Humanists question Baylor University study on American belief

In a major “gloves off” press release this week the Council for Secular Humanism gave a scathing critique of last year’s Baylor University Religion Survey of 2008, recently published in a book What Americans Really Believe (Baylor University Press, 2008).  The Council for Secular Humanism argues that the Baylor study chose to neglect or creatively interpret date from Gallup, Harris, and Pew other sources that point to belief in a personal God declining in America and the rise of secularism:

* Numerous Gallup studies show that firm disbelief in God or a universal spirit has risen fourfold since the 1940s. Baylor researchers misinterpreted data from just two early Gallup polls, then combined them with data from a handful of other studies, creating an inaccurate impression that unbelief has held steady for more than 60 years.
* Respected studies from Gallup, Pew, CBS, the BBC, and others find that between 10 and 13 percent of Americans either reject or doubt God’s existence. Two recent Harris Poll studies that used special methods to help unbelievers identify themselves found an unprecedented 21 percent of Americans at least doubting God’s existence. The Baylor team makes no mention of this data and relies on significantly lower figures.
* Data from the Pew Center, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), and the Harris Poll now show that America is entering into the same process of secularization that previously occurred in other Western countries. Baylor researchers disregard this data and continue to maintain — inaccurately — that “faith American style” is holding its own.

One thought on “Humanists question Baylor University study on American belief

  1. I’m not surprised; it’s a very self-serving study. As a Baylor Alum ’92, I read an article about it in the alumni magazine.

    Funny thing, though: It was at Baylor I began my path away from theism. A combination of the New Testament and Old Testament classes (required to complete a degree at Baylor) actually inspired a great deal of my doubt in the Bible, original sin, and organized religion. The seeds of this doubt were sown studying parallel creation/flood myths, the progression of prophets fighting the influence of dieties from other cultures, the minute differences between the four gospels, the mysterious Q source and apocrypha, and the conflict between Paul and Peter. I may also have been influenced by some of my studies in literature and the educational psychology that leans toward secular humanism.

    With the caveat that I think I’m a unique case and don’t speak for Baylorites in general, I found myself leaving the Catholic church where I was catechism teacher and cantor. I began exploring the heresies that the Church fought over centuries in order to remain universal, maintain power centrally, and spread its mission. I find myself somewhat sympathetic to the reasons behind calling a thought heresy, but not at the cost of so many lives and rich traditions.

    I was unchurched for a long time. I found Pathways because I wanted to socialize my kids in an environment that explores many sources but has a healthy attitude about science (after being completely turned off by a Baptist Bible Boot Camp), and I love Pathways’ SpiritPlay curriculum, where I’m teaching now. Bonus, I feel very much at home in the adult groups at Pathways, a belongingness I hadn’t felt in other places I’d visited.

    I really enjoyed your sermon on Brigid, which I saw online, and I’m sorry I was too sick to attend services Sunday (definitely feeling those blahs). Looking forward to more in a similar vein!


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