Secularism gaining ground in the US ?

Fair enough.

Usually a few thousand are adequate to reduce the confidence interval to something tiny. I pulled out my copy of Cochrane and got sqrt (pq/n) as .0027, using p = q = .5 as I usually do to be conservative. That is tiny. It is .011 for the more normal sample of 2,000 or so. So, assuming they did a decent sample, the confidence interval is even less than a couple of percent in this case.

You know that of course - but people who think a few thousand is not a good sample should plug the numbers in some day and become convinced.

That is part of it.

While my example of the sixties generation’s accomplishments may be debated, my overall point is that - while we may witness progress over a period of time, if you stick around long enough you may also witness movement in the opposite direction. Just because something is trending in one direction for a while does not mean it will keep trending in that direction - even in the very long term.

And famous incorrect surveys, like the Literary Digest one, were the result of a bad sample, not an inadequate sample size.

The version of the article I read on Yahoo didn’t cite any follow up interviews. It said only 10% of those answering no religion self-identified as atheist or agnostic. This response seems to be different from the generic Christian one. I’d be curious about how many of the 27% who had no religion but were not atheists were deists, were pantheists, or were actually atheists but unwilling to identify themselves as such.

Well, back in the 60s and 70s people were talking about how religious belief was dying out. Then came a wave of religiosity in the 80s and 90s and 00s. It was a mistake in the 70s to believe that the current trend against religion would continue uninterrupted, and it is a mistake in the 00s to believe that the current trend towards religion will continue uninterrupted.

America has had several waves of religious fervor, and we are currently living through another one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_awakening. But the signs are that this wave is beginning to burn itself out, if I may mix a metaphor.

I don’t think so. What happened was that conservative religious believers – who, for the most part, had traditionally avoided secular politics entirely as an occasion of sin – got angry and got organized and got vocal and got political; but not more numerous.

This is more an aspect of extremely sloppy, lazy journalism than anything else. President Bush, of all people, mentioned people “of no faith at all” in many of his speeches concerning Americans of good conscience. Obama’s mention was NOT, in fact, a new development in Presidential rhetoric.

Then make the participation voluntary for the college applications, or do it on the SATs, again voluntary.

How an you get a meaningful result with that random a sample? Did they ask at least 1,000 per state? If so, what areas? Slums? A Church camp? A University?

I think that statistics, when it comes to a poll, is never done properly.
The questions HAVE to be basic. Like, “Do you believe in a higher power.” Not, “Do you believe in God.” A person’s definition of “god” can be a lot-- christian, loving god, hateful god, Ra, Vishnu, etc. Last year, a poll was given to less than five thousand
with the same believe in god question. (Mentioned on this board if I’m not mistaken) There were five answers to check. Yes absolutely, yes maybe, yes it’s possible, no I don’t, and choose not to answer.
So, that leaves 3 yeses, 1 no, and 1 N/A. Is that biased? Yep.

Right, and it’s my contention that it is exactly these people of that old generation that are a huge part of the problem today (even if they were part of the solution back then). They think that the younger generations are useless or totally off track, and they have lost the hope for the future that they once had. Now, the younger generations, seeing what the old did accomplish (and therefore respecting them implicitly even if not explicitly), and hearing the continuously imposing message of “no hope anymore” from them, are left without hope for themselves; they don’t believe in themselves or their ability to effectuate change. After all, that old generation was great, and they say it can’t be done anymore.

The irony is incredible. “These kids today,” indeed. Remind you of anyone else’s parents?

Actually, according the Strauss and Howe’s theory of generational/historical cycles, we’ve already had this age’s spiritual/moral “Awakening”; it came back in the 1960s, and was the first such in Anglo-American history not specifically Christian in content (though it did include radical priests and pastors and “Jesus freaks” along with the Asian religions, etc.).

This does not solve the problem.

You should read up on statistics to learn more about how this works. My grades in stats weren’t good and I would probably botch an explanation. The goal is to achieve a random distribution of responders and mimic the population at large. That includes randomizing by geography, by income, and so on.

Why do you think “higher power” is better? Both terms mean different things to different people, and the survey was about religious attitudes: it measures the sizes of different religious faiths, too. If it just lumped all theists and all atheists into one category each, a lot of information would be missing.
There’s no way to control for that statistically, which is one of the shortcomings in the survey.

How many different ways do you need to say “no, I don’t?” I’d have to see the real wording, because “yes, maybe” and “yes, it’s possible” are redundant anyway.

Certainly atheists are more visible, but what I hadn’t seen any sign of was a rise in (reported) atheism per se of over 80% in less than 20 years, quite remarkable.

As others have said - I’ve seen it all before, that’s exactly how we felt on the 60s and 70s and it didn’t happen. The only certain thing about trends is that they will not continue in the future as they have in the past. In fact the leveling off after 2001 might be showing this.

Were you living in the U.S. during this time?

That said, I think most of it’s due to people being more comfortable with “committing” to atheism or being more open about it, rather than that many people giving up on theistic religions entirely.

Issues with the baby boom generation aside, I agree it’s a bad idea to assume any particular trend is going to continue for decades.

Actually it says 14.1% to 15%.

That’s still a 6.4% increase in only 7 years; much slower than the previous rate of a 72% increase over 11 years, sure, but still remarkable in its own right.

Living, no. I have visited the US most years, work in a US-based company and talk to Americans every week. I read US media and pay attention to what’s going on in general.

Correct. The question was, “What is your religion, if any?” Most atheists and agnostics, asked that question in that manner, would probably blurt out “none”. As an atheist I know that’s what I would do. A few people did give the “atheist” or “agnostic” answer, and these were lumped together with people who said “none” as “no religion”.

Right and by their estimation the children of the ‘Millenials’ will be the next spiritual awakening. So basically people who are toddlers now.

A few others in the thread have said similar…

Don’t you see a clear connection between openness of atheism and the trend towards secularism? One of the reasons (I admit, not the only) that atheism has not been more widespread in the past is simply because it was not tolerated (originally due to law, and in more recent past due to extreme social pressure). By contrast, the atheists have been coming out of the woodwork all over the place over the past years. Clearly visibility of a belief system (err, a non-belief system) is one component to it gaining members.

The fact that people who were already atheists are now much more visible, and the fact that it’s no longer generally acceptable to discriminate against them (relative to past years) suggests that many more will take up atheism or secularism in the future.

As nice as that sounds, I don’t think it necessarily follows. It’s possible that everybody might merely convert from intolerant theists to tolerant theists, without making the theological leap to atheism.

(And of course it’s possible that everybody wil become fanatical hardline bigoted atheists who will take note of who admitted to being atheists during the tolerant years and have them all shot, to recognize the discussion that these trends are not necessarily as reliable as they initially appear.)

The best results come from a truly random sample. Your suggestions would not result in a random sample - College kids, college kids who participate in polls and even high school kids who take the SAT are not a representative sample of their age group, much less of the US population in general.

It is important to look at the group polled to determine if it is likely to be a representative group of the larger population. In many cases the pollster takes a random sample of listed phone numbers to call.

I think the statistics are a straight forward mathematical exercise.

This is a very good point, the phrasing of the questions is the other fudgeable part of a survey - you can ask essentially the same thing in many different ways and come up with very different results. To me, reviewing the questions asked, and how they are phrased is very useful in evaluating if poll results are reliable.

MOre information about this in this Wiki article:

my favorite line from the second link:

Statistically Dag