How Many Americans are Atheists? Fewer than You Might Think.

There is confusion in popular discussion about how many Americans are atheists. Here I review how many Americans are atheists, and why there are such varying estimates of this number.

Short answer: 3%-5% of Americans are atheists.

Atheists are people who believe that God does not exist. They are not the same as agnostics, who don’t know if God exists, or belief that it can’t be known.  Among people who believe in God, there’s a wide range of beliefs as well as certainty in those beliefs.

The most straightforward survey measure of atheism is to ask people if they believe that God exists. A Gallup poll in 2010 asks this, and it found that:
• 5% of Americans report that they are “convinced that God does not exist.”

Another quality measure is offered by the General Social Survey, probably the best-known, most rigorous social survey out there. It gives respondents a series of statements about their beliefs in God, and it asks which come closest to what they believe. The 2010 survey found that:
• 3% of Americans “don’t believe in God.”
• (Another 6% reported that they “don’t know whether there is a God and don’t believe there is any way to find out,” i.e., agnostics.)

These surveys, and other similarly-worded questions, give us the best estimate of how many Americans are atheists, and they consistently range between 3% and 5%.

However, there are two other approaches to measuring God beliefs that are often misinterpreted when it comes to atheism.

The first misinterpreted approach is to ask people [Read more…]

A Problem with Today’s Widespread Celebrity Culture

A defining feature of life today is we have a lot of celebrities. We live in a world of information, and much of that information is about specific people. We have celebrities in just about every area of life ranging from broad areas, such as entertainment, sports, and government to more obscure tasks such as noodling catfish (i.e., is catching them by hand) and baking cakes.

Think about it. How many people do you know a lot about via the media even though you’ve never met them? Quite a few, I’d wager. And if you want to learn about someone, it’s usually pretty easy on-line.

There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but it can cause a problem in how we evaluate our own lives. Celebrities are often known for doing something really well, and we naturally gravitate toward those celebrities who are experts in areas that we’re interested in ourselves. As I blogged about last week, we understand ourselves, in part, through processes of self-comparison.

The problem arises when [Read more…]

Where We Find the Most Bad Statistics

It’s my impression that the greater the social significance of a topic, the more inaccurate statistics will be created for and used about it. Why? 1) The more significant a topic, the more people will measure it, so there will be more statistics about it anyway. 2) The greater the significance, the more people will have incentive to either create or use misleading statistics that best represent their perspective.


My Faulty Moral Standards (Which I’d Like to Think are Better than Yours)

I’ve been thinking about personal standards lately, and one of the people I know with the highest standards about anything is UConn Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma. Here’s a story to illustrate. A couple weeks ago the team was playing West Virginia—a physically tough Big East opponent, and UConn was up by a comfortable margin. West Virginia’s center got the ball in the low post, and UConn’s center, Stefanie Dolson reached around and batted away from her, to one of UConn’s guards for an easy layup at the other end. As Dolson ran by the UConn bench, Auriemma chewed her out. Why? Because from his view on how basketball should be played, Dolson shouldn’t have given up the low-post position in the first place.

Auriemma has a clear vision of how the game should be played, and he won’t settle for anything less. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 50 points (which happens regularly) or down 10 points (which happens less regularly). As a result, he’s a hall-of-fame coach, Olympic coach, and has a winning percentage of 86%. (His teams have lost 6 games in the last four years). He wants his teams to play to a standard, not the situation. As a result, they have not lost to an unranked opponent since 1999! (In fact, I’m sure that my blogging colleague Jerry Park at Baylor will agree with me that UConn WBB has the best team this year).

When it comes to morals, which may even be more important than UConn basketball, I spend a lot of time watching the scoreboard. By that I mean that while I ascribe to high moral statements, when push comes to shove, I’m usually pretty happy if I’m doing better than other people or if things are going well in general.

Social psychologists explain this in terms of [Read more…]