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?