Are ‘One in Four’ People Really Atheists? December 13, 2011

Are ‘One in Four’ People Really Atheists?

As of this week, the Seattle Atheists have four different ads circulating on twelve buses throughout the city proclaiming that “1 in 4 is an atheist“:

I love the look of the ads… but I cannot figure out where they’re getting this 1 in 4 number.

The closest thing I can find is this excerpt from a survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:

Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

But that’s a specific age demographic. And we’re talking about people with no religious affiliation — the “nones” — not just atheists. Are you “spiritual-but-not-religious”? Someone who calls himself an atheist, yet thinks god might exist? A “follower of Christ” who refuses to self-identify as a “Christian”? You could be in that group.

There’s also a Financial Times/Harris poll from 2007 which was cited by Ronald Aronson in The Nation:

The FT/H poll tried to counteract it by allowing space not only for the customary “Not sure” but also for “Would prefer not to say” — and 6 percent of Americans chose this as their answer to the question of whether they believed in God or a supreme being. Add to this those who declared themselves as atheists or agnostics and, lo and behold, the possible sum of unbelievers is nearly one in four Americans.

In other words, when you add agnostics, “not sures,” and “would prefer not to says” to the atheist count, only then would the number potentially get close to 25%.

But nowhere can I find where it says 25% of people are atheists.

I searched the Seattle Atheists site, their Facebook page, and the “1 in 4” ad campaign’s page and I couldn’t find a citation anywhere, so I’m skeptical of the claim.

***Update***: Commenters point to a Formspring response from Seattle Atheists which references the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (PDF). ARIS said the following:

Nones have historically been concentrated in the West region and particularly in the Pacific Northwest (i.e. Oregon and Washington), where now they account for about one-quarter of the population

Again, though, we’re still talking about “nones” and not necessarily atheists. I still say the ad isn’t telling the whole truth.

End of update.

Ok. *Deep breath*

That aside, I still think the ads are a nice sentiment — maybe some atheist who feels alone in her non-belief will discover that many other people think as she does.

The ads are also important because they stress the undeniable point that there are *way* more atheists out there than most of us acknowledge, even if we don’t have an exact count. We’re not as rare as you might think, but we’re not always public about it. That needs to stop.

If this campaign encouraged more atheists to speak up and come out, that’d be a net gain for us, even if the 25% statistic is dubious.

***Update 2***: John Keiser of the Seattle Atheists explained the derivation of the statistic to me in an email. I’m quoting it with his permission:

Here’s how we got to our numbers, and what exactly they are (in bold).

There is no hard data on exactly how many Washingtonians (or Seattleites) are specifically atheists. But we do have math.

1. 25% (1 in 4) Washingtonians are irreligious. Straight from the ARIS survey. We reference this directly all over the place, since it’s the easiest picture to understand.15% is the national figure.

2. 12% of Americans are atheists or agnostics. Again from ARIS (we are counting both when we say “atheists”–people who lack a belief in God).

3. 20% Washingtonians are atheists. If the 12% of atheistic Americans scales to Washington the same way the None figure scales to Washington (25% Washington Nones / 15% American Nones = X Washington Atheists / 12% American Atheists), then there are 20% Washington Atheists. This assumes that people who identify as atheists will overwhelmingly identify as Nones.

4. 25%+ (1 in 4) atheists in Seattle: Seattle has a lot more atheists per capita than the rest of the state (urban vs. rural areas are generally different this way,and the split is amplified here to the point where the rest of Washington has semi-seriously threatened to secede). I admit that this final number is the softest of the lot, since we don’t have relevant data I’m aware of, but given 20% in Washington, 25% in Seattle doesn’t even seem like a stretch.

And of course, we don’t mention that these numbers likely underreport, because the word and concept are so besmirched.

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  • Jen

    I asked them about it while they were in the process of making the ads, and someone told me it was 1 in 4 people in Seattle that were atheists. Which was way more believable, since we’re pretty godless up here. But they still didn’t give me a citation.

  • Did you ask them where they got it?

  • The web site says “1 in 4 in Washington state.” This is from their FAQ:

    Washington state has always had a lower church atendance than any other lower 48 state. where do you get your figures of 1 in 4 is a atheist?

    The 2008 ARIS study found that 25% of Washingtonians were without religion. Based on our experience, we think the numbers are even higher in the Seattle area.

  • ~pickles

    The first sentence on their website is “One in four people in Washington state are without religion.” It looks pretty focused on WA, even in the url. 

    A citation would still be nice.

  • This just makes me want to move to Washington state all the more.

