Atheism and Antinatalism

In a previous posting, I noted:

It is also interesting to step back and take in the various moral perspectives of different expressions of atheism.  Whether it’s Singer’s advocacy for bestiality or infanticide, Dawkins’ advovcating for “mild pedophilia,” the determinists insistence that serial murderers and rapists are helpless victims, or Benator’s belief that it is immoral to have children, it is not uncommon to find atheism in dark places.

Let me try to clarify what I am saying.  I know that not all atheists are for “bestiality”, “infanticide”, “mild pedophilia”, nor do all atheists claim that murderers and raptists are “helpless victims” or that it is immoral to have children. What I would argue is that among the people who do argue for “bestiality”, “infanticide”, “mild pedophilia”, or claim that murderers and raptists are “helpless victims”, or that it is immoral to have children, there is a disproportionate number of atheists. 

According to wiki:

The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of Americans had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.

So if roughly 8% of the population is atheist/agnostic, I am arguing that more than 8% of the people who argue for infanticide, pedophilia, antinatalism, etc. are atheists.   In fact, much more than 8%.  Consider anti-natalism.  The reason I think there is a connection is because the anti-natalists so strongly echo common atheist positions.  As I mentioned before, “This “better to not have ever existed” position is the nihilistic culmination of atheism.  It’s also where the Argument from Evil leads. A reality so evil that it supposedly negates the existence of God is a reality so evil it would be better if it had not existed.”  This reasoning, along with past experience, leads me to suspect over 50% of anti-natalists are atheists.

We’ve already seen that the lead advocate for anti-natalism, David Benatar, just happens to be an atheist.  But there is stronger evidence for the connection.

It turns out there is a subreddit for the anti-natalists that has over 40,000 members. And just a few months ago, a member posted the following to the group:

Are most antinatalists also atheists?

He wrote:

I am personally an atheist, but I’m wondering about other antinatalists’ views on god. Do most of you believe in a god/gods? If you do, do you worship that god, or do you despise that god, since that god is the creator of all causes of human suffering, and because he knowingly placed sentient beings into that world of suffering, and made them aware enough to realize their suffering?

Now, let’s consider the top five comments by up votes:

1.Lol you should do a poll. I’m an atheist and anti-theist and I’d imagine a good chunk of people here would be atheist too

2. Atheist. To understand the suffering heaved upon a human being at birth requires a clear-mindedness and willingness to accept truth that is commonly shared with other fields of rational inquiry.

3. I’d say i’m agnostic. God(s) may very well exist, but if they do, they are definitely not deserving of worship.

4. In my long experience with the sub, yes, the supermajority are atheists.  Some are spiritual or have other quirky beliefs. Some, like me, are hardline empiricist. This latter division is something I hope a future poll addresses.

5. Atheist, I can guarantee most people on this sub are probably atheist too.

So not only are all five of the top five comments are from atheists/agnostics, two of those five even testify, with a strong sense of conviction, that most people on the antinatalist subreddit are probably atheists

Next, the total number of comments was 60.  Of those 60, twenty people responded directly to the original posting and self-identified.  From my quick count on my phone, 15 identified as an atheist/agnostic.  One identified as a pagan, another as a Satanist, another as a Christian, two as theists, and one as a theist who hates “god.”  In other words, among those who self-identified in response to the query, roughly 75% identified as atheists/agnostics.  This, of course, maps perfectly to the comments such as “I can guarantee most people on this sub are probably atheist too” and “In my long experience with the sub, yes, the supermajority are atheists.”

Yet it gets better.  Someone over at that reddit has been polling the place and has reported their results – here. 

According to the lastest 2019 poll, here is the breakdown of anti-natalists:

Atheist 67.9%

Agnostic 20.7%

Spiritual 7.3%

Theist 2.4%

Deist 1.6%

Whoa!  People mentioned that reddit is heavy with atheists and that might skew the numbers.  But up to nearly 90%?!  I think not.  You’d have to show that most/all subreddits are made up of 90% atheists/agnostics for that caveat to stick.

So, as of this moment, we are left with these data describing the breakdown of 100s of anti-natalists:

 

I think we now have pretty strong evidence to support the belief that most anti-natalists are atheists/agonstics.

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20 Responses to Atheism and Antinatalism

  1. jim- says:

    I’d never heard of an “anti-natalist” before today. I wonder if the reddit click is odd or something. I’ve never been there though—Maybe it’s me that’s odd.
    I do think knowing the psychological and neurological underpinning of serial offenders helps us forgive. The difference between you, me, or them is just a little bit of conditioning and wiring. Whose fault is that?

