Atheism

Atheism More Prevalent Among Americans Than the Polls Generally Show

A new study finds that 26 percent of Americans likely do not believe in God.

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Although acceptance of atheists is increasing, their fellow Americans still eye them with considerable suspicion. The percentage of Americans who declare themselves religiously unaffiliated has risen from 5 percent in 1972 to 25 percent now. But depending upon the poll, the share of Americans who call themselves atheists varies from a low of 3 percent to around 11 percent.

Given the social stigma attached to atheism, researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hypothesized that polls might underreport the number of Americans who are nonbelievers. To test this hypothesis, they used the unmatched count technique, in which poll respondents are randomly divided into two groups. The control group is asked how many of a number of harmless statements—"I am a vegetarian," "I can drive a motorcycle," "I own a dog," etc.—are not true statements about them. The second group is asked to respond to one additional, more sensitive statement: "I believe in God."

Respondents are not specifically indicating which statements are true for them, only the total number that is. This type of polling has been used, for example, to estimate the size of the LGBT community and the extent of antigay feeling.

The researchers ran two slightly different unmatched count technique surveys involving 4,000 Americans. In their report, "How many atheists are there?," they conclude that about 26 percent of Americans likely do not believe in God.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, PRRI research director Daniel Cox notes that public attitudes toward the LGBT community have become more accepting as more Americans report having a gay friend or family member has increased. He suggests that the same dynamic is happening as more atheists come out of their nonbelief closets.

Interestingly, PRRI's 2013 American Values Survey reported that "fewer than 6-in-10 (58%) libertarians believe that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship, one-quarter (25%) believe God is an impersonal force in the universe, and 16% report that they do not believe in God."

For more background, see my article, "The New Age of Reason: Is the Fourth Great Awakening finally coming to a close?"

Also see ReasonTV's report on the Rally for Reason, a 2012 gathering of nonbelievers on the National Mall:

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  1. Although acceptance of atheists is increasing, their fellow Americans still eye them with considerable suspicion.

    Because it’s only a matter of time before they start proselytizing.

    1. Yeah one of the reasons I don’t identify with atheism is because I don’t want to be lumped in with Dawkins and his village atheist crowd.

      1. atheism is the lack of a belief in god – not explicitly a belief there is no god – though people will frequently state it that way

        Absence of a belief should lead you to think you are part of any group, as such

      2. antitheists

    2. You don’t think they proselytize already?

      1. Individually, on a personal level, I mean. The ship has sailed on it from them as a group, for sure.

    3. You do not have atheist family or friends on Facebook, do you?

      1. Facewhat now?

  2. nterestingly, PRRI’s 2013 American Values Survey reported that “fewer than 6-in-10 (58%) libertarians believe that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship, one-quarter (25%) believe God is an impersonal force in the universe, and 16% report that they do not believe in God.”

    They’re lucky the other 84% are so tolerant.

    1. Alectryon be with you, SIV.

  3. Is Trump the first president on a long while to not attend church regularly?

    1. Did Obama?

      1. He certainly spent his pre-presidential career attending churches.

        1. When he wasn’t going to terrorist mosques, that is.

          1. I’m not referring to the secret-muslim conspiracy narrative. I’m just wondering when we had a less religious president or a president that spent less time talking about faith or even mentioning it in speeches.

      2. Obama regularly seeks spiritual guidance from a group of pastors and called them recently from Air Force One for a prayer session, according to an account in the Washington Post. Last week, when the Pew poll was released, presidential aides said Obama remains a practicing Christian and prays daily.

        http://www.politifact.com/trut…..ma-muslim/

        To be fair, I don’t remember if GWB attended Church regularly. I don’t recall anything about Reagan either. I do remember Clinton and his “large, telegenic bible” quite clearly. I was just wondering.

        1. Dubya was all about being an Evangelical Christian. I’m going to guess he regularly attended church.

  4. “Poll shows that polls understate prevalence of atheists.”

    1. I’ll believe that when I see it.

  5. I think it’s odd and sad that there is an “atheist closet”. I’m a Christian, but a person being an atheist does nothing at all to me. They generally don’t want to wield the power of government due to their a-religious beliefs. It’s too bad that both atheists and Christians can be assholes toward each other.

    Of all the stuff that divides us, it seems like this shouldn’t be one of them.

    1. The most vocal atheists I know are also hard core Leftists. They are not exactly down with live and let live for people who disagree with them.

      Iam not saying all atheists but thrre seems to be a a high correlation of authoritarian progressive to militant atheist.

      1. The most vocal are likely to be positive atheists – those that have a religion of no god.

        Negative atheists simply have no belief in god. They don’t push that as a belief like the positive atheists do.

      2. Religious people think we atheists are going to suffer eternal torture, and that’s if they’re hands-off religious people.

