How many atheists are there?

One crucible for theories of religion is their ability to predict and explain the patterns of belief and disbelief. Yet, religious nonbelief is often heavily stigmatized, potentially leading many atheists to refrain from outing themselves even in anonymous polls. We used the unmatched count technique and Bayesian estimation to indirectly estimate atheist prevalence in two nationally representative samples of 2,000 U.S. adults apiece. Widely cited telephone polls (e.g., Gallup, Pew) suggest U.S. atheist prevalence of only 3–11%. In contrast, our most credible indirect estimate is 26% (albeit with considerable estimate and method uncertainty). Our data and model predict that atheist prevalence exceeds 11% with greater than .99 probability and exceeds 20% with roughly .8 probability. Prevalence estimates of 11% were even less credible than estimates of 40%, and all intermediate estimates were more credible. Some popular theoretical approaches to religious cognition may require heavy revision to accommodate actual levels of religious disbelief.

That is from Will M. Gervais and Maxine B. Naije, via someone on Twitter I think (God only knows).


Doesn't that depend on the number of foxholes?

Atheism is God's inside joke.

I have been an Atheist and I have been a Christian. In some circles atheism was more stigmatized, but in my experience, being a Christian has been more socially awkward.

WWJD is awkward when you are arguing for more killing, more inequality, more suffering, and support for Israel and Saudi Arabia and war with Iran, and claiming Trump won a landslide when eliminating the tens of million of fraudulent votes but Iran's elections are rigged, or when supporting Pruitt's version of Bible stewardship.

On stewardship, it's been 2000 years since Jesus, but good stewardship means consuming all the commercially feasible fossil fuels in 200 years, 250 years max. Anyone seen the energy plans for a thousand years of fossil fuels? Instead the industry argues zero problems for 50 years when magic will extend it by another 50 years. Bible miracle?

Christianity was behind civil rights, environmentalism and conservation, peace and justice just 50 years ago. Today, Christianity targets civil rights, conservation, and peace and justice, notably with Pruitt and Sessions and Carson. At least Mnuchin doesn't justify his actions on Christianity.

If you believe we live in a simulation then you are a theist??

The greatest trick God ever pulled was convincing everyone He didn't exist?

Easy work for the Lord, but it does show that he has a sly sense of humor.

This is a difficult thing to poll, and equally to discuss. Sure, some people are sure and open about their beliefs. Others might be sure and shy, but there is a final group who lean one way internally and are just unsure what to declare.

Can Bayesians really sort that? Good luck.

I can remember as a child in church thinking that most of the people there with me didn't believe this stuff. Even the priests I assumed knew religion was a political/social system and the myths in it were simply useful to keep the followers following. After all they were smart people and almost nothing significant in the religion was reasonable. Ask yourself if you really believe that there is a devil living in the bowels of the earth with billions of poor unlucky souls whose only crime may have been that they didn't go to church on Sundays? It is so clear that most of what is stated in religion is so stated as part of the system designed to control the common man. To scare him, to coerce him to do what the religion demands, mostly give money. It is a political system nothing more.

In Britain you wouldn't struggle to find an atheist. Is Trump an atheist by the way?

Trump is definitely a theist, as he believes himself to be God

But "atheist" is too strong a definition to describe my position. I believe in and like religion. I don't believe in god, Christ or the devil. I think religion can be helpful to people and there is certainly nothing wrong with socializing around a common belief.

I'm not an alcoholic, I just enjoy a drink.

I certainly agree that socialising around a common belief is helpful to people. The trouble starts with the fact that most holy books make a virtue of hating and attacking people with different beliefs. People who worship the invisible god attacked people who worshipped the golden calf, and indeed killing as many of these people as possible was a sign of being a "holy man". If religion was an attempt to maximise the good, and instead of relying on fixed proclamations had something like the scientific method of hypothesis being supported by repeatable evidence and subject to change as more evidence appears, it would itself do much more good in the world.

"Atheists can't possibly be only 3% of the population - everyone I know denies the existence of God!"

@Hadur -where you posting from? In Europe lots of atheists, so too in most communist or ex-com countries, Japan, less so in Latin America, the USA and the Middle East, not to mention most of southeast Asia. Not sure about Africa but I bet they are traditional.

Bonus trivia: Buddhism, stripped to the core (not Greater Vehicle sect but the original) is essentially a religion of atheism. True. And Judaism before the Maccabees did not have a concept of the afterlife involving a heaven, not unlike ancient Greek religion. Heaven is an oriental religion theme. It's also an open question--Indian readers will disagree since they are brainwashed by their school system to think otherwise--whether the Indians got the concept of reincarnation from Pythagoras (C2 = A2 + B2; SQRT(2) = irrational #) or vice-versa. The Greeks and Indians were aware of each other's ideas at that time.

Regarding Reincarnation -

Actually the scriptures in Hinduism don't discuss reincarnation in very explicit terms. They do talk about the impermanence of the physical body and contrast it with the permanence of the soul.

Here's a verse from the Bhagavad Gita - a book that may be regarded as the most revered by Hindus.

"वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।।
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the "soul" accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones

From what I can gather, this appears to be the basis for all the talk of reincarnation in Hinduism. But if one reads this verse, it doesn't seem like Krishna is pointing to reincarnation in a very explicity way. I would rather interpret it as a metaphorical attempt to drive him the impermanence of the physical body and the need to be more spiritual.

Maybe Jaldhar can chip in here. Is there a more explicit reference to reincarnation than this elsewhere?

I think it is a stretch to talk as much we do about reincarnation in the context of Hindu religion, largely because of a few metaphorical attempts like these in the Gita.

Define Hindu scripture (bearing in mind most Indians have historically been illiterate.) The Garuda Purana (specifically the Pretakalpa section) deals extensively with the fate of the soul after death and it is often recited at funerals, shraddhas etc.

As for the Gita, there is an even more explicit claim in 4:5
bahuni me vyatitani janmani tava charjuna |
tany aham veda sarvani na tvam vettha parantapa ||

[Krishna Bhagavan says to Arjuna]

"I have passed through many births as have you Arjuna. I remember them all but you do not Enemy-scorcher."

The upanishads are replete with mentions about rebirth. One particular instance in the Brhadaranyakopanishad (1.4.10) is significant. The Rshi Vamadeva while still in the womb was said to have realized Brahman and thereupon exclaimed "I was Manu [the first man]. I was the Sun." This is a call back to Rgveda 4.26 (ascribed to Vamadeva.)
There is another sukta concerning Usha, the dawn personified. She is said to be born again every day at sunrise.

Thanks for the references.

Nevertheless, I guess it is still possible to interpret these verses as being metaphorical, in my view, as opposed to a very literal soul-transmission process.

Ray Lopez : The Gita dates roughly to ~400 BCE. It is a work contemporary to Plato's Republic.

One can safely say there was little to zero interaction between India and Greece at the time. This interaction picked up only 2-3 centuries later post Alexander's invasion.

The Gita's influences are primarily indigenous and lie in the genre of literature called Upanisads, the most important of which date to ~800-500BCE. The Greek influence to my mind does not exist.

Indeed Greek influence would have been negligible at the time. But I wonder about common influences from the lands in between. Obviously there is a shared Indo-European heritage. Another clear one is that both the Greek and the "Brahmi" scripts are descendants of Phoenician writing.

The elephant in the room is Iran, which, by 400 BC had plenty of contact with both Greece and India -- including partial conquests. And any Iranian influences might go all the way back to pre-Zoroastrian times; so perhaps Hinduism is a storehouse for long-lost Iranian cultural features (much like modern India is for Zoroastrianism).

