Hey, William Lane Craig, Atheists’ Numbers Are Increasing Rapidly

Christian apologist William Lane Craig is scared of the Secular Student Alliance. The SSA is growing fast — at a rate faster than the Campus Crusade for Christ (a.k.a. CRU) — and he’s taking notice.

On a recent episode of his Reasonable Faith podcast called “Is Atheism Growing at the Expense of Theism?” Craig referenced information in this picture:

It’s an old picture (the SSA now has well over 360 groups), but the idea is that the SSA’s percentage growth is larger than that of CRU over the same time period. Which is absolutely true.

Obviously CRU has more groups and waaaaay more money (with a yearly budget of nearly $500,000,000), but if you’re looking for some way of showing how the trend is going in the other direction, this is a good way to show it.

Initially, when the SSA used this graph in promotional material, they said the number of atheist groups had gone up while CRU’s numbers had gone down. This was based on misinformation on CRU’s website. That sounded like an amazing story so a reporter went to double check the facts. When that reported asked CRU about the numbers in May, they updated their website to show that numbers had increased. (I know this because I was involved in the exchange with the reporter.)

Ok. Fine. Faced with the updated information, the SSA also updated their materials to focus on the percentage growth instead of pure numbers.

Cut to Craig’s podcast — 10:15 mark (MP3) — where he talks about the misinformation, and then blames the SSA for trying to put a “spin” on the corrected information.

Well, guess what? Percentage growth is useful when you’re talking about long term trends. We may not have the number of groups that CRU does. But our side is growing quickly and they’ve had a 50 year head start. They should be worried.

Craig at least acknowledges that much:

I do not want to diminish peoples’ concern about the activities of secular student groups and the growth of secularism on our campuses. This is a concern that needs to be addressed and we need to be very very worried about this even if their claims are overblown. The fact is that there are organized, atheistic groups whose aim is to evangelize their university campuses for atheism or non-theism.

There’s nothing overblown about it. The information doesn’t lie. Our growth is faster than their growth and we have the momentum.

(via Skeptic Money and Justin Vacula)

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.

  • Lori F – MN

    Atheists evangelizing? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

    • Evangelical Atheist

      Proclaim the good news: all gods are imaginary!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Chemical42 Cassie Muldrow

    Dear Mr. Craig, Atheists and Non-Theists can not evangelize.. that is solely the territory of the Christians.  The definition of evangelize means to “preach gospel to; or convert to Christianity”  I promise you, none of the Atheists will be engaging in this activity.  Hopefully we will spread reason and enlightenment and a strong faith in ones self.  Yeah, I’d be scared if I were you too. 

    • 3lemenope

      A more literal, etymological reading of “evangelize” matches its colloquial usage, which is simply to advocate something enthusiastically, to actively deliver “good news”. That there is no God and you don’t have to worry about eternal suffering is good news, generally gleefully delivered by groups like the Secular Student Alliance. So, I don’t think the word “evangelize” is really all that inappropriate.

    • JosefromChicago

      I evangelize on my personal free time :-)

    • Amitchakravar

      Are you joking? Reason rally exhorting? Look at the thousands of Facebook groups and pages with atheists ridiculing and hating on religion and religious people. 

  • Plong15

    Yes!!

  • Gus Snarp

    In the time it took me to think about how Craig just can’t grasp anything outside of his own worldview and has to claim atheists are “evangelizing”, two people already commented on it. Nice. Yes, it’s an oxymoron by definition, since “evangelize” means to spread the gospel. But even if he meant it metaphorically, it’s still crap. Sure, we want other people to stop believing in God, I’m not going to deny that, but the first goal of SSA, I think, is to provide a safe space for people who already don’t believe to socialize. The first goal of Campus Crusade for Christ is – well, they call it a crusade, do I have to make an argument here at all? They just can’t get that we don’t think or operate the way they do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    Some friends and I are trying to start a new SSA group at my school. 

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

       Good luck and kick butt! :)

    • JoseinChicago

      Let me know how that goes Patrick, I have a small latino atheist group that meets once a month (check us out on meetup.com)….we are looking to do some fundraising for local SSA groups before the summer is over and want to do a poker bicycle run!

  • 1000 Needles

    Gotta love the hip corporate rebranding of Campus Crusade to look less Jesus-y and disassociate themselves from the Crusades.

    That in itself is a secular victory.

    • Randomfactor

      It’s like Amway hiding for a while behind a flashier name because people caught on to THAT cult.

  • Bruce Heerssen

    Stronger growth in the SSA is to be expected, really. They are just beginning their outreach and have not yet reached a saturation point. When they do, the growth numbers will decline. That’s just math.

    Having said that, though, it’s great to see the clubs are taking off. I wish I had such resources available to me in high school.