  2. Isn’t the difference the choices that a person makes?

  3. Dhay says:

    jim- > I do think knowing the psychological and neurological underpinning of serial offenders helps us forgive. The difference between you, me, or them is just a little bit of conditioning and wiring. Whose fault is that?

    No, I rather think it helps us understand. But understand what? The guy who steals a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, then does the same again next week because the bread ran out, he’s very understandable nowadays; he deserves mercy (and help) not (historically) transportation.

    On the other hand, in the case of a serial rapist (eg a Derek Warboys) or a serial murderer (eg an Ian Brady or Fred West), if knowing it was all down to ‘genes and environment’ (as Jerry Coyne would put it) or ‘just a little bit of conditioning and wiring’ (as you put it), so they had no choice but to do what they did — again and again, serially — in cases like these understanding their ‘little’ difference from you and me (which apparently deprives them of choice, if I read you right) means keeping them in prison all of their remaining years, or only releasing them, eventually, on license and probation with possibility or likelihood of summary recall upon actual or likely reoffending.

    Ideally we would treat them by drugs, psychiatry or surgery and let them go; but therein lies the problem: if you know better than the medical world how to treat them successfully, go write your paper.

  4. Pingback: Atheism, the Problem of Suffering, and Antinatalism – Biblical Scholarship

  5. Dhay says:

    Performing a calculation similar to the one I used to calculate the lower bounds on how many times more likely it is that a mass-shooter will be an atheist (etc) than a Christian, I get the following figures for how many more times more likely it is that an anti-natalist will be an atheist or agnostic than a Christian:

    Atheist: 196 x
    Agnostic : 51 x
    Christian 1 x (base line)

    Again, these are the lower bounds for the figures; I’ve quoted the lower bounds because they are the most favourable and least sensational figures for atheists and agnostics, for fairness; the upper bounds are way, way higher.

  6. Michael says:

    Again, these are the lower bounds for the figures; I’ve quoted the lower bounds because they are the most favourable and least sensational figures for atheists and agnostics, for fairness; the upper bounds are way, way higher.

    Interesting.

  7. jim- says:

    Certainly they shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. I never even hinted that. I do think it broadens understanding and makes it easier to forgive. But they still are a threat to mine and your personal autonomy and need to be held from society. Really man, relax.

  8. jim- says:

    Last I saw the US prison population is .02% atheist. Nice try on your bias math.

  9. Dhay says:

    Nice try on your derail attempt. It stops here.

  10. Ilíon says:

    As I mentioned before, “This “better to not have ever existed” position is the nihilistic culmination of atheism. It’s also where the Argument from Evil leads. A reality so evil that it supposedly negates the existence of God is a reality so evil it would be better if it had not existed.”

    And, this line of “reasoning” is a fine illustration of the incoherency of atheism … which incoherency bothers God-deniers not in the least.

  11. Dhay says:

    jim- > Last I saw the US prison population is .02% atheist.

    Jim- has made that claim before, so in expectation that he will keep returning to it as some sort of ‘gotcha’, I thought I’d research the figure and check out the data and calculations the figure is based on.

    The source of that 0.02% figure seems to be the Freedom From Religion Foundation – do tell me if I’m wrong, jim-, and if so don’t forget to provide a quote and link so that I can check the data and calculations.

    The FFRF put out a News Release in 2013, headed “Survey reveals only .02% of prisoners identify as atheists” and linking onwards to Hemant Mehta’s 16 July 2013 Friendly Atheist blog post entitled “What Percentage of Prisoners are Atheists? It’s a Lot Smaller Than We Ever Imagined”; here’s the meat of the News Release:

    The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons released an April 2013 survey of 218,167 prisoners that reports .02% of prisoners are atheists. You read that right. Not 2%, or even .2 percent, but .02% of American prisoners are atheists.

    Hemant Mehta first reported the statistic on his popular blog, The Friendly Atheist. Check out his blog post on the new statistic here [Link to Mehta’s blog post.] Mehta wanted to corroborate the often quoted, but now dated, statistic that .7% of prisoners are atheists.

    His open records request to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons proves that an even smaller percentage of American prisoners, .02%, identify as atheists. Because 2.4% of the general population of Americans are “atheists,” according to a 2012 Pew study, atheists make up a disproportionately small percentage of prisoners. The Pew study, however, found that one in five adults identifies as “nonreligious.” …

    https://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/18197-survey-reveals-only-02-of-prisoners-identify-as-atheists

    Let’s check out Mehta’s blog post, as exhorted to by the FFRF, and compare what the FFRF spokesperson says Mehta found with what Mehta did find; I’ll start with the headline figure:

    FFRF: Not 2%, or even .2 percent, but .02% of American prisoners are atheists.
    Mehta: 0.07% of American prisoners are atheists:

    Of the prisoners willing to give their religious affiliations (and that’s an important caveat), atheists make up 0.07% of the prison population.

    https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2013/07/16/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-its-a-lot-smaller-than-we-ever-imagined/

    FFRF: The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons released an April 2013 survey …
    FFRF: … that reports .02% of prisoners are atheists.
    Mehta: They released a data table of faiths and adherent numbers, there wasn’t even a total provided – Mehta did all the calculations and intellectual work (the “survey”), not the FBP:

    Not only did they have the information, they gave me a faith-by-faith breakdown

    FFRF: … 218,167 prisoners …
    Mehta: 218,167 prisoners
    (Hooray! Almost astonishingly, the FFRF got this number right.)

    FFRF: Mehta wanted to corroborate the often quoted, but now dated, statistic that .7% of prisoners are atheists.
    Mehta: Mehta wanted to corroborate the often quoted, but now dated, statistic that 0.2% of prisoners are atheists:

    According to them, atheists made up 0.2% of the prison population …
    The 0.2% number — based off the Holysmoke.org website — pops up all over the place. …
    The 0.2% number has also been cited in book after book after book [Three links provided.]…
    Not 1%. Not even the 0.2% we’ve been using for so long. …
    Were we wrong to quote the 0.2% number for this long? …
    … at the Federal Bureau of Prisons whose response to Swift gave us the oft-cited 0.2% number.

    OK, explain how, with six occurrences of 0.2% in Mehta’s blog post the FFRF could instead quote .7%.

    FFRF: Because 2.4% of the general population of Americans are “atheists,” according to a 2012 Pew study …
    Mehta: Mehta never said that: Mehta quotes a 2008 Pew study which found atheists make up 1.6% of the population; also a 2008 ARIS Report (Table 3) which puts atheists at 0.7% of the population.

    If you look at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey [Link] (PDF), you’ll see that self-described atheists make up 1.6% of the population. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey [Link] (PDF) puts atheists at 0.7% of the population.

    FFRF: The Pew study, however, found that one in five adults identifies as “nonreligious.” …
    Mehta: Mehta didn’t so much as mention a figure for the “nonreligious” in the US general population.

    *

    I’ll discuss Mehta’s blog post itself in another response; it deserves a more thorough look at it and this response is plenty long already. For now I’ll keep focus on Jim-‘s “.02%” claim and on the FFRF source of his misinformation.

    *

    One would suppose that, the FFRF having urged their News Release readers to “Check out his blog post on the new statistic here [Link to Mehta’s blog post]”, the FFRF spokesperson would then have checked out Mehta’s blog post themself to ensure the figures and sources that person attributes to Mehta were in fact Mehta’s.

    They are not. I have no idea where (apart from Pew 2012) the FFRF got their percentages from. What I do know is that the News Release made a succession of claims about what it purports Mehta wrote in his blog post – and got every one wrong except the total number of prisoners.

    One would suppose that, the FFRF having urged their News Release readers to “Check out his blog post on the new statistic here [Link to Mehta’s blog post]”, the FFRF would have been inundated with mails from ‘Science and Reason’ literate atheist readers telling them they got it very badly wrong, it’s a load of cobblers. Indeed, one doesn’t need to be ‘Science and Reason’ literate to spot the blunders or (if so, why?) misrepresentations, you only need a basic ability level of reading comprehension. But no, no retraction, no “UPDATE:”; so presumably nobody spotted it, presumably none of the FFRF’s readers has even a basic ability level of reading comprehension.

    Who else didn’t spot that the “US prison population is .02% atheist” figure quoted by the FFRF was obviously cobblers: ah yes, John Zande, from whom jim- seems to have mindlessly cut-and-pasted the figure; and jim- himself.

    To spell it out for jim- …

    jim- > Last I saw the US prison population is .02% atheist.

