MyNews24 is a user-generated section of The stories here come from users.

Richard Cypher
Comments: 95
Article views: 657
Latest Badges:

View all Richard Cypher's badges.

Various statistics on religiosity part 2 – USA general and science

23 June 2014, 07:31

For the sake of brevity, I have decided to limit this article to only the religiosity stats of the general American population and the results of surveys on their scientific population. As it stands, this article is already quite long and the lies, damned lies and statistics, not to mention the confirmation bias and unsubtle agendas prevalent with the prison stats is the subject of its own long article.

In any debate whenever statistics of a demographical nature are bandied about, US figures feature prominently. This is probably due to the comparatively easily accessible nature of US population statistics, as well as numerous statistical surveys being done within the confines of that huge and affluent country.

On the N24 forum one often sees numbers thrown around like:

  • 93% of scientists don't delude themselves into believing in the god delusion

  • Agnostics and atheists comprise 17% of the American population

  • 85% of Americans are religious

  • 0.12% atheists in US jails

  • 20% atheists in the US

  • etc. etc. etc.

Clearly there is an indecent amount of thumb sucking happening with vaguely remembered or made-up statistics being “quoted” with authoritative bluster. Let’s see what information is obtainable from the real world as opposed to several thumbs.

US Demographical information

The latest US Census data relating to religion date from 2008. Quite handily, the US Census Bureau provided data for similar surveys done in 1990 and 2001. This gives us an insight into some trends relating to religiosity. Numbers are in percentage of total US population.




Christian (all)








No religion (all)




- Atheist




- Agnostic




*Note: For 1990, Atheist was included in the Agnostic figures

From this we can see that there was quite a dip in the percentage Christians in the US. The Muslim population virtually doubled as a percentage of total population (with almost 3 times more actual people). The No Religion group, including its sub-groups, all showed increases since 1990. What is quite interesting is that the bulk of all the changes happened prior to 2001, with relatively little change since then. Possibly some after-effects of 9/11? Who knows?

Surprisingly, people self-identifying as Atheist only comprise 0.71% of the total US population. This is a far cry from the 17% or 20% some commenters on this forum like to claim. Not even the entire No Religion group reaches either of the two numbers. At least the claim of 85% of Americans being religious is more or less accurate.

There are several other religiosity surveys also done in the US and available on the net, but I consider this to be the most authoritative one, considering that the US Census Bureau officially communicates it from its website.

Religiosity of scientists

This is a fascinating one, chiefly because there are two main, but quite different, surveys out in the public domain regarding religiosity of American scientists: one done on so-called elite (or “leading”) scientists and one done on the more rank-and-file scientists. And the results differ remarkably. The famous oft-referenced survey on the leading scientists is the National Academy of Sciences survey done in 1998 by Edward J Larson and Larry Witham, published in Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313 and titled "Leading Scientists Still Reject God."

This survey built on earlier similar surveys and shows the same increasing secularity trend that is evident in places like England and Wales (covered in my previous article). Larson and Witham used the same wording as in the Leuba studies from 1913 and 1933, and sent their questionnaire to members of the National Academy of Sciences. The results were as follows (figures in %):

Belief in personal god




- Personal belief




- Personal disbelief




- Doubt or agnosticism




Here we can see that atheists make up 72.2% of the surveyed NAS members, with agnostics a further 20.8%. Both of these groups are disproportionately over-represented when compared to the general US population. It appears therefore that the claim of 93% non-religious US scientists is true, provided it is qualified to only refer to members of the NAS. Being elected to the Academy requires a nomination by a current member and a vote by all the current members, which makes it a bit of an incestuous setup. As with any such an august body, it is seldom that representative of the common or garden variety scientists doing actual day-to-day science. The correct statement would therefore be:

“93% of members of the National Academy of Sciences (or elite/leading scientists if you rather) do not believe in a personal god”.

The second religiosity survey was done on members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Membership of the AAAS is open to all scientists, even science students, which make it significantly more representative of rank-and-file scientists than the NAS study would be.