    • amycas

       I was thinking the same thing. It seems natural to assume that the SSA will be growing faster now than CRU is, simply because SSA has more places to grow to than CRU does. Maybe we should be comparing SSA’s current growth rate to CRU’s growth rate when it was new. Then, that was a few* decades ago, so the cultural landscape is different and so it’s not a good comparison.

      *not sure when CRU started, 80′s or 70′s?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1690590417 Darren Turner

        There is also one thing that the SSA has in its favor: it can pull from the theist groups as well, and the conversion is usually a one way street.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    You really can’t use percentages in a case like this to compare the two organizations. SSA is a new organization, so you’d expect rapid growth. CRU has been around a long time, so in general you’d expect their size to be pretty stable. I could start a junior KKK group at some private school, and add two groups next year, and it would look like I had an astronomical growth rate… even though that growth would be meaningless in practical terms.

    When I look at this, I see a 16% growth rate for an organization that represents things many of us see as harmful, and that’s what should concern us, because that’s an impressive figure. Even as a mature organization, CRU added twice as many groups as SSA in the same period.

    • Ibis3

       I agree. At the same time, I wonder if the numbers are accurate. It’s not beyond such people to fudge their numbers for Jesus. Especially since the numbers changed only after a reporter noticed the decline.

    • Joanne Stephenson

      Maybe that’s because Atheists are still afraid to come ‘out of the closet’.  

      This growth will, if anything, be an understatement of the number of non-believers out there.  

      When secular common sense is treated with as much respect as religious spin and folklore, then the truth will be there for all to see.

  • Randomfactor

    One other item to point out is that Christian school groups are welcomed with open arms by school officials;  secular student groups tend to have to fight for every grudging concession.

  • Simon

    Kudos to SSA for updating their talking points once CRU updated/corrected what was on their website. However I will say that I as well as at least one other person on Phil Ferguson’s blog had pointed out that the original CRU numbers were suspect and probably not to be trusted in the first place even before they made the change on their end. IMO the original incorrect data from CRU shouldn’t have been used in any public talking points by SSA given how suspect it looked. (Yes, I know this is a little Monday morning quarterback)

    Secular groups should be very careful when publicly using statistics and err on the side of caution. This is a perfect illustration of where an error on the part of someone else was used by Craig against SSA.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    William Lane Craig said something that was bullshit?! Stop the press! Alert the President! Call TMZ!

    I tried subjecting myself to a recent podcast of his (the one on Brian Greene’s PBS special) and it was so full of garbage that less than ten minutes gave me enough material for a pretty lengthy blog post, and I was too exasperated to finish. I emailed Sean Carroll about it to see if he’d be willing to listen and write a response, and he replied, “I’m not that masochistic!” Smart man.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Harris/100000793669786 Kevin Harris

      Feel free to come to the Reasonable Faith forums and discuss the podcast. 

      BTW, Dr. Craig has been very complimentary of Sean Carroll and we have past and upcoming podcasts on Dr. Carroll’s work.

  • Savoy47

    The christians opened the door with their bible study groups and the SSA walked right in.  That’s the best part for me.  I guess that was one of those tricks of “The Great Deceiver” , as they call him.  

    Even though I don’t believe in a devil, I am a big fan of the first commandment of the blues;  “Don’t let the devil ride. If you let him ride he’ll want to drive.”

  • viaten

    Are there any figures on the number of individuals rather than groups?

  • Egm25001

    Isn’t all growth super big when you’re growing from 0? I’m an atheist, but get real.

    • Egm25001

       Not to mention, this is number of groups, not number of people.

  • Dkahncj

    It’s nice that SSA is growing at such a high rate, but claiming that as a victory b/c CCC is only growing more slowly is a bit like saying China’s current growth rate is a victory over the West. When your numbers are a minute fraction of your enemy’s, then beating them in growth rate is not much to brag about. That would be like someone who makes $1000/year bragging to me about how his income doubled in the past year, and expecting me to admit he’s having more success in his career than I am.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    ” to evangelize their university campuses for atheism or non-theism.”

    From dictionary.com:
    e·van·ge·lize   [ih-van-juh-lahyz] 
    verb 1. to preach the gospel to. 2. to convert to Christianity.
    Uhm… You are using this word, Mr. Craig… but I do not think it means what you seem to think it means.

    • 3lemenope

      See, wiktionary has the 2nd meaning as:

      2. To be enthusiastic about something, and to attempt to share that enthusiasm with others.

      Which has been a common use for quite a while. A person can be a coffee evangelist or an Internet evangelist or a diet evangelist, or, yes, a secular evangelist. All it means is that you have enough enthusiasm about an idea or a product that you want to spread it to others.

