Monday, June 23, 2008

Then You're Not Really An Atheist

While I was eating lunch I was perusing and came across this article, Study finds contradictions among Americans' religious beliefs, the title of which is an understatement. The study found that:
- 57 percent of evangelical Christians say that multiple religions can lead to salvation, though nary an evangelical theologian or minister would say that.
- 58 percent of Catholics believe society should accept homosexuality, a view that is greatly at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops, including the Bay Area.
- 12 percent of Eastern Orthodox Christians say they speak in tongues once a week, even though it is a Pentecostal practice that is not in Orthodox liturgy.
- 21 percent of self-defined atheists believe in God.

Umm... about that last bit -- say what? In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Here's a clue. If you believe in a "god" then you ain't an atheist.


  1. At first glance I was taken aback - for about a minute - then I realised I'm probably in the group that is 'atheist' but not totally closed to the idea there could be a creator. It really depends on how the question is worded. I wish I could see the questions to understand the answers.

    As an open minded person, I can't discount the possibility that ancient astronauts tampered with our genes, or that an incredibly advanced computer travelled to our world an was such a creator. So my openness to a 'god' is not grounded in the supernatural - there is no evidence of such a thing. So the definition of atheist is not at stake here. The definition of god is.

    Don't forget that the Dalia Lama is a deeply spiritual man, and yet he says "there is no creator".

  2. That's an interesting interpretation. However I say that the the definition of the word "atheist" is the point. According to wikipedia, at its simplest, Atheism means a person does not believe in one or more "gods." Therefore if someone who claims to be an atheist then turns around and says they believe in "god" they are, by definition, not an atheist. This survey tells me some people who claim to be atheists don't know the meaning of the word. Or perhaps they are using the classic definition found in most dictionaries, which is terribly outdated.

    I agree that seeing the questions on the survey might help us better understand the answers, but in this specific case I don't think that is necessary.

    Using the wikipedia definition you would be described as a weak atheist. I also fall into this category in that I do not take the active position and say "there are no gods." (I do say this on occasion, though). I simply do not believe in "gods" because there is no evidence for their existence.

    And let's not confuse "spirituality" with "belief." Simply because a person such as the Dali Lama, or yourself, is a "spiritual" person does not mean they hold an active belief that supernatural sky buddies who are extremely interested in our sex lives actually exist. The two states are mutually exclusive.

    It is my conclusion that the "21 percent of self-defined atheists [who] believe in God" simply either don't know the definition of the word, or are not really atheists, or lied on the survey, or some combination thereof. It does make for a humorous conversation point around the water cooler.