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…]