    That figure’s wrong.

  12. TFBW says:

    If we want to know how many atheists there are in prison, we need a representative sample answer to the question, “do you believe in God or gods?” Because atheism is merely lack of belief in God, right? Never mind this “self-identify as atheist” nonsense.

  13. Derek Ramsey says:

    “we need a representative sample answer to the question, “do you believe in God or gods?””

    Yes we do, but we also need more than that. Why would we expect the percentages of atheists to match the general population on a ideological basis when the demographic makeup of the prison population does not match the general population on a non-ideological basis? If you want to make sensible comparisons, you have to control for other factors, such as race, intelligence, socioeconomic status, immigration status, and conversion rates,

  14. Dhay says:

    TFBW > If we want to know how many atheists there are in prison, we need a representative sample answer to the question, “do you believe in God or gods?” Because atheism is merely lack of belief in God, right? Never mind this “self-identify as atheist” nonsense.

    There’s certainly a difference between the percentages of those who are “don’t believe in God or gods” ‘dictionary atheists’ and those who “self-identify as atheist.”

    If you look at one of Hemant Mehta’s sources, he quotes Table 3 for his figure of 0.7% of the US (adult) population having the “Religious Tradition” of atheist, whereas Table 4 tells us 2.3% give the ‘dictionary atheist’ reply of “There is no such thing” to the question, “Regarding the existence of God, do you think . . . ?”

    http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/08/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf

    0.7% self-identify as atheists whereas 2.3% don’t believe in God or gods; I’m not surprised at the marked difference, but would have expected the figures to be the other way around, ie to find dictionary atheists to be far fewer than self-identifying atheists.

    Any thoughts?

  15. TFBW says:

    What qualifies as “atheist” has become very unclear in recent decades. The largest circle is the non-theists, who do not profess belief in God or gods. This is “atheism” in the broadest sense which isn’t obtuse: to expand any further, you have to embrace the “atheist with respect to Zeus” type of idiocy. It does, however, include non-theistic religions, like Buddhism, which we probably want to distinguish from other kinds of atheism.

    There are at least three overlapping but reasonably distinct subsets within the non-theists which we might want to think of as “atheist” in the relevant way: the non-religious (“nones”, sometimes “apatheists”), who simply lack belief in God/gods because they have no religious association (as distinct from adherents of non-theistic religions); strong atheists, who actively assert that God/gods do not exist; and anti-theists, who have no identifiable belief framework other than the conviction that religion (specifically theism and especially monotheism) is evil and/or harmful.

    Even within these groups, however, you aren’t going to get a single answer to most questions regarding atheism. The strong atheists will answer uniformly in the negative regarding the existence of God, but may still not self-identify as atheist because “identify as” transforms it into a tribal affiliation rather than an intellectual position. “Nones” may be reluctant to “identify as” atheists for similar reasons, and will not even commit to a strong answer regarding the existence of God (or else they’d be strong atheists). Anti-theists, being of a more political bent (what with “harm to society” being their major shtick), are more likely to identify as atheist, but are also renowned for avoiding any statement regarding the existence of God which they might have to support with evidence and/or reason. Any of the above might identify as “humanist” over “atheist” simply because “humanist” suggests some form of positive belief system in contrast to atheism’s negative, but by the same token one might repudiate “humanism” while still being an atheist.

    In short, it’s a mess, and you need to tailor the question to the thing you want to measure. I was only half-kidding about the way I suggested the question be phrased. I half-kid about a lot of things.

  16. Ilíon says:

    Moreover, just because the God-haters like to play the “No True Scotsman Fallacy” fallacy, doesn’t mean that the rest of us are obligated to pretend that “Christian” is nothing more than than a contentless label.

  17. Dhay says:

    jim- > Last I saw the US prison population is .02% atheist.

    Jim- has made that claim before, so in expectation that he will keep returning to it as some sort of ‘gotcha’, I thought I’d research the figure and check out the data and calculations the figure is based on. And this time I’ll look at the FFRF’s source, Hemant Mehta’s 16 July 2013 Friendly Atheist blog post entitled “What Percentage of Prisoners are Atheists? It’s a Lot Smaller Than We Ever Imagined.”