  • It makes way more sense that it is just in Washington state. I live in Florida and I would never believe that 1 in 4 people here are atheists. One can wish…

  • Reginald Selkirk
  • Izzy Leonard

    Why would you assume they are referencing national figures when the website advertised is called 1in4WA? It also, BTW, has the citation you are looking for.

  • Don’t I wish!  There is so much vagueness in the atheist-agnostic- unsure-unaffiliated spectrum, and so many people who don’t believe are afraid to come out and say they’re atheists.

  • Terry

    Good to know there is substantiation for the statistics…
    I was worried as we cannot afford to lose outr credibility (or lead any doubts that we might be “immoral sinnerful liars”).   

    If it was the age group supposition that Hermant feared, then that would have been unacceptable.  By for a “Seattle Athiest” group advertising in Seatle to use Seattle / Washington state statistics is completely acceptable. 

    Nice adverts! 
    Nice publicity locally… but be prepared to defend the stats when interviewed.

  • Terry

    Agree.  Entirely.
    A citation is essential. 

    The advert says “Learn why”… the citation should be very ovious at the website.

  • While it is true the 25% of Washingtonians are “Nones” I wouldn’t go as far as calling all of them atheists and though I agree that the percentage is probably higher in Seattle, we don’t know much about their beliefs. We found in the ARIS that 12% hold theologically atheist or agnostic beliefs, probably higher in Washington, if proportions were consistent across all regions, but not sure if it is 25%

  • OK, I found the whole ARIS poll report and they did find 25% “None” for Washington state (up from 15% in 1990!). Of course that assumes that “none” = “no god-belief,” which I’m not convinced is true, but it’s still going to be a sizable number.

  • Annie

    Ashley-  I’m a Floridian too, although in a university town (aka pocket of heathens).  If I were to walk down my block, I am confident that I would get higher than 1 in 4… but I live a stone’s throw from campus.  As soon as I ride my bike a mile in any direction, I meet the south.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Considering how often you deal with negative feelings for atheists from our society, I’d say that many if not most of the 25% who identify themselves as “unaffiliated” or “none” are probably atheists. 

    My test would be the number of “non-theists.”  There are a lot of religious folks who identify out of culture who would fit in this category.

  • Annie

    I do like the adds.  Four people doing very normal, everyday things together.  Nice impact! 

  • Anonymous

    On the Ask an Atheist show, they were mentioning that this is, indeed, a regional statistic.

  • Matthew Harmer

    Personally, I also include the 6.82% of Americans under the age of four as Atheists.

  • The study was in 2008 by AVIS. The claim is for Washington State and not the entire country. Considering that the study was almost four years ago the percentage is likely over 25% now.

    I hate posting a wiki link but the AVIS study is listed as a reference: thing is that people are associating atheists with no God belief. The term actually means without a religion. That means Deists are included technically in the poll.I like that you question the source. It’s a good habit to have.

  • Robster

    Hey, the godbots have been fudging the truth as long as there’s been a truth to fudge. They call the bible the “worlds best selling book”. Has anyone ever paid for a copy of the bible? They hand them out with gay abandon, but they’re not “sold”. They’re supplied. They call their nonsense “good news”. It’s not, it’s hateful nonsense. They call their charity arm “worls vision”. It’s not, it’s purely there to sell the “good news”. So, if the WA atheists have fudged the figures, they’re only following the example of the deluded minions, the sheep who can’t think for themselves, but love saying things that sound cool and good but really are the opposite of what they say.

  • Sulris Campbell

    athiest means “none”  the word litterly mean not a theist….  the only difference i see is between the two groups of people are that some label themselves with the A word and the others do not.

  • Whether that statistic is true or not, those are some gorgeous ads! Props to the Seattle Atheists for graphic design, at least.

  • No, “atheist” doesn’t mean “none.” A large number of “nones” are atheist but many are sort of “spiritual but not religious” that is not an atheist. 

  • Again… the AVIS study listed here as a resource:

    I am the fiancé of the lady in the beginning of the video and a member of Seattle Atheists.

    Keep in mind that Deists are included and they are technically atheists (without religion).

    Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. 😉

  • That was mostly Kyle Hepworth

  • Annie

    Is he the “something a week” guy?  If so, I love his work.

  • One reason we moved! 🙂

  • Indeed you are correct.

  • It simply means without a theology or religion. Deists are part of the survey too… if you want to say people who have no belief in God then the figures show more like 1 in 5. We think since that survey in 2008 that the figures are probably much higher now (almost 2012). We are getting record numbers of people joining various meet up groups and not just in Seattle.