        1. So? It makes no sense to be concerned about something you do not think exists.

          1. So? It makes no sense to be concerned about something you do not think exists.

            The whole You don’t even believe in God, so why do you spend so much time talking about Him? argument doesn’t really make sense. Atheists don’t believe a god exists, correct. But people’s actions, which their beliefs inform, are certainly a reality. Plus, there’s also the fun aspect of trying to determine what’s true or not. It’s like talking about how ridiculous Scientology or Mormonism is even if a person doesn’t think those things are true.

            1. Translation: I like to be a dick to people.
              You’re the reason I had to stay quiet about being an atheist growing up. Though I can’t blame you for quitting atheist men in the dating pool. Sooooooo full of themselves (and never me).

              1. What was so dickish about my comment?

            2. You misunderstood what I wrote. I meant “why would (Tony) care if religious people think he is going to eternal torment if he does not believe that torment exists?”.

              1. Tony is pretty transparent. He believes in God alright, he’s simply conflicted by his queerness and blames God, not realizing it isn’t his perversion that condemns him.

        2. You’re not an atheist, you just believe the state is god.

          1. I don’t think this is a smart thing to say, because progressive or socialist atheists sometimes say libertarian atheists aren’t really atheists because they just believe the free market is god.

            It’s not very helpful for anyone to poison the well like this.

    2. A lot of it is probably mistrust. Many people think that because someone doesn’t believe in a deity, they have less of a restraint to do bad things and are therefore more dangerous. Something along the lines of: You’re not worried about going to hell for stealing and raping? What’s stopping you then?

      1. To paraphrase Penn Gilette: “Yes, not believing in God has left me free to murder and rape as many people as I want, which is ZERO BECAUSE I’M NOT A PSYCOPATH, YOU TWISTED FUCK.”

        1. Regardless of who said it I remain unconvinced of Penn Jillette’s wisdom/intellect/lack of psychopathology.

        2. It fairly well shown, if not proven, that if you give someone the power to murder or otherwise hurt others without consequences, very few will refrain from doing so.

          It is in man’s nature to work in their own perceived best interest (correct?). If it’s in their own perceived best interest to murder or rape, a human [will/will not] murder or rape.

  6. More than 74% live as if there is no god…

  7. As an atheist, I find these studies depressing. It just means I’m becoming less exotic.

    1. Thank god!

  8. “and 16% report that they do not believe in God.” of libertarians

    I find that figure low myself.

    1. I do too. To me atheism, skepticism and libertarianism are closely linked under the ideological umbrella of individualism and anti-authoritarianism.

    2. I would think that there would be more atheist libertarians, but online there seems to be a shitload of Catholic libertarians for some reason. Beats me what that’s all about. Seems like a form of cognitive dissonance to me.

      1. “There seems to be a shitload of Catholic libertarians for some reason. Beats me what that’s all about. Seems like a form of cognitive dissonance to me.”

        In addition to whatever else seems counterintuitive to you, you also seem to be confusing reason and culture.

        There isn’t anything about libertarianism that requires you to abandon your culture, your family, or to stop putting up Christmas trees.

        1. There isn’t anything about libertarianism that requires you to abandon your culture

          Spoken like a true tribalist. Libertarianism and tribalism are incompatible. In this regard you’re no better than the black leftist who thinks he has to be a Democrat because his “culture” demands it.

          1. Fitting in with your culture =/= tribalism. Non Sequitur.

      2. online there seems to be a shitload of Catholic libertarians for some reason

        They are apparently not concerned with presenting a consistent philosophy to one another. My question is: why take a religious libertarian seriously if he is so willing to abdicate so much of his reason to faith (i.e., unreason). You can’t claim rationality while believing in ghosts. Take Ken. Please.

        1. Are we talking about faith in god or faith in bureaucratic leaders?

          1. At least bureaucrats are real.

            1. Bateman isn’t real, but I still prefer having him screw me than the government. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do for love DanO.

      3. There’s a strain of libertarian religiosity which believes that the king state has no right to interfere in the commerce and affairs of free men.

        1. state has no right to interfere in the commerce and affairs of free men

          Your appeal to anarchy aside, many atheists believe in liberty too. Why do alleged “libertarians” undercut their arguments by introducing imaginary beings into the equation? Adults in the 21st century who still believe in gods have never really escaped childhood.

        2. Catholicism, or other religions, are functions of culture attached to them. Marriages and funerals and baby christenings–and being Italian or Irish. To Mexicans, the Virgin of Guadalupe is what the shamrock is to the Irish. There’s a hell of a lot more to being Catholic than a list of theology points, and people want to raise their kids in the same traditions they grew up in–in a word, there’s this thing called “culture”.

          I wish more atheists had a clue about religion and its place in evolution. All that physical and cultural anthropology, which evolution is all about–and most atheist libertarians I run into treat culture like it’s a supernatural manifestation. Anyone who thinks cultural attributes are just reasoned away . . . has no idea.

