Study Contends There Are Twice as Many Atheists in America as Polls Show

Article: Big Think

An interesting result from an interesting method of polling.

A recent study at the University of Kentucky finds a lot of what they call “closet atheists." Researchers Will Gervais and Maxine Najle say there’s a lot of stigma surrounding atheism. Several polls have shown that people find atheists less trustworthy, even immoral. As a result, many lie to the pollster because they feel uncomfortable sharing their true feelings, Gervais and Najle say.

According to Gervais and Najle, atheism in the US may be as high as 26%, more than double Pew’s findings.

Pew had it at nine percent. A 2016 Gallup poll say’s 10% of Americans are atheists. But Gervais said, “We can say with a 99 percent probability that it’s higher than [11 percent].”

It's important to note, the 26% atheist count stands on its own.  This is different from the often cited 25% of the population known as the "nones" which includes atheists and agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics, non-affiliated, undecided, and humanists together as one group.   

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Right now I think the number of atheists is less important than the number of VOCAL atheists, especially with Drumpf & Co. doing everything they can to prop up a christian population which is steadily declining and not liking it very much.  We need people who are willing to speak up and be active; otherwise, whatever numbers Pew or the University of Kentucky care to quote aren't going to mean diddly.

I concur. A Hartford Institute study said that more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly yet it actually turned out that less than 20 percent actually do. There is also a study that says that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans own a Bible and yet half have read little or none of it.

A study comparing for 2,000 respondents just number of true-for-them statements on comparable lists seems a far stretch to the claim of 26% atheism. There are too many other possible explanations, and an error bar.

Loren, you're right.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease.  But it would be nice if "atheist" didn't have such a stigma attached to it.  We would definitely get more strength in numbers at public events if closet atheists weren't so timid.  I totally understand those whose financial or living conditions, or relationships, depend on staying silent, but I don't think that's the case for the vast majority.  Too many non-religious people are so disinterested in the topic of religion that they don't get involved or pay attention, even when egregious violations or legislation occur.  It's just like all the politically apathetic non-voters we have in this country.

And I concur with you, Gary.  Self-reporting polling is always subject to bias, especially on topics of religion.  For myself, if a pollster asked me today if I own a bible I would truthfully have to tell them I did.  Of course it's been sitting in a storage box unopened for at least a couple decades.  It was a gift to me for my Confirmation when I was thirteen.  But yeah, I'm one of the 9 of 10 bible owners.

Ruth, I'm also a bit skeptical about the 26% but I definitely believe our numbers are larger than what has historically been reported.  I know the U.S. and Europe have their general differences but really, how drastically different can we be, as individuals, in our views of religion.  I think one of the major religious problems here is that a minority of outspoken fundamentalists have managed to get an inordinate number of their ilk elected to public office, thus setting the religious tone in this country.  

As I mentioned above, too many people are apathetic regarding politics and religion, so these fundamentalist politicians have gone mostly unchallenged.  Adding to that particular problem is the false notion that "Religion" should not be questioned and should always be respected.  That's complete bullshit.  "I respect your religious views" does not pass muster when those views infringe on government policy or basic human rights which are granted to us in our secular constitution.  

"...basic human rights which are granted to us in our secular constitution."

FA, I read a lot of what lawyers write about the Constitution. Few if any say rights are granted to us in the Constitution; many say the Constitution identifies rights the government may not lawfully infringe, or violate.

Many explicitly say these rights pre-date the Constitution.

Further, I've read a lot of history about the centuries of conflict, and even war, between England's House of Commons and English monarchs. Again and again during these centuries, members of Commons referred to "our ancient and undoubted rights"

Yes, Tom.  Perhaps a better phrase would be "rights which are protected by our constitution."  

Preach it Carl ;)
The religious nuts and the pretenders are running the country. And ruining it.

I agree with you, Carl. The problem with many of these silent atheists is that they are afraid of losing loved ones, jobs, and friends so they just keep silent and pretend. When confronted by anyone they might say in frustration "well, I believe that we came from somewhere."

That whole idea bothers me about as much as those people who say they agree that the bible is myth and not true "but their still could be a god." Oh, really. Which god might that be? How would you find out and why has he not shown himself before?

Humans are so gullible and I used to be one of them.

I would agree the number is higher but people don't want to identify as atheist because of the social stigma attached. Young people are turning their backs on religion in large numbers.
I've been a closeted atheist my entire life. I went to church, called myself a Christian, and pretended for years. Funny thing is I had read a lot of Bertrand Russell at a young age and never connected his writings with my conflict. By my early thirties I came out about being an atheist to a few people. Several years later I would tell anyone who asked me about religion that I am an atheist. It's the most freeing thing I've ever done.

The system used in this poll is ... unorthodox ... but there's no reason it couldn't get accurate results.  It just seems a little shaky.




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