Atheism is a Growing Movement



Poll data shows agnostics and atheists may make up 25% of Americans. David Mills explains 10 reasons why we're about to enter a golden age of atheism.

15 comments:

Hallq said...

Hope you're right, John. Less than two hours ago I was stumbling around the lakefront after the finale of a rather disturbing e-mail exchange I had with a local CCCer.

Evie said...

The poll data is interesting. McGrath suggested in The Dawkins Delusion that atheism may be dying. This is how he accounts for the various anti-theist books that have been bestsellers in the past couple of years, such as The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, etc.

I think those books reflect that fact that more atheists feel an urgent need to counteract the dogmatism, which is often religiously inspired, that makes our world so dangerous.

I think the poll may reflect that people are becoming more comfortable telling the truth about their religious affiliations, or lack thereof. Also, those who once belonged to churches nominally may be embarrassed or frustrated by the strident dogmatism of the Religious Right and want to disassociate themselves completely from it. They may find it more desirable to identify with rational atheists than religious fanatics.

Ben said...

The growing atheism movement also shows itself in the growth of atheist meetup groups. I only started tracking the data on 6/27, but so far:

June 27, there were 155 groups in 128 cities. (Total membership is iffy because they regularly take out inactive members; it was 17,915 on 6/27 and went as high as 18,286 before they did an inactive member dump and it dropped all the way to 17,267 on 7/16.)

Tonight (August 10), there are 167 groups in 137 cities, with total membership back up to 18,301. The number of groups grew 7.7%, cities grew 7.0%, and membership grew at least 2.2% (possibly more - I'll have a better idea after the next inactive members flush.) All of this in less than 2 months.

Current stats available at http://atheists.meetup.com/about/

Stubborn Son said...

I was born and raised in the Bible Belt and tried my best to believe and fit in as an active church members for years. Like many I set my doubts and reason on the back burner so as to fit in and be accepted. Finally after dropping out from church for several years I've let go of faith and grabbed hold of reason.

Reading The God Delusion and The End of Faith have been a great help in clearing my thinking. I'm really just now beginning to take gingerly steps toward "coming out."

The more I read from rational people the more the religious people around me seem a bit "mentally ill" I don't mean that to sound ugly, it's just that the more I step away from religion the more flaws I see. Those "nice" people are really bigots.

I haven't gone to a meet up yet, but I am considering it. I'd be good to have some like minded people to talk with. I think it's important to remember that most atheist or non-religious folks are not activist. I think most of us would just like to be left alone to live reasonable lives. But it's dawning on some us of that the religious don't leave people alone. It's reflected in our laws, ect..

Sorry this is so long.

Lou

GordonBlood said...

Hmm really im not amazing surprised that this is happening in the US, considering how much heresy there is going on in the public mind (rampant and extreme dualism, mass politicalization of religion, border-line insanity of certain popular religious leaders etc). Being a Canadian myself I dont see any of this going on at all in my country, where far more rational and mainstream denominations are the norm (Catholicism, Anglicanism, Methodism). Hell if I were given the choice between being an atheist or a conservative young-earth creationist fundamentalist id be an atheist too, however whether my fellow bloggers will like it or not America, and indeed much of the west, is no longer concerned with thinking. How many of you know atheists who can really defend that belief coherently and rationally? I dont refer to people on this blog I mean in the actual run-of-the-mill situation. As far as this goes I dont really think linking agnostics with atheists is very appropriate, it seems to be a recent cantrip used by the more dogmatic atheists (if you dont believe atheists can be dogmatic, than you are flat out blind to history) to make their numbers seem far more imposing. Many of my freinds would consider themselves agnostic, but they suspect something is behind the universe and that is FAR more closer to theism, I would argue, than it is to atheism, so stats here may only help so far.

GordonBlood said...

Now for my second speel I turn to stubborn son.

"Like many I set my doubts and reason on the back burner so as to fit in and be accepted."

Well there was your first problem. I couldnt do something like that for a second myself.

Reading The God Delusion and The End of Faith have been a great help in clearing my thinking. I'm really just now beginning to take gingerly steps toward "coming out."

"Theres your second problem. If you seriously think these books give very much at all to serious discussion to the issue you are every bit as irrational as your fundamentalist countrymen. The fact is that Richard Dawkins is a brilliant evolutionary biologist (as ive said before, I strongly recommend his scientific books). However, noone should take his claims seriously when he addresses religion because he doesnt know what on earth hes talking about.