According to the poll, just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power and 41% say they don’t believe in either. It doesn’t add up to 100 and I am not sure where the missing 8% went; merely quoting the study’s results from chapter 4, page 36.

When it came to religious affiliation, 48% of scientists (also on page 36 of the report) consider themselves to be religiously unaffiliated, which most likely overlaps a little with the 18% belief in a higher power. This number is further broken down into (figures in %):





Nothing in particular


According to this survey, only 17% of rank-and-file scientists in the US self-identify as atheist. Even if the entire missing 8% are atheists (not impossible, but unlikely) the atheist portion would at best make up 25%. Although this is considerably higher than the figure for the general public, it is also much lower than the numbers regularly quoted on this forum. The correct statements should therefore be:

“17% of scientists in the US are atheist”

Or if that number is too small for your liking or the argument you plan on using, why not try:

“48% of scientists in the US are religiously unaffiliated”

What is clear from these sections is that scientists in the US tend to be significantly less religious than the general US population, while the upper echelons of eminent scientists tend to be the least religious of all.

This might be partially attributed to the age and male-dominated nature of the NAS members. The AAAS survey also differentiated between the various age groups. Belief in God, a higher power or neither is tabled below (figures in %):


Higher Power


All scientists




























It appears that belief in God or a higher power steadily decreases with increasing age among the surveyed scientists, with men also being less religious than women. One does not typically become an eminent scientist overnight; therefore one would expect NAS members to be somewhat older and as such, less religious. Obviously age and gender are not the only contributing factors for the lower religiosity among NAS members, but they cannot be completely dismissed either.

Closing remarks

As in the previous article, if you have a problem with the referenced sources (the words coloured blue and in bold are hyperlinks straight to the sources), you will have to provide something more authoritative. If you consider the information wrong, merely saying so does not cut the mustard, to borrow a Jeremy Clarkson phrase. You will have to provide the correct, referenced figures and motivate why your source is more authoritative.

Considering the general lack of comments on the previous article and general level of accord from the people who did comment there, can I hope that we will see a reduction (or hopefully a cessation) in the quoting of incorrect numbers in future? At least in terms of the amount of atheists in the general US population and among US scientists?

There is no religion higher than truth.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Read more from our Users

Submitted by
News from the future!

The South African Rand will finally reach twenty to the Dollar, at which point the Reserve Bank will knock off three zeroes because "it looks better that way"... Read more...

5 comments 1589 views
Submitted by
Craig Pedersen
Can policing in SA be fixed? Read...

To my humble mind, here's what needs addressing within the policing/ criminal justice sphere - and no, you can't tackle one without the other, they're symbiotic in every sense.  Read more...

6 comments 216 views
Submitted by
Proof of God vs Faith in Christ...

Science is not inadequate to “prove” God’s existence, Science is inappropriate to do it. Read more...

87 comments 417 views
Submitted by
Voltaire Gee
More Questions for people of Fait...

I know my questions might seem condescending but they're really not, I really need to understand how anyone who lives in the 21st century can subscribe to a set of standards set thousands of years ago. Read more...

16 comments 198 views
Diving into the South African gra...

Government gets money and spends money in the same way an individual does.  Read more...

5 comments 904 views
Submitted by
Douw Snetler
Blue Bulls rugby - Yawn!

Being an ardent Blue Bull supporter, it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I watched the semifinal last Saturday between the Bulls and Western Province. Read more...

3 comments 773 views

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Save 20% on Nivea beauty products!

Buy any two Nivea beauty products and save 20%. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25



E-mail Alerts The latest headlines in your inbox

RSS feeds News delivered really simply.

Mobile News24 on your mobile or PDA

E-mail Newsletters You choose what you want

News24 on your iPhone Get News24 headlines on your iPhone.

SMS Alerts Get breaking news stories via SMS.

Blogs Your opinion on you, me and everyone.

Calais Website keywords automated by OpenCalais.

Interactive Advertising Bureau
© 2014 All rights reserved.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.