I always enjoy the way atheists leap back and forth between claiming that “no religion” are actually atheists whenever it suits their purposes, then arguing that they are not whenever it doesn’t. The new Pew poll is interesting, but it actually doesn’t say much that wasn’t obvious before from the 2001 ARIS study.
As for that massive growth from .4 percent, .5 percent and 13.2 percent for atheists, agnostics and No Religion in 2001 to 1.6 percent, 2.4 percent and 12.1 percent in 2008 that some atheists are celebrating, that looks a lot more indicative of margin of error than anything else. It’s absurd to try and argue that the attacks of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris on agnosticism has caused 380 percent growth in agnosticism, especially since 48 percent of the “no religious affiliation” report that “religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives”. I’m a non-denominational Christian myself, so I know many fundamentalist Christians who would show up in this category.
Since ARIS didn’t account for this effect, which Barna later noted, the total irreligious population in America would actually appear to have dropped from 14.1 percent to 10.3 percent over the last seven years. I don’t think this is the case, however, I assume the 14.1 percent was an exaggeration born of insufficient inquiry.