"The more I read from rational people the more the religious people around me seem a bit "mentally ill" I don't mean that to sound ugly, it's just that the more I step away from religion the more flaws I see. Those "nice" people are really bigots."

Ok, this is what really grinds my gears. You are taking a massive leap in the dark in saying that atheists are rational and Christians of all stripes are simply ignorant fools. The fact of the matter is many of western societies greatest thinkers have been and indeed are Christians. Now obviously this is not the appropriate place for serious arguments for and against theism, but to pretend that atheism is always rational is a joke beyond jokes, especially if you read Canada's humanist magazine, which is just a halarious diatribe of anti-intellectual writing. As for people seeming "mentally ill" or "bigots" you are simply polemicizing. Again, a quick look at the great atheism Madeline Ohair will show quite quickly that atheists are not always polite, rational folk who show great tolerance for other people (she was a rabid homophobe).
Finally, before I finish from frothing at the mouth (I apologize for being so direct but statements like these are maddening) I would just say this about laws... which laws in the US are justified religiously? Im considering law school and asides from some odd municipal cases I cant think of any serious laws that you would be at odds with that are a result of religion. Certainly you cannot say things like "all men are equal" if you are going to take atheism as your standard because, obviously (I imagine someone will critique me for this) atheism implies that we are all independent agents vying for power. If atheism is true than powerful people are, in the sense that such things can be judged, far more important than the homeless.
In closing, to pretend that atheism is the only seat of intellectual rationalism is not just wrong, it is seriously ignorant and, ironically, irrational. Atheism makes massive leaps of faith in its belief whereas agnosticism is more-often that not a comfortable cop-out. In either case, to pretend that all Christians are simply biblical fundamentalists (just because, for some odd reason, many Americans are) is simply beating away at a strawman... then again, you seem to like Dawkins writings, so you've learned from the best.

Btsai said...

gordonblood,

Certainly you cannot say things like "all men are equal" if you are going to take atheism as your standard because, obviously (I imagine someone will critique me for this) atheism implies that we are all independent agents vying for power. If atheism is true than powerful people are, in the sense that such things can be judged, far more important than the homeless.

Atheism is simply the lack of belief in deities. It doesn't say anything about whether we are independent agents vying for power or not. It is our *positive* beliefs that inform our conclusions about what human beings are and are not. Different atheists hold different positive beliefs. Me, I'm a secular humanist, and I find that it is perfectly possible to arrive at "all people are equal" from a secular humanist position.

Atheism makes massive leaps of faith in its belief whereas agnosticism is more-often that not a comfortable cop-out.

Again, atheism is simply the lack of belief in something. There is no faith involved in not believing in something when one does not see sufficient evidence. That's simply the default position.

Agnosticism is not some half-way position between belief and dis-belief, it's not a position about the existence of deities at all. It's a position about whether one can have absolute or certain knowledge about the existence of deities. There can be (and are) gnostic theists, gnostic atheists, agnostic theists, agnostic atheists.

I agree with many of the points that you've made. Theists are not necessarily ignorant fools, atheists are not necessarily rational, etc. It's just that your incorrect statements about atheism and agnosticism undermines the strength of your points.

Stubborn Son said...

To gordonblood, so sorry to have stepped on your toes. We live in a different culture and I was talking about the "religious people around me." No they are not all fools. Some are very intelligent, but I have different view on faith.

Dawkings and Harris are not the only writers I've read, just some of the more recent and noted. You obviously are much more learned than they and I 'm sure that a mere groundling such as I could not begin to even touch the books you've read.

GordonBlood said...

Atheism is simply the lack of belief in deities. It doesn't say anything about whether we are independent agents vying for power or not. It is our *positive* beliefs that inform our conclusions about what human beings are and are not. Different atheists hold different positive beliefs. Me, I'm a secular humanist, and I find that it is perfectly possible to arrive at "all people are equal" from a secular humanist position.

