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1 in 5 is 20%.

Posted by Kris | June 23, 2008 2:00 PM

ummm, isn't 1-in-5 20%?

Posted by percy percent | June 23, 2008 2:02 PM

Also, doesn't atheism come in at more than 20% in the Pacific Northwest?

Posted by Simac | June 23, 2008 2:03 PM

oh boo. who gives a fuck what other people think? you should worry about yourself and your own problems.

Posted by tiffany | June 23, 2008 2:03 PM

I think they broke the laws of math..

Posted by Kyleen | June 23, 2008 2:04 PM

@1: What the article says is that one in five professed atheists believe, which is 20% of whatever X percent are professed atheists, which is 0.20X

Posted by Greg | June 23, 2008 2:04 PM

1 & 2: That means one in five atheists believe in God, not one in five people are atheists. About 1% of Americans are atheists.

Although I wonder what "universal power" means to them. It might not be anything like God.

Posted by julia | June 23, 2008 2:06 PM

The washington post story won't load for me (ie on work computer doesn't seem to like WP's dynamic links at all) so forgive my ignorance, but aren't these polls usually taken by unsolicited calls to landlines? Doesn't that kind of guarantee that they're asking a higher proportion of dumfucks and people who just don't know any better. If it's an internet poll, then I don't know.

Posted by bearseatbeats | June 23, 2008 2:06 PM

And, as my previous comment got cut off at the less than signs:

0.20X << 20%

Posted by Greg | June 23, 2008 2:06 PM

Maybe they're weak Atheists or even agnostics and the polling didn't take such gradiations into account?

Posted by COMTE | June 23, 2008 2:07 PM

@6- So basically 20% of athiests are actually retarded agnostics?

Posted by Kyleen | June 23, 2008 2:07 PM

Okay, that makes no sense whatsoever. Why would someone say they were an atheist and also that they believe in God?

Posted by arduous | June 23, 2008 2:09 PM

Maybe they thought the question was "are you a theist?"

Posted by Levislade | June 23, 2008 2:15 PM

20% of senile shut-ins who answer the phone didn't understand the question.

Posted by max solomon | June 23, 2008 2:16 PM

I would guess some polls, like sex and religion, have people telling the group doing the polling what they want to hear. Like being an Atheist is akin to being a compleat perv.

Posted by spamalot | June 23, 2008 2:19 PM

@11: It's weird, and from the article it doesn't seem like they really asked why the respondents thought that was the case. (As usual, the most interesting survey questions are the ones they forgot to ask.)

Perhaps it is that while they reject all gods as portrayed in religions they know of to be false, they still feel that there is something other than being and nothingness. Or maybe they just call themselves atheists to annoy their parents. I don't know.

Posted by Greg | June 23, 2008 2:20 PM

Internalized atheistphobia?

Posted by Tiffany | June 23, 2008 2:25 PM

It sounds like an agenda driven article. Besides, God has changed meaning for some. God could be in the details, like the immutable laws of physics, not the old "God of Abraham" definition.

Posted by Vince | June 23, 2008 2:27 PM

The question wasn't if they believe in god, it's if they believe in god or some universal power. Very easy to imagine an atheist (which means 'without god') believing in a non-diety universal power - those 1 in 5 may be Star Wars fans who believe in the Force. Who knows?

Posted by switzerblog | June 23, 2008 2:29 PM


Posted by seattle mike | June 23, 2008 2:30 PM

There are numerous well-known religious traditions that reject the idea of a godhead while still adhering to belief in some sort of "Universal Force."

Posted by flamingbanjo | June 23, 2008 2:31 PM
Posted by umvue | June 23, 2008 2:32 PM

Luckily, we who are true believers in the Pastafarian, Tao of Piglet, and Jedi camps far outnumber you atheists.

Plus, we've got the pirates on our side ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 23, 2008 2:35 PM

Agnostics and meta-agnostics (unsure as to whether they are unsure) are often lumped into the atheist category.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | June 23, 2008 2:45 PM

If those agnostics and meta-agnostics don't know, or don't know whether they know, they would necessarily lack belief in gods, and would therefore be a-theistic agnostics.

Posted by pox | June 23, 2008 2:49 PM

Are they counting agnostics as atheists?

I claim atheist status but seeing as how there is no definitive proof either way I can't say I'm 100%. That's what faith is all about.

