Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Answering Accusations That I Misread Stats on Unbelievers


Hermit says in response to my argument that they read the tables wrong on atheists and Christians in prison "you constantly misread the number of unbelievers. But these are two very different things.

Look at the tables used by atheists who say this (that Christians are 20 times more likely to go to prsion than atheists) they present a table and in that table it says some percentage of atheist and it's like 0.209% and that is just a couple of hundred people. Then below the chart there's another figure that says "none, no religion or other." IN that was are like 65,000 people or something. It's a huge difference. Obviously these these are both atheists. "none" for religious would probably include some atheists if not be totally atheists. Well then these contradict. Since they are in the same table you have to ask "what exactly is being counted?" The few hundred it says "religious preference." So those are atheists who put "atheism" as their religious preference. The rest as atheists who do not list a religious preference. But the people doing the web site count it as though the bottom group didn't exist.

that is clearly different than the matter of trying to count atheists in society. The prison population is easy to define and since they do that questionable they are easy to tag as "religous" or "non religious."

I have pages on Doxa in which this is all explained. There are about four major studies that proport to count this. They all give different facts, but if we remember there is a three percent margin of error in any survey then it makes sense that the Pew study finds as few as 1.6% of the American population as "do not believe in any sort of God or higher power" while some other study finds as many as 4%. So that is an honet reason why are there aer different figures. But it's safer to round it off at the median average of 3%.

There's another factor in this. Some go as high as 12% (not these major four studies but other studies). The reason they do is because they do not distinguish between people who say "I really do not believe in any sort of God or higher power" vs those who say "maybe there's a God but I don't believe in any religious group so I am not a member of a group." So if we go with that its as high as 12 or maybe (margin of error) 15. But, these are not really atheists. This could conceivably include people like me who believes in God ardently but does not go to chruch and is not a member of a group (although I consider myself to be a Methodist). It certainly includes Pantheists. So there could Pantheists who resist thinking of themselves as atheists. It could include a lot of people who say "I think there probably is a God but none of the churches I know really represent the true God." So these are not atheits!

Atheist also Play with those definitions when they want to. Most of the time they say "don't believe in god or gods" and they will be staunch about it. But when it comes to trying to inflate their numbers they will includes those who say "there might be a god but I don't like religion." If we make them stick to their own definition there are no mroe than 6% at best and probably as few as 3%. maybe as few as 1.6%.

Again the four major studies, which can be seen on my page on Doxa, find them from 1.6 to 4%. So its safe to just round it off at 3%.

But Hermit answers:

(quoting me): that's ridiculous. It's clearly more excusable than misreading a table. The reason for it is because there many different studies and some don't distinguish between actual unbelief and non religous membership."

And you like to cherry pick them interpret them in a way that supports your belief and that atheists are an even tinier minority than they are The American Religion Survey shows about 12% of Americans either disbelieve in, or doubt the the existence of, god(s), even if they don't all self identify as atheists or agnostics. That's consistent with that survey's findings historically, by the way. You can check their methodolgy at the link in my last comment.

He's not taking account of the distinction between non affliated and disbelieving. Here's the break down the Pew study gives (I think that's the one he refers to) of the overall group "unaffiliated."

  • Unaffiliated
    • Atheist
    • Agnostic
    • Nothing in particular

Other studies that back it up (in varying degrees) shows Atheists at 0.4% of U.S. Population.

Atheist 1990 adult pop: 902,000 2004= 1,272,986 Percentrage of Pop = 0.4%

a note on this statistical table says:

2004 total population numbers were calculated by multiplying each group's percent of the total adult 2001 population (207,882,353) by the 2004 total population (using the June 1, 2004 U.S. Census Bureau extrapolated estimate of 293,382,953 total Americans). The U.S. Census Bureau total U.S. population estimate for 2000, based on the actual 2000 Census, was: 281,421,906. The U.S. Census Bureau total U.S. population estimate for July 1, 2001 was: 293,655,404. The adult (ages 18 and over) population estimate for July 1, 2001 was: 220,377,406. The total adult population for 2001 used in the 2001 ARIS study (apparently counting only adults aged 21 and over) was: 207,882,353. For 2001 figures, see: 293655404 This method of extrapolating the 2004 total population of each religious group from the 2001 adult population of each group does not factor in differences in the average number of children per adult for each religious group.