    I’ll quote PZ Myers: “We are winning.”

  • Bryan Elliott

    The billboard is meant to represent “nones” in Washington state, via ARIS.  You’re correct in that it shouldn’t say “1 in 4 are atheist” so much as “1 in 4 are irreligious”.

  • Bryan Elliott

    The ARIS demographics by state are nicely summed up in this Wikipedia entry:

  • Yep, that is the man!

  • Bryan Elliott

    Technically, deists can’t be atheists; they’re areligious or irreligious if they’re non-churchgoers that believe there’s a god.  They vote largely the same way, though, so outside of posts on atheist blogs, I generally don’t care.

  • Well, many of us consider atheism to be anything short of a positive declaration of theism (since “not theist” is the most basic meaning of “atheist”), which pretty comfortable includes the “nones.”

  • While 25% is good news, I’ll stay in Vermont (34+%) 🙂

  • Paul D.

    I’m pretty sure someone who is “spiritual but not religious” is not a true theist, and therefore atheist. (Call it “weak atheism” if you like.)

  • Here is the link to the actual ARIS data:

    See page 19 for “nones” by state.  None, again, just means when asked what their religious identification is, the participants said, “none.”  At a national level, 15% were “nones” while 10% were agnostics and 2.3% were atheists (so the other 2.7% are probably spirituals and deists of various sorts).

  • Todd, if you look at page 14 of “American Nones” it has a table dividing Nones in categories of self-identification, belief and behavior. About 11% of Nones are atheist or agnostic in their identification, but theologically 7% are atheist and 35% agnostic to various degrees, an additional 24% are deists. I coauthored the report.

  • Okay, you have a point but defining what they consider a deity is another thing but the point is that they are not subscribing to the common theologies and state they are without a religion. My point still stands… Cheers!

  • I think these ads are very deceptive.

    These “nones” are not all atheists, not by a long shot. The meaning of the answer “none” depends on the exact question being asked. In the 2008 ARIS survey, which is the referenced  source, the question was “What is your religion, if any?” Answering “none” to that only means they do not consider themselves a member of, or affiliated with a particular religion. A person does not need any particular religion in order to believe in deities or supernatural beings.

    The 2008 ARIS provides a detailed profile of the American “Nones.” you can find a PDF of it here:
    They asked further questions of those responding “none” to the question
    about their religion, and nationally their beliefs break down this way:  (figure 1.17)
    Belief (N=1,106)
    Atheist  7%
    Hard Agnostic  19%
    Soft Agnostic  16%
    Deist  24%
    Theist  27%
    Don’t know/refused  7%
    That totals 100% of the “Nones.” 

    I’m not the most skilled at math, so please check my figuring:

    51% of the nones say they’re deists or theists, so they believe in a god or gods.  42% of the nones declare themselves to be atheists or agnostics.  The national percentage of nones was 15%. So nationally, 42% of 15% means the actual atheists and agnostics in 2008 were 6.3%.  If Washington state has a nones population of 25%, and if the national breakdown of the nones is similar in Washington, then 42% of 25% means their actual percentage of atheists and agnostics is only 10.5%

    But the deception is worse than that.

    The ads say “One in four is an atheist.” They don’t say “is an atheist or an agnostic,” so that is heavily fudging on the agnostics part of the nones, and they’re grossly misrepresenting all of the nones group as having no believers at all. If only 7% of the national count of nones are actually bona fide atheists, and if that percent is similar in Washington, then 7% of their claimed 25% nones means the percentage of actual atheists in Washington is only 1.75%. Expressed as a fraction, that’s 7/400.

    So an honest ad would have to say, “One in 57 is an atheist.”

    They’d have to show a crowd of 57 people, not an intimate group of four. Not nearly as impressive, I’m afraid.

    Please check my figures. I’d like to be wrong, but we should not lie.

  • Jamesandgoods

    I take the Seattle Metro every day to work and I haven’t noticed the Ads yet.  I don’t agree with the numbers the Seattle Atheists came up with.  The explanation alone sounds silly.   It’s good idea for us non believers to mention “your not alone” even if its an exaggerated figure of 25%….   bull shit works sometimes when bull shit is what your fighting.. kinda like this whole medical marijuana charade we’ve got going.

  • Anonymous

    25% doesn’t seem very high to me.  In England it has been reported at 39%.  Even then only 15% of people regularly attend a place of worship and go through the rituals of religion like prayer.  We’re not event he most irreligious nation.

    Anyway, good for Washington and the other states where non-belief is the norm.  It will continue to grow as long as people aren’t bullied into hiding their lack of faith.

