Nones on the rise?

Is it just me, or do Atheists seem to excite rather easily?  With every release of a news story citing some survey reporting the rise of those self-identifying as unaffiliated, Atheists seem to feel a [false] sense of validation.  Like the trend in the US, people in Ireland are forsaking their religious heritage:

(The Independent) — The Irish commitment to the Catholic religion is fast draining away, according to a new poll which points to a dramatic plunge in those who regard themselves as religious.


The survey confirms that Ireland, once regarded as particularly devout, has been almost transformed from the days when the Catholic church exercised both political power and strong social influence.


The survey showed that those Irish who considered themselves religious had fallen from 69 per cent in 2011 to less than half today. Ireland was ranked seventh in the 57 countries for those describing themselves as convinced atheists.

Admittedly, I haven’t heard much celebration from Atheist’s…yet.  But regardless of the amount of nones or unaffiliateds, self-identified Atheists remain at less than 2 percent.  The only thing more irrelevant is the fact that the numbers are all irrelevant.

Whether the number of Atheists stands at 1.6 percent, or rises to a still insignificant 3, 4, or even 5 percent, it doesn’t mean Atheism is true.  Just like when Atheists rightly point out to religious adherents who tout the number of believers in God that the number of religious adherents has no bearing on the truth of the belief, they too suffer from this non-sequitur.

I just don’t see why this is news.  The number of Christians could fall to that of Atheists, it still doesn’t matter.  I suppose there’s a sense of safety in numbers: if a respectable number of people believe the same thing I do, I must be OK.


  1. It’s news because it has, in the past, been social suicide to reveal you weren’t religious or had no god belief. The fact that more people are admitting to it is a wonderful thing for anyone who wants to have a community of like-minded people.

    • Nas

      So you believe the increase of no affiliation (not atheism) is the result of lessened stigma? Personally, i think it is more likely the result from persistent pressure to remain secular and the expulsion of religion from school and the public square.

      But why do so many atheists find this to be a reason to gloat?

  2. “Sense of validation?” Nope, not for me – none at all.

    I just nod my head with approval for those individuals who can free themselves from the delusions and dogmas of religious ideology.

    You’re right, numbers don’t matter a bit.

    I agree – it would be nice if so many adherents would toss out their argument from popularity.

    • Z

      I’ll ask you as well, if there is no sense of validation why the celebration? You said it is relief or whatever knowing people are shedding the shackles, but if it isn’t validation, do you feel the same way when other exchange their view on an issue for yours? Like say when becomes a liberal politically, or pro choice?

      Why does THIS issue draw such celebration for so many atheists?

  3. “Personally, i think it is more likely the result from persistent pressure to remain secular and the expulsion of religion from school and the public square.”

    And I fundamentally disagree…finding the rise of atheism and admitted atheism probably coming in part from the attempts by the religious (specifically conservative christians) to impose their beliefs on others. I could, of course, be wrong.

    “But why do so many atheists find this to be a reason to gloat?”

    There is a difference between celebration and gloating.

    As more people admit they are atheist, then the world becomes aware that while a minority we are not as small nor as ignorable as we seem. And when people try and ignore things like the Constitution (for example) we’re not going to just sit around and be quiet about it any more.

    • Nas

      You are mistaking the rise of no religious affiliation with atheism. The number of professing atheists has remained relatively stagnant at between 1-2% of the American population.

      • Um…I don’t care?

        The more atheists, agnostics, nones or liberal religious people who accept secularism as sensible and what the Constitution requires, the happier I am.

  4. “I just nod my head with approval for those individuals who can free themselves from the delusions and dogmas of religious ideology.”
    Exactly. We’re happy for those who can speak up.
    Also, there may not necessarily be truth in numbers, but there may be strength in numbers.
    It’s encouraging that others may help to form communities and defend against discrimination and Christianization of America. That’s also reason to celebrate.
    What you’re failing to mention is the trend to 20% for ‘nones’ and no affiliation. That’s where the atheists, along with the other nontheists of other self-identification, are hiding out of an unconscious desire to get along with a religious society that hates us and tries to cast us as an angry, insignificant minority. We also celebrate our increasing numbers because it scares Christians.

  5. Atheists must be happy to see some growth in their numbers for the same reason that Christians are happy to see growth in their numbers. There is always comfort in a crowd.

    It seems to me, however, that this must be cold-comfort given what is going on world-wide. The decline of Christianity in Europe and (to a lessor extent) the US is being mirrored by an explosion in Christianity in Southeast Asia, China, and Africa. I’ve seen estimates that within 10 years Africa will be a majority-Christian continent. Below is an amazing article (by Al Jazeera, believe it or not!) describing the growth of Christianity in China.