"so perhaps Hinduism is a storehouse for long-lost Iranian cultural features"

I am actually not sure about that. Sure, there are very very strong lingual links. Eg : the actual Persian name of Cyrus the Great Achaemenid King, is Kuru - which was also a very common name in India at the time. There was a major Vedic kingdom by that name circa ~1000-500BCE, which features majorly in Mahabharata.

But in terms of religion, I don't think there are strong commonalities. I guess the Vedic religion developed indepedent of Iranian influence, in India. Even if there is a common link, it probably predates 2000 BCE, thus predating both Rig Veda and Avesta.

The problem is that although some of the Avesta is of similar age to the Rgveda, Zoaraster thoroughly reformed the ancient Persian religion so it is much harder to determine what the ancient beliefs were.

Why should Buddhism be "stripped to its core"? That's a very Protestant way of looking at it. Throughout history, Buddhists have been quite amenable to worshipping various Gods and spirits. And the Hinayana is not necessarily any closer to the "authentic teachings of the Buddha" having developed several centuries later.

As for Pythagoras we can't say but some later Pythagoreans and Greek historians thought that he had travelled to India to learn wisdom. Long before the new agers, India was thought of as the land of mystical knowledge

"Buddhism, stripped to the core"--is that "true Communism," a beautiful system which has never been tried?

The strangest comment on this page. Collect your prize in the lobby.

As an aside are youth likelier to be atheists than the elderly?

Also is Life expectancy in a given society positively correlated with the prevalence of atheism?

I think it is a lot easier to not think about God when you have a very long life ahead of you. But as you near the end, or if you live in fear of an abrupt death, I can't quite fathom how one can still remain an atheist. Everything is going to end pretty soon. In that scenario, you are forced to think of the soul, its fate after death, judgment day (if you are an Abrahamic), reincarnation (if you are Hindu). These thoughts are extremely hard to avoid regardless of one's commitment to what one calls "reason".

The best way to increase religiosity in society is to reduce life expectancy

Degree of religious belief is significantly heritable, but has low relationship with heritability at young age. IOW, it's more highly affected by culture when you're young. So in a less religious culture you'd expect old people to be more religious.

I cannot imagine why you think knowing you will soon die will make you believe in the implausible.

"I will soon die. Therefore I am now convinced I am about to win the lottery!"

If you think this is equivalent you are just being Careless.

Pascal's Wager looks like a much better bet near the end.

The joys of sin have by that point been fully appreciated.

(Aside: Same reason Gwyneth Paltrow suddenly became a heroic anti-Harvey figure once it became convenient.)

'As an aside are youth likelier to be atheists than the elderly?'

Depends - the real relevance seems to be how much religion permeates a society. East Germans atheists, at least those born after WWII, seem to remain that way throughout their lives.

To the horror of Germany's established churches, who attempted to force East German states to teach religion in schools (for which, one should note, they get paid to do).

Basically, it seems as if one beliefs are broadly formed in the society around one, and do not significantly change over time. (Personally, I consider atheism to be a faith - agnosticism is the only defensible position that does not require faith.)

"Personally, I consider atheism to be a faith"

How do you define atheism and agnosticism in terms of Bayesian probability?

I don't.

Basically, saying 'who knows?' is a reasonable statement subject to change in the eyes of the person making it, while any absolute statement is based on faith.

To put it differently, some people seem to require faith, regardless of what that faith is placed in.

People are still saying this sort of tripe in 2018? At some point you probably should have sought out the thought process of actual atheists instead of blatantly making them up.

Atheist - somebody who categorically denies the existence of any and all god(s), the supernatural, souls, reincarnation, etc. You are welcome to provide your own definition, of course.

Agnostic - someone lacking such faith. However, I will stick with that definition.

'should have sought out the thought process of actual atheists'

Well, depends on how you define actual atheists. The East German ones I know find such discussions utterly boring, as they feel no need to see their lack of belief in opposition to what other people believe. Oddly, that lack of caring much makes them a lot closer to agnostics, in my opinion. They simply lack the sort of upbringing that most American atheists cannot avoid - one that is filled with religious beliefs. Which is why so many American atheists are so tedious, constantly attacking Abrahamic religious beliefs, as if billions of people actually care about a religious framework that is meaningless to them.

But you are certainly correct that the discussion requires a lot of nuance that will not be contained in a couple of sentences. For example, how many atheists seem to feel that attacking (generally Abrahamic) religion is something that somehow is the same as atheism, as if the concept of anti-clericalism is something they have never heard of. And yes, Dawkins is a fine example of this in his writing.

Given your definition, I am still not any wiser. It seems to me there are 2 interpretations:

- Dawkins is not an atheist; he explicitly said you can never be 100% sure of anything and on scale 1-10 about his certainty about 'no god' he would say '9'

- Dawking is an atheist; you can categorically deny existence of god/etc. based on the idea that you find it extremely improbable; now I do not se anything resembling faith here, as this is what phycisists do - they would categorically deny that there can be anything faster than 'c' (I'm not an expert in physics), yet if you present them with some careful argument supported by good experiments, they would eventually change opinion. This is not faith, is it?

See below.

Basically, Dawkins is an anti-cleric who does not personally believe in god(s).

And just as a point - if you want to more accurately reflect the wide variety of religious belief that exists outside of the Abrahamic religious framework, avoid using exclusively a singular term for something that a couple of billion of people would use a plural for.

Yes, Dawkins is an anti-cleric, he is a man, homo sapiens, of an older age. Right. That's not what I was asking about.

Dawking categorically refuses belief in god. Therefore he is an atheist according to your definition.
Dawking explicitely refused that he is 100% sure there is no god and is open to change in opninion. Therefore in his case, atheism is not faith.

You are trying to equate that atheism is faith. Given *your* definition of atheism it doesn't follow.

"And just as a point - if you want to more accurately reflect the wide variety of religious belief that exists outside of the Abrahamic religious framework, avoid using exclusively a singular term for something that a couple of billion of people would use a plural for."

I'm not sure how is this relevant to your claim, that I am trying to discuss, that faith is a mandatory condition for atheism.

'Therefore in his case, atheism is not faith.'

Faith is belief in something that cannot be proved. This is a nuanced discussion, and a couple of sentences will not cover it. To call Dawkins an agnostic atheist is accurate, along with the fact that he is constantly (and understandably in his case) attacking religious belief, particularly of the Abrahamic framework.

'that faith is a mandatory condition for atheism'

Nuance. Anyone can be agnostic, even while saying they do not believe in god(s), reincarnation, etc. Requiring proof, however, is the opposite of faith. Those who confidently assert there are or are not god(s) are making a statement of faith. Those who say that I do or do not believe in god(s), but I am open to proof are not making a statement of faith.

You most certainly do not have to accept this. But it is always interesting to watch people proud in their lack of beliefs in sky daddy(s) or mommy(s) go to such lengths to deny that the certainty (that is the key word in this regard) of their beliefs are based on faith.

The key point is not defining 'atheist,' the key point is defining 'faith.'

"Those who confidently assert there are or are not god(s) are making a statement of faith."

Those who assert that there is not a speed faster than speed of light are making a statement of faith?

"Those who say that I do or do not believe in god(s), but I am open to proof are not making a statement of faith."

Would it be accurate to call the second group atheists as well? I mean, to say - I seriously think there is no god, I'm like 99.999% sure, but I am open to proof - is it really incorrect to call such person an atheist? Seriously?


Do you believe in dragons? How certain are you of their existence in this moment? What about quarks?

Is it faith that tells you quarks exist but dragons do not?