  • I don’t think fighting liars with lies of our own is a good idea. It just gives them more ammunition to throw at us, pointing out our deceptive misuse of scientific data. In the eyes of believers, and most importantly, believers who are teetering on the fence, it discredits science and evidence based, data-based thinking in general, and can push them back into the blind faith side of the fence.

    “You’re not alone” is an excellent approach, but don’t taint the whole thing with gross deception, cooking the books the way the Mormons and Catholics exaggerate their claimed populations.

  • gsw

    a-theist – doesn’t ‘do’ gods.

    Ok, so take it world-wide. More than a billion Buddhists? Them’s atheists all right.
    Europe – closer to 50% non-religious atheists.
    How about all those ‘tolerant’ and ‘moderate’ muslims-in-name-only (because they like breathing)?

    I think you will find that 25% of the worlds population not kowtowing to a deity is a very modest statistic.

  • gsw

    You forgot to mention the percentage who are not theists, but have been brainwashed into thinking that the word atheist actually means ‘worships Luicifer’.
    They will definitely hesitate to call themselves atheists, even when that is what they are. 

  • randall.morrison90

    There are not more than a billion Buddhists. Moreover, many branches of Buddhism are not what you would call “atheists”.

  • p4ul47

    One of my best friends reallly believes in spirits, life after death and stuff but not in any religion. Do you think she is an atheist… because I really don’t.

  • Anonymous

    One thing for sure, she’s definitely not a skeptic. 😉

  • p4ul47

    Definitely 😛

  • Xeon2000

    I have an acquaintance with a very devout Christian belief who claims not to be religious. She thinks of what she has as a personal spiritual truth. Like gravity. I suppose she might be included in that category with us. 😛

  • Gunstargreen

    The ads are a nice idea but we should not be fighting misinformation with misinformation.

  • Winto_bungle

    come on America – here in the UK were on the rise – i know you can keep up!

    this latest survey:

    suggests that in the UK 1 in 2 are atheist, while its 2 in 3 for 18-24 year olds.

    looks like were on the winning team.

  • Omprem108

    Not being “currently affiliated with any particular religion” or “would prefer not to say” whether one is affiliated with a religion is not the same as being an Atheist or even an agnostic.  Instead of professing a particular religion, people seem to be opting for developing their spirituality by various means, Yoga and meditation, to name just two, and therefore, they come to embrace all religions.

  • Omprem

    Your posters don’t seem to realize that no major religion postulates God as an individual entity.  If God is everywhere all the time, then God cannot be an individual because, for example,  to be an individual, A, means there must be some where that A is not present. This is cannot occur in the case of God being everywhere all the time. There is not non-God.

     The contemplative/mystic cores of all major religions are in clear  agreement on this.

    The problem lies partly in the use of language which depends upon difference and partly on the need for some to adopt a preliminary human model for God as a way of holding the concept of God in their conditioned consciousness. Get rid of the conditioning and the need to human relationship models disappears and God is no longer considered as an individual.

  • Skepticism about skepticism. I like it. Breath o’ fresh air.

  • atheist_pagan

    You can believe in those things – or allow for the possibility of them – and still not believe in god. Atheist just means you don’t believe in god, it says nothing about spirits, the soul, life after death or myriad other things. It ONLY means you don’t believe in god.

  • Omprem

    None of the Buddhists sects would be considered Atheist. Their Nirvana is simply another name for God.

  • Omprem

    Being without a religion is not the same as being an Atheist. Being without a religion merely means that someone does not adhere to a specific religion. It does not mean that the person denies all religions or even any one religion.

    FYI: Atheism is a religion, albeit it a fundamentalist religion. Its arguments are only with other fundamentalists religions. It is a cases of a child saying, “My religion is better than yours.”  Not very mature.

  • Omprem

    You have just described the essence of Atheism. Congratulations.

  • Omprem

    Correction. It only means you don’t believe in an individuated god. But no major religion at its core holds that God is an individual.

  • atheist_pagan

    No. Sorry.

    Nirvana means “to blow out” – blowing out the fires of greed, hate, selfishness, negative thought, etc. It is a state of being – the state of freedom from suffering. “Gods” are not states of being, they ARE beings. There is a difference.

