Are there more American atheists than we thought?

Surveys of the proportion of Americans who are atheists show an incidence of between 3% and 11%, but of course those are often phone surveys, and people may be reluctant to divulge their nonbelief.  That probably means that there are more atheists than those who admit it. And that’s the conclusion of two psychologists from the University of Kentucky, Will M. Gervais and Maxine B. Najle, who have a new paper up on “psyarxiv” that used a questionnaire to answer the question (link and reference below; I’m not sure if the paper has yet been accepted anywhere).

Their conclusion came, which came from two surveys of 2000 American adults is this: “[A]theist prevalence exceeds 11% with greater than .99 probability and exceeds 20% with roughly .8 probability”. . . “our most credible indirect estimate is 26% (albeit with considerable estimate and method uncertainty).”

They used a survey method I was unaware of: the “unmatched count technique”. This method involves giving people a list of personality and behavior traits, one of which was either “I believe in God” or “I do not believe in God”, depending on whether the survey asked respondents to identify the traits that “are NOT true for me” (“I believe in God”) or “are true of me” (“I do not believe in God”).  There were two lists, one including the God statement and the other omitting it; these were given to two independent groups of people. A third and independent group was asked to self report whether they believed in God. Here’s an example of the “negative” survey from the paper:

Note that there are nine items in column 2 and ten in column 3, which adds the “I believe in God” item that you’re suppose to consider whether it’s among those statements not true of you.

The incidence of atheism can then be gauged by simply looking at the difference in the number of statements given at the bottom of the two columns. Bayesian analysis of the data can then give you an estimate of the proportion of atheists in the sample. They also did a “positive” survey with six versus seven items that are supposed to be true of you. (There’s a control for credibility based on a math question, but you can read about that in the paper.)

The results (authors’ wording, my emphasis); the numbers in brackets are the 95% confidence limits from the Bayesian analysis:

1).  Sample I’s unmatched count data revealed atheism rates much higher than existing self-reports suggest: the most credible indirect measure estimate from Sample I is that 32% [11%, 54%] of Americans do not believe in God, Figure 1.

2). Sample II included a conceptual replication effort of Sample I’s indirect estimate by comparing the baseline and critical conditions. Sample II also included an additional condition assessing validity of the indirect count technique by comparing the baseline and mathematical impossibility conditions.

Sample II yielded an indirect atheism rate estimate of 20% [6%, 35%], Figure 1. This atheism estimate is lower than that in Sample I. Speculatively, this difference may reflect (among other things) a difference in how participants respond to positive versus negative framing of the unmatched count tasks. That is, Sample II primarily differed from Sample I in that it included a positive affirmation of atheism (agreeing with the statement “I do not believe in God”) rather than a more passive denial of theism as in Sample I.

3).  Our aggregate analysis, pooling across samples, provided an indirect atheism prevalence rate of 26% [13%, 39%]. Unsurprisingly, this estimate is intermediate between both samples’ individual point estimates, but with a tighter range of  plausible values than either alone.

The estimate of self-reported atheism in the survey is 17% (error limits 14% and 20%), which is, as expected, lower than the indirect reports, but still higher than previous estimates. This may reflect either a sampling issue or the fact that Americans are more likely to say they’re atheists on paper than in a telephone survey.  But the upshot is that as many as one in four Americans may be atheists.

Now the paper is a fair one, and does highlight its problems; read it for yourself. It also shows that the estimate of atheism is, as most of us know, higher among men than among women, among Democrats and Independents than among Republicans, and increases with level of education. The authors’ conclusions:

Existing nationally representative polls indicate that atheist prevalence is relatively low in the United States, perhaps only 3% (Pew, 2015) to 11% (Gallup, 2015). Given the heavy stigmatization of atheism (Edgell et al., 2006), we hypothesized that many atheists might be reluctant to disclose their disbelief to pollsters. We therefore deployed two nationally representative samples in an attempt to indirectly measure atheist prevalence using the unmatched count technique (Raghavarao & Federer, 1979). These indirect measures suggest that roughly one in four (26%) American adults may be atheists—2.4 to 8.7 times as many as telephone polls (Gallup, 2015; Pew, 2015) suggest. This implies the existence of potentially more than 80 million American atheists. The disparity between self-report and indirectly measured atheism rates underscores the potent stigma faced by atheists (Edgell et al., 2006; Gervais, 2013), as even in an anonymous online survey, about a third of American atheists may be effectively “closeted,” even in anonymous telephone polls.