I do believe in dragons, and have even seen on, and am certain of their existence at this very moment. But then, were probably weren't asking about Komodo dragons, were you?

The quark model did not exist when I was born, so it seems that playing word games is not the point of defining faith.

And the quark model might be completely overturned in the future, much in the sense that Newtonian physics has been overturned in the past. One does not have faith in such cases, one has a model.

So why is it, then, that belief or some degree of certainty in the existence or nonexistence of dragons and quarks does not require faith, but some degree of certainty in the nonexistence of god requires faith?

Is it faith that tells you flying, fire-breathing dragons (why did you make me type this?) do not exist? Or is it that there is simply no room in your model of reality for them, no empirical evidence for them, and no satisfying explanatory power from them? Can you complete the analogy between mythical dragons and mythical gods?

'but some degree of certainty'

Not some degree of certainty, but total certainty. That is the distinction. Dawkins is an agnostic atheist, as he does not profess total certainty of the non-existence of god(s).

'Can you complete the analogy between mythical dragons and mythical gods?'

Why bother? I don't have any faith in the existence or non-existence of any god(s), and minimal interest in discussing a subject with someone filled with faith concerning their beliefs. You are welcome to your beliefs, whatever they may be, and I have no interest in changing them. Unfortunately, those filled with faith seem to have an extremely hard time grasping that perspective.

To repeat a bit, this is what makes Dawkins a bit confusing I believe - he is virulently (and understandably in his particular case) anti-clerical, but that is a different subject than atheism, even though there is of course considerable mixing of the boundaries (as much on the part of religious believers as on the part of those who do not believe in religion).

So someone who is as certain that no gods exist as they are certain that no dragons exist -- this person is not an atheist in your mind. Fair enough.


This continues to hang on the definition of faith, not the definition of atheism. I make no statements about the existence or non-existence of god(s), meaning I have no belief in any - or none. I also have no certainty that my belief is correct, and equally have no desire to force anyone else to agree or disagree with my lack of conviction in the existence or non-existence of any god(s).

In other words, I completely lack faith concerning the question. And it makes no difference to me what teapots are used to brew tea, either. I reject the basic premise, which is that somehow, I need to make a statement of faith to satisfy anyone's demands.

So you do; you define atheism as 100% certainty and consider that an unreasonable position. Now the problem is that according to your 'definition', Richard Dawkins is not an atheist. I don't think that this is what most people understand as atheism.

"Basically, saying 'who knows?' is a reasonable statement"

Saying 'who knows' in nowadays is akin to giving theism a 50% chance. I don't think that's a reasonable position at all.

'you define atheism as 100% certainty and consider that an unreasonable position'

No, I consider it faith.

'Richard Dawkins is not an atheist'

Good point, considering that I feel Dawkins is essentially an anti-cleric who simply seems unaware of what that terms means. He also personally does not believe in god(s), but merely allows for the possibility of the existence of such. Take that position as you will.

'is akin to giving theism a 50% chance'

The Buddhists, to name just one group who are notably uninterested in god(s) in the Abrahamic sense, don't care. There are a number of religious traditions that are thoroughly unconcerned with the framing of those people who grew up in Abrahamic religious influenced cultures. Buddhists are notable for not much caring about any sky daddies or mommies, though this involves nuance too, depending on which version of Buddhism you are referencing (Dalai Lama - person or god? is a silly question, but certainly there is a religious framework involved, though using 'saint' as a translation for 'bodhisattva' is pretty much misleading).

Actually, as with Ray above, the notion that Buddhists are unconcerned with Gods is a feature of Western academics writing about Buddhism. It is no surprise that not-particularly-religious Westerners brought up in the Protestant tradition tend to find that Buddhism is not-particularly-religious and a lot like the Protestant tradition.

In the real world, actual Buddhists, you know people who were born Buddhists, show a wide range of very strong and complex beliefs in a whole bunch of Gods.

Buddhism in its origins in India, is an atheistic religion that denies the existence of the soul. "Nastika" (non believer) and Shunyavaadi (Nihilists) are the rather negative sounding terms used by Hindus for Buddhists in India.

Important to note that for its first 1000 years (400 BCE to about 500 CE or so), Buddhism's epicenter remained India. It had reached China and other parts of Asia by the latter part of this long period. But even as late as 500 AD, the country with which you would associate Buddhism most strongly would be India.

The reason it died out in India was because of its reputation as a nihilistic religion, which is very heterodox, and unconcerned with the soul.

Rude words that a persecuting religion has for a sect that it has almost stamped out of existence is irrelevant. Whether or not Hindus think Buddhists believe in Gods and the soul, belief in the Gods and the soul is inherent in the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path.

Now I can believe what some white middle class academics like Clock believe about Buddhism. Or I can believe what Buddhists believe about Buddhism. Which do you think is more reasonable? And pretty much the same goes for muscular Hindu nationalists and what they believe.

'belief in the Gods and the soul is inherent in the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path.'

Gods???? Here is a link to the top result for 'Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path' -

So you agree that a religion that believes we are trapped in an endless cycle of rebirth caused by desire for the things of this world probably does believe in the soul?

I am not a Buddhist, and do not have much of an opinion of that particular religious question, in part because definitions matter. Clearly reincarnation is considered real by Tibetan Buddhism (a very clear example being the Dalai Lama), but to what extent that reincarnation involves a soul as understood in the Abrahamic sense is for you to explore.

However, here are quotes from the top two links searching for 'buddhist soul no belief' -

1. 'Do Buddhists believe in a soul?

The short answer is no. In fact, this is the defining premise of Buddhism and one of the main things that differentiates it from other religions. In ancient Hinduism, the soul was called the atman and the basic Buddhist view was described as anatman—no soul.


Yet Buddhism does say we have an essential nature that transcends conditioned or material existence. In the Mahayana, this is called buddhanature, the open expanse of awakeness in which all good qualities reside.

Is this just another version of a soul? Well, it is if you think of it that way—if you try to identify yourself with it. But in reality, buddhanature is said to be empty of all concepts of self and identity, as well as birth, death, time, space, etc. To be anatman, if you will.'

2. 'Is there an Eternal Soul?

Belief in an eternal soul is a misconception of the human consciousness.

The Soul Theory

With regard to the soul theory, there are three kinds of teachers in the world:

- The first teacher teaches the existence of an eternal ego-entity that outlasts death: He is the eternalist.

- The second teacher teaches a temporary ego-entity which becomes annihilated at death: He is the materialist.

- The third teacher teaches neither an eternal nor a temporary ego-entity: He is the Buddha.

The Buddha teaches that what we call ego, self, soul, personality, etc., are merely conventional terms that do not refer to any real, independent entity. According to Buddhism there is no reason to believe that there is an eternal soul that comes from heaven or that is created by itself and that will transmigrate or proceed straight away either to heaven or hell after death. Buddhists cannot accept that there is anything either in this world or any other world that is eternal or unchangeable. We only cling to ourselves and hope to find something immortal. We are like children who wish to clasp a rainbow. To children, a rainbow is something vivid and real; but the grown-ups know that it is merely an illusion caused by certain rays of light and drops of water. The light is only a series of waves or undulations that have no more reality than the rainbow itself.'

To be honest, maybe you could spend a few hours reading about Buddhism before revealing how little you know about it? It is a very broad subject, of course, with many aspects, basically none of which have anything to do with any Abrahamic religious concepts at all.

"belief in the Gods and the soul is inherent in the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path."

Just not true.

Also Buddhism was the persecuting religion in India, as it originated as a movement among the high caste warrior clans - and imposed by royal lines with great zeal. Asoka being a good example. Hinduism in contrast was always a more bottom-up religion, and was seldom in its history as much reliant on royal support, as Buddhism.

