Monday, January 31, 2011

What do the Nones Believe?

Surveys show that the “nones” (those who report no religious affiliation) are a diverse group. The first observation often made is to note that only a small percentage self-identify as atheists or agnostics. For instance, Putnam and Campbell, on page 16 of American Grace, report that only 5 people in their 2006 “Faith Matters Survey” of 3,108 described themselves by either label. But it would be better to look at some larger surveys which addressed this question.

The Pew U.S Religious Landscape Survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2007 found 1.6% responding as atheist, 2.4% as agnostic, and 12.1% selecting “no particular religion” (total nones coming to 16.1%). In analyzing the “no particular religion” group, Pew looked at their responses to another survey question: “How important is religion in your life”? They found about half of this group answered “not at all important” or “not too important” while the rest answered “somewhat important” or “very important”. Pew decided to label these two groups as Secular unaffiliated (6.3% of the total) and Religious unaffiliated (5.8%) for the purpose of summarizing the results on other parts of the survey.

For one more comparison, the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (with 54,461 respondents) found 0.9% atheist, 0.7% agnostic (out of total nones of 15.0%). It should be noted, however, that the percentage of atheists/agnostics in the survey nearly doubled from a previous 2001 tabulation.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

American Grace and the ‘Nones’

I’m reading American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. It’s an interesting and statistics-laden study of US religion over the past 50 years.

The book discusses a huge number of issues, trends, and cross-currents, and makes for thought-provoking reading. A topic which I find particularly interesting is the recent growth in the portion of Americans with no religious affiliation (sometimes referred to as the “nones”), and I was curious how the authors analyze the phenomenon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don’t Assume Quantum Physics Doesn’t Matter

85 years after the formulation of quantum mechanics, it is still often assumed that distinctively quantum phenomena have no role to play in explaining life or mind. I think this assumption is unjustified.