The lesson for us: Atheists, while still heavily stigmatized in America, are increasing in number. Most will not admit it for obvious reasons. But the more of us willing to declare our nonbelief, the more likely it is that those in the “closet” will come out. So declare your atheism—loudly and proudly.

__________

Gervais, Will M, and Maxine B Najle. 2017. “How Many Atheists Are There?”. PsyArXiv. March 3.

76 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    sub

    • eric collier
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Why are atheists afraid to self-identify to surveys? Surveys are anonymous, aren’t they? And whether they are or not, atheists need to show more fortitude than that.

      • Posted May 23, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        It requires telling oneself that one is – that can create cognitive dissonance, etc.

  2. rom
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Not having lived in the USA I can’t comment on any discrimination there may be surrounding atheists.

    Having lived on three continents my experience is that there is a strong bias against devout believers (at least in my social circles). I suppose working in laboratory environments I am surrounded by scientifically minded people.

    Generally it was a lot easier to say I don’t believe rather than I do.

    • alexander
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you need public personalities, such as politicians, saying they are atheists. This doesn’t happen in the US. In Belgium we had a prime minister who was an Italian national, gay, and atheist, and who said it. Such people contribute to make atheism socially acceptable. I remember listening to French radio when a reporter interviewed one of the lawyers defending the teaching of evolution in the Dover trial, and who suddenly said he was a Christian believer. The reporter literally choked.

    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      Twenty years ago I was talking to a biology PhD student in a French university when she told me that having a child made her meeting (through the nursery school) all kind of people she had not met before. I asked her what kind of people; she answered “for instance, people who believe in god”.

  3. Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    If a quarter of Americans are atheists, we deserve a larger seat at the table, and have an ethical responsibility to exercise our political power.

    Our national political conversation needs to hear more rational and humanist voices, which might be a successful strategy to depose the outsized hegemony of religious conservatives and capitalism fundamentalists.

    We need a well-financed, strong-willed, aggressive political arm.

    • Historian
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      In principle, I agree with you. The problem is that in contrast to the religious, atheists do not have the institutions that can be used to push a political agenda, which would have to consist of lobbying for the removal of religious ideology from the public square since in most things political atheists do not speak with one voice. It would take many years before atheists could develop the political institutions to have much influence in the political arena. In contrast, the religious right has worked for decades to become a potent political force in American politics.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        If we could only somehow get a constitutional amendment passed to prohibit the government from establishing religion.

        Oh, wait…

  4. Mark Joseph
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    “It also shows that the estimate of atheism…increases with level of education.”

    Game, set, match.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Which is why the religious try everything they can do to control education agendas and curricula.

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Very interesting study and it surely shows the social pressure many seem to have regarding religion in this country. Also the indirect method of survey may be a better and more accurate result on other questions where social and reputational costs are involved. One notable finding is how the percentage between baby boomers and millennials disappears with the indirect method. I might also add that the findings regarding republicans pretty much validates something I have received considerable push back for stating in the past.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Along the line of indirect evidence, I have wondered if surveys could come up with questions that imply atheism without directly asking questions about atheism or god. Questions like: ‘Have you attended religious services over the past year’, or ‘Do you believe in the supernatural’.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        It might be interesting to see some behavioral metrics as well. Do self-professed religious people take their beliefs seriously enough to alter their behavior in measurable ways? Do they, for instance, grieve less when a loved one dies, believing they’ll be reunited in heaven? Do they take fewer precautions against disaster, believing divine providence will protect them? Do they act, in private, as if someone is looking over their shoulder and judging them?

