May 19, 2008

Free Market Atheism

In the couple years since I've been blogging, there has been unprecedented growth in material related to atheism on the Internet. Atheist websites, blogs, and forums are springing up every day as technological innovations in social networking, blogging software, tagging, and RSS have made it easier to find and distribute content related to atheism. As the unexpected success of many books critical of religion demonstrates, there is a vast demand for the increasing supply of atheist material. How long will this expansion continue, and what impact will it have on those wanting to learn about atheism or connect with other atheists online?

When there were only a handful of quality atheist websites and blogs, one could make do with what was available or strike out on one's own. Many of us who started blogs or websites prior to the "new atheism" buzz were surprised to find the sort of demand we encountered. There was plenty of room for other sites, and the growing diversity was welcomed by nearly everyone.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, Internet-based resources are perfect for atheists because they provide one of the few forums over which we can interact safely without having to worry about the anti-atheist bigotry which many of us encounter in our daily lives. But like many others, I greatly underestimated our numbers. I'd repeatedly fall into the "I'm the only one" trap and then be shocked each time I learned how wrong I was.

Economic theory teaches us that, free from constraints, there will be certain predictable relationships between supply and demand. While one can easily imagine reaching a sort of saturation point regarding the demand for Internet atheism, nobody knows when - or even if - we will see it. If demand were to peak while the supply of such material continued to increase, we would expect to reach a point where continued expansion would no longer be profitable (in the sense that there wouldn't be enough users to go around). This would mark an end to the rapid expansion we have witnessed and perhaps even the beginning of a decline.

Of course, this scenario seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. First, Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll is approaching 700 and still growing. New atheist-oriented websites, blogs, and forums are continuing to pop up with little sign of slowing down. Second and more important, I see little reason to think that the demand for atheist-oriented material will stabilize in the near future. The mainstream media has gradually been devoting more coverage to atheism and related topics (e.g., the cost of religious extremism, separation of church and state, role of faith in political discourse, etc.). More and more people are recognizing the many costs of religion, and new atheists are born every day.

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