    • Evangelical Atheist

      The earliest use I find of the exact phrase “evangelical atheist” is from 1874: http://goo.gl/Xkv94

      It is used to describe Diderot.

    • jjramsey

      If you scroll down more on the page with the definition of “evangelize”, you’ll see this:

      1. to preach the Christian gospel or a particular interpretation of it (to)
      2. ( intr ) to advocate a cause with the object of making converts
      The second definition is something that quite a few atheists do, and for good reason.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    $500,000,000/yr!!!  That’s over $287,000 per group!  They ONLY grew 16%.  You could hire a team of people for each group just to help them organize, and that team of people could be considered part of the group…so even if no one showed up they could claim to have a group.

  • http://twitter.com/arjaizen Bob Moynihan

    While it would be silly to say that such outstanding percentage growth is trivial, it’s important to not get too full of ourselves.  That 16% growth on their side was still 251 new groups, compared to 139 for the SSA during the same time period.  They’re still pulling away.

    Maintain a 116% growth rate for  another year or two, start beating their growth rate in raw numbers and closing that gap, then there will be something to really crow about.  I think it can happen.

  • Frank

    I loathe William Lane Craig. But I digress…

    What I hate most about all religions is that they take children at a very young age and tell them, “this is how you should think.” The natural inquisitiveness of children is squelched and stomped into submission.

    Is it any wonder why secular groups are rising?  The biggest reason the church is as big as it is, is generation upon generation of fear tactics.  How is a child being raised in the type of family that says, “believe what we believe or else…” supposed to have a voice?

    And what does that say about the parents?  To the secular minded parents like this are an abomination.  Just as we are to the minds of those type parents.  But how can you hate free thought?

    Groups like the SSA give strength to adolescents in those situations.  They tell them that they are not alone.  It’s amazing what can happen when you have a group of people that collectively say to you, “we’ve got your back.”

    • Brian Scott

      While I don’t deny severe indoctrination in may cases, I’m not certain religion survives merely by such tactics. I was raised Catholic, and never felt particularly pressured into the faith (though I won’t say I was given opportunity to explore elsewhere, but that was incidental) and was very reluctant to become atheist even after rejecting Christianity, settling for Deism for a good long while.

    • Amit

       Unless and until you read all the academic literature by Professor Craig, you have no valid opinion. Even his atheist academic peers have applauded his academic works. 

      • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

        That is an incredibly asinine statement to make. The comment wasn’t even about Craig except for a comment of personal distaste for him. And Craig is not so vital that you can’t have an opinion without having read his writings (which, I might note, I have in part).

  • http://twitter.com/LarryRedpill Laurence Martins

    Craig is another believer in the teachings and life of the historical Jesus of Nazareth and excellent philosopher that argues for something more than a “trend”.  It seems a bit naive to compare the SSA’s cause or anti-cause with a “trend” that has survived over 2k years…

    maybe focusing on the dialogue would be better for both “sides” instead of worrying…because if truth exists, it’s also through a dialogue between groups that it will be revealed to those that are searching for it. 

    peace b w/u

    • amycas

       Well, it’s also not fair to compare the growth rate of secularists because until the last 2 centuries, in most countries, it was legal for Christians to ostracize, arrest, or kill non-believers, or anybody else who questioned. It’s pretty easy to maintain hegemony over the cultural/religious landscape when you’re able to kill with impunity anybody who disagrees. Besides that, just because a religious idea or belief has been around for a long time, doesn’t add credence to its claims. Buddhism, Shintoism and Hinduism have been around longer than Christianity, but both of us can agree that doesn’t make those religions any more true.

  • Cheese

    Some atheists are afraid of christians like you to come out.

    But that number is rising. Many are coming out forming groups, and donating to causes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1690590417 Darren Turner

      Athiests arent afraid of christians (at least their ideas). Ask any atheist – we would LOVE more christians to have honest conversations with us. Sadly, they would rather legislate their views – thats all theyre capable of.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    While I see the need to answer false claims, I feel like I need to take a shower in bleach just reading about WLC.  He is a truly vile man.

    So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

    • Brian Scott

      Yes, that was one of the more egregiously evil apologetics I’ve seen. Reminds me of some Calvinists and other Reformers. Logic based on faulty premises can lead to all sorts of evil ideology.

      • Amit

         Unless and until you read all the academic literature by Professor Craig, you have no valid opinion. Even his atheist academic peers have applauded his academic works. 

        • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

          Stop spamming this thread with your adoration of WLC.

    • Amit

      What a vile person you are! Unless and until you read all the academic literature by Professor Craig, you have no valid opinion. Even his atheist academic peers have applauded his academic works. 

