Would You Be Comfortable with an Atheist President? 2011 Survey Says…

The Public Religion Research Institute just released the 2011 American Values Survey — “a large annual survey exploring important issues at the intersection of religion, values and politics.”

The headlines are focusing on how only 42% of Americans know Mitt Romney is a Mormon and how most Americans want to see a redistribution of wealth, but I’m most interested in the questions that involve people without faith…

Only one piece of information stands out and it’s in response to the following question: Would you be very comfortable, somewhat comfortable, somewhat uncomfortable, or very uncomfortable with [an atheist] serving as president?

Check out the left side of this chart for the response:

67% of all voters would feel somewhat or very uncomfortable with an atheist president.

80% of all Republicans, 70% of Democrats, and 56% of all Independents feel the same.

So Democrats would be more uncomfortable with an atheist president than a Muslim president.

Republicans — not surprisingly, a higher proportion of them than Democrats — would be equally uncomfortable with both an atheist president and a Muslim president.

Overall, though, a non-theistic presidential candidate has a bigger hurdle to overcome than a person of any faith at all. It’s unbelievable that in this day and age, America still has this much of a hangup over a leader who would put more weight in evidence and logical thinking than in an imaginary god and ancient books.

(And how the hell are people more comfortable with Mormons than with us?! Their story is even crazier than that of evangelical Christianity!)

When the numbers were broken down fully (PDF), only 31% of those surveyed were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with an atheist president (compared to 33% for a Muslim president).

While our numbers seem to be growing in every other conceivable way, we’re not making a lot of progress when it comes to how religious Americans perceive us. They still fear those of us who don’t believe in a god.

The best way to fix that, of course, is for more of us to come out publicly as atheists. When people know that someone close to them doesn’t believe in god — and is still a good friend, an honest person, a decent human being — it makes it that much harder to think badly of atheists right off the bat.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    The “All voters” block is BELOW democrats… Have they miscalculated or are more than half of the people who voted considering themselves “independent”?

    • Gus Snarp

      The sample size is 360 Republicans, 484 Democrats, and 590 Independents. The math works out.

  • jonni

    Wow, America really is a weird place. Here in Australia it’s christians who are the crazy minority. Our Prime Minister is an atheist and it’s not a big deal. 

    • Freddieb42

      lol! It’s only a big deal with Tony Abbott, the opposition leader, nicknamed The Mad Monk,extreme Catholic. Julia is everything he hates. An atheist, a woman, childless and living in a de facto relationship.

      • jonni

        Haha! He’s a mad one alright! Much as Julia Gillard pisses me off sometimes, she gets kudos for being the ultimate rebel.

    • Coney

      I’m glad to see at least one country (Australia) which is more advanced. I was starting to lose hope for the entire human race.

  • http://twitter.com/spackmanjackman Aaron Jackman

    Our opposition leader in the UK, Ed Miliband (Labour) has declared to the nation that he is an atheist.  It caused a little bit of uncomfortable bum shuffling at first amongst a few conservatives, but apart from that, no one really batted an eyelid.  I think the reality in the UK is that church and state are viewed as pretty separate, whereas in the USA, the opposite is the case.

    • Michael

      On the other hand, what’s to bet that he moderates it to a sort-of atheist before the next election, Nick Clegg style?

    • Michael

      On the other hand, so did Nick Clegg, before he moderated it to a sort-of atheist under pressure from the political establishment.

    • Anonymous

      Right and David “Call me Dave” Cameron says that his Christianity comes and goes.  Presumably when it waxes when it gets him votes and wanes when it loses him votes.

      • Anonymous

        Tony Blair masked his deep religious convictions, he even waited until he ran away from office (To avoid being voted out.) before converting to Catholicism, he knew it wouldn’t have helped his chances if he spoke about his faith, as he did AFTER stepping down.

    • Robert Evans

      You could add to that that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is also a declared atheist — although he does allow his Catholic wife to bring their children up in that faith.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    The low aversion to atheists from independents makes me question the conventional wisdom that the independents are somewhere in between the Democrat and the Republican positions. Seems to me quite a few of them must be more progressive than Democrats.

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      I’m not sure this difference is statistically significant. It is small. If it significant, I suspect that this is  to more independents simply not knowing what “atheist” means. There’s a fair bit of evidence in general that people of moderate political beliefs have smaller vocabularies than people with strong political beliefs on either end. The GSS ( http://www3.norc.org/GSS+Website/ ) data shows this pretty strongly when one looks at the WORDSUM score and compares that to the political affiliation variables. In general, as one increases vocab, there are two trends: a move to the left and a move towards the extremes. So the distribution of political views becomes more bimodal and as well as the center of the distribution moving leftward. This is true for many other variables such as education level in the GSS, or if one looks at other studies using SAT or Wonderlic scores. There are other similar patterns in the GSS data. The self-identified moderates also perform more poorly on answering the true/false science questions than either “conservatives” or “liberals” when taken as percent right on average, and one gets a similar result when one looks at Republican v. Democrat v. Independent. 