Buddhism died out because of its dependence on royal patronage, as well as its nihilistic tendencies which couldn't compete with the extremely strong theistic traditions in Hinduism.

What is the evidence Asoka was even Buddhist? But it is true that they lost their royal support in much of India. And then the Buddhists texts claim they were viciously persecuted.

Buddhist texts state that Pushyamitra cruelly persecuted Buddhists. The most important and perhaps the earliest source to mention this is the 2nd century C.E. text called Divyavadana, a Buddhist text containing the history of Indian rulers and their relationships with the Buddhists, and its constituent Ashokavadana which state he wanted to achieve everlasting fame. While his ministers told him to emulate Ashoka's construction of 84,000 Buddhist reliquaries (stupas), a Brahmin minister advised him to do the opposite by destroying Buddhism. According to it, he attacked Buddhist monasteries, killing monks and nuns while offering rewards to anyone who killed a monk. The account of Ashokavadana is similar but is greater in detail concerning the four elements of his army - elephants, cavalry, chariots and infantry - he used to attack the monasteries.

Now I am sure that Hindus nationalists - the people who still occupy a whole range of Buddhist temples and religious sites that they refuse to hand back - say otherwise.

But I am somewhat inclined to believe the victims.

Even Hindu hating Marxist historians believe that Pushyamitra's persecutions are grossly exaggerated and do not have a basis in fact. In fact Ashokavadana does not even get Pushyamitra's lineage right, wrongly suggesting that he was a Mauryan ruler while in reality he was a Shunga king.

But if you do want to rely on these dubious texts, then the text you cite - "Ashokavadana" in fact proudly gloats of Ashoka's persecutions of other religions - not just HInduism but also other heterodox sects like Ajivikas.

"Ashokavadana mentions two incidents of Ashoka turning towards violence after adopting Buddhism. In one instance, a non-Buddhist in Pundravardhana drew a picture showing the Buddha bowing at the feet of Nirgrantha Jnatiputra (identified with Mahavira, the founder of Jainism). On complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka issued an order to arrest him, and subsequently, another order to kill all the Ajivikas in Pundravardhana. Around 18,000 followers of the Ajivika sect were executed as a result of this order.[10] Sometime later, another Nirgrantha follower in Pataliputra drew a similar picture. Ashoka burnt him and his entire family alive in their house.[11] He also announced an award of one dinara (silver coin) to anyone who brought him the head of a Nirgrantha heretic. According to Ashokavadana, as a result of this order, his own brother, Vitashoka, was mistaken for a heretic and killed by a cowherd."

So much for the tolerance of Ashoka.

Sometimes the Buddhists persecuted Hindus. Sometimes Hindus persecuted Buddhists. Sometimes, astonishingly, they were friends.

And it's rivalry with Hinduism may have weakened Indian Buddhism considerably but let us not forget it was Allauddin Khilji who stamped it out of existence.

'the notion that Buddhists are unconcerned with Gods is a feature of Western academics writing about Buddhism'

Nuance - what I wrote was 'to name just one group who are notably uninterested in god(s) in the Abrahamic sense.' Could you please name the Buddhist god(s) of creation? That is meant in a specific sense - what god(s) do all Buddhists agree is responsible for creation in the same sense that all Jews, Christians, and Muslims agree that the same god is responsible for creation?

'show a wide range of very strong and complex beliefs in a whole bunch of Gods'

Sort of - careful on the translations, though. A bodhisattva is not a god by an Abrahamic religious definition, though certainly worthy of veneration in the eyes of many Buddhists.

And as a note - 'brought up in the Protestant tradition' does not apply to my Catholic upbringing.

There is no nuance on your part - and it is odd to feel so woke. But what you are doing is cultural appropriation *and* mansplaining. Let Buddhists be Buddhists. Do not lecture them on what they "really" believe.

As for the God of Creation, I have no idea. I am not a Buddhist. I did not go to whatever the Buddhist equivalent of Sunday school is. But they probably have one. They certainly are not the atheistic religion that Western academics like to claim.

I am pretty sure that most people actually in the Abraham tradition have no problems calling Bodisatvas Gods. The Taliban for instance did not go to Bamyan in order to pick and choose.

Western people who are uncomfortable with their own irrational religious tradition simply try to tidy up and recast other people's religious traditions in a way that suits them. But in the end they are pretty much the same. Or at least on the same spectrum.

So, instead of a link, let me provide a text - The Four Noble Truths

1. The Truth of Suffering (Kutai)
The Buddha declared that this world if full of suffering; that actual existence including birth, decrepitude, sickness and death is suffering and sorrow. This is called the Truth of Suffering.

2. The Truth of the Cause of Suffering (Jutai)
The cause of human suffering lies in ignorance and Karma. Ignorance and its resulting Karma have often times been called "desire" or craving. The Buddha declared:
Verily it is this thirst or craving, causing the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there - the craving for gratification of the passions, for continual existence in the worlds of sense.

3. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering (Mettai)
The extinguishing of all human ignorance and Karma results in a state known as Nirvana. This is the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering.

4. The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering (Dotai)
The Truth of the Path to the Cessation of Suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path.

The Noble Eight-fold Path -
1. Right Views - to keep ourselves free from prejudice, superstition and delusion and to see aright the true nature of life.
2. Right Thoughts - to turn away from the evils of this world and to direct our minds towards righteousness.
3. Right Speech - to refrain from pointless and harmful talk to speak kindly and courteously to all.
4. Right Conduct - to see that our deeds are peaceful, benevolent, compassionate and pure; to live the Teaching of the Buddha daily.
5. Right Livelihood - to earn our living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences.
6. Right Effort - to direct our efforts incessantly to the overcoming of ignorance and selfish desires.
7. Right Mindfulness - to cherish good and pure thoughts for all that we say and do arise from our thoughts.
8. Right Meditation - to concentrate our will on the Buddha, His Life and His Teaching.

SMFS, you speak authoritatively and emphatically about a subject you now admit ignorance to. You should have quit while you were ahead.

Sounds like agnosticism is The Bayesian position.

"I can't quite fathom how one can still remain an atheist."
Its not hard. Quit being afraid. Acknowledge reality as it exists. Anything else is just wishful thinking.

Yes. Apply just a little rigor to distinguishing human mythologies from empirical evidence and I find religion just falls apart as a silly conceit. Prior to a belief in God you need a belief in your own ability to somehow internalize and intuit truth, way beyond any evidence. That is the leap I can't make.

Isn't the strongest correlation wealth? Greater wealth and lower religiosity go together. US is obviously an outlier, but I think this association is generally very strong.

Greater wealth and better education also tend to go together.

There is good reason to believe "Hinduism" is a political invention of Indian kings. There is no unified system: this village worships this devil, that village worships that devil. Also, according to experts, current "Hinduism" is very different from the beliefs of the age of the Vedas.

True. In my industry there are a lot of Indians, and they cannot even agree who the supreme god is. Rituals and beliefs not only change between villages but among castes & sub-castes . So strict Hindus will prefer to marry someone from his/her own caste and sub-caste and from the same ancestral village, lot of work if you live in a large city or abroad, that's where professional match makers come handy..

Just not true.

There is very much an entity called Hinduism, which is a direct descendant of the Vedic religion, with a fairly standard set of scriptures and commentaries. Sure, the anthropomorphic deities may be many in number, but the principles are not divergent to the extent you imagine.

There is no unified system of, say, "Americanism" either but we can still say baseball, McDonalds, and English are "American" not "Brazilian." and be understood despite the fact there may be some Americans who don't like/know those things and some Brazilians who do.