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Name one.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1690590417 Darren Turner

        Name one “atheist academic peer” of his that has praised ANY of his work? I can save you a google search: none. His work is pure fiction and shoddy academic work.

  • Robster

    Bill Craig is using the term “evangelize” as an adjective. He thinks(?) that this will upset the atheists because that’s what he wants to do. He’s singing to his team of losers who wait with baited breath for each nonsense he utters because it sounds sort of cool.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      Uh, “evangelize” is a verb.

  • CultOfReason

    A more useful figure would be to look at the percentage of SSA groups vs. CRU groups as a function over time.   That will show whether we’re catching up or losing ground, and at what rate.

  • Eric Snyder

    Numbers are one thing–an impressive thing, and they are to be celebrated. But they won’t really put the fear of secularism, atheism, humanism and skepticism into Craig until we start changing the curricula on college campuses as well. How many students, for instance, can take a course on critical thinking and skepticism? On the scientific study of religion? On humanist ethics and philosophy? How many students can graduate from college not having taken a course in evolution/geology/-astronomy-cosmology? We have tons of work to do here. Let start!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Harris/100000793669786 Kevin Harris

    Notice the personal attacks on Dr. Craig in these comments! This is exhibit A that many in the so-called “New Atheism” are also the NEW FUNDAMENTALISTS! Let’s see how YOU like it for awhile! Fundy’s call names, whine, gloat, put their hands over their ears, and will not engage the arguments. They concentrate on demagoguery and personalities. They disdain dialogue.

    Are we Christians getting a dose of our own medicine? Yes! But I pity thoughtful atheists and non-theists the embarrassment and frustration now being foisted upon you by your own community. And they represent you whether you like it or not! I can testify! You remember that next time you vomit Phelps and their ilk on me!At least there is a philosophical and intellectual renaissance among Christians now clearing the clouds of anti-intellectualism and emotionalism that has plagued the church (for various reasons). Not so in most of the atheist movement. You just don’t have the intellectual muscle (unless you think Dawkins rightly handled teleology!)

    The intellectual muscle you do have by and large respects Bill Craig and deals with his arguments. Will you do that or will you be a Phelps? Engage the arguments or get out of the way!

    Hemant, I’m about to make you a little more famous in an upcoming podcast on Reasonable Faith concerning one of your past posts. I hope you see the respect and fairness toward you in the dialogue.

    Kevin Harris

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        The intellectual muscle you do have by and large respects Bill Craig and deals with his arguments. Will you do that or will you be a Phelps? Engage the arguments or get out of the way! 

      I am aware of a few people who have debated him in the past.  And I’ll give you Bill Craig is a skilled debater.  I’d honestly say he pushed Hitchens farther than anyone I’ve ever seen, and that was pre-C Hitchens.

      That said, I think Richard Dawkins set the new standard.  Nobody is under any obligation to ‘deal with arguments’ or to give anyone else attention.  Bill Craig has his own venues to spread his philosophy and theology.  Not engaging him doesn’t mean anyone has to ‘get out of the way’.  Bill is free to preach how good it was for God to order genocide, and the rest of us are free to ignore him as much as possible.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Harris/100000793669786 Kevin Harris

        I’m not just speaking of Dawkins necessarily.  I’m speaking of the issues in general discussed by people in general included on blogs like this.

        But it is telling that Dawkins has been very informed that Craig is the main man to interact with these days concerning theism and atheism yet has not even bothered to respond to the multiple critiques Craig has offered of his work. At least he can respond to them in print!

        The reason I and others around the world have pushed for a Dawkins/Craig debate is to show that Dawkins is not some titan of atheistic defeat of God arguments. In fact, Dawkins has shown himself enormously incompetent discussing theology/philosophy.

        Now, do you want to acknowledge the gist of my post or just bring out your “genocide” sugar stick? And anyone who just wants to cloud the issues with red herrings and rhetoric is doing a dis-service to intellectual and cultural progress and does need to get out of the way in my opinion!

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Will you [respect Bill Craig and deal with his arguments] or will you be a Phelps?

          False dichotomy.  Not engaging or respecting Craig does not make one a Phelps.

          Engage the arguments or get out of the way!

          Another false dichotomy.  Nobody is in your, or Craig’s, way.  ‘Not engaging’ is not ‘in the way’.

          If that’s not your gist, then you’ll have to live with me not getting your gist.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Harris/100000793669786 Kevin Harris

            It’s not a false dichotomy. I didn’t pretend that there are only two options.  I contrasted what we’ve all hated about fundamentalism with where I think we all hope to aspire.

            And if you think I’m just speaking of someone’s being in my or Craig’s way, then you are indeed missing the gist. But that is most likely due to my poor communication skills.


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