          Our capacity for language and religion and the advantages those things bestowed on the genus that developed them is why we developed such a large neocortex. It’s what makes genus homo different from the apes that descended from our modern ancestors. Even if you could reason away culture, we’re talking about scratching a truly primal itch when we’re talking about religion.

          1. “It’s what makes genus homo different from the apes that descended from our modern [common] ancestors.”

            Fixed!

      4. For what possible reason is that cognitive dissonance?

        I have no idea why a libertarian philosophy of government should preclude a belief in God in general, or Catholic faith in specific.

  9. “I believe in God” isn’t a ‘yes or no’ question for a lot of people. People have come to imagine there are three categories,

    1) Believers
    2) Atheists
    3) Agnostics, who are skeptics of belief in God because they’re uncertain.

    When you quiz the general public in a ‘yes or no’ style about that question, you’re asking people to sort themselves into those false categories.

    In reality the categories are as follows:

    1) Believers say there probably is a God.
    2) Atheists say there probably isn’t a God
    3) Agnostics are the minuscule number of people who think the probability either way is exactly 50/50.

    Rational people in all three categories deal with uncertainty.

    In that real categorization, there are far more atheists than would show up in a ‘yes or no’ survey. For instance, there are atheists who go to church every week for reasons other than belief in God.

    Get a more useful survey by giving people the following in a multiple choice test.

    In regards to God:

    A) God probably exists
    B) God probably does not exist
    C) The probability of God existing or not is exactly 50/50.

    Randomly change the order of the multiple choice answers when you give the test to different people, and you’ve got a good survey.

    1. It is not a 50/50 proposition, there simply is not enough solid evidence either way to make a determination.

      1. There is enough evidence one way or the other for atheists and theists to make a call–despite their uncertainty–and we’re all living in the same world, looking at the same things, right?

        Uncertainty is the human condition. It isn’t a position on God. It’s not as if the problem of induction were unique to theology, right? All scientific claims are tentative pending new data that refutes them, as well.

        Given what we know, here’s what I think: . . .

        You don’t get to say that you don’t think anything because the data is incomplete and call it a third position. Uncertainty, in this case, is a distinction without a difference. The other sides are both conceding the data is incomplete, too–the rational ones, anyway.

        1. Dude, don’t bring math into this. I recently read that math was sexist.

    2. Also, someone saying “I believe in God” doesn’t apply them isn’t necessarily an atheist because here in the US it’s understood that when someone talks about “God” they’re referring specifically to the god of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Someone who’s religious but a member of some other religion that has different gods (Hindus, for example), or a religion that doesn’t really have gods (Buddhism, Environmentalism).

  10. RE: Atheism More Prevalent Among Americans Than the Polls Generally Show
    A new study finds that 26 percent of Americans likely do not believe in God.

    I believe I’ll have another beer…with God’s blessing of course.

    1. It’s the devil’s brew!

  11. Atheism More Prevalent Among Americans Than the Polls Generally Show

    Most likely, they substituted the Abrahamic god with Angry Volcano God (a.k.a. Climatey Changey).

  12. The burden of proof is on the believer. If you say god exists, prove it. “Libertarians” never let an opponent get away with an assertion by citing faith as his reason for believing it. Why should they give him a pass on the existence of god? If they do, they abdicate any right to complain about the arguments of their ideological enemies. See, for example, the “religion” of environmentalism. What’s the difference between a viro’s faith in the supremacy of nature over humanity, and a “libertarian’s” faith in a supreme, mystical being from whom morality is demanded in the form of commandments? It’s ironic indeed that religious “libertarians” tell their government to leave him alone while taking orders from a ghost.

    1. There is no fucking way you are DanO.

    2. If you say god exists, prove it.

      I can “prove” it (show it) in many ways, though not what you want, “scientifically”. Heck, even the Pharisees of Jesus’ time wanted him to prove he was God with a sign from Heaven, and he refused. Why? Because they still wouldn’t believe.

      If there is a God, he could prove himself right now scientificallyif he wanted to. I wouldn’t have to do it for him. As he doesn’t, then apparently, against the wishes of the spirit of this age, he doesn’t want to be known as “The God who proved himself scientifically”.

      Why? I am not entirely sure, but it seems to me that he wanted to do it in another way, because he created us to fellowship, and that necessitates love, which necessitates free will. Proving you exist beyond any doubt doesn’t make people love you, it just makes them really scared of you (if you are God). Anyone would follow God if he proved himself in this matter. To do otherwise would be literally insane!

      Why does God run his Universe in this manner? Again, not sure, but then again, we are measuring (judging) God based on our very limited understanding of… well everything, really. Is it really so implausible that God would function differently than we would? Does my dog understand why I go to work for 9 hours a day? If the dog can’t understand why she pees outside, why do you think we can understand everything God does? “His ways are higher than our ways…” After all, the first sin was pride…

    1. What existed before existence?

  13. PRRI is well renowned for its terrific record of accuracy. And it’s founder is well renowned for his independence and ideological neutrality. So you can definitely take these results to the bank.

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