I consider a god/gods to be highly unlikely and if there is a god/gods I know nothing about him/her/it anyway, so I'd be foolish (rather, arrogant. hello, Christians) to assume I know what he/she/it wants from me so I just act as though there is no such thing and hope that if there is/are a god/gods that he/she/it understands, sort of like I understand that a bug is just a bug and isn't doing anything I like or dislike out of spite or irreverence, and doesn't hold it against me.

And for anyone (Mom) who says to me, "There is too a god, it says so right in the bible." I respond, "God didn't write the bible, men claiming to speak to/for god (people we would call crazy today, Pat Robertson) wrote it to maintain order amongst the people uneducated commoners (you know, like the midwest, say, Iowa for instance)."

So there I am right back to not assuming to know what god/gods want and just acting as if there is none.

HOWEVER, since I was raised by god fearin' christian folk, I was taught to "do unto others as you'd have them do to you" (that one comes in real handy during sex) and I try not to lie/cheat/steal, but if you're doing that "do unto others" thing you probably won't be lying, cheating, or stealing anyway. You know, just generally trying to be a good person.

I believe in nature.

Posted by monkey | June 23, 2008 2:54 PM

@22: So of self-identified atheists, 6% believe in a personal God, versus 12% who believe in an impersonal force, and 3% who believe in either something else or don't know.

Posted by Greg | June 23, 2008 2:54 PM

Are they counting saying "Oh god" during sex, maybe?

Posted by Theorist | June 23, 2008 2:57 PM

My grandmother was an atheist.

My grandfather was a Jewish agnostic.

They sure as heck weren't the same ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 23, 2008 3:04 PM

One percent of Protestants and Catholics and 4% of Greek Orthodox "Do not believe in God." With Buddhists it's 19%. Hanging out in church will get you laid, or at least a decent rate on a loan, of course.

Almost everyone's beliefs cover a spectrum, and at the edges of that spectrum, you get weird answers. It reminds me of he exit polls of people who voted for one candidate and then said they wanted the other one to win.

Posted by elenchos | June 23, 2008 3:04 PM

How do they define "pray"? I pray once a day that Pat Robertson gets caught blowing a tranny. Doesn't mean I don't think it's silly & meaningless...

Posted by Mike in MO | June 23, 2008 3:06 PM

Why does that bug you? A person's beliefs aren't your business. Religion, beliefs, spirituality - it's all boring. Kind of like another person's sexuality. But then there wouldn't be a Stranger if being gay wasn't the most INTERESTING and IMPORTANT thing anyone's ever done with their life.


Posted by Who cares | June 23, 2008 4:06 PM

"Not one man in a thousand has the strength of mind or the goodness of heart to be an atheist."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Posted by LMSW | June 23, 2008 4:09 PM

@26 - Others can probably elaborate on this better than I can, but not being 100% sure that there are no gods does not mean that you're not an atheist. It simply means you that there are no gods that you believe in. And agnosticism doesn't mean that you're undecided. It's not the religious equivalent of being a political independent. It means that you have no knowledge of any gods. I'd guess that most atheists are agnostics. In fact, although they won't admit it, most theists are agnostic as well, as they have no true knowledge of any gods. That's why they like to use "faith". Using the term faith more or less admits agnosticism.

I personally am an agnostic atheist. I don't believe in any gods, nor do I claim to have any knowledge one way or another (this, I gather, would describe your position as well). Someone who absolutely denies the possibility of any gods would be considered a gnostic atheist.

Posted by sleestak | June 23, 2008 4:12 PM

@26 - Disregard my post--I think I misread your post initially. I thought you were saying you didn't think you should call yourself an atheist for not knowing 100%, but on second read I don't think that's what you were saying.

Posted by sleestak | June 23, 2008 4:16 PM

You're all wrong.

Posted by God | June 23, 2008 4:26 PM

Well, you are too.

At least I didn't create them in my image ...

Posted by Flying Spaghetti Monster | June 23, 2008 4:31 PM



Posted by GOD | June 23, 2008 4:33 PM

Here, this is what I think...

Posted by monkey | June 23, 2008 4:35 PM

It's simple. There are atheists who lie to pollsters, secure in the knowledge no god will punish them ... and then there are believers who suspect the One True God doesn't really care much for pollsters, and wouldn't mind them messing with pollsters' heads.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | June 23, 2008 4:35 PM

Many of my friends say they are atheists but then say they believe in the "universe spirit" or "energy"...."karma" or a "force" gee dudes it's just semantics admit it you believe in "a" god....just not a corporeal lookalike to us

..they just don't want to be viewed s being like right wing christians....

