade for God, at least so far. 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.

How are the Ten Commandments doing? Not well. “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.

Of course, we should be careful not to draw overarching conclusions about religion from what people search for on Google. Even decades-long search trends might not reflect real developments, and the composition of people making searches changes over time. Although I think it is pretty clear that various trends are pointing away from God, the best evidence is probably not the search data I started with but long-term polling data, which has consistently shown an increase in the number of people who identify as atheists or agnostics. While the usual sources are biased in favor of wholesome activities, Internet data is probably biased in favor of debauched activities.


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