  • Anonymous

    i’m going to jump in unread and say, fuck yeah. there are  A LOT more atheists and agnostics than the “official” numbers report. how do i know? a lot of time at Divinity school, for one. but mostly, my interaction on the internets. if atheists are “only” 2=16% of the population, then why do they keep showing up on all the blogs i read? not just the ones i write for and like, but you know, like everywhere? i even see atheist postings at religious blogs. since social networking tech came to be, it seems to me that a lot of us have realized, “hey, i’m not alone.” i worked at the div school that does a very major study about religion and belief that many of the ‘serious’ media use as the basis for their reporting on religion and i’m telling you: the trend is toward less belief. the SCLM won’t report this fact clearly, and muddles it b/c they make money off belief. but if you go with simple science, the trend is clear. younger people are much, much more skeptical about religion. and that makes sense, given, well, a lot of stuff. LOTR, NASA, WOW… all these destroy firm belief in “one nation one god” and all i can say is that i’m glad. 

  • Deven Kale

    “Atheism is a religion, albeit it a fundamentalist religion.”Religion according to Merriam-Webster:1a : the state of a religious   b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural
          (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
    2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
    3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
    4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

    I see no definition there that really fits with ‘lack of a belief in a god or gods,’ which is truly all that Atheism is. Number 2 could be true if you stretch a bit, but since there are many different beliefs and practices that atheist’s follow and there is no standard set, I find it a difficult fit, at best. Number 4 is a bit closer, but that definition is so broad that you could fit football, feminism, racism, or even knitting in there and it would still work just as well as atheism.
    “Atheism is a religion, albeit it [sic] a fundamentalist religion.”It would be nice to hear what your definition of Fundamentalist Atheism is because, as far as I know, there are no tenets or dogma to atheism. Therefore it has no fundamentals to adhere to.

  • Deven Kale

    Expand and explain, please.

  • Deven Kale

    Where exactly is it within the doctrines of any religion do you find this particular information?

  • Anonymous

    I particularly like how someone who is ignorant of atheism decides to tell atheists what it is that we believe.  That always goes down well.  Don’t you think?

  • Omprem

    Atheism relies on misinformation and misunderstanding of religion for its views on religion. Its argument is only with other fundamentalists who are similarly labouring under misinformation and misunderstanding of the religion they profess.

  • Omprem

    You have to explore the contemplative or mystical core of religions. They all say the same thing.

  • Actually Mr. Davis, it’s not skepticism about skepticism, it’s integrity. It’s skepticism practiced consistently, relentlessly,  and fearlessly.

    Welcome to Friendly Atheist.

  • So, is using the contradictions of holy texts against the religions a “misunderstanding”? Is it a misunderstanding if I think the story of the talking snake is bullshit???

  • guest

    Did you know that 1 out of 3 Americans is heavier than the other 2?

  • Omprem

    Lies, damn lies and statistics.

  • I think you’d have a hard time convincing your co-religionists of the idea of God lacking an individual identity. I’m pretty sure wars have been fought over that.

  • Omprem

    As I have said elsewhere in this thread, Atheism is just another fundamentalist religion arguing with other fundamentalist religions.

    Your lack of awareness of the essence of religion, specifically, in this case, the ultimate nature of God,  is typical of the mistakes upon which Atheists based their theories. Even when I lay out for you the reason why God cannot be considered to be an individual, you still maintain your mistaken Atheist illusions about religion. I suggest that you investigate the contemplative core of any religion before making any more mistakes.

  • Annie

    Omprem wrote “As I have said elsewhere in this thread, Atheism is just another
    fundamentalist religion arguing with other fundamentalist religions.” 

    Your failure to address a specific statement, and instead leapfrog back to such a incredible falsehood that even most religious people would disagree with, illustrates that you may need a little more practice fine-tuning your argument.  I’ll give you an E for effort, and a D- on delivery (grade inflation and all).

  • Omprem108

    Your denial and wishful thinking does not constitute refutation. Atheism is founded on logical and factual mistakes. It is defended by denial. 

    Your reading comprehension also needs some practice as I laid why Rob Bos was wrong and where he could access accurate info re religion. 

  • Deven Kale

    “As I have said elsewhere in this thread, Atheism is just another
    fundamentalist religion arguing with other fundamentalist religions.”

    And what you neglected to mention is how you still, with all of your other rapid fire responses, haven’t answered my question (in response to the previous statement you’re now referencing) of how atheism can even be defined as a religion in the first place, much less have anything fundamental about it.

    I’m also very interested in the fact that you seem to have some insight into the “contemplative core” of religion that so many of us have evidently never heard of. If possible, could you please cite your sources so we could all have a better understanding of this so we will not make any future mistakes?

  • Sulris Campbell

    the term is atheism not aspiritualism.  theism is religous beleif in the existance of a god.  anyone who puts down “none” is by definition an athiest.  even agnosticism is athiest.  i.e. non-theist

    believes in the non-existance of a god is called anti-theism.

    if they were not athiests they would reply “other” not “none”

  • Annie

    You are right.  Resistance is futile.  We are the Borg.

