According to the analysis of prominent Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby, the percentage of Canadians who are atheists has not changed significantly over the course of his now 30-year, ongoing study of religious belief.
Despite the recent phenomenon of books by prominent atheists on the best sellers lists in both Canada and the United States, there does not appear to be a growing population of atheists in Canada.
In a document published on his website, Bibby finds that the percentage of the Canadian population that can be conclusively categorized as atheist was 7% in 2005, down from 9% in 2000, and up one point from the 6% found in both 1985 and 1975.
“Best-selling books by the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens notwithstanding, Canadians remain remarkably pro-God and pro-organized religion,” says Bibby. “These findings suggest that non-religiousness in its varied forms… has been overestimated. Even among people who have readily been assigned such labels, there appears to be considerable latent religious life.”
Bertrand Russell claimed that “The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in the Christian religion,” but according to Bibby’s findings a higher level of education does not necessarily indicate a person is more likely to be an atheist, contrary to the common assertion of prominent atheists. The proportion of atheists was actually found to be marginally higher among those with less than a high school education than among those with degrees.
These findings might indicate that what is fueling the sales of atheist works is curiosity by the currently religious. So it will be of some interest, and an indicator of influence, to see whether the study finds a rise in the proportion of atheists due to the current popularity of these books.