Josh Rosenau has a post up discussing the impact of “New Atheism” on public perceptions of atheists. He mentions offhand that “New Atheism” as a movement really only crystallized in the mid-2000s, which made me wonder: what does Google Trends tell us about interest in atheism?
Unfortunately there wasn’t any information on “New Atheism.” The search query didn’t have enough volume, alas. But “atheist” did. So I compared “atheist,” “Christian,” “Buddhist,” “Hindu,” and “Muslim.” I limited the data set to the United States.
You can’t really tell what’s going because the volume for “Christian” is very high. So let’s remove that.
The interest in Muslims is obviously news dependent. So removing them:
You can now discern that there has been a rise in the search for the term “atheist.” Finally, let’s compare atheist to “humanist” and “agnostic”:
This agrees with my intuition. Though the word atheist isn’t exactly novel, it has long had an air of disrepute (in past centuries the term “atheist” didn’t even mean what it means today, insofar it was an insult toward those who didn’t believe in the right god, or were disrespectful to god, religion, and public morals). I’m pretty sure that the negative connotations with the term atheist is why “free thinker” and “humanist” became popular. But today these seem to be in relative decline. I think one can make the case that the “New Atheism” has “reclaimed” the term, which had seemed aggressive and somewhat unpatriotic during the Cold War (after the failure of “Brights” to catch on).