  • Thanks guys!

  • Annie

    I have used some of your posts in my science classroom… to show students that getting stuck and facing problems is not an end, but part of the solution.  I love how you document the parts of your projects that fail, and how you think through to find a viable solution. 

  • Guestbot

    Perhaps 1 in 4 know know god does not exist- but it is the rest who worship a god that does not exist. 

    Most know there is no god – and still claim to believe. 

  • Anonymous

    Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.  You seem to think it is something else.  You are wrong.

  • Thin-ice

    Not so. Most evangelical christians HATE the word “religion”. Religion is a bad thing. They claim that what they have is a “relationship with Jesus Christ, not religion”. So all liberal christians, and those of other faiths, are “religious”, but not them. And this post is about theistic believers, not specifically about religious people. You don’t need a God to have a religious belief.

  • Thin-ice

    Living in Portland to the south, I can easily believe that both Seattle and Portland will have 25+% of the population inside the city limits who are non-theists. But no matter what my gut says, it’s always good to have some kind of verification of the figures.

  • Anonymous

    Omprem, enlighten us as to the “logical and factual mistakes” that our scepticism towards claims about gods are founded on.  We’re open to evidence and reasoned arguments, unlike many theists.  It’s just that we don’t see any evidence and the reasoning in theistic arguments is really weak.

  • Omprem

    First, you changed the discussion from theism to deism. That is a logical error. Theists believe in a god or gods who intervenes in the universe. Deists believe in a Creator that is not necessarily an individual and that does not intervene in the universe.

    Second, there is a difference between “belief in the existence of a god” as in the post to which you replied and “belief in God” which you write about.  If you are  going to respond to a post could you not change it to suit your own purposes.

    Perhaps your willingness to change or fudge definitions and numbers (and to misunderstand religion) is the reason you mistakenly believe that Atheist numbers are growing.

  • Omprem

    Atheist resistance is indeed futile. Atheism rails against religion but is itself a religion. Atheism follows the well-trod path known as the via negative in Roman Catholicism;  Jnana Yoga in Hindism; the Lahoot Salbi  path of Islam, found principally the Shia and Sufi paths; the Ein-sof aspect of Judaism plus Buddhism and Taoism or Daoism.  This path differs from the Via Positiva approach which assumes that positive statements can be made about God.  The Via Negativa path to the Divine has been practiced for many millenia by all religions. It is the mystical approach to the Divine.

     Atheism  makes several errors in attempting to follow this spiritual path.

    1. Atheism is at the early stages of the first phase of the Via Negativa process. It is good at pointing out that God is not here or there. But it  generally does so with ridicule both of God and of those who believe in God. Its ridicule is the logical fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. It is also an expression of a rampant ego. This tendency to  ridicule betrays the insecurity and fear of Atheists and their intuitive sense that Atheism has major flaws.

    2. Atheism has not yet begun to question the quality of its empirical methodology. It has not even considered whether or not empiricism is valid for spiritual purposes, nor whether there other means of  acquiring wisdom.

    3. Atheism attempts to apply only literalist interpretations to the non-literal approach of Via Negativa. While both Atheism and the Via Negativa path know that God is not an object in the universe, Atheism, curiously contradicts this wisdom by insisting on the primacy of sense data, logic and language in describing God despite these being only applicable only to the phenomenal.

    4. Another mistake that Atheism makes is assuming that because God is not localized in a particular place as opposed to some other place, God therefore does not exist. One is reminded of frenzy of the Atheist’s search for Go by Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s description of the search for the Scarlet Pimpernel,
                  They seek him here,
                  they seek him there.
                  Those Frenchies seek him     
                   Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
                   That damned elusive Pimpernel.

    5.  A related mistake of Atheism is to
    assume that because God is not apparent to the senses God therefore does not exist.

     The inherent tension of holding these
    false assumptions and their conclusions is what gives Atheism its stridency and negativity. Those Atheists who actually believe in these assumptions and their conclusions at both a conscious and a subconscious level project a complacency that is at odds with the rigorous nature of their chosen spiritual path, the Via Negativa. But regardless of how deeply the doctrine of Atheism is held by its adherents,  the pronouncements of Atheism all contain at least one logical and/or factual error. This is a very strange situation for a belief system that considers logical inquiry to be  the primary and only vehicle for spiritual investigation.

