16% nonbelievers?

I was trying out the Center for Inquiry‘s new podcast, Point of Inquiry. Pretty decent programs, actually. Well worth listening to.

One thing, however, rubbed me the wrong way. They used this by now infamous “according to blah blah poll, 16% of Americans are nonreligious” statement, with the implication that this 16% were nonbelievers, almost-humanists, whatever. No. That poll is pretty well known, and it doesn’t show this at all. Most of these 16% have strong supernatural beliefs, either of a quite conventional theistic sort or a more more eclectic New Age variety. They might not go to church regularly, they might think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” but they are certainly not godless infidels by any stretch of the imagination. The best information I can find puts the number of Americans truly without supernatural beliefs between 1 and 6%. That’s it. And if I remember right, magazines asociated with the CFI (Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer) have already made this point anyway.

I don’t know what the motivation is here — security in numbers, the “I’m not alone” feeling? Whatever it is, I wish this whole numbers-exaggeration business would stop.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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