    I don’t usually have anything (or much) good to say about Mehta’s posts, but this one was a pleasant surprise: he’s asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons for current information on the religious composition of the prison population – the widely quoted figure of 0.2% was fifteen years old – and received back a data table with a faith-by-faith breakdown; he’s then made calculations and drawn conclusions and discussed them; he’s made his data, calculations and reasoning available in easily understood form for all-comers to check; he’s obviously already carefully considered how reliable his conclusions might or might not be and has included a number of caveats (cautions about the limitations of his conclusions.) In short, it’s an excellent bit of work, and my criticism will be essentially confined to looking more closely at one of his caveats.

    Mehta provides a link to his spreadsheet of data and calculations; I’ve taken that and, for clarity and for your interest, grouped the entries into similars, and added group sub-totals and a final total. (Hopefully the columns will more-or-less align.)

    Atheist and Probably Atheist
    Atheist……………161……………….0.074%
    Science…………….17……………….0.008%
    ……………………..178……………….0.082%

    Not Known
    No Prefer………..37,139………….17.02%
    Unknown………….7,512…………..3.44%
    ………………………44,651………….20.5%

    Christian
    Adventist………….706……………….0.32%
    Catholic……….52,412……………..24.02%
    Ch Christ………..3,342………………1.53%
    Jehovah…………1,514………………0.69%
    Mormon…………..625………………0.29%
    Non-Trin…………..371………………0.17%
    Orthodox………….489………………0.22%
    Pentecost………….146………………0.07%
    Protestant…….62,600…………….28.69%
    ………………….122,205……………..56.0%

    Other Religions
    Amer Ind…….6,865…………………3.15%
    Bahai………………..1…………………0.00%
    Buddhist……..2,179…………………1.00%
    Hindu…………….316…………………0.14%
    Jewish………..3,801…………………1.74%
    Messianic…….1,711…………………0.78%
    Moorish………2,473…………………1.13%
    Muslim………12,106…………………5.55%
    Nation…………3,847…………………1.76%
    Other…………..6,584…………………3.02%
    Pagan………….4,373…………………2.00%
    Rasta…………..4,182…………………1.92%
    Santeria……….2,621…………………1.20%
    Sikh…………………74………………….0.03%
    ………………..51,133………………….23.4%

    ……………….218,167………………….100%

    I note that at 56% of prisoners in 2013, compared with the 71% ** in the US population in 2014, there’s only four-fifths the number of Christians in the US Federal Prison population that you’d expect proportionally.

    (** “[T]he major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped … to 70.6% in 2014.”

    https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/)

    *

    One of Mehta’s caveats needs more thought than Mehta gave it:

    Finally, it’s also important to note that 17% of prisoners reported no religious preference. They’re not necessarily atheists and may even believe in a higher power. We really don’t know. 3% were “Other” and 3.44% were “Unknown.” We can’t assume these people are atheists or Christian or anything else. However, if you combined the Atheist/No Religious Preference groups and lumped them together as “Nones,” as some sociologists do, you’d get 17% of the prison population… I’m not sure that tells you anything useful, though, because of the murkiness of the labels.

    https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2013/07/16/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-its-a-lot-smaller-than-we-ever-imagined/

    Mehta says of the 3.44% “Unknown” that “We can’t assume these people are atheists or Christian or anything else.” Indeed we can’t: and we can say the same of the 17% “No religious preference”, also. Because of the murkiness of the labels we can’t even say whether they do or do not correspond to pollsters’ “Nones”. The “Not Knowns” – my own group label –, ie those of whom it can be said that “We can’t assume these people are atheists or Christian or anything else”, are 20.5% of the US Federal Prison population.

    Let’s perform a thought-experiment: you’ve been sentenced to spend a year or many in claustrophic proximity to convicted criminals, some of whom are violent; you’ve heard the stories about prison life; you’ve already had a taste of it while on remand awaiting trial; you realise you need to fit in and be liked, and not to stand out as different and as “other”; 80% of the prisoners – you don’t know the figure, but you’ve got a good general idea – are openly religious, probably the bulk of the guards also; you realise your early release on parole will depend on a Parole Board comprising mostly Christians. So if you are entering the US Federal Prison system, which box are you going to tick?

    If you are a Protestant you’ll tick the appropriate box, there’s no good reason not to, you know you’ll fit in fine with that self-identification; you might tick “Protestant” as an atheist or a woolly None, for the same reason. Ditto the other mainstream religious denominations. On the other hand if you are an atheist, someone in one of the very least trusted, most marginal, most vilified and “othered” groups in America, it takes bravery, naivety or stupidity to self-identify as “Atheist”: you might declare yourself “Protestant”, you might fudge with “No Preference”, but the last thing you’ll do is declare yourself “Atheist”.