        I suspect that by such metrics, the number of functional atheists would be even higher.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Yes, those would be good additional questions to ask, particularly to get future trends toward atheism. Some of the added ideas from Gregory are certainly good for deeper study but for the indirect survey would be much more complicated.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Questions like: ‘Have you attended religious services over the past year’,

        Would that work? I know people who profess to be Christian, who’ve not attended a church for decades. Ir at least, don’t admit to having attended a church for decades.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          I would suggest a body of questions like that one, plus others, and these can be re-worded as seems fit. Answers to a single question would reveal little, but I was hoping that cumulative answers would outline ones’ state of mind without pressing any panic buttons.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

            It’s an approach that might work. But I bet there are chapters – if not journals – devoted to designing and interpreting the statistics on such tests. Wheel re-invention is probably not a good investment of time.
            Actually, I remember there being a module on doing ANOVA interpretation of non-parametric statistics like this. But I haven’t used it in over 30 years.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          That question on its own could be quite misleading. My wife and I would both answer ‘yes’, and if further pressed, ‘once’.

          Except I’m an atheist and my wife prefers to give Big J his orders for the day personally in detail every morning. (The ‘once’ was a funeral, by the way. Lotsa prayers even though the deceased appparently rarely attended church.)

          cr

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

            Funerals are almost always aimed at the survivors. After all, the meat in the box isn’t going to respond. Or should that be “dust”?

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted May 23, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink

              Yup. I expect (given my marital family connection) there will be lots of prayers said over me. I won’t know, won’t care, and it will make my wife feel slightly less sad.

              (I’ll get the surprise of my life – or should that be death – if I should actually see Jesus. Or the other fellow – that would be the ‘Oh shit’ moment to beat all).

              But back to the original point – just the one question ‘have you attended church’ could be quite misleading unless put in context by supplementary questions.

              cr

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted May 23, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                Don’t you get the right to write your own order of play for your funeral? Or is that considered the depths of depravity in USian culture?
                In the last couple of years I’ve attended one funeral that was directed in detail by the deceased (cancer – she knew what was coming) ; one where I had to help the widow, do the obituary speech myself (not a nice evening writing and re-writing); and one where the children of the deceased had to organise things with only moderate notes from the deceased who intended to “attend, but only in body”)

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 24, 2017 at 2:15 am | Permalink

                @gravelinspector

                Eh? I’m not in the US, I’m in NZ.

                And certainly here one can dictate ones own funeral. A mate of mine from work went to a funeral for a back-country friend of his which was (by order of the deceased) a cross between a wake and a barbecue. The coffin arrived on the back of a pickup truck with ‘Bugger!’ stencilled on the end of it.

                BUT – given that funerals are more for the living than the dead, and I don’t feel the need to prove a thing, I’ll let the wife and rellies arrange it, which will doubtless involve much religion. As I said, I won’t know, won’t care, it’ll make no difference to me, so it might as well give her some comfort.

                cr

              • GBJames
                Posted May 24, 2017 at 7:02 am | Permalink

                “funerals are more for the living than the dead”

                This is true of everything, including barbecues.

                When my mom died it fell to me to make arrangements. Despite her idiosyncratic mix of Hinduism and woo, these things never made it into the gathering except for noting what kind of person she had been. Only decent non-religious commentary took place. She didn’t complain about it.

        • Posted May 23, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          You will get people like Descartes – who only attended *one* religious service as an adult, and would likely *say* he’s Christian, and yet likely (from other evidence) did not likely believe a word of it (except a generic theism, in his case) This still is a thing.

          I think we should not attempt to do everything at once. Incrementalism on a whole bunch of related topics.

      • Tom
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        A crazy question “Do you believe in Atheism”

        • Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          “A crazy question ‘Do you believe in atheism?'”

          Not at all a crazy question. In point of fact, I don’t believe in atheism–and I have my doubts about agnosticism. To me an atheist is someone who is rejecting the word “God” as it’s commonly used. As a poet, I’ve never had much use for the word myself. Like the word “poetry,” it’s gotten a bad rap. People say “I don’t like poetry” or “I don’t believe in God,” and what they’re really talking about is some construct that’s been foisted on them in school or at church. What both of those statements translate to for me is “I haven’t had the experience you’re talking about—or, if I have, I don’t associate it with the terms you’re using.” One of the great tasks of poetry, it seems to me, is to find better names for God.