  • Omprem

    Factual mistake #1, God is not an individual.
    Logical mistake #1, because God is not an individual, reason, which is based on sense perception and the resulting perceived differences, cannot be applied to “know” God.
    Factual and Logical mistake #2, Atheists are unable/unwilling to make the appropriate changes in their chosen methodology for spiritual/religious investigations even though apprised of its inapplicability.

  • Xeon2000

    Not so? I just said the exact same thing as you! -_-

  • Xeon2000

    … and I’d suggest this is perfectly relevant to the post. The post makes reference to the Pew survey in which it states: “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”. So evangelicals (like my friend) who claim the aren’t religious fall into the same “not religious” category as atheists. Exactly the point I was making initially.

  • Omprem

    EXACTLY! But one can’t see or measure a relationship, so don’t expect Atheists embrace this idea. Atheists have to be willing (and able) to utilize other means of “knowing” besides reason but reason is all they have (or think they have).

  • Omprem

    Buddhism is not Atheist. The Buddhist Nirvana is the same as God in Christianity, G-d in Judaism, and Parabrahman in Hinduism.

    If you want to have Atheist examples then you have to go to Stalin, Pol Pot, and Chairman Mao.

  • Omprem

    God is a state of being, a state of consciousness. It is the same as Nirvana. You confusing gods with God. It is a  logical error. There is a difference.  Better luck next time.

  • Omprem

    Just because you don’t agree with me but can’t articulate why is not reason for you to commit the logical error of argumentum ad hominem. 

  • Omprem

    All of those ‘definitions’ apply to Atheism. I particularly like #4. You claim a lack of belief but fail to consider what that lack of belief but fail to consider on what that position is based upon. Nor do you consider the vehemence (oops, excuse me, ardor and faith) with which that position is promulgated. 

    What’s the difference between Atheist bus ads and Jehovah’s Witnesses standing on the corner handing out tracts. Answer: None, except the Atheists do not put themselves out on public view and prefer to hide behind print.

  • Thin-ice

    Sorry, I guess it’s just the unusual semantics at work here. Evangelicals answering a survey are never going to let themselves be identified as non-theists by saying they are non-religious. Their peculiar rejection of the word “religious” would only apply when they are in a “witnessing” situation, or “planting the seed”, not when taking a survey.

    I know it sounds odd, but I was a missionary and an evangelical for 46 years. Myself and all my christian friends used to use this word in this peculiar way.

  • Omprem

    But Atheists use those numbers which include those who “have a relationship with Jesus Christ”, to claim that Atheism is growing. It could be that the Evangelical numbers are growing while the Atheist numbers are declining. This is just another example of desperation (based on a logical error) to which Atheists go to attempt to justify their unjustifiable position.

  • Omprem

    Never apologize for using words with the meanings assigned by those who use those words. Atheists have a penchant for changing meanings in order to justify their positions. When they do so  it is a logical error and a bit sneaky.

  • Omprem

    Is it because of the heavy rainfalls in both cities, Portland and Seattle, 37″+, that leads to depression, negativity and loss of religion/spirituality?

  • james

    I 100% agree Mr. Wade!   We should never fight liars with lies period! Then again we shouldn’t let the religious define Atheism.  Its very simple to define who we are.  You ask a person “Do you believe in God”  The only answer they can give is yes or no.  Yes being theist and NO being Atheist.  With the logic of the theist there is no gray area! You can’t answer with “I don’t know”.  Believing in God is Faith!  If you do not have faith then your Atheist PERIOD!   We who are logical and scientific know that not having an answer is a perfectly good response to the question of  “do you believe in god?”  I’m a horrible writer I know, but stay with me on this.  When the religious defend their belief in god they put up this wall shutting out logic, data, and science with the one word “FAITH”.  If we used the religious arguments of faith then I could see 25% of Seattle are Atheist!

  • Omprem

    So many errors here.

    There is more than yes or no to your question, “Do you believe in God.”  Your attempting to limit the response is a logical error known as  bifurcation or false dichotomy.

    Believing in God is not faith. Faith is a process of attuning oneself to the Divine.

    Science does not contradict religion. In fact, the outer edges of astro-physics is very much in accord with the contemplative aspects of religion. 

    The “reason” of Atheists is a false reason based on the silly notion that what one can perceive through the senses while in a certain frame of mind is all that can be perceived. It is  both a bifurcation error and a self-serving circular argument. This error is compounded by the false assumption there are no other ways to gain wisdom.

  • Anonymous

    Allow me to explain something again.  Atheism makes no claims about God or gods.  Atheism is a lack of belief in gods.  It is up to the claimant to back up their assertion, not the sceptic.

