Monday, April 03, 2006

Miscellaneous Statistics

There are a few blogs that I read pretty consistently: Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Pharyngula, The Intersection, Real Climate, Panda's Thumb, The Secular Outpost, Debunking Christianity, Ars Technica, Mike the Mad Biologist, The Old New Thing, The Questionable Authority and Unclaimed Territory. As you might guess from the titles, some relate to culture and politics, some science, some religion (or atheism), some computer- and technology-related. Some contain quite a bit of crossover.

Several of these have in the past couple of weeks touched on a recent study performed by researchers at the University of Minnesota that examined how various religious and ethnic groups are viewed by Americans. One of the groups included was atheists, and for those of us who fall into that group, the results are not particularly encouraging. In Who's Counting, an online ABC News column by John Allen Paulos, you can find this summary of the results of the study. That same article also discusses the Liberty University debate team, which has gotten some press recently for being the "top-ranked" debate team in the country, another topic that has been heavily covered by Dispatches from the Culture Wars in particular. (The ranking system is highly misleading.)

On the subject of statistics of dubious worth, I was at our local Borders bookstore on Saturday night, checking to see if they had any of several books that I have been meaning to read someday. (They didn't.) But I did find a new section of books in the religion section: atheism. How could I have missed it before? Well...

I counted the number of shelves devoted to various subjects:

  • 120: Christianity
  • 29: "Metaphysics", which apparently includes palm reading, tarot cards, and everything New Age-ish that is not otherwise included below. Somebody better tell the philosophers.
  • 8: Magical Studies (yes, that's what it said)
  • 7: Buddhism
  • 7: Other Eastern religions (Zen, Hindu, ...)
  • 4: Judaism
  • 3: Astrology
  • 2.5: Islam
  • 0.5: Atheism

If I recall correctly, the percentage of the US population composed of self-reported atheists is somewhere in the low single-digits, something like 3-5%, so if there were a "fair" representation, there should something like seven shelves on atheism. A number of possible conclusions occur to me, none particularly serious.

  • Most atheists cannot read
  • Most atheists cannot write
  • Most atheists already know everything
  • Most atheists do not shop at Borders
  • Most atheists are broke
  • There are no real atheists
  • There is only so much you can write about not believing something

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