Compared to a Muslim I am a Hindu. But compared to a Tamil Hindu I am a Gujarati. Compared to a Gujarati Patel, I'm a Brahmana. Compared to a Modh Brahmana I am a Vallam Brahmana. Compared to a Vallama Brahmana from Charottara, I'm a Kathiawadi Vallama. Compared to a Pushtimargi Kathiawadi, I'm a Smarta. Compared to a Vaishnava Smarta I'm a Shaiva/Shakta. And those are just the differences, there are also commonalities. I share some community with South Indians who are also Smartas. I share some communtity with Gujaratis of other castes who share my belief in Shiva Bhagavan. I share some community with Muslims who speak Gujarati. And so one.

It's often easier for all if I just say I'm a Hindu. :-)

Well put.

But though you mean well, you are running the risk of Thiago twisting your remarks!

My point is the commonalities need to be stressed more.

I am a Sri-Vaishnava Brahmana. You are a Shaiva Smartha brahmana from Gujarat. Yet we share many commonalities. Both of us revere the Vedas. Both of us accept the pre-eminence of Prasthanatrayi - the trio of Gita, Brahma Sutra and the Mukhya Upanishads. (I am hoping Shaiva brahmanas do). Both of us accept the validity of Murti Puja and Prana Pratishtana. Both of us believe in the doctrines of Karma. Both of us are very familiar if not extremely conversant with both the Itihaasas. Both of us have a common reverence for certain pilgrimage centers (Kashi, Haridwar, Ujjain, Kanchi)

Sure there are differences. My tradition emphasizes divine grace and unconditional bhakti arguably more than yours. But the things in common are many in number and are anything but trivial.

And a lot of the commonalities I mention also unite me with many non brahmana communities.

"As an aside are youth likelier to be atheists than the elderly?"

I happened to save this when I looked this up a Pew survey a few days ago:

. Absolutely believe in God:
18 to 29 20%
30 to 49 36%
50 to 64 29%
64+ 20%

Believe in God fairly certain
18 to 29 24%
30 to 49 36%
50 to 64 25%
65+ 15%

Total of those two:
18 to 29 54%
30 to 49 74%
50 to 64 54%
65+ 35%

Do not believe in God:
18 to 29 30%
30 to 49 35%
50 to 64 20%
65+ 15%

So 109% of 30-49 either do not believe in god or have strong belief in god.

It's what we like to call a miracle.

Yep, +another LOL

"We used the unmatched count technique and Bayesian estimation to indirectly estimate atheist prevalence". That looks like a sound protocol. I'd like to see their data and their mathematical treatment of it (it's behind a paywall), but if they've done their job well, they should have a correct estimate.

"Some popular theoretical approaches to religious cognition may require heavy revision to accommodate actual levels of religious disbelief." This is more doubtful, since as noted by Ray Lopez, we knew very well that in Europe and many other parts of the words, the level of atheism was as high or higher than what they find for the US. Not sure what "popular theories" they are alluding to, but to be affected by their result, these theories must have been completely US-centric -- hence clearly worthless as approaches to understand the general human phenomenon of religious belief or disbelief.

"This is more doubtful, since as noted by Ray Lopez, we knew very well that in Europe and many other parts of the words, the level of atheism was as high or higher than what they find for the US."
Or do European atheists feel freer to express their disbelief?

It sure seems so. In general, after 12 years in the US, where I came attracted by the sirens of liberty, I think that freedom of thought, of opinion, and of speech is in practice greater in Western Europe than here, despite a legal framework which is in appearance more freedom-oriented in the US.

I have long thought so, but it probably depends exactly of what your ideological leanings are and what the current context is. After all, America has Nazi-like parties.

Where? Sure, there are people out there LARPing as Nazis and meeting together, but there are no real parties that are collecting real votes.

In some ways it is (that was the conclusion of De Toqueville back in the 1830s, at any rate). But in this case it seems more to be an artifact of the fact that Europe is an Atheist society with a few residual Christians (increasingly outnumbered by Muslims), while the U.S. still sees itself as mostly a Christian country (it is a few years away from the tipping point, IMHO) with a few atheists. Proclaiming your atheism in Europe is no more "free thinking" in than professing Marxism in the Soviet Union or standing up in Mecca and proclaiming "Allahu Akbar"...

Supposedly, there are no atheists in a distressed airplane appearing to be in the process of crashing.

I had some interaction with the late Richard Smalley, and he stopped being atheist after his cancer diagnosis.

I had quite a lot of interaction with my late father, and he remained an atheist after his cancer diagnosis, and remained one right up until he died.

It surprises me how people diagnosed with a horrible and fatal disease can start believing in a god who has all the properties ascribed to it by most religions. It can't be omnipotent or even competent, it can't be benevolent.
The character "god" in many holy books comes over as a malevolent dictator who can be competent and omnipotent, but hardly "nice". Christianity provides a character "Jesus" that is an object of worship and arguably "nice" but is still related to a god of Old Testament properties.
The subject of this blog is whether there is a god or not. First of all we need to decide what exactly we mean by "god". I would tend to regard the question as being similar to "is the universe conscious".
One may also ask "is the sun conscious", or a gas giant planet conscious. Both exhibit a lot of electromagnetic activity, by whether it is capable of data processing no one can really know, although the answer most people would give is probably "no".

"The subject of this blog is whether there is a god or not." Excuse me?
You are free to comment on anything (as far as TC and AT are Okay, and they are very tolerant) but the subject of neither this blog nor this post is "whether there is a god". The subject of this post is about the proper measurement of the number of people in the US who think there is no God.

I don’t see how a sudden belief in god — whether one is in a foxhole or has been diagnosed with a fatal disease — proves anything. Allied bomber crews during WWII were known to be very superstitious. Does that prove anything about the truth or value of superstition? Seems to me when one is in a life or death situation, one grasps at whatever straws one can find, be it a rosary, rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny.

But it is interesting that grasping any straw should be the natural default state. It is as if there is a religion-shaped hole in people's brains. You can drive out the religion, but under stress the superstition comes back.

Certainly there has been an explosion of idiotic beliefs since the decline of Christianity. As Chesterton did not say, people who do not Believe do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything. We got rid of Jesus in most of the West and got Ramtha instead.

Or maybe it’s just a hope-shaped hole. We hope to go on living and are willing to try anything.

Most people these days grasp at straws that have some scientific basis. Chemotherapy for example.

WWII bombers were statistically dead before their tour was finished. Those who didn't die were mostly lucky. Some skill and experience maybe, but mostly luck.

What is the rational way to approach a situation like that? There is none. The best you can do is think thoughts that allow you to get a bit of sleep at night.

Most of human history looked like that. People who could function in the worst imaginable situations had better odds of survival. Having some 'irrational' thought patterns did that; they formed group bonds, gave comfort and a shape to the awful things they were dealing with.

When your choice is to be frozen in terror and believe in a god of some sort and be able to function a bit, the latter is rational.

Although I do have some quite intricate beliefs I consider religion to be a matter of what one does rather than what one believes. If there are people so deeply unwilling to commit to being an atheist that they won’t admit it in an anonymous phone poll than they are not atheists.

At the other hand, if they are not willing to go through the hoops religion usuallu establish to gain the favor of gods, hkw can they be theists?

They are most likely not Theists either but I think that more than anything that shows the poverty of terms we use to describe the varieties of religious experience.

A lot of people are transactionally or situationally religious. In Hinduism that's obvious and supported. E.g. a person might take up a particular vow to some deity to fulfill some need but otherwise ignore Them. Or the upcoming month in the Gujarati luni-solar calendar is a "leap" month which comes about every 2-3 years and is marked by additional observances. We'll see an upsurge of activity from some people who aren't particularly devout the rest of the year.

