Researchers Studied a Decade’s Worth of Atheist Conferences to See If We’re Getting More Diverse

The stereotypical atheist is usually a white guy — Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, to name a few — but there’s been a push over the past several years to go beyond that, to promote the views of atheists who are women, minorities, LGBT, etc.

Sure, you might be able to name people who fit one or more of those categories, but one way to quantify whether there’s a real shift happening movement-wide is by looking at who’s speaking at various atheist conferences.

Christopher Hassall and Ian Bushfield did just that.

They looked at “48 atheist conferences held between 2003 and 2014″ to see what the trends were regarding women and non-white speakers, and they just published their results in the journal Secularism and Nonreligion. That meant analyzing as much as they could from “1223 speaker slots and 630 different speakers.”

So what did they discover?

Women represented just over 30% of all the conference speakers they looked at over the past decade, which is significantly below the percentage of female atheists worldwide.



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According to the Egyptian Government, There Are Precisely 866 Atheists in the Country

According to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, atheists (who use that label) comprise 1.6% of the population… If there are about 316,000,000 Americans, that means there are about 5,056,000 atheists in the country.

The key word in all that is “about.” There are undoubtedly a lot of Americans who don’t believe in God but who don’t use the “atheist” label. There are probably lots of atheists who lie and just say they’re religious because of the stigma. We also have to consider the margin of error for the survey. In other words, what we have are strong estimates at best. And every survey reveals slightly different numbers.

But not in Egypt. They don’t do estimates in Egypt:



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Is Worldwide Discrimination Against Atheists Really Getting Worse? Big Report From Humanist Organization Says Yes

As much as I appreciate and sometimes admire the work of think tanks and advocacy groups, I’m automatically a bit leery of what they have to say.

If your job is, for example, to advocate against sexual violence, and the time comes to write your organization’s annual report, you’d probably have a hard time concluding that things are getting better instead of worse. Understandably, perhaps, you’d look at one set of sexual-assault stats (let’s say, the National Crime Victimization Survey, which claims that the incidence of rape is relatively low), and you might decide that the Department of Justice Campus Sexual Assault Study, which proclaims rape to be almost epidemic, better fits what you believe to be the truth.

This confirmation bias is all around us (there are no doubt instances of it on this very site). Whatever the statistical trend, I don’t think you’ll ever hear Greenpeace executives say that this year, humankind has made great strides in avoiding ecological disaster. Nor are you likely to hear the folks at the American Enterprise Institute touting studies that show that the government has shrunk, and that the free market is on an inexorable upswing.

Too much is wrapped up in continuing the narrative that things are, from the organization’s standpoint, getting worse. A good dose of pessimism, whether warranted or not, does at least six internally beneficial things:

  • Preserves the ideological message within the organization (“we’re fighting the good fight”);
  • Makes its workers and followers more cohesive (“we’re all in this good fight together”);
  • Makes workers and followers more motivated (“the organization needs my moral and intellectual support”);
  • Helps greatly with fundraising (“the organization needs my financial support”);
  • May therefore allow the organization to grow its payroll or projects, or both;
  • Increases the organization’s access to news media (because bad news “sells” better than good news).

This little riff is not meant to disparage the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which yesterday released a 539-page report — the real subject of this post — on how the rights of non-religious people are under increasing attack.



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Why is the U.S. Becoming Increasingly Secular? A New Book Explains This and More

Phil Zuckerman is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College who writes about atheism beyond the issue of God’s existence. His previous books include Society Without God and Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion. (In case you missed it, he was also a recent guest on our podcast.)

His latest book, Living the Secular Life, is all about how atheists get by without God.

In the excerpt below, Zuckerman offers an explanation of why the religious demographics are shifting in our direction:

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New Survey Finds That Not All Americans Take Christian Beliefs Seriously; Ken Ham, As Usual, Blames Evolution

A study commissioned by Ligonier Ministries and conducted by LifeWay Research found that not all Americans believe in the tenets of Christianity. While this is disturbing news for the ministry, it’s wonderful news for those of us working to loosen the grip of religion in the country. Half of Americans don’t buy into all this nonsense!



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