Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College

A Christian student attends a university and is confronted with very aggressive, seemingly knowledgeable professors challenging the tenets of Christianity they have embrace during their young life. What happens? Statistically, approximately 75 percent or more stop attending church in their new environment, and many never return.

The Pew Research Center often quoted 2014 study,America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” states that, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of the U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” Sounds grim. Atheists and agnostics have repeatedly told us there are 55 – 70MM “nones” in America. Is it true? In 1950, only two percent of adult Americans were “nones.”

Pew again, “Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent.” Yet, their data indicates the religiously detached “unaffiliated” phenomenon was driven among “mainline Protestants and Catholics.” In contrast, evangelicals have lost less than 1 percent of their market share holding steady at about 1 in 4 Americans (25.4 percent).

Pitzer College is one of the Claremont Colleges in California. The college has a curricular emphasis on the social sciences, behavioral sciences, international programs, and media studies. Cristie and I filmed with renowned scholar, Stephen T. Davis, PhD, the Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, at Claremont McKenna College, who is a solid believer in Jesus Christ.

His impressive colleague, Phil Zuckerman, PhD, at Pitzer College, is an atheist, and filmed with us as well. Maybe you watched him as he interpreted religion @chelseahandler on Netflix. He is articulate and very sharp. How would the average “Christian” university student respond to Phil’s remarks?

“So basically, secularization is what we call the process whereby religion weakens or just appears in a society over time.  Now there have been many theories to explain how this might happen and some of those are sort of general universal theories of secularism saying, you know, no matter what society we’re in, no matter what country, if X happens the result is going to be a weakening of religion.  And these are kind of, you know, universal theories.

“So the big universal theories are — well, as populations get more educated, strong religious belief tends to go down.  As societies becomes more technologically advanced, religiosity tends to weaken a little bit.  The biggest theory that I have the most data, is what they call the existential security theory which is basically that when people in a society are existentially secure meaning they have, you know, food, shelter, a relatively stable government, access to medicine and healthcare and life is essentially more or less secure, barring you know some extreme.  Those societies tend to have religiosity go down.  Societies that are more racked with more precarious situations — life is nasty, brief and short, housing is scarce, jobs are scarce, health and medicine are scarce, there’s political instability, a lot of war, corrupt governments — those societies tend to have higher levels of religiosity, and tend is the operative word here.  It’s not an absolute.  We work in tendencies, correlations and averages in social science.  So on average, societies that are most secure — where people have the best housing, healthcare, job situation, stable governments, democracies — they tend to be more and more secular, religion tends to weaken there.  And in societies that are racked with more social problems and life is more precarious for your average person, religion tends to be strong there.  So that’s the bigger, larger picture.”

It is time for believers to learn how to ‘critically think.’ Cristie and myself are working on multiple, digital, informative tools to help them do just that.

Stephen T. Davis


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Queries Regarding the $2.8MM Templeton Grant to Study “Nones”

“Nones” represents 21 – 28 percent of American adults have disaffiliated from the church or organization religion. This represents a staggering cohort of 55-70 million Americans.

It was my third time to film with Stephen Bullivant, PhD, this week. We have also filmed in Oxford and London, England. Bullivant was an atheist who helped co-found the Nonreligion and Secularity Network (NSRN) in England with Lois Lee (co-editor of Secularism and Nonreligion and of the De Gruyters-NSRN book series, Religion and Its Others: Studies in Religion, Nonreligion and Secularity), Miguel Farias (he now leads the Brain, Belief and Behaviour group at Coventry University), and Jonathan Lanman (Director of the Institute of Cognition & Culture, and Lecturer in Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast.) An initial conference was conducted in 2009 in Oxford, England, dedicated to the social scientific study of atheism – 40 years after (March 1969) the request by Roman Catholic Church Second Vatican Council’s symposium on “The Culture of Unbelief” in Rome. Bullivant states, “One-third of all cradle Catholics now identify as having a different religious identity other than Catholic and of those, nearly half of the total, identify as “no religion,” and that is going to be the same for Episcopalians or Baptists—across the board.”

While some may ignore or deny the “nones” phenomenon in North America, the John Templeton Foundation, Understanding Unbelief is a major new $2.8MM dollars research program, aiming to advance scientific understanding of atheism and other forms of ‘unbelief’ around the world. The growth of atheism and other forms of ‘unbelief’ in many parts of the world is attracting increasingly wide attention. Yet significant questions remain about how to understand such phenomena, and scientists rely still on categories developed by social actors, not social scientists, to do so. We do not currently know how best to characterize the various forms of unbelief as psychological and sociological phenomena, the extent to which other beliefs – about religion, or the existential – underpin these forms, how diverse they are, and how they vary across demographic groups and cultures. Yet understanding the nature and variety of unbelief is necessary if we are to answer big questions about the causes of ‘unbelief’ in the future, and its effects on such outcomes as personal wellbeing and social cohesion. The “Understanding Unbelief” project will be the first major scientific research program to address the nature and variety of unbelief.