      • Gus Snarp

        Except I don’t think it matters if they know what the word means. What’s crucial to how Democrats and Republicans feel about us is that they actually don’t understand what we really are, whether they know the definition or not. They’ve been taught that atheist = evil. Now maybe independents are just more independent minded and not as indoctrinated by Sunday School, but I don’t think that not knowing the word can account for this.

        • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

          Well, if the independents/moderates don’t even know even vaguely what the term means or what connotations they are expected to associate with it…

      • cipher

        The self-identified moderates also perform more poorly on answering the true/false science questions than either “conservatives” or “liberals” when taken as percent right on average, and one gets a similar result when one looks at Republican v. Democrat v. Independent.

        Republicans can answer science questions correctly?

        Or is the College Board now accepting “Goddidit” as an answer?

        • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

          Yes, they can. They are very similar, and for some questions the Republicans do better than Democrats. The data really doesn’t fit with stereotypes. 

          • cipher

            Well, there go my preconceptions.

            Are the figures further broken down by territory? Because if you tell me southern conservative Republicans do well on these tests – well, there’s just no reason for me to go on living.

            • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

              I haven’t crunched the numbers for that and I don’t know of anyone who has. But the GSS data is up and has a pretty easy interface so you can go check that yourself if you want to. I suspect that there will not be nearly as large a difference as would our stereotypes of such people.

    • Gus Snarp

      I’ve heard some commentary lately suggesting that the independents aren’t moderates or centrists at all, but are rather more extreme than either party’s candidates. Independent never has meant moderate or centrist, by definition, it means someone who does not associate with either of the two major parties. So that includes Libertarians, Greens, Communists, Socialists, white supremacists, as well as moderates who don’t pick a party. The usual media assumption, of course, is that the vast majority of independents are centrists who swing back and forth between the two major parties, and that may once have been true, and some of them certainly are, but a lot of them, and maybe most now, are more extreme. And given that if you actually describe what a centrist position in this country is, and then describe Obama’s position, you’ve just repeated yourself, it follows that centrists ought to be voting Democrat, while independents are dissatisfied liberals and conservatives. I expect more of them are on the political left these days, but we ought to also be looked on more positively by Libertarians too, who I think are the next big independent block. 

      • Rich Wilson

        I used to be a Green,  now a “Decline to State” since I don’t feel like giving anyone anything a priori.  The US party system is a joke anyways.  We’re one ‘party’ away from the Soviet Union.

      • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

        It’s not just the media that seems to think that, it’s the assumption that political campaigns appear to be based on too (i.e. their focus on “swing states”).

        Actually, I’d argue that Obama is now to the right of the traditional centrist position.

      • Rosemary

        From an Australian point of view, (if I can remember back that far after 12 years in the U.S.), all the U.S. parties are well to the conservative right. 

  • Aaronross

    As long as you have atheists acting like PZ Myers, atheism will be in the minority.

    So just keep telling believers how superior you are to them, morally and intellectually.

    In fact, what ever happened to the name BRIGHTS?  I like that.  You should use it mroe often.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      Some people need PZ Myers, some people need Hemant Mehta. The only reason atheists are distrusted is because we’ve got a misconception of being immoral and nihilists – due largely to a smear campaign by Christian ministers. How many times I heard as a child “you can’t be moral without God” I’ll never know. To put faith in a higher power is more important than being rational and logical.

    • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

      Nonsense. Misbehaving Christians (and the list is long) seems to have little influence on the majority position of Christianity. So why would misbehaving atheists (and I don’t actually agree that PZ Myers is really misbehaving) have much of on influence on the growth of the number of atheists?

    • Gus Snarp

      Except the vast majority of theists in the world have no idea who PZ Myers is. This notion that he’s ruining our case is absurd. I’m certain that PZ pisses off plenty of extreme religious people who’ve been sent trolling to his blog, but for the wider populace all he does is motivate and encourage atheists, and if those atheists come out while just being themselves, that’s good for us. Mainly because this notion of atheists who are dicks in person is pretty much a straw man.

  • Wasd

    You think that is bad? Its
    actually a lot worse:

    Direct comparison is
    impossible but Gallup has for decades been asking Americans if their
    party nominated a qualified person with a certain outlook, would they
    vote for him.

    In 1999 49% of Americans
    said they would for an Atheist nominated by their party

    A while back I remembered
    that statistic and felt it was better than people would assume, so I
    figured I would joke about how Bush proved 49% is all it takes ;-)
    But I figured first I would make a neat up-to-date graph showing how
    these thing all improve over time. Here it is,
    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/546/presr.jpg/
    I kinda wish I hadn’t made that.