          • GBJames
            Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            Seems to me to be a terrible waste of poetry.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              Arthur C Clarke has been there already (is there anything he hasn’t predicted?):

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nine_Billion_Names_of_God

              cr

              • Colin McLachlan
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:03 am | Permalink

                Is that the one where the stars start winking out once all the names have been stated?

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                @Colin

                That’s right. As has been noted, Clarke was writing counter to his own beliefs for the sake of the story.

                cr

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          No, I don’t “believe in atheism.” I understand why atheism is true! 😉

          • Curt Nelson
            Posted May 21, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            No, I don’t understand why you don’t believe in atheism.

            I believe I’ll have another beer.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          There’s a problem with that question. A religious believer will almost certainly say ‘No’*. An atheist might well say ‘no’ because atheism is a lack of belief, or because of hairs to split around the definition of ‘believe’.

          I believe in Catholicism. (!) That is, I believe it exists. I believe it’s total crap. I believe it has considerable power to do bad and, occasionally, good.

          (*Actually, a religioso may ‘believe’ in atheism for the same reason I just adduced above).

          It’s that word ‘believe’ which causes the uncertainty.

          cr

      • Colin McLachlan
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        ‘Do you believe in the supernatural’.

        The only problem there is that I’m sure some people who believe in a god don’t see it as supernatural. Supernatural, to them, refers to ghosts and poltergeists.

  6. Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I have college aged children. It appears to me that a very significant proportion of their friends are highly skeptical of a supernatural being having created and is controlling the universe. I realize that these are well educated, fairly affluent young adults, and do not represent their entire generation, but I believe religion’s ungodly hold on America is waning.

  7. Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    It also depends on what region of the U.S. you’re looking at for your data. For instance I know in the northeast we’re at 25% or higher. And the field I’m in – I think we’re all non-believers aka atheists. It’s just the the word atheist has such negative connotations.

    And I believe those who call themselves agnostics are just hedging their bets. In essence aganostic means you’ll believe it when you see it. Or that you’ll delve into a religion that has slightly wack-a-do beliefs as a friend recently did when embracing Judaism, of course it’s reform Judaism but the friend still wont’ eat pork – and it turns out that it’s a PERSONAL choice, not a religious stricture.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      About the stigma thing, it reminds me of a story from the Comic Julia Sweeney when she outed herself to her mother, her mother exclaimed, “An atheist?? It’s OK you don’t believe in god, but an atheist!??

    • rom
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      “And I believe those who call themselves agnostics are just hedging their bets.”

      I describe my self agnostic as it describes my philosophical position regarding knowledge than does atheism. That statement above for me exemplifies crassness that is exhibited often in such debates.

      • Pierluigi Ballabeni
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        I never understood the difference between atheist and agnostic. If I do not believe in god because I do not see any evidence for its existence, am I atheist or agnostic?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          If you’d be open to being convinced should evidence arise, that makes you agnostic. If you’re satisfied that the lack of evidence put the non-existence of God beyond any reasonable doubt, you’re an atheist.

          (There are doubtless many other definitions).

          I think Richard Dawkins puts himself at 6 on a scale of 1 to 7 (where 7 is being absolutely certain there is no god). So there is very little gap between a sufficiently strong agnostic and an atheist.

          cr

          • Pierluigi Ballabeni
            Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

            So, statistically speaking, it depends on my bayesian prior. I set my subjecive prior probability for the existence to be 0.00001. It would need very strong data to get a high posterior probability. I guess this puts me closer to the atheist side.

            • Pierluigi Ballabeni
              Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

              After rethinking, my prior is way too high.

            • rom
              Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

              Does this not depend on the flavour of god you are applying your probabilities?

              Say if someone were promoting pantheism …
              where and that pantheistic god is impersonal and neutral?

            • alexander
              Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:08 am | Permalink

              You could also say that you are an atheist because you think it is logically impossible that a god exists. For example, you can’t be an agnostic about the existence of a black hole at the center of Earth.