    Try again.

  • Anonymous

    You are the one who is making an error in your assessment of atheism.  It has been corrected by several people including myself.  You continue to make the same error and now you play the victim card.  Wrongly I might add.  You aren’t being attacked.  Your assessment and poor logic are being attacked.  If I wanted to attack you I would characterise you as a troll and post a picture to make people snigger at you.

    But that would be rude. 

  • Omprem

    What a cop out.  The factual and logical errors of Atheism involve the “reasons” that allows Atheism to hold such a lack of belief.

    Then there are the factual and logical errors that Atheism has about other religions – including that a rationalism based on sensory data has any application to religion or the Divine.

  • Omprem

    Scripture uses parables, allegories and metaphors to characterize spiritual aspects because the low-level type of rationality employed by Atheists (which rests on sense data) is incapable of approaching the Sacred.

  • Omprem

    Evangelicals want to have a relationship with the Sacred. This seems to make them very similar to the Sufis of Islam and the Bhaki Yogis of Hinduism. And, perhaps to other Charismatics.

  • Anonymous

    You just don’t get it, do you?  You are the one making the assertion.  Not we atheists.  Back up your claims or withdraw.

  • Omprem

    If Atheism is only “a lack of belief in gods”, then why does Atheism spend so much time and energy attacking religion and religionists? 

    1. Atheism believes that its world view is much better than that of religion.
    2. No matter how much Atheists deny God or, as they say, “lack a belief in God”, they still, by virtue of being human have a subconscious awareness of God and the sacredness of all creation.Their conscious estrangement from God conflicts with their innate appreciation of God. They project their personal conflicted state into the world in the form of attacks on religion and religionists.

    The Atheist attempts at ridiculing, attacking, and undermining religion are actually attempts to resolve their own inner conflicts. It cannot be successful because their innate spirituality and sacredness is who they are.  Their real problems are their rampant egos, their fear, and their attachment to gratification of their senses. 

    This inner conflict eats them up. Christopher Hitchens death from throat cancer is an excellent example of a literal occurrence of that.

  • Omprem

    One cannot “prove” God. God can only be experienced.

     I have outlined the errors of Atheism in my below response to  Annie.

  • Anonymous

    God(probably)does not exist.  Godcannot be experienced.

  • Richard

    Well, Mormonism is completely unambiguous in viewing God as an individual, so that’s at least one counterexample to Omprem’s claim.  I’m less familiar with mainstream Christianity, but it certainly appears that most religious people do indeed believe in a personal God.  Even if the contemplative and mystical traditions are at the “core” of those religions, most adherents haven’t gotten the message.  I’m actually far more familiar with various mystical traditions than with mainstream religions.  I still find mysticism fascinating, even now as an atheist, but it just doesn’t seem to be very influential or popular.

  • Northern_Witness

    You are mistaken that Mormonism is “completely unambiguous in viewing God as an individual”.  Mormonism, like all religions has an outer, superficial, literalist veneer and a contemplative/mystical core. In the former, God is believed to be an individual: in the latter, God is known to be pervasive, everywhere all the time and, most definitely not an individual.

    See also Mormon Mysticism by David Littlefield at

    Fundamentalism/Literalism is the starting point for those starting the spiritual journey. They try to apply their sense impressions of their daily world to the ineffable. Later, they let this literalism drop away as their contemplative abilities develop and replace literal veneers with non-specific wisdom.

    Atheism is a fundamentalist/literalist religion. Usually its adherents argue only with other fundamentalists of other religions. But like all religions, it has many sects, one of which is mystic atheism, which is in line with the contemplative views of all other religions.

  • Richard

    I’ve never met a single Mormon who wouldn’t strongly disagree with your portrayal of their religion.  I’m not saying they don’t exist, but they are very rare and/or very quiet.  My basic problem with your arguments is that you are defining “real” Christianity and “real” Mormonism and “real” atheism in ways that very few self-described Christians or Mormons or atheists would accept.  You can’t reasonably expect us (or them) to accept your definitions.

  • Northern_Witness

    They are both rare and quiet. 

    And no, I’m not defining the “real” anything. I am saying that many are at the surface of the religion they profess, and they need to go deeper as they develop the ability to do so. In the meantime, living according to the tenets of their religion, as they understand them, will, over time   change and enlarge their consciousness and spiritual awareness, provided those tenets are based non-violence and causing no harm. 

  • Beth Lehman

    Yes, because if someone isn’t religious they MUST be depressed and negative, right?  What utter bullshit.

  • Northern_Witness

    Your negativity proves my point. Thanks.

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