Atheism is Underreported

A study cited by RNS (Religion News Service- here) claims that atheists in America are far more common than previously thought. The reporter, Kimberly Winston, cites a range of 3-10%, but she conflates atheism, agnosticism, and indifference. The high range for atheism is about 3%, with perhaps twice as many agnostics. The differences are important, though the reporter ignores them. She fails to link to the study, but does link to a Vox article (here) that provides much better coverage, including a link to the study.

It turns out that the confusion between types of nonbelief in God is due to the authors of the study, who use the terms inconsistently. What they are attempting to estimate is the belief in the broader concept of nonbelief in God. They conclude, “our most credible indirect estimate is 26%.”

But there are a lot of demons in the details, and that result needs to be taken with an unhealthy amount of salt. They use a well-known research technique, under two different conditions, and get wildly different estimates for each condition. They also add a special validating question, which they get absurd results for.

Bottom line - nonbelief in God is considerably more widespread than was previously thought. The reason for this is that there are strong social pressures against such disbelief. Atheists are in many ways subject to religious persecution, but that is rarely addressed. The phrase “religious persecution” had basically been captured by organized religion, and they manipulate it to their advantage.