    In 2007 45% of
    Americans said they would for an Atheist nominated by their party.
    Its getting worse!

    Similar declining trends
    can be seen for gay (and/ ;-) )or mormon candidates who all do much
    better than us straight atheist. Now, apparently, in 2011 31% would
    be “comfortable” with an atheist president.

    But because of the
    different wording  you have to be VERY careful in comparing these
    polls. Logically one would think merely being “comfortable” with
    someone is a lower barrier than actually voting for someone. But this
    stuff might be more complicated. If you ask someone “Would you vote
    for your party” it might prime people to be calculative, loyal to
    their party and enthusiastic about voting. Somehow the question “Are
    you comfortable with” is never followed with “tedybears and lots
    of icecream”. So “are you comfortable with” might prime people
    to look carefully at their negative feelings.

    Now if voting for an
    Atheist was a proposition Americans had to deal every day they might
    have a ready answer. But seeing as this is America we are talking
    about where politicians might be trice married adulterous cancer
    suffering spouse dumping underage page flirting types with a diaper
    fetish…. they are all christians.

    So if you ask someone on
    the phone how the feel about atheist candidates they have to come up
    with an answer on the spot. If you don’t know any out atheist thats
    gonna be a very tough and abstract question to form an opinion on in
    the few seconds you have to answer.

    Imagine asking people with
    an iosian candidate (that is someone who believes in ios) obviously
    for most people the correct answer would be “I dont know” but in
    the real world you would probable get 50% saying they are okay iosian
    candidates and 50% saying they wouldn`t vote for an iosian in a
    million years. Nobody likes admitting they don’t know something.

    So thats the only reason I
    could come up with why this news isn’t even more awful than it seems
    with the historical context. Other good news in 1958 it was 18%, and
    22% in 1959, it has been hovering above 40% since 1978.

    I really do think for many people this question is really abstract and  knowing
    an actual atheist makes the difference. Coming out is important but I
    would be happy just to see some atheists on TV. My gut feeling is
    that believable and not notably psychopathic characters help a lot. And
    they might help people come out of the closet by creating something
    to talk about and someone to compare oneself to. And I am not talking
    about Malcolm in the middles mom and Dr House. (…Checks
    wikipedia… and Dexter Morgan the serial killer and Tyler Durden the
    bank office bombing terrorist) I mean just because I love these
    characters doesn’t mean I think atheist should be entirely happy with
    their portrail in these cases ;-) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictitious_atheists_and_agnostics

    Wikipedia does
    mention sally draper from mad men who I felt would be an AWESOME
    example… except now I am looking over her quotes to find what
    specifically she said about god and I am beginning to realise she
    kinda sorta belong on the list. (She reminds me of Tyler Durden,
    frankly ;-))

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      While that graph is interesting at a glance the change doesn’t look like it is necessarily statistically significant enough to show a recent decline. Even if there has been some decline the general pattern of the graph shows movement towards acceptance for both gays and atheists as candidates with a possible small, recent drop for both. On the other hand, the fact that the numbers show a dip for gays, women and atheists does suggest that their may be a genuine phenomenon here. 

  • cipher

    Surely this doesn’t surprise you.

    Regarding the low percentage of those who would be uncomfortable with an evangelical President – if that doesn’t convince one that America is finished, I don’t know what will.

  • Anonymous

    This can’t really be read as being anything other than a sad sign of how entrenched and socially acceptable open bigotry towards nonbelievers is. I’m pretty sure there have to be people who would be uncomfortable with a Muslim or a Jew as president but said they’d be fine with it (or softened their stance) because they know that in polite society open bigotry against those groups is met with disapproval. Not so with us. You can stand up in friggen CNN and say things about us that, if they were said of a Jew it would end your career instantly.

    However, we don’t actually know how the electorate would react to a credible candidate who was a nonbeliever. It’s one thing to say you would be “uncomfortable” with an atheist candidate, and it’s another to say you are uncomfortable with Gov. Smith, with her dedicated husband, cute children, high popularity as governor of her state and an ideology close to yours. Certainly anti-atheist bigotry would still count against her, but once a person isn’t just a faceless, nameless atheist, but an actual human that you can actually judge against the stereotypes you were taught about atheists, things can change.

    • Rich Wilson

       socially acceptable open bigotry towards nonbelievers is

       I’ll take it even a step further.  Not only socially acceptable, but in some areas, socially expected.

    • Rieux

      Another interesting take on this would be a historical one: I’m a little surprised by the challenge that Muslims are giving us for the “most distrusted as President” top spot. I’m pretty sure that they’ve made substantial “gains” on us in that measure within the last several years; if I recall, previous polls had atheists far more distrusted by this metric than Muslims were.

      So perhaps that’s, uh, “good” news; at long last, we have close company in the “most distrusted” club.

  • Trace

    So independents are less “crazy” than democrats? ;)

    (Disclaimer, I am an I who normally votes D)

  • longpete

    Here in France, we look on the religious as the nutters. The church in my 400-person village holds mass one Saturday evening per month. Period. Two people go, and one of them’s the priest!

    I can only think of a couple of people, among all those I know, who profess to be religious, even if they were originally brought up as muslims, catholics or whatever. It’s completely unthinkable that a person’s religious beliefs should come up as a topic of study at an election.

  • Smorg Smorg

    (And how the hell are people more comfortable with Mormons than with
    us?! Their story is even crazier than that of evangelical
    Christianity!)

    I say the trick is in the PR. Most non-Mormons have no idea how crazy the Mormon dogma is. I mean, how many here even know that the Mormons think that god the father lives on a planet called Kolob, whose light is reflected by the sun toward us on earth? or that god is ‘omnipresent’ but also has body of flesh, and that we human can also become gods and rule our own planets in the after life? (find all that in Doctrine & Covenants… LDS.org has full texts of all the Mormon scriptures online.

    On the other hands, atheists, as freethinkers are wont to do, don’t easily form a united front armed with an aggressive PR machine like the multi-billion dollar LDS organization. People are afraid of ideas they aren’t familiar with, and atheism isn’t that popular a concept in the USA (at least not ones most religious folks have spent time pondering over).

    • guest

      go to Mormon.org and learn about their religion for real

      • http://www.facebook.com/rlyndallwemm Rosemary Lyndall-Wemm

        If that’s the Mormon Marketing Department I doubt that any of us would get more than a whitewashed picture.  Interesting and useful start, of course, but it would need to be supplemented by material presented by those with a more critical approach to the subject, especially those who escaped from the immersion.  There is nothing like the revelations of an ex-Something to discover the skeletons in the cupboard that the indoctrinated either don’t know, don’t want to know or spend a lot energy trying to forget or defend. 

        I guess that is the whole point of Hemet’s approach:  learn about religion from the inside as well as the outside to get enough of the picture to make an informed opinion.  The problem with the indoctrinated is that they have made their decisions on only the impassioned case for the defense.  It results in a cognitive mis-trail. 

  • http://kpharri.wordpress.com/ Keith

    “It’s unbelievable that in this day and age, America still has this much of a hangup over a leader who would put more weight in evidence and logical thinking than in an imaginary god and ancient books.”

    But religious people obviously don’t see it this way, so it’s not unbelievable at all. The way religious people see it is that atheists have no morality, and that is why they’re uncomfortable with the idea of an atheist president. You would be too, if you believed that atheists were amoral (or immoral).So, instead of making remarks like these, which show a misunderstanding of the believer’s mindset, we should learn from the statistics. They tell us that:1. Believers are simply not aware that their faith is illogical and without evidential support.2. Believers have some serious misconceptions about atheists.

    It’s up to us to dispel these myths, along with the religious myths themselves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

      I don’t know, I don’t think you can read that much into the survey results. The question is such that each person responding is answering based on their perceived views of what the specific labeled candidate would do. This skews the results because of ignorance of the meaning of the word “atheist”.

      I think a better question would be:  “Would you be comfortable with a president who bases some decisions on the god of their specific faith and that god’s teachings in their holy scripture? For atheists, they would never base a decision on a god but always rely on rational thought and reason.”

      Now this phrasing may seem to favor atheists. But the point is that atheists are the rational ones and would not let their personal faith get in the way. A good president who is a theist should also not let their faith get in the way but…

      • Rosemary

        I would like to see the use of  “educational surveys” in the U.S.A.:  surveys that seek to educate the partipants under the guise of obtaining their opinions.  Happens in other countries.  Why not in the U.S., also?  It’s a subtle marketing strategy.  Atheists groups should seriously consider it. 

        In my youth, the feminist movement in Australia was pushed off by a group of women known as the Women’s Electoral Lobby.  Prior to a federal election, they contacted every candidate and asked them a serious of questions that sought to educate both the candidates and the public about women’s rights, the people who fought for them and the politicians who were aware and supportive of these rights -as well as those who were not.  It had a huge impact.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how much of the response is down to people’s perception of what an atheist is compared to their perception of a person who doesn’t believe in gods.  For some unfathomable reason* a lot of people seem to think that atheist means something other than someone who doesn’t believe in gods.  It would be good to see the results of asking “Would you be comfortable with a President who didn’t believe in God?”

    *Not really that unfathomable.  It is down to ignorance and misinformation from the religitards.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’d just like to point out that, according to the graph above, while 80% of Republicans would be uncomfortable with an atheist, 81% would be uncomfortable with a Muslim.  We’re not last!  Hurrah?

