Majority of atheists are ex-Christians with a University education

The atheist alliance have launched a campaign to get some numbers on the sorts of people worldwide who describe themselves as atheist. So far the sample group size is 69,798 and counting, with 64% describing themselves as atheist, with the second largest group preferring the term ‘Humanist’.

A whopping 34% are former Catholics, with a further 36% from other Christian denominations. The numbers also reveal that almost 60% have a University or College level education.

The recently published 2011 Office of National Statistics census, here in the UK, shows that the number of people describing themselves as Christian has fallen dramatically since the census of 2001, while the number of atheists has risen sharply from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The pedophile priests scandal in the Catholic church, and the positive dialogue about atheism which was spurred on by the likes of the late Christopher Hitchens and neuroscientists Sam Harris in the wake of 9/11, undoubtedly played a role in spiking these numbers.

But perhaps the most surprising data from the on-going atheist alliance census, when broken down by region, is that of the 28,798 North Americans who responded as of 18th December 2012, the vast majority are former Christians over the age of 34 — suggesting that far from being a phenomena more to do with fashion trends and social pressures among the young and internet savvy, as detractors of the so-called new atheist movement are prone to suggest, the actual reason for the rise in people describing themselves as atheist could in-fact be more to do with the time it takes for doubting Christians to carefully unpick what they have been told all their life to believe, before eventually becoming comfortable with the realisation none of it is true in their more contemplative years.

This is an extremely positive sign. Once upon a time churches could be virtually guaranteed that after teenagers and twenty somethings “got it out of their system”, by the time they came to marry, have children and settle down, they would become somewhat tempered by real life experiences, and a sense of mortality which often alludes the young, and begin regularly attending and donating to churches again, later in life.

What the ONS census and the atheist alliance data suggests, is that these back-sliders are a group on the wane, which churches can no longer rely upon to boost their numbers; strongly suggesting that — despite the protestations of apologists, theists and religionists to the contrary — cultural Christians know the game is up for religion in general, and no longer see a reason to self-indentify as such for merely cultural and traditional reasons.

When you also factor in the stone-age attitude towards the role of women in the Church, coupled with an unrepentant homophobic agenda, and the clearly negative effect on the health of political dialogue which theocrats have had in countries like Iran, Egypt and The United States, there’s little wonder so many people are now ready to embrace the Dawkins challenge, and come out of the atheist closet.

Sign the census:

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Define the word atheist

Twitter user @PiltdownSupermn asked for a definition of the word atheist. I would have posted the below reply to his blog, but I am making it available here instead because there is a post length limit on comments.

An atheist is someone who does not accept the truth claims of any religion, on the grounds that many of them are self-refuting.  This is not, repeat NOT, a claim to know for a fact that there are no gods, merely it is the factual assertion that the truth claims made by the religious, which assert there is a God, are without any basis in fact.

Many apologists use the dictionary definition of the word ‘atheist’, as it is commonly understood to mean, as someone who does not believe in the God of the bible. But the word in fact refers to an active disbelief in all theology from all religions, not merely a disbelief in that which might be described independently of any particular religious truth claim.  This confusion is understandable and has plagued the debate between the religious and non-religious for many decades—hence the accusation on all sides of “playing semantics”.  

To be clear: An atheist is anyone who does not believe there is any evidence of a particular God or gods. By way of example, consider that no Christian believes in the existence of Allah, or Zeus.  They refute the theology of Islam and Greek mythology for the same reason they refute the truth claims of Scientology and Mormonism.  Not believing in the existence of a particular god, by definition, makes you an atheist—that is to say you reject the theology of religion X, hence you are a-theist towards X.

Anyone who argues in favour of a particular religious truth claim, automatically argues against the contradictory truth claims of another religion to which he does not belong.

An individual may base his or her rejection of a particular religious truth claim on the understanding that it is proven by scientific logic to be a false declaration.  But there is nothing inherently “atheistic” about science, per-se.

However, it is repeatedly asserted, by those on the right of this debate, that the atheist has merely swapped a belief in a particular god, for a belief in a particular scientific theory and is therefore as religiously motivated to disprove God as theists and deists are to prove a God exists.  But this is precisely the opposite of how a free thinking individual arrives at knowledge about a particular area of interest—and explaining this fundamental difference in how we know what we know, to certain kinds of religious, is by far and away the least explored aspect to this on-going conversation.