I apologize for not being clearer. I was saying that if we are going to be completely rationalist in what our function on this planet is, than we would have to go with what function is observable and that is evolution. I am, again, assuming that we are coming to only the rational conclusion. If you feel that a person taking a materialist atheist position can still say that all people are equal in the sense that we mean it I would certainly think that to be an interesting topic. Again I certainly would cheer your view towards persons, though I would question if that position is gained through rational thought or what you feel is good to do. I dont think we need to get deep into these waters however, the issues of moral relativism/objectivism are not really appropriate for this post or, indeed, anything short of a well argued book.


Again, atheism is simply the lack of belief in something. There is no faith involved in not believing in something when one does not see sufficient evidence. That's simply the default position.

I must question both the definition and the meaning of atheism. If you define atheism as simply "not believing in God" than I will (hesitantly) agree with you. However, atheism is often more dogmatic in its assertions, such as "there is no God". Also, being the critical realist that I am, I have to question whether or not the premise is even true. So long as you are simply referring to atheism as a personal belief statement rather than a fact-based assertion than I cant offer too many serious arguments against it per se. However once one opens up just abit and says "there is no God, nadda, nothing I have no doubts at all" than that most certainly is a faith position as it is assuming, positively, in the non-existence of something. For example, if I say "I dont believe in turtles" than it is not necessarily a faith statement (again, I say this hesitantly) but the second I say "there is no such thing as a turtle" than I am making a faith statement.

With regards to agnosticism I think its a matter of definition, because agnosticism is a fairly broad word. In and of itself it simply means without knowledge, but it does not mean one does not lean one way or the other. If you are going to call anyone who is not 100% sure there is a God an agnostic, than count me in, thats the entire purpose of faith (not blind faith, but a belief once one has looked at the arguments and commits to them as being true). Surely however this is not what the poll is referring to in agnosticism? My understanding with agnosticism, when used in a popular context such as this, is that people are unsure, but almost always they are leaning one way or the other. Even secular thinkers like Russell and Crick (the scientist) called themselves agnostic for this reason, even though they leaned heavily towards atheism). So yes, im assuming that the poll in question is taking the view of agnosticism which says "maybe there is, maybe there isnt, i have yet to come to a positive conclusion one way or the other". I am however aware that it is interpreted in a number of different ways, including the way that says "there is no way to tell there is or isnt a God" though that is in and of itself a faith statement, I think.

GordonBlood said...

Stubborn Son- I have nothing to say on the first part of your writing, except perhaps the breezy way you approached what I said. Certainly Dawkins and Harris are noted, but my point is they are flat out poorly suited to writing what they are writing. Like Terry Eagleton said (who is a Marxist from Britain) "Listening to Richard Dawkins talk about religion is like listening to a person talk about science when all they have read is the British Book of Birds". Obviously I am not as "learned" as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris are, mainly as a result of a generation gap (or in the case of Dawkins, two) between us. I simply read what scholars are saying on these issues, then apply some common sense to their arguments. If I came off as arrogant for some reason, which you seem to be implying, than I apologize because that was not my intention. Concerning books i more less question how one looks at them, not what they are saying so much. One can read all the scientific literature in the world, if they are already committed to creationism it doesnt matter they will ignore it. In the same sense an atheist can read every Christian scholar alive and simply come to the conclusion "oh, they are just cranking up the imagination and somehow managing to sound like they arent crazy." Then again you seem far more concerned with painting whoever disagrees with you sarcastically rather than recognize that we live in a multi-faceted world which, by its nature, is going to have different opinions on such important questions as these.

mathyoo said...

Typically, the "moderator" interrupts the single atheist, but allows the theists to finish their statements.

Also of note in the video: did you notice how the theists disagree with the scientific poll, denying the validity of their results based on their emotions?

Btsai said...

gordonblood,

I was saying that if we are going to be completely rationalist in what our function on this planet is, than we would have to go with what function is observable and that is evolution.

Minor nit-pick: there seems to be an implicit assumption that humans *have* a function or innate purpose. This is an assumption I do not share. But this is probably a discussion best saved for another time.

If you feel that a person taking a materialist atheist position can still say that all people are equal in the sense that we mean it I would certainly think that to be an interesting topic. Again I certainly would cheer your view towards persons, though I would question if that position is gained through rational thought or what you feel is good to do.

I do think it is possible to arrive at equality for all from a naturalistic position. More specifically, via evolution. Cooperation is observed to be more helpful, in terms of survival, than non-cooperation. And cooperation is better fostered when all members are valued as equals and allowed to contribute in their own way. This is a horribly shallow treatment of the subject that, as you say, deserves a deeper treatment than is possible on a blog. But I hope it serves to show one possible way to arrive at equality without belief in deities.