As for me I prefer the gods with flaws and limitations -- of course -- so I like Athena Zeus etc.

what's with this monotheism that makes no sense at all a huge step backwards causing many wars.....poly is mroe flexible and absorptive.....

peace out and inshallah

Posted by PC | June 23, 2008 4:40 PM

I took part in that survey. It was surreal. The young woman asked me to describe my religious beliefs. I told her I was an atheist. She asked if I believed in god. I told her, no, I am an atheist. She asked me how often I prayed. I told her I didn't pray. I am an atheist. It went on and on in that vein. Actually, it was a lot of fun, though a bit silly.

Posted by lileasy | June 23, 2008 4:53 PM

Couldn't elaborate back @22 - discovered that the coffee I spilled this a.m. did something to my spacebar. Anyway...

@27 has it. According to Pew, 21% of atheists surveyed have a belief in god. Of these 21%, 6% believe in a personal god and the remainder believe in whatever they believe.

Like lots of surveys and numbers this might initially seem surprising but it's not difficult to devise rational explanations. First, this is a survey of beliefs. I'll hazard that a significant percentage of people don't worry much about what they believe and if their beliefs follow any kind of internal consistency. In my little mind no atheist would believe in a personal god but, hey, that's just what I get from the dictionary and Aristotelian logic. From my experience I find it's impossible (and undesirable) to be logically consistent. I also hazard that most people's beliefs are too complicated to be dichotomized into yea/nea god and this too accounts for some of the inconsistency.

Personally, I don't care too too much about what people believe but more how people act. Of course, the two can be highly correlated...

Posted by umvue | June 23, 2008 5:02 PM

God is a political title, much like King. Asking the question "Do you believe in God" is non-sensical in much the same way as asking "Do you believe in King."

One must first define the term "God." Then, one must demonstrate that a being has claimed the title of "God." Then, one must decide whether one has sufficient knowledge to claim the actual existence of that being. Then, one must decide whether the being has a right to claim the title "God" per the above required definition of "God." Then, one must decide whether or not one wants to recognize that being as "God." Then, one must decide whether to support or to oppose that being as "God."

It's all very complicated, and the traditional ways of stating and answering the questions make no sense in our modern understanding of political philosophy. BTW, most that is called religion is pseudo political philosophy.

God, being defined as a political term per above, is most likely definitionally an authoritarian political figure, and the recognition of a God as such would fall outside of a faith in democratic pluralism.

In other words, if you love America and the Constitution, you can't really recognize or worship God with consistency in your political beliefs.

Posted by Timothy | June 23, 2008 5:32 PM

There aren't many actual atheists in America. There are a decent number of agnostics (aka "namby pambys" to us atheists.)

Making ground? Ha. I'd say we're still running scared. I sure keep my mouth shut.

What is making ground? The decline of churchin'! That keeps declining and declining, no matter what the right wing screechies' volume would make you think.

I won't go on with my particular feelings about this, living deep in the red state South. Just assume the worst, mm'kay?

Posted by CP | June 23, 2008 6:19 PM

(from The West Wing episode "Guns, Not Butter"

So, if we're lucky, foreign aid's going to be funded for another 90 days at
75 cents on the dollar. No one who's ever said they wanted bipartisanship has ever
meant it. But the people are speaking. Because 68% think we give too much in foreign aid, and 59% think it should be cut.

You like that stat?

I do.


Because 9% think it's too high, and shouldn't be cut! 9% of respondents could not fully get their arms around the question. There should be another box you can check for, "I have utterly no idea what you're talking about. Please, God, don't ask for my input."

Posted by Kevbar | June 23, 2008 7:52 PM

I think the problem is that whole "higher power" thing. On one board I frequent, lots of people call themselves "atheists" because they don't believe in "God" as such. There's not really a clear category for such people, ya know?

Doesn't make 'em atheists though, of course.

Posted by Constance | June 24, 2008 12:03 PM

Not weird, if people think "atheist" means "I don't believe in God" (instead of the more correct "I believe that there are no gods"). Even without the God of Abraham there's still plenty of room for fuzzy-headed new age / holistic / Zen quote-unquote "spiritualism", so-called higher powers, and prayers thereto. I'm pleased only 20% of self-avowed atheists are so imprecise.

Posted by Alex C | June 26, 2008 11:47 AM

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