About Atheism and Atheists:
Number of Atheists
in the U.S.,
|According to the 2001 World Almanac, Atheists numbered at the time:
|American Atheists have claimed that
almost 30 million Americans are Atheists. They define "Atheist" broadly to
include those who firmly believe that no God exists, those that have no belief
in God, and those for whom the term "God" has no meaning. This is a broad
enough definition to include what some others call Atheists and Agnostics. 30 million individuals would amount to about 9% of the total population.|
According to the 1991 Canadian Census, there were only 13,515 Atheists in Canada
out of a population that was almost 30 million!
This would be on the order of 0.045% of the total population! However, this number cannot be an accurate value. Many Atheists probably identified themselves to
the census taker as Humanists, Free thinkers, Unitarians, Ethical
Culturalists, persons of no religion, as NOTAs (NOT Affiliated with a religion) etc. Other Atheists probably lied and identified with an organized religion because they did not want to reveal their true beliefs to a stranger asking very personal questions over the telephone.
Canadian Angus-Reid poll taken in the mid-1990's studied people's
religious beliefs. They found that about 14% of
Canadians admit to being Atheists. That would include about 4 million adults in the country. The pollsters found out, apparently to their embarrassment, that
Atheists formed the largest single faith belief in Canada. So
they split the group into two sub-classifications: real Atheists, and
Atheists who attend religious services. By this trick, they made certain that a
Christian classification became the largest category.|
|The Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted the
American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS)
in 2001. It was a massive study involving the
interview of over 50,000 adults. They estimate that 902,000 (0.4%) of
Americans identify themselves as Atheists.
The number of Atheists makes them the fifth largest religious classification, after Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and
|The Gallup Organization regularly finds that about 93% of the 228.2 million
American adults (excluding those in Alaska and Hawaii) believe in either a
personal God or some "higher power." This source is often quoted incorrectly
by the some media outlets as stating that over 90% of Americans believe in a personal God. |
|The ARIS study was repeated during 2008. They asked American adults with
which religion, if any, they identified themselves. Only 1.6% of American adults call
themselves either Atheist or Agnostic. The pollsters then asked the
respondents about their belief, if any, in God. They found:|
A massive study of religiosity and Atheism was conducted during 2005 and again during 2012 by WIN-Gallup International. 11
Pollsters asked the question:
"Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious persons, or a convinced atheist?
The question is somewhat ambiguous because:
The world-wide average responses to the question were:
The percentage of Atheists varied greatly by education:
The percentage of Atheists was also sensitive to income:
Age was not a significant factor, until people exceed 65 years-of-age when perhaps end-of-life issues became a major personal concern:
It has long been suspected that public opinion polls do not give an accurate estimate of the number of Atheists in the U.S. and elsewhere. There is so much discrimination and dislike of Atheists that many of them are reluctant to reveal their personal religious beliefs to a total stranger over the phone who claims to be from a polling agency.
All of the above polling data is thus believed to greatly underestimate the percentage of Atheists in the country and the rest of the world.
Pamela Whissel, the Editor in Chief of the American Atheist, wrote an article in that journal about the number of Atheists in the U.S. It is titled "Hiding in Plain Sight" and has a catchy subtitle:
"If you let them stay in the closet, atheists just might let you know they exist." 13
In her article's first paragraph, she writes:
"In 2014, the Pew Research Center and Gallup both conducted phone surveys to measure religious demographics in the United States. Pew reported that 3% of Americans are atheist, while Gallup’s results pointed to 11% of Americans not believing in God. So who’s right? Quite possibly neither.
"Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, something else, nothing in particular, non-denominational Christian, Unitarian, and Jehovah’s Witness."
Those who selected "nothing in particular" were then asked a second question: whether they considered themselves atheist, agnostic, or literally "nothing in particular." Atheists were thus required to admit directly and unambiguously that they were Atheists.
Pamela Whissel commented:
"This comes as no surprise to Will Gervais, an evolutionary and cultural psychologist at the University of Kentucky. His research focuses on the cognitive, evolutionary, and cultural forces that facilitate supernatural beliefs and how these beliefs in turn affect cognition, evolution, and culture. For his doctoral dissertation at the University of British Columbia, he researched how atheists in the U.S. are perceived by the general population. What did he find? The title of an article in Pacific Standard magazine about his work said it best:
'Americans Intuitively Judge Atheists as Immoral.'
His research has produced some of the best evidence we have of the widespread prejudice against atheists. Given what he knew about the prejudice, Gervais couldn’t help but think that the Gallup and Pew numbers were low -- not from faulty polling, but from the unfounded yet pervasive mistrust felt toward atheists."
Will Gervais commented in the Pacific Standard magazine:
"Social pressures favoring religiosity, coupled with stigma against religious disbelief, might cause people who privately disbelieve in God to nonetheless self-present as believers, even in anonymous questionnaires."
He joined with another University of Kentucky psychologist Maxine Najle. Together, they conducted a survey using the "unmatched count" polling technique which finds more accurate data by using an indirect technique:
From the differences between responses of the the two groups Gervais was able to estimate that 26% of the second random group were Atheists. This is far more than previous polls conducted by large polling agencies who used more traditional, direct questioning methods that asked Atheists to reveal their religious beliefs.
Finally, they conducted:
They found that the number of Atheists was slightly lower than was found with Steps 1 & 2. They suggest that people were more anxious about denying God's existence even though the polling agency would not be able to know whether they were an Atheist.
This poll means that in 2018:
Dr. Gervais said:
"There’s a lot of atheists in the closet, and ... if they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance." 15
Hopefully, this polling technique will be replicated regularly in the future in order to determine the rate of change in the percentage of adult Atheists in the U.S.
Pamela Whissel concludes:
"According to the definitive authority on the English language, [the Oxford English Dictionary,] if you don’t believe in Zeus, you’re an atheist. If you don’t believe in Allah, you’re an atheist. If you don’t believe in Vishnu, you’re an atheist.
"This word [atheist] describes everyone, yet almost everyone is afraid of it. Atheists who do believe in a god are afraid because they don’t understand that the word applies to them. Closeted atheists who believe in no gods at all are afraid of it because other types of atheists are afraid of it. No one needs to be this afraid, and no good can ever come of this ridiculous motif of fear."
"Religion has hijacked one of the few words that accurately describes every person on Earth, but religion can also be used to rescue it. The starting point for most people of the Judeo-Christian persuasion is the Ten Commandments. The very first, and most important, is 'Thou shalt worship no other god.' This is nothing if not a mandate for atheism. Helping religious people understand that good atheists make good believers could break open the doors of a lot of noxious closets."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Copyright © 1996 to 2018, by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-SEP-23
Author: B.A. Robinson
This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only
After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.
Copyright © 1996 to 2018, by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance