Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All statistics lie, even this one

It is not difficult to find a news article that either refers to or alludes to some sort of study or statistic. In 1954 Darrell Huff wrote a book called "How to Lie with Statistics." Recently, the atheists have gotten into citing statistics and seem to be proponents of Mr. Huff's book. In a recent article posted by the Americanatheists in which they ask President Obama to turn down a role as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America, the author, who identifies himself as Roy Speckhardt, states; "Many presidents of the United States have taken on the title of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. However, this tradition was established when discrimination against nontheists was, unfortunately, socially acceptable. Given that nontheists now make up a sizeable minority of the American population-­having more numbers than Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews combined-­the BSA is clearly out of touch with the spirit of pluralism, tolerance, and inclusiveness that compose today’s American values." [Spelling as in the original]

Mr. Speckhardt purports to speak for a whole long list of organizations:

American Atheists

American Ethical Union

American Humanist Association

Atheist Alliance International

Atheist Nexus

Camp Quest

Center for Atheism

Center for Inquiry

Center for Naturalism

Council for Secular Humanism

Freedom From Religion Foundation



Institute for Humanist Studies

International Federation for Secular & Humanistic Judaism

Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers

Secular Coalition for America

Secular Student Alliance

Society for Humanistic Judaism

Do nontheists outnumber Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews in the United States? If they don't then the American Atheists are lying and what is more, they are attempting to lie to the President of the United States. Now, I can't possibly believe that President Obama would even give these people the time of day, but it is symptomatic of this group of organizations to misrepresent their own importance. Even if it is true that the atheists outnumber the four groups, it is likely is that the authors chose those four organizations from a list, including the controversial Mormons or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, specifically because the total membership of the four groups was less than their own estimate of the number of atheists. It is interesting that the Pew Research Council found 84% of the U.S. population considered themselves Christians.

Here are some statistics on the sizes of the four groups, obviously, you can take your pick of who you believe, but I will give you links to the original sources rather than making a blanket unsupported statement. Listed in the order they are claimed in the Atheist article:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,779,316 members as reported by the 2008 Edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

Buddhists 2,000,000 appx. The Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Connecticut claims in news articles that in the year 2008, the Pew Forum's U.S Religious Landscape Survey was published with great fanfare. The results showed surprising shifts in American religious life over the past decade. One important development is that Buddhism climbed to be the 3rd most practiced religion in America below that of Christianity and Judaism. The results showed that .7%, surveyed as Buddhists, which would mean that there about 2,000,000 Buddhists in the USA. Islam ranked at .6% and Hinduism settled in at .4%. Demographically, it was found that the majority of Buddhists were Gen-Xers and between the ages of 30 - 49. Also, American Buddhism's growth is predominantly based on the conversion of native-born Americans showing that Asians numbered only 30% of this population. Geographically, western USA had more Buddhists than in the east coast. Finally, 20% surveyed believed in a personal God in contrast with the overall population that registered at majority of 60%.

Well, it seems that the Buddhists at least, claim to outnumber the Atheists all by themselves.

Hindus are estimated to be 1,478,670 or .5% of the total population. However, Hinduism Today give a much higher figure of 2,290,000.

Each of these discussions gives the rationale and the range of figures.

The total is about 13,257,000 for all four groups. Now what about atheists? First, of all, atheists don't belong to an organization as such, so they can't be counted like Mormons, but there are plenty of estimates of their numbers. See this article on How Many Atheists in America?

A University of Minnesota Study on American Attitudes Towards Atheists & Atheism
expresses the opinion that there are a relatively low number of atheists. The number is probably entirely indeterminable because some of the studies cited lump everyone who says they do not belong to an organized religious group as an atheist. Other studies put the number at slightly more than a million. One study quotes figures indicating the 1.6% of the population say they are atheists.

If the study quoting 1.6% is correct then the claim that there are more atheists than Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews is wrong. It is always unlikely that any special interest group, especially one that claims to be persecuted, will accurately estimate its own size and composition.

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