Twenty Percent Growth . . . Or Not

In March 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey which contained a number of new, up-to-date details of American Life. Initial reaction to the study could be found in a press release issued by the Center for Inquiry on March 3, 2008. Of course, the pontification about the meaning of the data found in the press release is unbelievably slanted. However, the Center for Inquiry Press Release trumpeted a rather interesting fact.

According to the Center for Inquiry Press Release, atheism is on the rise and now includes a whopping four percent of the American Population. This is up from 3.2 percent which was the number reached by the last survey apparently completed in 2004. That's an increase of 0.8 percent or roughly a twenty percent increase in the total number of atheists!

Obviously, atheism is taking off, right?

Well, maybe not.

An article in the New York Times entitled Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance by Neela Banerjee gives more details about the initial survey, including a link to the actual survey (unlike the Center for Inquiry press release). The New York Times Article includes following interesting tidbit:

The new report sheds light on the beliefs of the unaffiliated. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, 70 percent of the unaffiliated said they believed in God, including one of every five people who identified themselves as atheist and more than half of those who identified as agnostic.

Okay, so if one in every five people who identify themselves as atheist hold a belief in God, then that means that twenty percent of self-identifying atheists aren't really atheists (unless we are going to start changing definitions). So, if the percentage of the population that self-identifies as atheist is up to four percent of the total U.S. population ,but twenty percent of those aren't really atheists then (let's see, 4.0 divided by 5 is .8, so 4.0 less 0.8 is . . . .) the atheist population is really 3.2 percent!

Isn't that where we started?

Comments

Peter said…
BK said:
"Isn't that where we started?"
I depends how many atheists told that they believe in God in the previous survey. If you check that figure you'll have the answer.

I have recently met several atheists who have told me that they believe in some kind of after life or spirit world. One the other hand the recent religious survey in UK showed that there are more Christians than people who believe in Jesus' resurrection. The strange gray area is getting wider.
J.L. Hinman said…
First of all, the Pew study does not show anything like a growth in atheism. It shows a decline. the percentage of atheists it shows is 1.6^. Nothing like 20%^ The 20% is from non allied people, that is not involved with organized realign, nothing about them being atheists.

1.6% is down a half percent from 2004 and 2001 figures on other major studies.
J.L. Hinman said…
I already covered this on atheist watch in my article atheists please take a social science research methods class."
BK said…
Peter,

That's fascinating. Thank you.

Joe,

Do you have a link you can post?
Hallq said…
Unfortunately for your propaganda point, this works both ways: there are people who don't identify as atheists or agnostics, yet who don't believe in God. One discussion of that data can be found here:

http://www.soc.umn.edu/pdf/atheistAsOther.pdf

I think the main thing that surveys tell us is that people are very confused about these things.
J.L. Hinman said…
Do you have a link you can post?

somehow I have been unable to post links the last few times I've tried

here's the URL

http://www.doxa.ws/social/percentage.html

here's my attempt at a link

Atheist Inflation
J.L. Hinman said…
Unfortunately for your propaganda point, this works both ways: there are people who don't identify as atheists or agnostics, yet who don't believe in God. One discussion of that data can be found here:

http://www.soc.umn.edu/pdf/atheistAsOther.pdf

I think the main thing that surveys tell us is that people are very confused about these things.


It all revolves around he problem what is atheism? the atheist propaganda is it's any absence of belief in god or gods. I don't buy that because 99% of atheists say the same things, have the same outlooks, make the same arguments. They are always scientistic, reductionistic, ant-philosophy.

of course there are philosophers who claim to be atheists. There's an atheist tendency and an atheist attitude.

All stats over 2% are arrived at by lumping in all those who are not connected with orginazed reilgion, weather they believe in god or not. I've seen stats on 12% figure for American atheism, then I've seen a follow up study that up the belief of 9% of that 12 as believing in a "higher power."

the adherents.com pages specifically critique Zuckerman because his data does not distinguish between no church affiliation and actual lack of belief in God.

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