“Bullivant: Umm, so the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network began you know kind of three doctoral students in a post-doc in England, and it grew because we realized very rapidly that this was an area that a large number of grad students but also established scholars in the social sciences were starting to get interested in, psychology, anthropology, umm political science, sociology. Umm, so we had a conference in 2009 in Oxford, which was as far as we know the first conference dedicated to the social scientific study of atheism and kind of related phenomena since 1969, which is when the Vatican had one. Umm and, now its, you know there’s there’s dozens of people umm across the world, although, you know, there’s large pockets in North America and western Europe umm working in this area. There’s all kinds of fascinating new stuff coming out.

 Johnston: Well this has been fascinating. Thank you, Dr. Bullivant. And we’ve been talking to Stephen Bullivant, author of the upcoming NonvertMass Exodus, and the 2019 co-leader, of the new John Templeton project. We look forward to connecting with you in the days ahead.”

Stephen Bullivant is a Visiting Fellow at UCL SSS (Secularity and Secularism Studies) at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, and Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics and Director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Stephen is co-leader of the The Scientific Study of Nonreligious Belief (SSNB) project and of the Understanding Unbelief (UU) programme. For more information on Stephen’s work, visit his UCL webpage.

Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry and Cristie Johnston interview Texas Super Lawyer W. Mark Lanier

Lanier has won court verdicts totaling between $12 – $13 billion dollars. In October 2012, Mr. Lanier was awarded the coveted Clarence Darrow Award. In 2015, Mark was named the 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year by The National Trial Lawyers and The Trial Lawyer magazine during the Trial Lawyers Summit in Miami. Pepperdine, St. John’s, and Trinity International Universities have bestowed Honorary Doctorate degrees on Mr. Lanier. Cristie and I sat down with him at his remarkable Lanier Theological Library, which exhibits exquisite, unique architecture and houses a comprehensive collection of 100,000 books, periodicals, magazines, artifacts, and historical documents all designed to aid the serious study of Scripture in Houston and include one of the highest esteemed collections of C.S. Lewis. The Stone Chapel on the grounds of the Lanier Library is a reconstruction of a 500 A.D. church in Tomarza, Cappadocia (Turkey) and was built using photos of the original church ruins taken in 1909 as well as an analysis of the site by a Harvard student published in 1971. Mark extended his legal defense skills in his book, Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith.

“Let’s talk first about Christianity on Trial. Cristie, I know you had some questions about the book.

Dr. Cristie Johnston: Well, Mark you spend your life in the art of convincing. So if you had 60 seconds or less to convince me the truths about Christianity. How would you approach that?

Lanier: Cristie, the biggest problem I see with a lot of people is they want to prove Christianity in the way you prove science. In science, you can prove in a laboratory.  Mathematics, you can prove on a chalkboard. And those are valid ways to prove science and mathematics, but if I want to prove does Cristie love Jerry; Dr. Johnston love Dr. Johnston? You can’t prove whether someone loves another with science, in scientific methodology. It’s the wrong measure of proof. In courtrooms, we recognize that because we have to prove not only who ran the red light, or did the product cause a heart attack, or did so and so murder so and so, but we have to prove things like, what is the level of pain and suffering. What is the level of mental anguish? Does someone love someone? And you can’t prove those things scientifically. You prove them by what’s called the preponderance of the evidence. What’s more likely than not? And that’s proof. And so when I want to engage someone in whether or not Christianity is true, the first thing I try and do is help them understand that proof is not simply science. There are loads of things. We can’t prove ‘was Napoleon at Waterloo’ by science. We have to use other methods of proof, and that’s where I start with people.”

We certainly captured on film a stunning interview with one of America’s very finest trial attorneys. Are there proofs for the Christian faith? Why are believers not informed and articulate to share these faith facts? Further, what are the specific reasons why nearly 70 million adult Americans have “disaffiliated” from the church? Cristie and I drilled down on this issue and Mark’s answers were thought provoking. We have now filmed with nearly 90 international leaders and our documentary saga continues. We will keep you informed as we move to its release and the invaluable ancillary support resources designed for children, youth, and adults.

Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.