Monotheism seems to demand all or nothing but at the popular level you see similar behavior even in the West. For example "Christmas and Easter" Christians. Or in rural England there were people who only ever entered a church to be christened, married or buried if that much and had Dawkins-level respect for vicars, bishops and the like. Yet they didn't mind the hoops of making a corn dolly to guarantee a good harvest or leaving a saucer of milk to stop mischeivous imps from making them step on a rake etc. How do you classify them? Are they Christian, Atheist, Druid? None of the Above? A mix of all three?

How about Scotsmen? Are there true Scotsmen?

"How about Scotsmen? Are there true Scotsmen?"

If you are implying he is making a "No Scotsmen" fallacy you are wrong. A No Scotsmen fallacy is claiming that people who self identify as a group, don't really count in that group, because they're not pure enough. In this case, the people are self identifying as theists. So, in reality, the authors of this paper are committing a No True Scotsman fallacy.

Ummm... Jaldhar is taking a group that self-identifies as such (atheists), and says that unless they pass his additional test, they are not true atheists. If that's not appeal to purity, I do not know what is... Notice that he says "If there are people...", and not "In this case...". I may have to go back to the paper later to verify that what you say about the authors' committing the fallacy is correct, but I am pretty sure Jaldhar's second sentence at least smells of it.

Here's the description of the group we're talking about "potentially leading many atheists to refrain from outing themselves even in anonymous polls."

If there are Scotsmen who are not even willing to admit to it in an anonymous poll how do we know they are Scottish in any sense whether true or not? "Evidence of things unseen?" (hmm where have heard that before? :-) )

Oh, I see your point, but just because we cannot observe something it does not follow that it is not there. "Evidence of things unseen" - okay, but also "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". I mean, you cannot possibly be saying that an atheist who refrains "from outing themselves even in anonymous polls" cannot exist; and so the question becomes how many of those are there. I am perfectly receptive to the argument that the answer is "an insignificant number".

I'm sure there are some; it seems plausible. I would venture to guess that the hidden Atheists in that group are mostly women as they tend to be more susceptible to Social undesirability bias. Mostly though I think there is a large population that is not served by the conventional definitions of Theist and Atheist.

But when people use fancy-pants words like "Bayesian estimation" they are going for something more rational than "I have a feeling" no? That's why I think it is more useful to look at what people do or don't do instead because you can actually measure that.

Very true. But this varies across religions.

Protestant Christianity is very very belief-centered. Islam too, I would argue.

Judaism is focused more on actual practice.

Hinduism, among major religions, is the one most heavily focused on practice and least on beliefs.

"Hinduism, among major religions, is the one most heavily focused on practice and least on beliefs."
That is, it is not a real religions. It is cosplay and LARP.
"Judaism is focused more on actual practice."
And lots of belief. The Lord is One and all that.

I wonder if the co-author listed above Will Gervais is any relation of famous atheist Ricky Gervais.

The whole idea that one could scientifically distinguish a "true" atheist from a "believer" is bizarre. Is there some kind of MRI that can distinguish a person's true "beliefs" as opposed to what he professes or how he conducts himself? Social scientists should limit themselves to studying behavior and leave belief to metaphysicians.

Does anyone know if the same calculations have been made on other beliefs? Is racism or antisemitism understated? Do so many people really believe the cold war tale that astronauts walked on the moon in 1969 or are they just afraid to appear unpatriotic?

'or are they just afraid to appear unpatriotic'

Well, that is certainly a new twist.

I believe the Moon Landing was an inside job.

Not all atheists are equal, even if they fit the dictionary definition of atheist.

There are the proselytizer ones such as obnoxious teenagers and Richard Dawkins. And there are atheists which are only indifferent to religion.

I think I can give the perspective of an indifferent . My parents were catholics who became atheists with all the rage of new converts. Until 17-18 years old I was just like them: bringing up the topic in any conversation to tell the "truth". At 18 I realized being such an active atheist was a hindrance to meet women. I realized I was already free and nobody can take that from me, I just needed to be I stopped worrying about the "truth" and enjoyed life (sad people call it hedonism).

15 years later I still don't care. I married a catholic as no religion guy just by signing a contract with the church where I promise to left my wife keep her faith. Thanks pope Jean Paul II for that reform.

If someone asks me today I won't say I'm an atheist because I don't want to be seen as one this combative ones: Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens. I'm not scared, I simply don't want to be associated with these guys. I have no religion but I'm not an a**hole.

It's funny that some christians feel the same for the most vocal leaders. I haven't talked to people from other religions, but perhaps they also feel the loudest wannabe leaders are just annoying.

"Thanks pope Jean Paul II for that reform."
You mean Pope Saint Jean Paul II.

Pope Saint John Paul II

Or the heilige Johannes Paul II.

A Polish commenter would be useful to add how the Poles would refer to their fellow Pole.

Oh you mean Karol? Nice guy, kinda preachy.

In French, his name is Jean Paul.

The other day I ended up in a hospital emergency department. I was asked what religion I was. I was surprised. I had forgotten this was a thing that could still come up these days. This is in Australia. There are still plenty of religious people here, but religion is (normally) a private thing. If someone starts going on about religion in public they are regarded as a nutter. Not necessarily because they believe in Jesus and all his little wizards, but because they have broken the rules for how to behave in public. The United States will eventually reach this point - or their version of it, at least. I don't know when, but I'm certain it will happen a lot sooner than most expect.

PS: X-rays, examination, a dose of pain killers, and loan of a pair of crutches cost me $0. This probably has something to do with the difference in religiosity between the two countries.

In America the poor are tended to quite adequately through religious charity alone (it's non coercive), including health care. It's a great system for rich people.

If you have to pretend to believe in Space Jesus when you no longer feel Space Jesus in your heart because you might need medical care someday that doesn't exactly sound completely non-coercive.

Jan was making a hilarious joke. In reality the poor in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid

I was asked what religion I was. I was surprised. I had forgotten this was a thing that could still come up these days.

Religious people need to be buried too you know. The hospital does need to know how to handle the bodies.

PS: X-rays, examination, a dose of pain killers, and loan of a pair of crutches cost me $0. This probably has something to do with the difference in religiosity between the two countries.

That is an exceptionally foolish thing to say. As nothing costs you $0. You are paying, you have been paying, you will be paying all your life. Australia is a mostly White country that seems stuck in the 1950s so you won't pay a lot, but there is no such thing as a free lunch.

In Australia we are so incredibly well educated I can go up to a complete stranger and just assume they understand that public goods are provisioned through taxation. Not only that, but every Australian within earshot when I had my accident understood that I didn't want to have sexual relations with them despite the first words out of my mouth were a request for them to have sexual relations with me.

It's things like this that make me proud to be Australian.

Jehovah's Witnesses have troubles with blood transfusions.

Usually I would rant about how religious beliefs hinders modern medicine but.............update your priors: doctors took up the challenge of doing complex surgeries minimizing blood loss and today even heart surgery can be done without any blood transfer. Bloodless medicine, as this thing is called, has evolved to the point of competing with the traditional approach. It's good for all people.

File under the very short list of things that have became better due to the influence of religious prohibitions.

Technically it would be possible to increase the amount of blood inside a person in preparation for an operation. I wonder if this is being done or is on the drawing board.

'I don't care about god(s), and have no personal belief in such either' is where the definition between an indifferent atheist and an agnostic is the hardest to separate.

And a point where those wanting their beliefs to win will do their best to obscure. After all, the main thing about both agnostic atheists and agnostic theists is that they don't really much care about the entire subject.