    It’s also interesting that Christianity and Islam are really the only two faiths that are growing due to conversions. Of the top 12 world-wide religions, 6 of them actually have more de-conversions per year.

  6. As much as we hate to admit it, knowledge cannot be found in isolation. We judge truth only by comparing it to what other people see. When a scientific paper is published, its “truth” is judged by experts in the field. (a process known as “peer review”)

    Religions are really no different. Religions make truth claims. Who is the judge? Well, obviously the truth is not formed by consensus – but we all recognize that “truth” MUST make sense to a broad range of people in order for it to be “true”. It’s interesting to me that as more and more people have access to multiple truth-claims via the internet, via missionaries, via media, etc, there has been a consistent growth in world-wide Christianity. The hypothesis of most atheists is that as information is freely spread, faith would collapse. Exactly the opposite really seems to have happened. As people have better and better access to the various truth-claims out there, more and more people seem to have selected Christianity as the most sensible option.

    That’s the peer-review system in action.

  7. Marshall Art says:

    It seems that our atheist friends here wish to consider the nones and unaffiliated as, at least, atheists wanna bees. Just because someone refuses to align himself with a specific denomination, this does not imply the person has embraced, or even considered atheism.

    At the same time, the nones and unaffiliated might just as well throw it all away if their rejection of denominational ties is a reflection of the same tired descriptions of them as being “discriminatory” and such so often used by atheists.

  8. I’m an atheist, and doing a happy dance about the poll numbers. First, it means that there are more people who are unafraid to be unaffiliated. Even if they are still theist in some way, they are no longer bowing to the societal pressure to conform to some denomination or other. The rise in numbers of admitted atheists means that the stigma of declaring non-belief openly is fading in some areas. (But alas, not all. Alexander Aan is still in jail in Indonesia for the “crime” of posting on Facebook that he does not believe in Islam. There is still a long way to go on this.)

    It also means that the power of organized religion in places like Ireland is fading. The only reason that the Vatican had power over the Irish is because the Irish gave it to them. Now that they are choosing to walk away, it means that fewer children will be raped and abused, and more abusers will be brought to justice instead of being sheltered by the power and influence of the Catholic Church.

    And the “unaffiliated” is a potential voting block that politicians in the US should not ignore. Maybe this is not 20% atheist, but this might be 20% who would prefer that religious instititions not get special privileges, not be given undue influence in policymaking, and in general that religious institutions leave them alone and stay out of their lives. We are cheering the increase in potential allies in the fight to keep church and state separate.

  9. Wow! What nonsensical lunacy from Ubi! As if only Catholic priests are raping and abusing children. That’s rich. I would ask Ubi to state how religious institutions are getting any special treatments these days. How are they pressuring anyone to do anything…that is, how are they pressuring anyone harder than atheists or leftist moralists such as the pro-homosexual groups pressuring the culture to accept their lifestyle choice as normal and worthy of state sanctioning?

    The true irony of Ubi’s “happy dance” is that he bows to the pressure to reject theism.

    • Lunacy? Because I disagree with you? I must have touched a nerve.

      Of course Catholic priests aren’t the only pedophiles out there. But they have been sheltered and protected from prosecution by a wealty and powerful institution that puts the preservation of its own public image ahead of the safety of children. In the past when a pedophile priest was caught, the abuse victims and their families would be threatened with excommunication if they said anything, and the priest would be transferred to a new parish with new children to abuse. Most priests were probably not involved, but I would be very surprised if there were a single bishop that had not participated in some way in covering up abuse, or was aware of it at the very least. The solution is for individual catholics to stand up to the hierarchy, and say “Our children are more important to us than your public image. I’m speaking out, and this is so important that I don’t care if you excommunicate me!”

      If you are unaware of the special treatment afforded religion, then you either are not paying attention, or you live in someplace like Sweden, where nobody cares about it anymore. In the US churches are completely tax-exempt, and clergy get tax deductions for their housing allowances, . A recent study estimated the annual cost to the US of the tax exemptions granted to churches in the US at $71 BILLION. Preachers openly endorse candidates from the pulpit and the IRS turns a blind eye. Legislatures open with Christian prayers, and politicians can’t get elected unless they are openly religious. And politicians are constantly bending over backwards to avoid offending any church leaders.

      You made a rather hasty assumption about my gender. And I’ve never been under any pressure to reject theism, the overwhelming daily pressure is the other way. Our society is soaked in theism, I’m pelted with it every day. And I don’t even live in the bible belt. In this atmosphere, any time a single person has the courage to say “This country may be 80% religious, but I don’t believe, and I refuse to be pressured into pretending I believe” then it’s cause for celebration.