    167 were brave enough (etc) to tick “Atheist”; that’s a mere, a very tiny, 0.07% of the prison population; and it’s Mehta’s headline figure, one that supposedly shows atheists are very under-represented in the prison population.

    But there’s a great big 20% of the prison population that we know nothing about – we can’t assume these people are atheists or Christian or anything else. If we use either of Mehta’s 2013 figures of atheists being 1.6% of the US population (Pew) or 0.7% (ARIS) it needs only a relatively small portion of that 20% to be heads-down atheists for atheists to be not under-represented in the US Federal Prison population, not 1:1 equally represented in the prison population, but over-represented – or perhaps even highly over-represented. Unlike religious people, there are good reasons why atheists would want to be inconspicuous in prisons and hence would want not to self-identify publicly as “Atheist”.

    It’s not that I think I have proved that the proportion of atheists in prisons is much higher than Mehta calculates and that atheists are over-represented; it’s nor that I think that is the case but it’s unproven; – I don’t think either. Nor do I think that Mehta has proved the proportion is 0.07% and that atheists are very much under-represented in prison (167 is just the number who self-identified publicly as “Atheist”.) Based on Mehta’s data I have no way of reaching a reliable figure for the proportion of actual atheists in the prison population.

    And nor has Mehta. Nor the FFRF or jim-. And that is my point.

  18. TFBW says:

    Presumably we’d need to accept all the calculated percentages as minima, and consider the “unknowns” as possible error margin upwards from that (over and above whatever error margin might be inherent in the data). That doesn’t have much of an impact on the Christian figures, since they are large relative to the unknowns: if all the unknowns are Christian, then Christians are still somewhat under-represented relative to the general population. It’s the other way around for the atheists, however: if the unknowns were all atheist, then the atheist figure would be 3.51%, which would land them in significantly over-represented territory.

    The take-away from the data is that Christians are definitely under-represented. Atheists might be, but they might not be: it depends almost entirely on the unknowns. If Christians, as the majority, are under-represented, then something must be over-represented to take up that slack.

    Dhay, do you have relevant figures for “nones” in the general population which might be meaningfully compared to the “no prefer” category? That’s at least large enough to not be overwhelmed by the unknowns.

  19. Dhay says:

    Figures for 2014, from Pew’s “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” — which also reproduces for comparison the 2007 figures which Hemant Mehta quoted in his post — are:
    Unaffiliated……………….22.8% in total
    Atheist……………………….3.1%
    Agnostic…………………….4.0%
    Nothing in particular …..15.8%

    https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

    There’s a misfit between the Federal Prison categories and Pew’s: although there’s a temptation to assume that “No Prefer[ence]” and some item or combination in Pew’s “Unaffiliated” are the same or comparable we have no information as to whether they are, or to what extent. Mehta made a half-hearted attempt to do so (see my ‘caveat’ quote above) — his reluctance to pursue this might (if I am cynical) be due to his lumped-with-atheists figure for possible “Nones” in prison being larger at 17% than the 2007 figure of 16.1% in the US population (which the then latest Pew provided but Mehta chose not to publish) — but Mehta concludes, “I’m not sure that tells you anything useful, though, because of the murkiness of the labels.”

    One misfit is that there’s no “Agnostic” category on the Prison form (or there was, but zero results were suppressed in the database Results Table.)

    So far as I can tell, you have taken the line that only the “Unknown” category at 3.44% represents unknown religious preferences. I lumped “Unknown” (which is probably in practice “Didn’t Answer”) and “No Prefer[ence]” together as “Not Known”, the reason being we don’t know the composition of either. Doing so, the upper limit of variation becomes not 3.5% or so but 20% or so.

  20. TFBW says:

    If we have to treat the “no pref” the same as “unknown”, then it seems to me that the data is only useful for its possible lower bounds; that is, for finding strictly over-represented religions. Neither Christians or atheists are over-represented, so the data says nothing conclusive about them. The conspicuously over-represented religions are concentrated in your “other” category, but even there it’s clearly some, not others. Muslims/Moors, pagans, American Indians and Rastafarians seem to be the outstanding contributors, although it’s hard to say exactly how over-represented some of them are: the pagans (2% of prison), for example, are presumably a subset of the “other faith” category which accounts for 1.5% of the general population.

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