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A new poll suggests that 1 in 20 Americans now call themselves atheists, a fivefold increase from the last time the survey was taken in 2005.
The Religion News Service reports that, to go along with the jump, just 60 percent of Americans now identify as religious, down from 73 percent the last time the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism poll was taken seven years ago. The decline has also been felt in many other countries around the world, including double-digit drops in several European and North American countries.
Here's the question pollsters asked 50,000 or so people from 57 countries and five continents: "Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?"
Overall, the WIN-Gallup International-conducted poll found about 13 percent of respondents worldwide consider themselves atheists, and also showed notable disparities in atheism among faiths.
The stark findings set off some expected resistance, including a theory that the poll shows less a rise in atheists than in people who are willing to identify as one, especially with the rise of popular, outspoken skeptics like Richard Dawkins.* Others questioned the poll's international standards. (The complete poll and methodology are here.)
Sharp as the rise in self-identified American atheists may seem, the poll also notes that the new findings merely bring the United States in line with Saudi Arabia, which also reports 5 percent convinced atheists. China remains the global leader, with 47 percent.
Correction, Aug. 14, 2012: An earlier version of this post misspelled Richard Dawkins' last name.