Which tends to be unacceptable for those wishing to spread their Truth.

This is where Tyler's Fitbit of Truth comes in.

My cousin, who is 6, was baptized yesterday. I remember the overwhelming pressure exerted by the preacher to repent. "Come forward and give your life!" At 6. Well at least you can be assured that you are going to heaven, everyone else be damned.

At 8 I also walked down the aisle to be cleansed. Heaven, score! But I was too inquisitive. I asked too many uncomfortable questions. My mother explained that in the end it won't matter because my soul can be redeemed. How messed up is this crap?

I always wondered how many of the congregation were sitting in the pews because of societal pressure and not faith. Men who can beat their wives, cheat, drink, cuss, etc and then expect a cushy place in heaven. Women who gossip, covet, and subject their children to this vicious cycle. I have seen more of God in Nature than I will ever find in the Church.

> I have seen more of God in Nature <
Cuddly little animals tear each other apart in order to eat. Foxes kill and leav dozens of chickens or other fowl dead, not even bothering to eat them. Predator birds swoop down on some cute fury little animal.
Surely an omnipotent and kindly master of the universe could think up something better? If there is one during the lifetime of the universe, it doesn't exist yet. The universe is still young.
It amuses me that nature lovers get upset by predator birds getting killed by wind turbines. What about other birds that they predate on?

Sometimes chipmunks go apeshit and just rip apart other chipmunks even though they're basically herbivores. Did you ever watch that meerkat show? A meerkat will get injured and the meerkat's sister will tear it apart to become the new alpha female. The meerkats go on rampages where the attack other meerkat burrows while the parents are away and murder all the babies.

There's nothing special about gods: they join centaurs, unicorns, Martians, etc. in the list of things I have no reason to think exist and don't spend time worrying about. I don't get up in the morning and ritually read a passage in some book of atheism; that's also not worth my time.

And yet communities in America where people do worry about those sorts of things are vastly nicer to live in than those communities where they don't.

The sensible thing to do is to free ride by keeping quiet. You don't have to read your book of Atheism but you can borrow Ned Flander's lawn mower and never return it.

@SMFS: wow, this is one sensible and nicely explained idea. This is the right answer to the atheist bus: enjoy the freeride.

Well if this true and this new, then that would explain more than the total decline in life expectancy in the US. Losing six years of life expectancy (one of the better estimates of life span loss from a lack of religious affiliation) for ~10-20% of adults would handily explain how we can have declining childhood and elderly death rates but decreasing life expectancy.

Just think how long the Japanese would live if they were religious

We have not done the full studies in Japan, but we do find that the religious population in Japan have less of the common correlates of reduced life expectancy. E.g. religiously observant Japanese are less likely to have hypertension.

We also find that ethnic Japanese have elevated lifespans after immigration to America, it persists for multiple generations, and those who are religious here live longer.

Without the large amount of data analysis done on Americans (and Japanese religious practice is much harder to study as Japanese praxis is much more syncretic), we cannot be sure, but the prima facie case is likely a few years more of life expectancy.

In his homily, the priest at the Episcopal Church I attended on Easter (I was visiting a relative) said that, absent the resurrection, Christianity would be nothing more than a hoax. I thought this was a stark statement, since it attributed no value to the teachings of Jesus. The priest reassured the congregation that the resurrection was a fact, as thousands were eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. Whether anyone saw the resurrected Jesus depends on which Gospel one reads, the last Gospel, written long after all eye witnesses were dead, providing the account with the most eye witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. I mention this because secularists often seem confused by the contrast between the teachings of Jesus (such as the Sermon on the Mount) and the priorities and behavior of evangelical Christians. It's the resurrection, stupid! If faith doesn't conquer death, then what's the point of having faith? Paradoxically, the most faithful Christians seem to be the least informed Christians, or the least informed about what's actually in the New Testament. No, grandma is not in Heaven, not now anyway. Perhaps in the Second Coming when Jesus returns to establish Heaven on Earth and the faithful, both living and dead, experience the resurrection of the body, but not until then.

Paradoxically, the most faithful Christians seem to be the least informed Christians, or the least informed about what's actually in the New Testament.

Stupid Christians! If only they were as smart and as clever as me, then they would believe what I do!

That is an amazing story! Speaking as a refugee from the Episcopals, I find it hard to believe that you found a "Priest" who professed to believe in Christianity...

Oh, and BTW - the dating attributed to the Gospels in modern scholarship is completely arbitrary, and usually made up to prove whatever the current author is trying to prove or (more usually) disprove. It's not like we have any actual texts from 70, or 50, or 100 A.D. that we can do (not that accurate anyway) carbon dating on. They just point to something in the text and say "someone at X time would have said this". For instance, Matthew seems to predict the destruction of the Temple. Since we know that the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and that prophesy is impossible, it must have been written after 70 AD, with the prophesies added back in. Sure, it might be true - but it kind of assumes the conclusion...

So their result from 2 *US* (not European or communist countries) surveys is that "prevalence estimates of 11% were even less credible than estimates of 40%, and all intermediate estimates were more credible."

GTFOOH with that BS.

Is "classical atheism" possible today?

Whatever cogency was imputed to atheism in days of yore, that cogency has since evaporated courtesy of the advent of modern science, whose generalized views of cosmography alone today show it is impossible to declare "there is no god" except as yet another example of dogmatic belief: the available evidence cannot tell us and does not tell us, no matter how much we may prefer to disbelieve.

Time for atheists to grow up, too.

Exactly what you think science should have found to make Classical Atheism possible? God's dead body?! Both Atheism and belief are interpretations of the data available. Also, for all practical purposes, "maybe there is a god, may there are hundreds, maybe there is none, who is to know?" is basically Atheism. This (and complaining about how believers supposedly have no rational basis for their beliefs) is basically Dawkins position.

If science is doing its job properly, its epistemic searches are conducted in as exactly blind a fashion as Justice has been traditionally portrayed: science tests hypotheses, but empiricism can be said to have occurred only after the fact.

What I do notice is how science apologists have become subject to "religious thinking", and all you have to notice is the quasi-religious fervor with which our ET searches are now being conducted and advertised: NO EVIDENCE for thriving exo-biology yet, but all kinds of animate hopes and assumptions fueling experiments and expensive research projects.

If atheists want to concede that their cognitive skills permit nothing more than vague agnosticism, they'd finally be owning up to the epistemology required by contemporary sciences.

The point still remains that atheists will probably just say there is no greater reason to believe in God than in Zeus or fairies. They probably will point out that divine revelation doesn't seem to describe well reality (from the creation of the world to the creation of men and their history - I think most of us can be sure that the Kami did not create the Japanese islands). And, of course, believers will probably say that only intelligent design (or intelligents controlling the blind material forces) can account for a complex, liveable, beautiful Earth. Most Americans balieve in intelligent design. And the eternal discussion proceeds as it always will.

As for searching for extraterrestrial life (and investing in manned missions and space flight as a whole), there are divergences regarding how valuable those efforts are. But all they demand as an ideological basis is a belief that life may (by material processes alone or even with a deity's guidance) have arisen on other countries.

I do not share your faith in the quietism of "atheist cognition". Just moments ago, I scanned "science" headlines positing the possible existence of alien life thriving in conjectured parallel "multiverses", so I repeat my concerns with quasi-religious thought in so-called scientific domains.

Maybe our cognitive sciences and neurologists could work up for us an account of "cognitive voluntarism", since the brain seems to house the will-to-believe at least as well as it is fabled to house intelligence.