    • Anonymous

      1% is within the margin of error given the relatively low sample size

  • Tyler

    I wouldn’t care. But then I’m in Canada, so, it doesn’t matter.

    • Rich Wilson

      Ya.  How’s Harper working out for you then? :-)

  • Gus Snarp

    Why do the Democrats hate us so much? This is disappointing. 

  • Anonymous

    I don’t take conservative propaganda against atheists seriously, when conservatives bother to notice us at all. Republican politicians can bad mouth us all they want, but they still offer to cut atheists’ taxes, deregulate our businesses and let us buy all the guns & ammo we want. They extend the same offer to other figures in their demonology, like gays, liberals & Hollywood “elites.”

  • Gus Snarp

    The best way to fix that, of course, is for more of us to come out publicly as atheists. When people know that someone close to them doesn’t believe in god — and is still a good friend, an honest person, a decent human being — it makes it that much harder to think badly of atheists right off the bat.

    This. It’s working for gay rights, and it can work for us too. 

    Yesterday I realized, however, that I’m not as out of the closet as I sometimes think. I find it difficult to tell people what I really believe in many personal situations. The latest was while my 5 year old had a friend over at our house. The friend said “Santa comes from God. Everything on Earth comes from God, right?” My son said “yeah” (he has very little idea what “god” actually is, so I don’t worry about this kind of thing. When he’s really curious he’ll learn to think it out). Then the friend said, “I was talking to your dad”. So now I have to answer him, but I’m not going to tell someone else’s five year old there’s no such thing as God (in spite of the fact that most parents would have no problem telling my son all about God), so I hesitated before giving my stock answer: “What do you think?” But they moved on to some other play before I had to answer.Then I texted the conversation to my wife, but accidentally sent it to the friend’s mom instead. Fortunately I had just quoted the conversation without comment, and she thought it was funny. But I realized, I’m not sure I can tell this woman that I’m an atheist…

    • Anonymous

      It’s probably even more uncomfortable to tell him that Santa is made up. The little bastard really put you into a corner there

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about your kid. I was that kid. I had religious friends and whatnot growing up, but all the spiritual stuff just bounced right off of me, and I really didn’t have a solid concept of what “god” or “religion” even were until middle school. My parents had taught me critical thinking and reasoning from an early age, and I think as long as you give your child the tools, he’ll make a choice that will be both logical and make him happy as well, whatever that choice may be. Good luck though, I know I was a little bastard to my parents more than once :)

    • Anonymous

      I would have told him that I didn’t believe in gods but it’s OK if he does.  Also that Santa is another name for Nikolaos of Myra (now part of Turkey) who was known for his secret giving of gifts.

      Knowledge is useful for filling the gap between the ears of people infested with religion.

  • Anonymous

    ” Their (Mormons) story is even crazier than that of evangelical Christianity!” I disagree. Talking serpents, virgin births, resurrection, creation myth…how is that less crazy than magic underwear? Mormonism just “seems” weirder because its falsehoods are alleged to have occurred in the more recent past. They’re all nonsense.

    • Anonymous

      Mormonism sounds more “modern” in one respect: Joseph Smith and his fellow cult founders knew about post-Galilean astronomy, so their literature refers to stars as sunlike bodies and to what we now call exoplanets.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolob

      BTW, I’ve wondered why skeptics assumed that exoplanets had to exist, well before all the exoplanet discoveries astronomers have made in the past 15 years or so. Before we had that evidence, the belief in exoplanets, propagandized by science fiction, sounded a lot like a faith position which skeptics would have criticized regarding other claims.

      • Gus Snarp

        You don’t think the notion that our Sun is somehow unique in having planets among the 200 billion other stars in our galaxy is more of a faith position than the assumption that among those 200 billion stars there are others that have planets much as ours does?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know of anyone I’d call a sceptic who ever said “exoplanets must exist” as if it was a certainty before one was actually discovered. Maybe such people did exist and considered themselves sceptics…I would agree with you that such people would be taking a faith position. I think the prevalent viewpoint among sceptics, myself included, was that it was very likely that exoplanets would exist given the size of the universe and our understanding of how planets form. Unlike a god-belief, we knew for a fact that planets could and did form (hell, we were standing on one) so it was reasonable to think that similar conditions were likely to exist elsewhere in a vast universe. Considering something likely or very likely is not a faith position. Claiming with certainty that something is so, particularly without any credible evidence (like every god claim) is a faith position.

        • Anonymous

          But people well regarded in the skeptic community, like the late Carl Sagan, got a lot of mileage out of promoting the exoplanet belief, not to mention science fiction writers welcome in the skeptic community like Isaac Asimov & Arthur C. Clarke. Yet these same people criticized exoplanet claims coming from, say, Scientology or UFO cults. Until we had extraordinary evidence, I don’t see how a skeptic could have defended an extraordinary claim about the existence of exoplanets.

          • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

            It works like this. Once we have a theory (i.e. how planets are formed), one can make testable predictions (i.e. there are other planets around other stars). It was reasonable to assume that there existed stars beside our own sun that had planets orbiting them.

            Especially considering the vast amount of space out there in which this could occur.

          • Gus Snarp

            Oh wait, I get it now. You’re comparing the suggestion that exoplanets are likely to the statements from UFO cults like Scientology that extraterrestrial intelligence has actually visited Earth. Well that’s a big difference indeed. It is a far cry from saying “exoplanets are likely to exist” to saying, “we know that these particular extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth and essentially seeded human life”. One of those is reasonable, the other is pure fantasy. 

      • Gus Snarp

        To put that more clearly, with something like 200 billion stars in the galaxy, the odds against our Sun being the only one with planets would be, quite literally, astronomical.

        • Anonymous

          That sort of a prioristic reasoning commits the same fallacy as the SETI project, however. In the absence of evidence, we had no reason to believe in exoplanets, just as we have no reason now to believe that life elsewhere in the universe has produced Carl Sagan-like individuals with radio telescopes. You might as well argue that these same species have also produced sushi restaurants.

          • Gus Snarp

            There’s a major difference here in the mechanisms that lead to planets and those that lead to life. We have a pretty good understanding of the processes that lead to planets, and every reason to expect that they are very common. We have only a vague notion of the processes that lead to life, and therefore little idea of just how common they are. We have a bit better idea of the processes leading from there to intelligence, but still little idea of how common this is.

          • Edmond

            It’s possible to believe that something is LIKELY, without having the conclusive evidence that’s usually necessary to warrant the belief that it exists.  We have the existence evidence of what OUR solar system is like, and there was no evidence that our sun and its system of planets were the ONLY ones of their kind.

            The likelihood of exoplanets was very nearly a foregone conclusion (the fact that they WERE discovered shows that the people making that prediction were not very far off the mark).  There’s nothing about this idea that resembled science-fiction or faith claims.  The thought that other stars, like our sun, should have other planets, like our planets, seems perfectly reasonable to me.  It may not have been enough evidence to proclaim that we KNEW (before we actually did) that those planets existed, but it was hardly on a par with believing in resurrected dead people or pregnant virgins.

            • Anonymous

              I just point out that until recently, exoplanets came closer to a Dragon in My Garage sort of claim than skeptics care to admit.

              • Michael Appleman

                What about earth, and the other planets in our solar system? They are undeniably there. our sun is just another star. It is not a large jump at all to think that other stars also have planets.

                The dragon in my garage claim has nothing at all to support it other than the word of the person making the claim. Do you not even trust your own experiences of being on earth, seeing the sun, moon, and stars?

              • Dmacabre

                But you’re wrong to point that out because it is not a valid argument.  Your argument would only be valid if Earth was the only planet in our solar system.  The simple fact that there are more planets than just Earth, and not only that, but dozens of bodies in the solar system when you count all the moons, many of which are close to planet sized, suggests that planets and other bodies aside from Earth can form.

            • Rosemary

              Or believing that a non-material bodiless, brainless, hormoneless entity has thoughts and feelings, is capable of acting on the physical world and did not get to this highly advanced position by the usual method of evolving from something much simpler over eons of time. All that science has revealed about how things work in the real world is completely against this notion and, in fact, puts the concept of an eternally existing non-evolved non-material Super Mind in the astronomically remote probability category.

              So many educationally underpriviledged people believe that these things are absolutely certain that it seems to be a function of poor education.   Since the U.S. is no oddly religious among industrialized countries, one could be forgiven for believing the U.S. has a commercially driven educational system coupled with an ideology that assumes that parents with no teaching qualifications have the right to dictate what their children are taught.  Oh, wait, it does!

        • Rosemary

          By that logic, the odds against there being some kind of life on other planets is also astronomical.

    • Rich Wilson

      At least Mormons and Catholics understand evolution.

      • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

        Not if they claim God was required to make it happen.

        • Rich Wilson

          Living in the US, I’m happy if they accept that chimps are more closely related to us than to gorillas.  They can think whatever they want about our ‘souls’.

          Well, actually not, since they seem to think sperm have souls and that MM or FF soul sex is a sin.

      • Devnull

        This is incorrect. I was raised Mormon and I live in Utah, and I can tell you that Mormons are very hostile towards evolution.

        • Rich Wilson

          I got the idea from a (very active) Mormon friend in Canada.  I mentioned that at least Huntsman and Romney acknowledge evolution and he said “Most Mormons do”.  Quickly reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_views_on_evolution it looks like there’s no clear stance.  So I take back “Mormons understand” since that implies an official position, which clearly does not exist.  I’m not sure how many Mormons do, but the two running for POTUS seem to.