              • rom
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                But this would imply we have thought of every type of god possible.

                If I define my cat as god … then that is logically possible. Not particularly amenable to dog lovers.

              • alexander
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                Yes, I have to confess: I’m agnostic about the Spaghetti Monster. And the Spaghetti Monster has more followers than your cat.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                I think your example of logical impossibility may be flawed. Galaxy-swallowing black hole – obviously not. But I have read of the theoretical possibility of ‘mini’ black holes, of tiny size and only a few million tons mass – if one of those encountered Earth wouldn’t it gravitate to the middle?

                Note that I’m not a cosmologist, which is one reason why I can very well be agnostic about the mini black hole idea.

                cr

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            “If you’d be open to being convinced should evidence arise, that makes you agnostic.”

            By that standard, we’d have to declare ourselves agnostic regarding all the established findings of science.

            Instead of saying that agnostics are open to having their minds changed (but atheists aren’t?), it seems to me more useful to say that agnostics are unwilling to make up their minds based on available evidence. They think the existence of a judgmental God is somehow a live possibility with real consequences, and (if they’re consistent) they take such potential consequence into consideration when deciding how to live their lives.

            People who consider this possibility too remote to be worth worrying about are functional atheists, regardless of how they choose to self-identify in philosophical debates.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

              As I said, there are many definitions. And theism doesn’t necessarily have to believe in a judgemental god, there’s deism and pantheism. I guess a pantheist could be counted as ‘atheist’ with respect to e.g. Christianity – s/he would still be a ‘functional atheist’ as you put it.

              cr

        • rom
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          More of a technicality … agnosticism is not just about god, but it could be about extra terrestrial life for example.

          Here Dawkins describes himself as an agnostic
          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html

          At the other end of the scale Mark Vernon describes himself as an agnostic theist.

  8. John
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The first survey is undermined by being asked to include the answer to “I enjoy modern art” in the count of not true statements. Nobody likes modern art. But everyone feels the pressure to say they do (or are actually enjoying the sense of superiority and sophistication when going to see the pretentious dross). So if those in the target group are also a stigmatized atheist they are now relying on the count hiding two truths – not as safe, and maybe some answer with the same value as those in the baseline group.

    (Don’t tell me you enjoy modern art – obviously that can’t be believed)

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      However, a piece of what must be modern art just sold for over $100 million. Saw this on the news yesterday and it was bad.

      • Richard
        Posted May 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Emperor’s new clothes…

        I once saw a TV programme about some “artist” (can’t recall who) whose work apparently consisted of single-colour canvases which nevertheless sold for millions of dollars. There was a hilarious sequence in which a canvas painted black was brought reverently out of the vault in which it was stored, and all present spoke in hushed tones of what they could see in it.

        A bit like pomo, really.

      • Richard
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:38 am | Permalink

        Just googled it – how could that ugly painting possibly be worth $110.5 million?

        • Colin McLachlan
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:10 am | Permalink

          You tempted me to have a look – now I won’t be able to get to sleep tonight.

          • GBJames
            Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:13 am | Permalink

            Damn thing doesn’t even have a title!

  9. pck
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    It would have ballooned the sampling effort, but I’d like to see how accurate the method estimates something that people are less likely to lie about, like dog ownership.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    … those are often phone surveys, and people may be reluctant to divulge their nonbelief.

    Stonewall was nearly a half century ago. If the experience of gay folk teaches us anything, it’s that in-the-closet is no place to be.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but faking religion is relatively easy. There are lots of varieties to identify with, such as jack Mormons or catillac Catholics. In the closet atheist is probably a bad place to be but takes little effort to pull off. O yeah, two Corinthians. Or, my favorite book.

      • Posted May 21, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        And Mattress Mennonites – we would lay in bed listening to the sermon on the radio so later in the day we could act like we knew what we were talking about. 🙂

    • Posted May 23, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      And this is one reason (as a cis-heterosexual white male) I always try to support those who are in a bit more of an oppressed situation – not only do I help them out, I help *me* out, too. They teach us how to fight our own particular battles, find better ways for *all* of us to live and get along.