      • Ubi

        Without trying to come across as condescending, do you also celebrate when a child no longer believes in Santa, or the Easter Bunny? What I means is, for the atheist who believes God is a work of fiction conceived by imagination, why would anyone celebrate that? It just seems so odd to me.

        • I was immensely proud of my daughter when she did an experiment on her own to test the reality of the tooth fairy. She put a lost tooth under her pillow without telling anybody about it, then waited to see if the dollar appeared. When it didn’t, that prompted her to ask me straight out about where the money had been coming from. Once she realized that it was just her parents all along, that also did in her belief in Santa and the easter bunny. She compared her belief against the real world, and reality won. Yes, that was a cause for celebration, because it was a step in her learning to use evidence to work things out for herself.

  10. Ubi,

    The lunacy is in pointing to abuse by priests as if it is unique to them. It took a rebuke for you to step back from that attack. It is also lunacy to use the crime as some type of legitimate argument against a belief in God, as if such belief eliminates temptations from hounding the believer and shielding him totally from his human imperfection that often results in giving in to whatever temptation plagues him.

    Also, as you “gracefully” allow that not all priests were involved in abuses (the percentage is quite low), you assume there exists no bishop anywhere not involved, as if you have any proof to support this allegation.

    The tax policies regarding churches were afforded to reflect the benefit to the culture that is provided by religious influence. This is most obvious in our culture today as people of faith are treated by such as yourself as if they are superstitious fools. The result is a culture rife with crime and sexual promiscuity that has led to foolish arguments regarding when life begins and when one is entitled to be called a person. This is only the tip of the iceberg and the intent of protecting churches from taxation has been diminished by the disregard for what is taught in them. It is also helpful to remember that there was never any intention that a preacher restrict his political speech in any way until Senator Lyndon Johnson pushed for IRS sanctions against such speech; a truly unAmerican move indeed. The cost to our nation for the rejection of religion, the removal of prayer in schools, the support for the mythical “separation of church and state” as imagined by leftists and atheists is far greater than what tax revenues have not been received from churches. (it should be noted that to tax a church would truly amount to double taxation of the congregants—their monies being charitable contributions in support of their spiritual guides who give up the possibility of career for the privilege)

    Your gender is irrelevant thus far and until a subject where gender is relevant arises. But your defensiveness in that regard speaks volumes regarding your perceptions of theism in this country and the notion that you are somehow “pelted” with it constantly. No one is pressured to believe anything regarding religion in this country.

  11. Ubi,
    I love the tooth fairy and Santa analogies. You see, when we are children we see these gifts that mysteriously show up on Christmas morning. We hear rumors that these gifts come from some far-off man who lives at the North Pole who likes little children. Sooner or later, of course, we realize that these rumors just aren’t true.

    But here it gets interesting. You see, Santa was false – but the GIFTS were real. The child was just attributing them to the wrong person. The gifts actually came from a (real) parent who loved the child very much. Likewise, we are all showered with many gifts in life (beauty, love, sex, friendship, creativity, joy). A childish view of these gifts is to attribute them to some mythical and distant creature (like “chance” or like a “watchmaker”). A much more rational view is to recognize that these gifts are from a Creator who loves us and wants a relationship with us.

    Just like the child who recognizes that Santa is a farce, our souls long to thank the REAL gift-giver for the wonderful things that we have to enjoy in life.

    • “Likewise, we are all showered with many gifts in life (beauty, love, sex, friendship, creativity, joy). A childish view of these gifts is to attribute them to some mythical and distant creature (like “chance” or like a “watchmaker”). A much more rational view is to recognize that these gifts are from a Creator who loves us and wants a relationship with us.”
      And for many of us, a still more rational view is that these things come from our being intelligent social creatures, and from our fellow-human beings. The fact that I think these things have a natural origin rather than a supernatural one does not lessen my appreciation of them one whit. I just don’t see a big difference between attributing toys to Santa and attributing our capacity for love and joy to some god.

  12. Ubi, to put in another way (and to use your analogy about your daughter):
    How would you like it if, after her experiment, your daughter ceased believing in the tooth fairy and instead just believed that the dollar “randomly” shows up under her pillow?

    That, to me, is what atheism (or agnosticism) is. You see the gift with your eyes. But you don’t see the gift-giver with your eyes. So you throw your hands up and say “no evidence” – when the evidence was in front of you all along!

    • If she just started believing that money randomly showed up under her pillow, that would be as inconsistent with reality as believing in the tooth fairy. I’d be disappointed if she didn’t do more testing to find out what the answer actually was. I’d be disappointed if she just jumped to a conclusion with no evidence.

      There’s no evidence of a gift-giver. All I see is a lot of people jumping to the conclusion that, just because something happens, that the reason must be a “who” instead of a “what”.