Let me try a different tack. To claim that atheists *cannot* arrive at concepts like equality from a naturalistic position, one would need to prove a negative, by enumerating every possible naturalistic philosophy and show that it is impossible for each to argue for equality, etc. In the absence of such an effort, it does not seem justified to make the statement "atheists cannot say things like 'all men are equal'".

If you define atheism as simply "not believing in God" than I will (hesitantly) agree with you. However, atheism is often more dogmatic in its assertions, such as "there is no God".

Yes, "not believing in God (or gods)" is the correct definition of atheism. The dogmatic version you describe is a specific sub-strain, the aptly named "strong" atheism. I, and most atheists I know, are "weak" atheists who hold the tentative position that gods are possible, there simply is insufficient evidence to support belief in them. I agree that a position of "there is no God, nadda, nothing, I have no doubts at all" would indeed be a position of faith. But since there are many atheists who do not hold that position, I feel it is incorrect to say that atheism itself requires faith.

Regarding the meaning and the poll's usage of the word "agnosticism":

I haven't seen the poll myself, so I don't know if/how they defined "agnosticism" for the poll-takers. I agree that without a clean understanding of the term, conclusions based on such poll data are suspect. I'm just doing what I can to get people to agree to the correct definition of words like agnosticism, atheism, etc., because I don't think meaningful discussion is possible when we don't even agree on the basic terms :)

I am however aware that it is interpreted in a number of different ways, including the way that says "there is no way to tell there is or isnt a God" though that is in and of itself a faith statement, I think.

I think you're right! Without exhausting every possible avenue of research, it does seem to require faith to claim that there is no way to obtain absolute/certain knowledge about gods. Thanks, I hadn't thought about this before :)

P.S. You can use standard html tags to make text bold, italicize, etc. I find that doing so makes it easier to distinguish between one's own words and quotes of others. Just my two cents.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

A couple of comments, on what -- thanks Gordon -- has become a more serious discussion than I expected -- and I'll weigh in on that IIGAC (if I get a chance, my constant plea/defense).

But I think both atheism/agnosticism and evangelicalism are making inroads in the same group, the 'conventional believers.' I'm using the term to refer to the great mass of people who would have responded 'yes' to the question "Do you believe in God?" or "Do you attend religious services?" because that was the 'right answer,' but who probably hadn't given any serious thought to the question in their adult lives.

This is the advantage of people like Dawkins and PZ. Yes, they are as ignorant of theology, religious history, and the sacred-texts as is the average Christian minister. But they 'provide cover' and allow people to accept that "No" is as 'acceptable' an answer as "Yes" was.
(Harris has a different function as well. He has a, to me, disturbing acceptance of the mystical, the spiritual, and the 'paranormal' in his thinking, an acceptance that I find as absurd as claims of most religions. But I am aware that for many people this type of fuzzy 'bet-hedging' is necessary, and Harris gives people a chance to hold on to this type of thinking and still reject the teachings of religion.

Bruce said...

Also of note in the video: did you notice how the theists disagree with the scientific poll, denying the validity of their results based on their emotions?

That's exactly what I came here to say. I love how that one guy argues "You can't just ask 2000 people about their religious beliefs and have a valid poll". Uh, yes you can, that's how they do polling dumbass. I guess they better tack on scientific polling to the evolution debate because apparently they don't believe in either of them.

GordonBlood said...

Very interesting comments Prup and I think I have no qualms with what you say. Im a university convert so im definately opposed to people who say they believe/disbelieve in God for no reason. Personally I dont know how someone could really commit to the faith in a serious fasion and not come to these questions. But like ive said, we live in a society that doesnt think (or, worse still, doesnt know how) and so much of Christianity in the US seems to me to be some sort of hodge-podge which completely ignores the actual teaching of the New Testament (ala higher rates of almost every vice in areas with high fundamentalist denominations). As for Harris I dont know what to say... ive read his opinions on some of the stuff and im pretty amazed that he can just flat out ignore the arguments for God's existence but he finds the arguments for reincarnation to be at least plausible... oh well, like I said its not just religious folks who can be accused of being irrational:P