          I think for the same reason I’d have to scale back my RC statement.  I know John Paul II confirmed a “God started it” view of evolution, but I’m pretty sure Ratzinger has been silent on the issue.

          Thanks for the correction.

          • vvt

            they teach evolution at BYU….

  • Forrest Cahoon

    I understand the President must be a nominal Christian, but I can’t understand why Evangelicals aren’t scary.  Their policy will surely be determined by their certain belief in Armageddon, and do everything to derail peace and promote war around Israel — either consciously or  unconsciously.

    In short, even if you’re a Christian, you should be able to recognize that an Evangelical in the White House poses a genuine threat to the future of the planet. Right?

    • Anonymous

      Wasn’t Dudya pretty damned close to evangelism as you’d EVER want to get!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Albert-Bakker/100000104635530 Albert Bakker

      They might realize this, but then again what’s the importance of the future of this planet or rather our continued existence on this planet when compared to the promised blissful eternity spent somewhere above it’s surface? I can’t crawl inside their heads of course (too alien an environment for me) but maybe even the liberally inclined might be able to relativize this prospect of pretending to be happy while smilingly looking down to their loved ones or perfect strangers, children among which and so forth being tormented, burned, impaled, disemboweled, raped and torn to pieces before being thrown in pools of boiling sulphur for some reason and stuff, provided it’s for a limited amount of time. (And on condition perhaps the harpsichords play a dreary tune.)

  • Anonymous

    So even if I have a rock solid plan to bring the economy back on track, end the wars, solve the healthcare debacle and educate the good people to guard themselves from the intellectual-draining rot of the Republican nominees, I STILL will be shunned for not believing in the great public delusion? If that’s the case, let the Americans let Jesus take the wheel. We’re seeing how that’s doing such a great job so far. (Sense sarcasm)

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/P7XRZYHIF7ELJTK34TWIMIJOJA Ex Patriot

    I would love to see a non-believer as president, but  I will not live long enough to see it

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    Ah the merits of remaining ambiguously christian. I have met a few folks in my town here in the Bible Belt who do an excellent job of remaining so. I know they are atheist for they confide in any atheist they meet, but they sustain an excellent facade to their theist friends and family. So well done that the theists seem to count them as christian.

    So far, I can only seem to keep up such a facade for about two or three months. At some point, I get sick of it and break the news. Then a discussion of some sort ensues where I get all “atheist” on them and then we rarely talk thereafter.

    I think what really happens is I hide my atheism at first in order to make friends and join in their activity but later I grow tired of their constant theistic comments or one of them figures out I’m atheist some other way (my Facebook page isn’t exactly hiding anything) and then they just *have* to inform me they are there for me and praying for me and it goes downhill from there.

  • Rich Wilson

    (apologizes to regulars who have heard this before)
    I plan to keep hammering my candidates with one question: “Do you think religious belief is a requirement for or guarantee of morality”.  That’s it.  And if I can get any of them to answer EITHER way, then I think I will have made progress.

  • Anonymous

    As long as our political ideas match up I would be very comfortable with an
    Atheist leader. Why would you not  be?

    I would be comfortable with a new earth creationist leader, if they were able to keep their personal beliefs outside of their job.

    • Anonymous

      I would be comfortable with a new earth creationist leader, if they were able to keep their personal beliefs outside of their job.

      That’s an interesting one, but I don’t know that I can say the same, at least in the case of politicians with power over scientific policy. Someone who is willing to affirm that they are a young earth creationist is showing one of two things:

      a- A shocking ignorance of science that simply boggles the mind. I don’t want someone who doesn’t have at least a middle school level of biology/geology/physics to be making important policy decisions about things like, say, nuclear waste.

      b- A total lack of respect for the sciences that enables them to pander to religious fundamentalism at the cost of scientific advancement. This one is worse than a sincere ignorance. I don’t want a person like this anywhere near a committee deciding on research funding.

      I guess I don’t see how a young earth creationist could really keep their beliefs truly separate from their job, if that job touched science in some way. I guess if it’s someone who is simply lying to the voters to get elected and actually does believe in evolution it would be safe, but I have no real way of telling the difference.

      • Rich Wilson

        I place YEC at the level of Geocentrism for WTFness.

    • Rosemary

      Any YEC who could keep their beliefs from negatively impacting science and education would be either seriously conflicted or capable of an extraordinary level of compartmentalization.  Either state would lead to a serious mental disorder that would impact badly on their ability to sanely and reasonably engage in objective humanity-centered governing.  Voting for someone like this could arguably been seen as a sign of insanity in itself.  What were you thinking?

  • Steve

    The sample is small. Also, there is really no good way to tell what is lurking deep inside someone else’s mind.