The important point, I think, is that we don't know any reason why aliens can not exist regardless of God existing or not. If they could be found, it would be one of the greatest discoveries in history (maybe it would have practical consequences, too). Any one working on such area would recognize it. That people involved with Cosmology and related sciences are usually materialists is, no pun intended, immaterial. So, in a world where even scientists linked to the Vatican believe that aliens can exist, I do not see why atheist scientists and science journalists should not be impressed by the idea. Although I admit maybe it is not the best use of mankind's resources.

Perhaps I can conclude my contributions here with the bare assertion that Jesus of Nazareth enjoys far greater credibility today as a science fiction protagonist than as Incarnate Logos (John 10:16 provides all the fuel any starry-eyed science enthusiast would need): the imaginative capability science enthusiasts claim for themselves begins to suggest the degree to which non-rational sentiment has come to infuse scientific questing.

'NO EVIDENCE for thriving exo-biology yet'

50 years ago, there was no evidence of extra solar planets that could be considered roughly (very roughly) comparable to the earth.

Yet, after 'all kinds of animate hopes and assumptions fueling experiments and expensive research projects' we now accept the existence of such as being proven. With the current total number of exoplanets being 3,767 as of May 1st according to wikipedia, starting from a total 0 in 1987.

And to be clear - the 3,767 figure is of all exoplanets, not earth comparable ones. Depending on the strictness of your definition, there are maybe a handful of roughly earth comparable planets that have been discovered at this point in time.

Ooohh and ahhhh: parallel universes by comparison must be practically at our elbows.

Meanwhile, we shan't be navigating distances of even five light-years anytime too soon, by which time our scant days may well have passed.

'Ooohh and ahhhh: parallel universes by comparison must be practically at our elbows.'


'Meanwhile, we shan't be navigating distances of even five light-years anytime too soon'

If ever at all.

However, that we may, in the next 50 years, make as large an advance in sensing technologies as was made in the last 50 to at least more confidently approach an answer to whether life ('as we know it, Jim - at this point in time' goes somewhat without saying) exists nearby (using an extremely expansive definition of nearby) is not precisely unrealistic.

This is a pretty sad sequence of comments from you. Just because you don't understand a science and its theories seem strange to you, you conclude they are mere fantasy.

I'm sure I don't know, although it remains possible to question in fiction whether scientific theorists themselves quite understand what they claim to be talking about:

I have never met an account of a god that I have found remotely plausible. That seems to me to a be a workable, practical definition of atheism.

If you ask me 'do you believe that there is no god?' I reply 'what in God's name do you mean by "god"?'

Do these surveys discriminate between atheism and agnosticism?

Also, I call a lot of people "non-theists." They don't believe in God, they don't disbelieve in God, and they aren't agnostics either. They simply don't know, don't care, and don't think about it. What category do we put them in?

'What category do we put them in?'

The lowest level of Dis. Though generally, 'simply don't know, don't care, and don't think about it' is pretty well covered by agnosticism, when seen expansively enough. However, the believers refuse to accept the idea that a significant number of people just don't care about what the believers think is important.

To rephrase what a couple other commentators have said, I wonder how many people just don't really care or think about the issue. "What is your religious belief?" "Oh, I dunno." "Are you an atheist?" "I guess not."

I don't buy that.
Only a child who is unaware of mortality hasn't thought about God or what happens after death.

'or what happens after death'

Absolutely no one knows, and any answer beyond 'we absolutely have no knowledge of what happens after death' is a statement of faith.

Not very comforting, admittedly. And lots and lots of kids have never thought of God. At least when framed that way, in the singular, with the upper case G denoting a certain perspective that several billion people, including their children, do not share.

Occam's Razor suggests that nothing happens after death. Ever.
Of course less probable ideas, such as you are still conscious in an alternate universe when you didn't die, and possibilities, as is the "natural history" described by many religions.
But reality is not democratic. Millions of people believing something to be true doesn't make it true.

'Occam's Razor suggests that nothing happens after death. Ever.'

'Suggests' is the key word. Certainty is something else - any certainty concerning what happens after death is illusory. Which is in no way the same as saying that this is support for any belief.

Personally, I go with the nothing ever happening after death myself, and there is no question that the fear of death is a human reality for many, which can be be used for any number of purposes, many of them involving religious frameworks.

But certainty? Nope.

Right. My point is that almost nobody has never thought about it. It's crazy to think nobody has any thoughts about religion because the fact of mortality looms over everyone's consciousness from the moment they become aware of the existance of death.

Er, I mean it's crazy to think there are large numbers of people who just have no opinion and have never thought about it. If they're not thinking about it, it's because they are blocking it out. (Which might be a coping strategy).

Hazel, there is quite a bit of difference between "it had never ever crossed my mind in the slightest" and "I have never had an opinion about that". So the craziness (or not) of the former doesn't imply craziness of the latter.

For some reason a lot of religious people get very upset when someone around them claims to be an atheist, as if the mere fact of stating a lack of believe was equivalent to a personal attack on their own belief. It's as if I say "I'm an atheist", and somewhere in the air between us that gets translated by the ether into "You're an idiot."

Consequently, I will tend to pretend to be agnostic when around the religious, so as not to offend them, or just because I don't feel like having an argument about religion. Not really because I'm terrified of being outed and want to hide my lack of belief. It's just easier to get along with the religious if you don't bring up your atheism.

I simply say, "I am non-religious."

It sounds enough like "non-denominational" that it avoids challenging someone's faith.

It also avoids the implication that I need more evidence ("agnostic") and releases me from proving a negative ("atheist").

Why would this web site be connecting to a web site called, and hang the loading for a good 30 seconds? Making a hollow mockery of Hoefler & Co.'s advantages, it appears.

Since the vast majority of the seven plus billion human beings have not seen and never has any prospect of seeing the so called “god” during their life time and since most of these folks will admit that seeing is truly believing, most of them, regardless of “ church “ going , “synagogue” going , “ mosque “ going or “ temple” going , will not genuinely contest the conclusion that they are all atheists !! So, it is my very considered opinion that most human beings on this planet are Atheists !! Cheers. Venkat.

Aren't the authors of this paper just committing a classic "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

You have X number of theists. The paper is claiming that some of these theists aren't "True" Theists because they aren't pure enough, by a measurement of the authors choosing.

That seems like a pretty text book case of a No True Scotsman argument.

Their argument is that a lot of people who are atheists are not willing to disclose that they are atheists to pollsters due to social desirability bias, which is a well-known problem with finding people to admit to having unpopular views.

The numbers they cite are not surprising; a lot of non-religious people try to avoid the stigma of identifying as "atheists". Only about 3 in 4 Americans claimed to believe in God in a 2013 UPI/Harris poll, which is inconsistent with the idea that only 3-11% of the population are atheists.

How you ask questions can make a big difference in how people answer them; ask people when dinosaurs went extinct, then, in a separate poll, ask people if they think that the earth is 5,000 years old. You'll find that these answers give contradictory statistics - that is to say, some significant fraction of people who say that dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago will also claim that the Earth is only 5,000 years old. This is because the creationist question invokes social desirability bias, whereas the extinction question isn't obviously related to it., and thus people will answer it honestly.

That social undesirability might be depressing the numbers certainly seems plausible to me but so much so that this group that numbers 1 in 4 Americans are afraid to even admit it in an anonymous phone interview? That part is hard to believe.

Compare to other groups that have been reviled (and actually persecuted) such as Muslims or Homosexuals who number much less than 11% but still manage to be less reticent. Doesn't something seem fishy to you?

Also 3 in 4 Americans believing in God is not inconsistent with only 3-11% being atheists unless one thinks those are the only two possible options.

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