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...]

Are Atheists More Generous? QRS #1

For various reasons, public discussion of religion tends to attract (and create) a lot of inaccurate statistical information. This was a theme of my first book, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, but there’s plenty more to write about.  So, I thought that I would start a periodic feature where I examine some of the questionable information making the rounds on-line.  I call it Questionable Religious Statistics (QRS).  Examining these claims not only clarifies what’s happening in the world of religion, but it also gives us practice in evaluating such information.

I start with an article written last week by Hank Pellissier at ieet.org. In it he claims that atheists are more generous financially than are religious people. He summarizes: “Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe.”

Mr. Pellissier bases his claim on two pieces of evidence.  One, the magazine Business Week lists the billionaires who have donated or pledged the most money to charity, and this list is headed by Warren Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gate who have given 41 and 28 billion dollars respectively to worthy causes. Mr. Pellissier refers to both of them as “atheists.” (George Soros is a distant third, having given 7 billion).

The second piece of evidence comes from Mr. Pellissier’s own [Read more...]


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