      It is from a very silly piece of fiction, but I always liked “Give up your hate, and we welcome you to live with us.”

  11. rickflick
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The indirect method is clever. It seems to me it should work pretty well to elicit a good estimate. It may even rival sodium pentothol, yet is discrete and humane. What will they think of next?

  12. DrDroid
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    “This research was supported by a grant to WMG from the John Templeton Foundation
    (48275)”

    Interesting…

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Even more interesting if the grant is renewed after finding the wrong answer.

  13. Tom
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    This may be correct bu people can say one thing and be another and surely this is expecting too much, after all there are various shades of belief and atheism
    There is the fundamentalist “rapturer” who nevertheless pays a mortgage and into a retirement pension fund and avidly follows the long term movements of the stockmarket
    There is the evangelical aching for the return of a simpler faith in a mega church.
    And there are those who pray at the local church on Sunday and prey on their neighbours and work collegues the rest of the week.
    These people are not hypocrites they merely have developed clearly defined limits to their faith
    Atheists on the other hand can also be hypocritical, many failing to admit to being permanantly lumbered with the residue of their early indocrination into the local superstition which can often reemerge at times of stress, or when age and sickness take their toll; it is often then falsely considered a rebirth when it is really the uncoiling of a deeply implanted meme.
    Every atheist should beware of imagining that we have more support than actually exists no matter how tempting the thought.

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      You can make similar arguments about any statistical study, particularly those involving survey questions, but a well-designed survey accounts for all of those factors and filters them out with controls and proper sampling.

      In other words, if the study has defects then statisticians will be quick to point them out.

  14. Posted May 21, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I assume they used star-rotation when asking those statement lists?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 21, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      One would certainly hope so.

  15. Craw
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Her article is excellent. Some of the twitter exchange is eye rolling. One guy goes on about how the paper basically makes sense, he agrees. The authors say it doesn’t, it was deliberately written not to, but that it is written to appeal to a certain prejudice. This clown seems unable to connect those dots. Kinda like a guy reading some Bircher screed about the elders of Zion and saying “not well written but the core idea is okay.”

    • Posted May 21, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      It’s possible you have posted on the wrong story by mistake.

      • Craw
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Oy. That does seem likely.
        Or maybe like with accelerating Toyotas the real answer isn’t human error, mispedalling, but a weird glitch that leaves no trace in the log files!

  16. Posted May 21, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    As Mark Sturtevant suggests above, “God” and “aetheist” are loaded terms and might skew responses to direct questions depending on which is used. In this survey, for example, can we assume that someone who answers “No” to the question “Do you believe in God” would answer “Yes” to the question “Are you an atheist?” I rather doubt it. Until that discrepancy can be resolved, it might be more accurate to call such respondents “God deniers.”

    Gary Miranda

  17. Posted May 21, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Interesting approach, and I would like to believe the result, but I have a concern. The presence of the “I believe in God” statement in the first (negative frame) sample could change how people respond to the the other statements. In particular, it could cause respondents to answer “no” to more of the control statements. The control statements contain some virtue statements such as “I am a vegetarian” or “I jog at least four times a week” to which people might falsely answer “yes.” The presence of the statement about god belief could cause non-atheists to think “God is watching” and, as a result, they answer more truthfully the virtue statements with “no.” This could explain the size of the increase in the number of “no”s. It also could explain why the positive frame result is more in line with standard polls on this question.

  18. El Muneco
    Posted May 21, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Interesting coincidence that the number came out at 26%, not 25% or 27%, since… Another survey just came out in which 26% of USans believe the Bible is just a book written by people, the first time that number has eclipsed the number that believe it’s the infallible Word of God (24%).

  19. Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    The problem here is the use of the phrase “believe in God.” I’d say most people would take this to mean (unless instructed otherwise) the God of Abraham.
    It leaves out all sorts of deists, including Pagans and other people who believe in some kind of supernatural spiritualism.
    There are also people who will claim to be irreligious today and cave to religion at the first personal disaster.

    I’ve personally met almost no Atheists in my everyday life. The relative few of them i know i’ve met on the internet. We seem to be few and far between.


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