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Independent survey results

1.   In the 2008 Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, 23% of respondents said that they did not believe in a god, while 6% offered no opinion, which actually means the figure is 25% when properly adjusted.  For respondents under the age of 25, this figure was 36%, or 39% of those who answered the question.  This figure presumably would not include deists, who believe the universe to be the intentional creation of an intelligent being, but who reject religion on the grounds that it is a creation of man.

2.  In 2010, a smaller survey of 420 Canadians by Carleton University Survey Centre and the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies found 20% said they don’t believe in a “personal God” but “do believe in a higher power”, 12% adopted the classic agnostic position and said they “don’t know whether there is a God and don’t believe there is a way to find out”, and 7% said no god exists.  That would make a total of 39% with no religion.

3.   Zuckerman, Phil. “Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns”, chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, ed. by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (2005).  Some of this data is available here: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

The numbers of “Atheist/Agnostic/Nonbeliever in God” is given at between 18 – 30%

There are lengthy sections from his book available here http://atheism.110mb.com/ where Zuckerman explains:

Guth and Fraser (2001) found that 28% of Canadians “show no evidence of religious salience or activity.” According to Norris and Inglehart (2004), 22% of those in Canada do not believe in God. According to Bibby (2002), when asked “Do you believe that God exists?” 6% of Canadians answered “No, I definitely do not” and another 13% answered, “No, I don’t think so,” for a total of 19% being classified as either atheist or agnostic. According to Gallup and Lindsay (1999:121), 30% of Canadians do not believe in God or a “Higher Power.”

These are the references he’s citing:

Guth, James and Cleveland Fraser. 2001. “Religion and Partisanship in Canada.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40(1):51-64.

Norris, Pippa and Ronald Inglehart. 2004.  Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bibby, Reginald. 2002. Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada. Toronto, Canada: Stoddart Publishing Company. Gallup, George and Michael Lindsay. 1999. Surveying the Religious Landscape. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing.

All these surveys are consistent.  Atheists and agnostics in Canada account for between 19% to 25%, or between 6 and 8 million Canadians.

However, when we approached the Census Consultation Team at Statistics Canada about this matter last year, we received the following response from Dale Johnston, Senior Adviser, Census Communications:

The question is open-ended and asks “What is this person’s religion?” Respondents can write in the box the name of a denomination or religious affiliation that best applies to them, including atheist or agnostic. They can also check the response for no religion.

In the 2001 Census, 17,810 individuals indicated that they were agnostic while 18,605 said atheist.

Mr. Johnston defended the accuracy of the question, despite the fact that the Statistic Canada census found a mere 36,415 atheist and agnostic Canadians, which, extrapolating for year differences in the various censuses and surveys, is still off by a factor of over 100!  Statistics Canada simply fails to grasp the fatal inaccuracy and hence irrelevance of their religion question.

See Quebec – a highly religious province?

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