Pew Research finds that 8 percent of atheists believe in God

Pew Research finds that 8 percent of atheists believe in God November 11, 2015

A recent study says that 8% of atheists believe in God. How can that be?

Richard Dawkins / YouTube Screen Capture
Richard Dawkins / YouTube Screen Capture

Pew Research released a study a few weeks ago that showed the rise in the non-religious, but there was a strange data point in the data about atheists. It said that some of them believe in God.

Now, Pew has released a “7 Facts About Atheists” post which is pretty interesting about the growing numbers, their acceptance or rejection of religious roles in people’s lives, but there is one “fact” they point to that cannot be ignored, point number 4 reads:

Although the literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who believes that God does not exist,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 8% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Indeed, 2% say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit.

This is flat out incorrect. The second someone says they believe in God or are absolutely certain God exists, they are not atheists. So the actual number is 0 percent, not 8 percent and not 2 percent. It is zero.

This is because atheism is already defined. If you don’t fit that definition, you’re not an atheist. Simple. So someone who claims to be an atheist, then says God exists is simply wrong about their self-labeling or willfully lying.

I suspect many people wrongly believe that atheism means having no religion. These people should be corrected, not added to the atheist category of a study.

If someone asks me my race and I say “fish,” I am not categorized as a fish, I am corrected that I am wrong about my label.

The second part of this “fact” is just as important. It reads:

Alternatively, there are many people who fit the dictionary definition of “atheist” but do not call themselves atheists. About three times as many Americans say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit (9%) as say they are atheists (3%).

This is likely caused by two things. One being people who, like those above, are unclear about the definition of atheism and, therefore, don’t apply it to themselves, or secondly, they fear the negative connotations of the word atheist and reject it.

As atheists, we must work to fix both. As an underrepresented group in the U.S., we must get more atheists to be openly so and be counted. This gives us a stronger voice in the public discourse.

But we also need to work to change the image of atheism. Americans in general still have a distrust of atheists because they have an evil image in their heads put there by bad religious leaders or uninformed parents.

People also associate atheism as a brand of the kind of non-belief you have. Many think atheists have to be anti-religious like Richard Dawkins, but don’t understand that many atheists work with religion through humanism, someone like James Croft.

In this case, we must educate the public about the plurality of atheism. They can join the outspoken activists or they show up to a Sunday Assembly, or they can stay home or go about their daily lives as though nothing has changed and simply tick a box that says “atheist” or be honest when someone asks.

This type of mass exposure will change the face of atheism forever. We just need to get our facts and labels straight.

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