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I’m working on a chapter that gives a snapshot of atheism today — numbers, issues, activities, groups.

I start with a bit about how hard it is to get useful data on nonbelievers. First, there’s the stigma, which means many or most nonbelievers will not fess up when asked by a pollster. Then there are false negatives — if I say “Unitarian,” I’ll usually be counted as Christian, even though the majority of Unitarian Universalists are nontheistic of one stripe or another. And what about Buddhists, most of whom are also nontheistic? Are secular humanistic Jews counted as religious Jews by the poll? Since “Jewish” is usually a single category, yes. There’s also the form of the question, which varies from country to country, year to year, and poll to poll. Some ask about religious identity and others about religious belief. As the cultural Catholics of Quebec will tell you, ce n’est pas la même chose! And is the category “atheist” or “nonreligious” or “none”?

Apples and oranges and pears, oh my.

So although we have a pretty solid idea how many Mormons and Muslims and Methodists there are in the world, counting nonbelievers is like counting beads of mercury. While wearing plastic mittens. In the rain.

The best current guess puts people who do not believe in a supernatural God at around 16 percent of the world’s population – roughly 1.1 billion.

Ding! Have a nice weekend, folks.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.