     It is possibly worse (in some circles in our society) to be atheist than gay. And atheists (and gays) are continually propagandized against. I know a bunch of evangelicals for whom the words ‘godless atheist’ are the worst epithet they can hurl. And for the religiously inclined, they are the last 2 groups of people that they can openly hate. They invest a lot of effort and money in their religions and someone who is openly telling them that it is a silly waste has to be an object of scorn. Also, there is a cost for coming out against them – the atheist get shunned. I would be willing to bet there are a lot more atheists and agnostics out there than will fess up simply because of fear. Fear of shunning, loss of community, maybe loss of income, and even loss of family. It is going to take a few heroic national icons patiently admitting their unbelief to get people to start to look beyond the label.

  • Anonymous

    It’s kind of an odd set of options they’ve presented.   There is no neutral option available, which forces people to choose a side.  Any lingering association could be enough to push someone into one or the other.  The rather obvious one would be the association between atheism and Communism in the United States (in other words, the same paranoid nonsense that pushed “In God We Trust” onto all your currency).

  • CatBallou

    Religious people don’t dislike atheists because they think we’re immoral. They dislike atheists because they know we think they are completely, not just partially, wrong. When people with different religions tolerate each other, they have a “gentleman’s” agreement where each can think the other has just made the wrong choice—is backing the wrong side—but they agree that one of the sides is right. But they can’t make that agreement with atheists, because not only do we refuse to pick a side, we think the entire competition is stupid! To drive this metaphor into the ground, football fans can argue about which team is better, but they’ll all turn against the person who says football is stupid! 

  • crewe49

    We’re talking about americans here. Nuff said.
    I live in the UK. For all I know the entire government may be made up of satanists. Unlike americans we don’t parade our religious beliefs for all to see and politicians (even the conservative ones) certainly don’t claim religious belief to grub for votes. Religion stays firmly where it belongs. In church.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see where religion should play a part in politics but it does.  I believe it was Ben Franklin who said religion is a curse. Of course I am paraphrasing, but the point is still important. What ever happened to the constitution of the united states remember that, it states there is a separation of church and state. I am sick and tired of hearing about the republicans imaginary friend they seem to hold as more important than personal integrity,the welfare of their families, the welfare of this country.  I am a registered independent voter who would not vote for a republican candidate now to park my car much less run this country.  All they seem to care about is themselves, other wealthy Republicans, MONEY, and then maybe their friend only they can see.  I hold no ill will to those that believe but keep it to yourself, and leave it at home.
      A Republican has shown me nothing but a narrow minded way of thinking that benefits themselves.  
      Religion has no place in politics, it clouds the mind along with the issues at hand.  I do not see a problem with an atheist in the office of President of the U.S. and I don’t see where this question should even come up but some how it does. 
    I AM SICK AND TIRED of religion being a qualification to hold public office.
      I believe an atheist could base a decision more on facts rather than some words out of some old book quoted from some imaginary being.
    Organized religion is to me organized confusion. 
      We need to band together and present a united front for REASON not RELIGION.

  • Anonymous

      What happened to the constitution where it states “separation of church and state”.  I do not see the need of a president needing an imaginary friend to help make the decisions, decisions that should be based on facts instead.  I have tried to watch the Republican debates and watch them assassinate each other and listen to the same old self-serving rhetoric from these stuffed shirts until the topic of religion is brought into the debate.
      Why is this even allowed? This topic should not even be allowed to be brought up this is subject matter for them in the privacy of their homes not on T.V.
      I am an Atheist who believes problems can be solved without consulting an imaginary friend because I have been doing it my whole life.
      As it stands right now there is not a republican candidate I would allow to park my car, much less vote for to run this country.  
      All religion should be removed from the government and the decisions they make. 
    I am not saying they can’t spend time with the imaginary friend but do it at home or on  Sundays with all of  their friends who have this same friend that for some reason needs their money.
      I believe they should keep it to THEMSELVES!
      I checked the poll out but could not give an answer I was comfortable with.  

  • Anonymous

    Are atheists supposed to have horns on their heads? Are we supposed to have long pointed tails? Leave it up to the “believers” to have some idea that we are any different than they are except atheists who had imaginary friends that they talked to and got advice from, OUT GREW him. Believers don’t understand we can make our own decisions without divinity.
    I am sick and tired of our government operating on the same mentality as that of the church but can’t get the money from the wealthy like the church does.
    I tried to watch the Republican debates on t.v. and listen to these clown assassinate each other, lo and behold out comes the subject of religion.  I thought there was supposed to be a separation of church and state.  
    Right now there is not a republican candidate I would allow to park my car much less run this country.
    Why is it that with as many atheists there are supposed to be we can’t do something about this.  It is common sense to leave their god out of decision making and instead use common sense to weigh the facts and make an informed decision!!!


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