The Distrusted Minority… Increasing in Number?

In an op-ed piece for the LA Times, John Allen Paulos (the author of Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up) tries to explain the discrepancy between two recent studies which discussed atheism.

One study from the University of Minnesota in 2006 said that atheists are the least trusted minority as well as the type of people you’d least want your child to marry.

Another study which just came out said that people are becoming less religious. They’re not necessarily becoming atheists (though many are), but they’re willing to switch religions and become unaffiliated (or “none”).

Paulos says this:

Let me put the two studies together and speculate a bit. Given the negative attitudes toward atheists documented in the Minnesota study, and considering that most people probably don’t see much advantage in incurring the distrust of their religious neighbors and colleagues, the testimony of many people formally classified as religious is suspect. Some nonbelievers, it seems to me, are likely either to lie and say they belong to some established creed, or to fudge their responses by saying they’re spiritual and believe in a nebulously defined God, or are simply unsure.

The conclusion I draw is that the number of nonbelievers in a conventionally described God is in the tens of millions and is not limited to angry “neo-atheists” and Madalyn Murray O’Hair clones. Moreover, I think a more fruitful distinction than the one between atheists and theists is the one between those who acknowledge that there are no compelling logical arguments for believing in God (even if they choose to believe anyway) and those who are sure of their God and the literal truth of their particular holy book.

However it is defined, things are looking up for rational, evidence-based thinking, and religious bigots (who would distrust us because we’re atheists) are losing their stronghold, especially on the youth.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Karen

    I agree with his analysis. A majority of non-believers shy away from the still-toxic A word, and prefer to call themselves unaffiliated or just say they are not church-goers. It’s easier socially and – while they may be skeptical about god’s existence – they haven’t thought deeply about it. The perceived anger of the new atheists is also a turnoff to a lot of ordinary folks who don’t want to be lumped into that camp.

    Moreover, I think a more fruitful distinction than the one between atheists and theists is the one between those who acknowledge that there are no compelling logical arguments for believing in God (even if they choose to believe anyway) and those who are sure of their God and the literal truth of their particular holy book.

    This, I think, is the basic dichotomy between liberal and fundamentalist believers. Most moderates and liberals will agree they can’t prove god’s existence, while most fundies will insist that they can – by all sorts of bogus means (creation, personal experience, the “historicity” of the bible).


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