Just for amazement here's the quote from an athiest on CARM making the claim that atheism was up to 17% in America. His backing was the very study I quote above that really puts them at 1.6%.The problem is he didn't read it for the break down. He also distorted the over percetrage.

Great news--new study supports the rising tide of Nonbelief

The Pew Center for Religion and the Public Life just came out with a new large poll on religious affiliations in the U.S. Tally up the numbers, and you'll see that Christians make up about 76.8 percent of the U.S. population, and those with no affiliation (atheists, agnostics, don't identify with any religious group but may consider themselves vaguely "spiritual") was 16.1 percent. Another .8 percent said the don't know or refused to answer--since that is not what any God-fearing religious person would say, I would add it to the "No Affilation" side of the ledger. Rounding, we have Christians as 77% and the non-religious at 17%. All other religions are in the low single digits.

The study overall found that people move around quite a bit religiously and a large percentage don't have the same religion as their parents. However, the "no affiliation" group was clearly growing and were losing far few people than they were gaining. The non-belief crowd is like a slow rising flood--there was a time we would have been in the low single digits, but now we are up to 17% overall and are an even higher percentage of the young. With each passing generation, more and more people are considering themselves as non-religious.

In my lifetime, I expect to see this number get up to 25% or more overall, and my kids could see a USA where the majority of Americans are finally secular rather than religious in their world view. Hallelujah!
Of course the problem is he didn't look at the break down that puts real actual atheism as 1.6%, agnsoticism as 2% and "nothing in particular" at 12%. But "nothing in particular" doesn't mean not believing in God it means no lable. But the actual "I dont' believe there is aGod" people are in another group. You have to look at the actual study. The statistical table compiled for prisions refered to atheist as religious preference and a larger "none" pile which inculded non believers who felt they did not have a religion. But this stud did not do it that way. It puts actual atheists in one group and other non joiners in another group.

you have to read the study.


Anonymous said...

Joe, I was directly quoting the most recent American Religious Identification Survey which says:

Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure)

So take it up with them if you have a problem with their statistics...;-)

J.L. Hinman said...

"Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death."

they are concluding they are atheist its' not that they call themselves that. They do not. So they are making an assertion. But that's not fari because those people would not say that.

now are these guys making that assumption because they only count a big man in the sky as God and if people say "I think there might be something but I don't know what" they count it as "atheist."

that is clearly not valid in terms counting the atheist population. ITs' also one study compared to about four others.

J.L. Hinman said...

Not nearly the same as misreading a table of statistics. It's a disagreement between studies at best.

I think the Pew study and adherent and Gallap are all more authoritative.

Anonymous said...

First of all they aren't saying 12% are atheists (that's your misreading; they say 12% are atheist or agnostic based on the definition of an atheist as someone who doesn't believe in God and an agnostic as someone who doubts the existence of God.

They also identify another 12% as "deists"; that would be the folks who reject the "big man in the sky" model but still believe in a "higher power.

So, contrary to your misreading of this study, they are NOT lumping all of those people in as "atheists"; they actually identify 24% of the population who are either atheist, agnostic or deist, with about half of those falling into the first two categories.

I think if you look closely at other studies you'll find similar data; Pew, for example, finds 4% who are "uncertain" if God exists, 5% who do not believe in God and another 3% who "don't know or refuse to answer."

Now I agree with you that we can't argue from this that 12% of the population are atheists, but honestly I don't see anyone seriously arguing that point as rigidly as you seem to think they are. But it is pretty clear that the number of people who either don't believe in God, have doubts about the existence of God or are simply indifferent to the question (and they may be smarter than all of us...;-)...) is higher than the mere 1.6% who have the courage (and it takes courage in American society) to openly identify themselves as atheists.

J.L. Hinman said...

I quoted from the article you linked to. That doesn't show the question or how they asked it, but it does say directly that only 1.6% call themselves atheists, and the other they are inferring.

I don't necessarily trust their inference becasue they don't always make valid assumptions about what constitutes belief in God.