Study Contends There Are Twice as Many Atheists in America as Polls Show

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The mayor of San Antonio, Ivy Taylor, made headlines recently during a mayoral candidate forum. She was asked about systemic generational poverty in her city and what she thought caused it. Mayor Taylor replied, “To me, it’s broken people…people not being in a relationship with their Creator.” Basically it was godlessness which caused poverty, in her view. Whether this was a deflection or her actual belief isn’t clear. But that she thought this would be an acceptable answer tells us something about how agnostics, atheists, and those questioning faith, are regarded in American society.

Another controversy in a similar vein, was when the Pope spoke out, saying it is better to be a good atheist than a “fake” Christian. This emphasizes Catholicism’s focus on good works as the path to salvation over pure faith, as Protestants believe. Christianity is the largest world religion, followed by Islam which is growing, but not as fast as the third place contestant, no religion, the fastest growing faith category in the world. Around 7% of the global population is atheist and if we include the non-religious, it’s 16.5%.

A recent Gallup Poll suggests one in 10 Americans don’t believe in God, a small but significant milestone. Over one-third of millennials polled were religiously unaffiliated. On another front, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped 8% between 2007 and 2014.

Oxford professor Richard Dawkins

Oxford professor Richard Dawkins is well-known for his non-belief. On this side of the pond, two researchers say, there’s a stigma against atheism. Getty Images.

No religious affiliation or “nones,” are the second largest faith category in North America today. They’ve been growing steadily for decades now. About 25% of the entire US population are among the unaffiliated. While in the past several years, the number of atheists has doubled. Most are white, male, and highly educated. 56% are politically liberal. People of color, women, and the less educated tend to be more religious.

Some experts say there are even more atheists that aren’t accounted for. A recent study at the University of Kentucky finds a lot of what they call “closet atheists.” Researchers Will Gervais and Maxine Najle say there’s a lot of stigma surrounding atheism. Several polls have shown that people find atheists less trustworthy, even immoral. As a result, many lie to the pollster because they feel…

The Necessity of Atheism

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Upon learning of the drowning of Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1822, the London Courier took a shot at the deceased poet’s atheism by writing, “now he knows whether there is a God or no.” Shelley’s wife, Mary, who had published Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus only four years prior, probably didn’t enjoy the jab at her late husband, victim of a sudden storm in the Gulf of Spezia.

Percy Shelley never achieved widespread fame during his lifetime. After death his writing spread—The Cenci, Prometheus Unbound, and Hellas became classics. Along the way the poet penned essays and journal entires describing his transition from mystical pantheism to atheism. In 1811he published “The Necessity of Atheism,” for which he received flack from the religiously-inclined. Two years later, while writing his poem, Queen Mab, he expanded and revised the essay.

Shelley was living during England’s golden age of scientific discovery. As a student at Oxford he fell in love with the new technology of ballooning. He equated the epic flights of silk balloons, which would soon carry humans, with liberation, himself once securing a revolutionary pamphlet on a number of balloons that he launched from a Lynmouth beach.

Shelley’s poetry was filled with scientific wonder. He studied under James Lind, the Scottish physician most famous for conducting the first experimental method by treating sailors with citrus to cure scurvy. While many of Shelley’s contemporaries were searching for metaphysical explanations of the growing fields of biology and chemistry, Shelley recognized poetry in the processes of nature.

The young poet found Christianity detestable, infusing his thoughts on psychology with scientific ideas. His amalgam of speculative journaling—he shared diaries with Mary—laid the foundation for her to dream up Frankenstein and usher in a new form of literature, the science fiction novel. Just as Shelley was influenced by researchers around him, those same scientists drew inspiration from the poetic materialism expressed in his verses.

In “The Necessity of Atheism,” Shelley writes that man first feared then adored the elements, paying homage to the planet by learning to control them. Humans then started to simplify categories—which is true in light of modern neuroscience as well as the historical evolution from polytheism to monotheism—and imagined a single agent as the source of all of nature.

Mounting from cause to cause, mortal man has ended by seeing nothing; and it is in this obscurity that he has placed his God; it is in this darksome abyss that his uneasy imagination has always labored to fabricate chimeras, which will continue to afflict…