      • Not to be too snide, Ubi, why it it irrational to believe a dollar materialized out of nothing, but its noble and scientific to believe an entire universe did?

        • We don’t know that an entire universe materialized out of nothing, and I don’t know anybody who claims to be sure that it did. The current answer is “we don’t know what caused the universe yet, but we’re working on figuring it out”. Maybe the universe was caused by something else that we will discover eventually. Maybe “nothing” is inherently unstable and always winds up as “something”. It’s really hard to study the properties of “nothing” since we don’t have any of it available to investigate. (Maybe it the universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure, but I think that’s rather unlikely!)

          Just because I don’t yet have a complete answer to where the universe came from does not lead me to conclude that the war god of a tribe of bronze-age mid-eastern goatherders was the cause. That would be “god of the gaps” reasoning: “I don’t know, therefore god”. That’s a dangerous premise to base a belief system on, because every time we undestand something new about the universe, the gaps get smaller and so does your god.

          • Ubi

            You’re confused a bit. We do know that the universe began to exist and exploded into being from nothing. What science doesn’t know is why or how, but that’s only because they have decided from the outset that they refuse to consider agent causation.

            • Not confused. We know the universe expanded from a singularity about 13.7 billion years ago, which was the beginning point of our present four-dimensional space-time continuum. We have no access to any information prior to that point (if “prior” has any meaning in this context, since time as we know it also began then).

              We don’t have any information from outside our universe or before that time. So we have no more reason to call it “nothing” any more than we have to call it “something”. We just don’t know yet. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, when you have no information, and no way of getting any, that’s where the conversation should stop.

              Humans have a bias toward attributing events they don’t understand to intentional agents. We have repeatedly discovered that things we used to attribute to intentional agents actually have unintentional natural causes. Lighting turns out not to be caused by Thor, the north wind isn’t Boreas blowing the air around, volcanoes are not the forge of Hephaestus. Every time we have understood something about our universe, the answer has never turned out to be “it was magic”. So a good scientist does not assume an agent unless and until there is evidence of one.

              • Ubi

                You are doing an awful lot of supposing, a lot of speculation on what we don’t know as opposed to trying to conclusions based on what we do

              • How is “we don’t know yet” speculating? If we have no information, then assuming “nothing” or supposing a god is speculating. I look at the evidence. The existence of a god is an extraordinary claim, so would require extraordinary evidence. The extraordinary evidence is lacking, so I don’t suppose the existence of a god.

  13. JB “or even 5%”
    A new poll suggests that 1 in 20 Americans now call themselves atheists, a fivefold increase from the last time the survey was taken in 2005.

  14. Ubi writes: “I look at the evidence.”

    I would argue that you are only looking at one type of evidence. Court cases are rarely proved based on a single piece of irrefutable evidence. Rather, they are based on the preponderance of a variety of evidence.

    Going back to your tooth fairy analogy, your daughter can infer from a variety of evidences and logic that you left the dollar even though she is never awake to catch you doing it. We don’t have to “see” God to believe that He is the author of creation. The evidence is found all around. In the origins of information. In the origins of morality. In the origins of universe. The presence of “good” and “evil”. The precisely tuned natural laws that allow for the existence of the universe. The (seeming) innate desire for mankind to connect with God.

    Life isn’t all about science. You seem to believe that the only useful way to acquire knowledge is via scientific experimentation. But, of course, this itself isn’t a scientifically verifiable belief.

    • I’m quite familiar with all those apologetic arguments. But none of them is convincing to a non-believer, because they weren’t meant for that purpose. They have been devised by religious thinkers to allow believers to convince themselves that their beliefs are reasonable. Believers don’t become believers because of the “evidence” you cite, they become believers because they were raised to be from childhood, or they had an emotional experience, or because of social and family pressure, or other similar reasons. I have listened to apologists present those same arguments to non-believers many times, and not once have I heard a non-believer respond with anything like “Gee, people have morals, I hadn’t thought about that. I guess I’d better convert to your specific form of christianity right now!” Not once.

      The most useful way to acquire knowledge about the properties of our physical world is by scientific investigation. It can’t tell you whether Keats is a better poet than Shelley, or who you should friend on Facebook. But it has given us cellphones and computers and modern medicine, all of which function way more reliably than prayer. And if somebody says “I believe that a being exists who has qualities A, B and C, and interacts with the physical world in the following ways: x, y, and z” then that’s a claim about a property of the physical world, and that can be investigated by science.

      (p.s. – Hi Jason! It was good seeing you again on Sunday afternoon, hope I can come to more of those events.)

  15. It’s you John – atheists don’t excite any more easily than anyone else. Why, are you thinking of marrying one?

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