More Atheists In The U.S.
Than Jews In The World?
Eric Fontaine

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Eric Fontaine"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section-Cliff Walker
Date: September 24, 2001 11:03 PM

You can get figures for Jews in almost any encyclopedia article about them. Liberal figures usually place the number of Jews in the World at no more than 12 million.

Meanwhile, if you define atheist as "one who lacks a god-belief," then Encarta shows the world-wide incidence of atheists (including nonreligious) to be about 21 percent. In other words, there are more nonreligious (including atheists) than there are Muslims.

In a recent letter, "There Are More Atheists In The U.S. Than You Think" with D.J. Brown, I discussed the fact that the quest for cold, hard figures on these numbers is elusive at best. I have settled with reporting as 10 percent the number of nontheists and atheists (the total of Americans who either simply lack a god-belief plus those who assert that no gods exist). I don't even remember where I got this figure, but it is pretty close to the others I've noticed over the years.

The problem we discussed in that letter was that the writer pointed to Census Bureau figures as indicating 29 percent of Americans report "None" as their "Religious Preference."

In our Web Guide under People we list a web page called Adherents.com. This web site is dedicated to listing the statistics relating to how many people living where believe in what religion. In their Religion by Name Index under the letter "J" they list the number of "ethnic Jews" at 12,800,000 (this figure is just for the race of Jews, meaning that not all these are religious Jews). Meanwhile, Encarta gives the end-of-the-century estimate of the U.S. population as 270,311,758.

So, even if only five percent of Americans are atheists, there are more of us than there are ethnic Jews in the world, according to these figures; mine showed that there would need to be 4.7 for this statement to be valid. By the way, Adherents cites a 1990 census of U.S. Jews as revealing that 76 percent of ethnic Jews claim to adhere to some Jewish religious affiliation, while 20 percent say they are secular.

In any event, if you count nontheists as atheists (and we use that definition here at PAM), this statement is well within reason. In other words, the statement would better read:

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"There are more people in the United States who lack a god-belief than there are ethnic Jews in the world."

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Even if you count only those who assert that no gods exist as atheists, that statement is not very far off the mark:

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"There are about as many people in the United States who assert that no gods exist as there are ethnic Jews in the world."

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Or:

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"There are slightly more people in the United States who assert that no gods exist than there are Jews in the world who are religious."

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We need to keep in mind that tracking down cold, hard figures on how many people believe what is not a cut-and-dried study by any means. Getting the figures is hard enough, but translating the questionnaire is also much of the problem (which is why I don't trust the stats telling us how many Americans support Bush's response to the terrorist attacks: most will say that he must respond, but not nearly as many will think he's responding in a way that makes them feel good about our prospects for the future). As I stated in the D.J. Brown letter, just coming to an agreement about what constitutes an atheist is tough work. We do well, I think, to simply describe the situation: "Do you have anything resembling a belief that God or a god or gods or deities exist?"

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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