After being elected president of Atheist Alliance of America, the first thing I wanted to do was to find out just how many allies we really have.
According to a Pew poll in 2014, only 3.1% of Americans identified as atheists while another 4% identified as agnostic. Agnostic is a word that means “atheist in denial”. If you think agnostic means that you don’t know, then you don’t know that you’re an atheist.
Yes it’s impossible for anyone to actually know anything about the supernatural, because it can’t be indicated or vindicated, verified or falsified. But that’s not the question. No one knows that a god exists; but a lot of people believe that he does. So the question is, do you believe that a god exists? It doesn’t matter if you think it’s possible that a god might exist. It’s not possible, but that’s beside the point. Belief is a conviction. A lack of belief is a lack of conviction. So if you don’t know if there’s a god, then you don’t believe there is either.
And don’t say, “well I believe there’s ‘something’.” Because we all believe there’s something, but is it a god?
A survey of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was conducted by the Pew Research Center back in 2009, wherein they asked “Do you believe in a god or higher power?” I think they said “or higher power” in an attempt to clarify what they meant by a god, but a lot of people took that as an additional option. Surprisingly 12% of the general public and 18% percent of scientists did not believe in a god, (a magical anthropomorphic immortal) but did believe in some other form of higher power that could not be accurately defined as a god. Examples of this could include the pantheist biosphere of Gaia or ‘the Force’ from Star Wars, among other things. The majority of scientists however, (41%) did not believe in either a god or any other sort of ‘higher power’ either. So it seems that the more you know, the less you believe.
Atheism doesn’t necessarily mean an assertion of belief that there are no gods, nor that you know that a god does not exist. Although I know that there is no god for the same reasons that I know that there are no leprechauns or fairy elves. There is no evidence of them and they can’t possibly exist according to what we know. Hitchen’s razor says that positive claims require positive evidence and that what has been asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence. The same goes for claims that are contradicted by evidence. That is the degree to which I can say there is no god. But believing there is no god is not a requirement to be atheist. Before I did all this study, there was a time when I was simply unconvinced and that’s atheism too.
Atheism means without theism. So referring back to the first poll I mentioned in 2014, in addition to the 7% of atheists and misidentified agnostics, another 15.8% didn’t use either of those labels, and instead said that they were without theism, holding to no particular religion: and almost all of them said that religion was unimportant. That’s sufficiently atheist, isn’t it?
Only 1.1% said that religion is important, yet they don’t have any religion themselves. So even they are without theism. And I would bet that (most if not all) of that 1.1% would answer differently if the question ignored the labels. Because I’ve met several atheists who think that religion is important –usually to other people for whatever reason.
Most atheists don’t know that they are atheist. I myself was atheist for fifteen years before I learned what that word really meant. Before I knew any better, I called myself an agnostic pagan for Christ. Some atheists call themselves agnostic or humanist, or Pastafarians, or even Satanists, and many more call themselves non-denominational.
So what they should ask on a national poll is “are you convinced that an actual deity really exists?” Asking that question that way will give us a much better idea how many atheists there really are in this country. Then I think we would see a lot more than just the irreligious nÆnes indicated so far. Because I’ve met people who insist on identifying as Christian, Jewish or Hindu, even though they admit that they don’t believe their scriptures and they don’t believe in a god. But if you’re not convinced that an actual deity really exists, you’re atheist, not Methodist.
Anyway, even asking the question as they did, these polls still show there are more of these already identified irreligious unbelievers in the United States today than there are Catholics! We outnumber Catholics!
So where are our representatives? Where are the pundits in the press and the lobbyists advocating our secular positions? They don’t exist because we’re not identifying properly, because only 3.1% of the country knows what an atheist really is. So we need to correct that and be recognized for the value of our vote as a more significant demographic than any of the pollsters yet realize.
I contacted a couple polling agencies asking about this. Gallup was interested, but said that it would cost me $10,000. Pew basically just told me to fuck off, that they do what they want to do and do not take “requests”. So I guess I’ll have to create my own poll, which I did through SurveyMonkey. Pity I forgot to add the question of whether you are a United States Citizen. Too late now, but that’s rather important for my results.
You can take the poll here.