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July 01, 2008

Atheists, Semantics, and God

According to a recent Pew Forum survey, 21% of American atheists believe in a god. 6% believe in a personal God, 12% believe in an impersonal force, and 3% aren't sure. 10% of American atheists pray at least once a week. 12% believe in heaven.

Obviously, these statistics are a bit confusing. Atheists are, by definition, people who do not believe that there is evidence of a god, and reject belief in one. From a- "without" + theos "a god." Seems pretty clear to me.

Many of these atheists are a bit less dogmatic than Dawkins and his militant, fundamentalist atheist crew. It seems to me, though, that 21% of Americans who claim to be atheists don't understand the meaning of the word, and are instead agnostic.

Atheism at least implies a rejection of the possibility of the existence of any god whatsoever. The very concept of god becomes a merely human construction, born of a primitive desire to explain the unexplainable in nature. Modern man has no need of such definitions -- we're smarter than that, say the atheists.

But now it seems that 21% of those smart people don't even know the definition of the word atheist.

Now I have no problem with atheists praying; I'd just like to know who they're praying to. I didn't know that the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was growing all that quickly today, and I certainly wasn't aware that it's adherents actively prayed to the FSM.

Lest this post seem to harsh toward these pseudo-atheists, it should be noted that 55% of American agnostics say they believe in a god, with 14% believing in a personal one, 36% in an impersonal one, and 5% not quite sure.

A summary of the report is available here, and there are some other interesting statistics. For example, 14% of people identifying themselves as Jewish do not believe in God. 21% of Evangelicals don't believe in a personal God. 19% of all Protestants surveyed believe God is an impersonal force, like in Star Wars.

The real problem with a survey like this is that you really don't know how the questions were worded, and right now I really don't have time to read the entire 268 page report. If I have a chance this week, I'll take a look at the 18 page summary, and see if it gives any clue about how the questions were framed.

In any case, it looks like we've got some work to do here.

Posted by Warren Kelly at July 1, 2008 07:22 PM | TrackBack
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