Essay: Will American Atheism Decline by 50% in the Next Five Years?

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Questions about the decline of atheism arise from time to time on Conservapedia (here, for example) but they don't ever seem to be quantified accurately. This essay/questionnaire attempts to examine the question through verifiable, quantitative measures.

Determining the prevalence of various religious views is subject to a great many factors that contribute to uncertainty, such as the exact question that is asked and the sample that is chosen. (For example, asking the question in a church, or on a YouTube channel, is pointless.) For the purposes of this survey, the Gallup poll on the subject, here, will be used. The reason for this is that the Gallup organization has a great deal of experience with various methodologies, such as choosing the sample (that is, deciding whom to ask), and with choosing the question carefully. The latter requires that the question be worded the same way each year. The Gallup organization realizes the importance of choosing the exact question carefully.

There is a Gallup poll on the subject every year. The question is one of identifying oneself as a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, etc., and "none". The percentage of people responding "none" will be taken as the definition of an atheist for the purposes of this essay. For 2011, that percent was 13%. (For 2010, it was 14%.) One may disagree with that particular criterion, but it has the advantage of being consistent.

For the purposes of the issue in this essay, the criterion will be a relative decline of 13%, in the fraction of "none" responses, over each of the next 5 years. Questions of a decline of 50% have been floated on Conservapedia before, but never with a time limit. In this essay, a period of 5 years will be taken as the target. This requires a mean decline of 13% per year. The reason is that (1-0.13)^5 = 1/2.

So the question is, who wants to speculate on the outcome? Vote below, by putting your signature, and other optional comments, in the chosen section below.



  • The number of tracts distributed and YouTube videos created is impressive, but I'm concerned about 2 things: (1) are the tracts being properly targeted at atheists? (2) has the conversion rate per tract been quantified properly? I've never seen any data on the latter. MichaelMa 10:39, 3 April 2012 (EDT)


I don't think people change their beliefs as quickly as all that - a phenomenon I like to call "ontological inertia". I am open-minded, and of course there is a lot about the United States of America that I do not know, but I think ontological inertia will prevent such a steep decline from being possible.


Need tighter definition of atheism plus deeper analysis

You need a tighter definition of atheism than "NONE" for religion. Your definition would include agnostics and people who are theists but do not belong to any of the major religions. For example, in 2008, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reported 1.6% of Americans self-identified themselves as atheists.[1] In 2007, Pew Forum estimated that 1.6% of Americans are atheists.[2] I would suggest examining this article: Atheist population.

Secondly, I listed a number of factors on why atheism will be cut by 50% in terms of the percentage of adherents in the United States which listed a number of factors contributing to atheism declining in the United States in the future. See: Essay: 10 reasons why American atheism will be cut by at least 50%. If you are going to set a date, you are going to have to analyze and then project how rapidly some of the variables/factors will likely impinge on American atheism. Conservative 14:28, 3 April 2012 (EDT)

No, we don't need a tighter definition. It would be good if we could get objective, repeatable data for some definition that we like better, but the Gallup organization doesn't have polls that frame the question in terms of being agnostic, or theist, or deist, or whatever. We have to make use of the way they frame the question. I believe that using a respected polling organization that uses repeatable methods and good choice of sample groups is important.
And we don't need to analyze the reasons for the decline. That might be good information to have, but we won't get it from this survey. We are only going after the plain numbers.
Of course, other people can construct other polls with other methodologies, that ask the questions the way they like. And I'd be interested in those results also. MichaelMa 18:27, 3 April 2012 (EDT)

ARIS and Pew Forum are both highly respected and if memory serves and I think it does, ARIS used a huge sample size. Plus, ARIS and Pew Forum are in agreement that 1.6% of Americans are atheists.Conservative 12:30, 4 April 2012 (EDT)

Great! Do they do their surveys every year? With the same methodology? How do they frame their questions such that they each get the same number---1.6%. Post their results here for the next 5 years.
By the way --- "If you are going to set a date, you are going to have to analyze and then project ..." --- No, all you have to do is look at a calendar. I'm setting the date: April 4, 2017. MichaelMa 14:07, 4 April 2012 (EDT)