It has its roots in understanding how the religious see the world; which, broadly speaking, says that the profundity of nature is something to be revealed to us, in stages, by an understanding of previously accepted wisdom.  They automatically assume the worldview of the non-religious is also informed in this way; that they seed to the authority of science, in the same way the religious seed to the authority of the church—as if one is interchangeable with the other.

But the major difference between the authority of science and the authority of the church, is that the former is constantly adjusting and shifting its view based upon new evidence, whereas the latter assumes a given set of beliefs are beyond question, whilst simultaneously asserting that anything which challenges that assumption must be presumed incorrect—no matter how compelling the contrary evidence may be. 

Presuppositional Christian apologetics claims that this is a valid position, because human experiences of the numinous, such as love and compassion, cannot be explained by observing the laws of the universe; that physics, biology and chemistry are merely an outline of the mechanics God used to shape the universe, in the beginning, but are insufficient in understanding why or how God chose to do so.

But the fundamental flaw with this idea, is that it relies upon it’s own argument to prove it’s own argument; an infinite loop, known in philosophy as ‘the vicious problem of infinite regress’—referred to in common parlance as ‘circular logic’, e.g., “the bible is true because it says so in the bible” or “creationism is a science, because creationists say it is” and “God exists because you cannot prove he doesn’t”.ünchhausen_Trilemma

This stands in contrast to the falsifiability principal, which states that something can only be accepted as true if a method can be identified which might prove it is false. In other words, for something to be shown to have a basis in fact, it must demonstrate a mechanism by which it could be proven false. If you cannot layout a set of principals by which something could be proven false, you cannot assume it is therefore true—because you have not defined the boundaries by which something is described.

Simply appealing to “that which is without a beginning or end” as a description of God, by definition, places God beyond empirical observation and therefore makes an unfalsifiable statement about His existence. This is acknowledge by every Christian apologist worth reading, many of whom, in an attempt to adjust their own demonstrably false position, go on to make the argument that He must therefore be the arbiter of absolute morality—the inner voice which knows the difference between right and wrong—which, ironically, makes the perfect argument in favour of humanism and against their previously stated position.

I’m working on a book. In a short paragraph, tell me why you are an atheist

I’m compiling some of my writing from here and some ideas from a first draft I started writing back when I was living in the US, into a Why I’m an Atheist book, with a provisional rather ambitious title, of ‘There is no such thing as God and I can prove it’.

I would like to include an introduction on the rise of so-called New Atheism, which is often inferred as a slur by the religious ‘we’ encounter ‘out there’ on the internets, as if to suggest there was no such thing as free thinking, before ‘we’ all read “god is not great: how religion poisons everything”, by Xopher Hitchens.

I can only delve into my own atheism and how it grew from my pre-teenaged dread for having to lie to myself every time I knelt down in church on a Sunday, before I worry – without the inclusion of other voices – this section of the book might begin to sound a little self indulgent or too vague to impress upon the Christian reader that we aren’t simply trying to spoil their fun for the sake of being childish. So this is where I need your help.

If you’d prefer not to broadcast your thoughts to the world, you can use the “Mail Me” link at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar. Similarly once the final version is ready to be printed (thanks to the wonderful people at everything used will be anonymously quoted.

I’m most keen to hear about particular moments which stand out in your road to awakening story. At which point did you know, beyond the initial apprehension sometimes associated with letting go of false comforts, that you were ready to accept Jesus Christ as a harmless fairy tale, made wicked by the evil of arrogant religious certainties and politically motivated anti-logic? Did you become militantly opposed to religion in that moment of realisation, or was it a gradual process? Did a complicated family situation prevent you from being open about your new found freedom? How long did you go on pretending to be in communication with God, before you left the church you belonged to altogether?

Were you born an atheist? How did you parents relate to you what religion is, when you were small?

Please keep your submissions short and sweet but informative and don’t be afraid to share any doubts you might still have about the big questions. People often confuse the intense emotions surrounding the death of a loved one or the revealing majesty of nature; life experiences which many cultures autonomously ‘link’ to a religious explanation, or a numinous experience, that even once the feeling has faded, the subject can’t quiet bring themselves to discount as being truly outside of a rational explanation.

It is the non sequitur which people often allow themselves to genuinely believe henceforth from that “touching the hand of God” moment, that such an experience could only be and must therefore remain, in some way, related to a two thousand year old myth. This usually quiet innocent self deception is what I want to feature as the main thrust of the book’s arguments against Christian pseudo-proofs of His divine presence, in day to day life.

I look forward to your feedback!

EDIT: Please digg, reddit, stumble upon, delicious, facebook and generally spread the word around that I am looking for help with this. Thanks again!