The Church of England have released a poll they claim shows the vast majority of people believe in the power of prayer, when it does no such thing. There is nothing at all wrong with ICM’s actual polling, which asks people “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, What would it be for?” (emphasis is mine). A perfectly reasonable question, asking people what they would pray for, if they were the sort of person who did pray.

However, the Church of England have gone rather rogue in interpreting the results, deciding that everyone who gave an answer to ICM’s hypothetical question of what people would pray for if they prayed must therefore believe in prayer – putting out a press release claiming that “Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer”. The Telegraph has gone on a similar flight of fancy, declaring “Six out of seven people still believe that prayers can be answered despite a dramatic drop in formal religious observance, a study has found.”

In a population where only around half of people believe in a god at all, any claim that 80% of people believe prayer works should ring alarm bells anyway. For the record the last poll I can find that actually asked whether people believed that prayer worked was by YouGov for the Sun in 2012. That found 31% of people believed that prayer worked in some way (that is they thought prayers were heard by God, or were physically answered in some other way), compared to 45% who did not and 25% who weren’t sure.

Hat tip to Alex Hern at the New Statesman for spotting it – his own mockery is here.

Meanwhile this morning’s YouGov poll for the Sun had topline figures of CON 30%, LAB 41%, LDEM 13%, UKIP 11%. The thirteen points for the Liberal Democrats is the highest that YouGov have shown them since November 2010. While all the usual caveats about individual polls apply, it is indicitative of a broader underlying trend – since the end of last year there has been a definite uptick in levels of Lib Dem support in YouGov’s daily polling. Last autumn YouGov were typically showing them at 8-10%, in recent weeks they have typically been showing them at around 11-12%.

317 Responses to “No, 80% of people do NOT “believe in prayer””

1 2 3 7
  1. Surely this is something that, however good the methodology, we can confidently designate a voodoo poll [smiley thing]?

    There are two further problems. Firstly most people are probably using “pray for” in its common, metaphorical, meaning rather than literally. So it’s just a synonym of “hope for”. Secondly there may be a smaller group who don’t believe in prayer, but do believe in the placebo effect and see praying as a delivery mechanism for it.

  2. I make a lame pun on the word pray & next thing we know there’s a poll about it. ;-)

  3. Anthony,

    I pray your right!


  4. On the last thread, Peter Cairns was asking for the love of a deity, (I presume that is a prayer) but I must admit, that is probably all that is left him when discussing the EU with Lefty L. (smiley, grin even)

  5. Would the new proposed press controls require the newspapers to print a front page retraction about the prayer misinformation (lie?), citing AW’s article above.

    Fame at last in the offing Anthony (if not already achieved)!

  6. I have every faith that my constant praying to a higher power that Villa will somehow avoid relegation this year will not fall on deaf ears.

    Mind you, there a lot of Birmingham City supporters praying for the opposite scenario and, come May, we shall find out who God has been listening to! He can’t answer both prayers, that’s for sure!

  7. Then again only 14% stated that they would never pray for anything.

    Perhaps those who have taken a foreign holiday in the last three years (62%) could have been asked whether they might pray in the event that their plane was about to crash.

    On the subject of a “front page retraction” perhaps the site administrator could think about a tweak to the auto-mod system, so that posts moderated in error “pop out” where people can read them – not buried a few pages back?

  8. I think I prefer bloody awful smilies to people continually closing their posts with an in-depth, at length, totally unnecessary description of their facial expression whilst writing. Which won’t even be true.

    PLEASE stop it Howard.

  9. I see some get very excited about a one point LD lift in last night’s YG poll. Perhaps we need just a few more like that one before I start to get enthused. Still, better than a kick in the teeth, ( the story since June 2010) followed by a kick in the ribs (Student fees vote).

    Btw, anyone know for certain if the incoming 2015 Labour Government will immediately reverse this dastardly act against the student population? (Wry chuckle).

  10. Too late Paul, and I will if AW tells me too (or if I change my mind anyway). (knowing wink).

  11. ‘to’ not ‘too’ (unless correcting obvious typos is also not on the PC menu).

  12. There goes UKBA, following BIA and IND into the dustbin of history.

  13. I have just read that the biggest source of direct foreign investment in China is the British virgin islands, wtf! I haven’t had time to check what seems to be an insane stat but the mind boggles

  14. @Howard
    I think that at the time, Ed Miliband said that Labour would reduce them to £6,000.

  15. @Richard In Norway

    Only if you define “direct investment” as “the money came from an entity resident for tax purposes in the British Virgin Islands”. It’s quite common knowledge that a lot of the remaining tax havens are British Dependencies.

  16. If all the time spent in praying was spent doing something that actually benefited other people, actually existing here on earth, then the workd would be a better place.

    The efficacy of prayer was exemplified by the guy from Liverpool who had his head cut off in Iraq, after multiple prayers from all religions. Assuming “god” heard any of them I can only assume he thought “bugger that – its going straight to video; I’m not missing that.”

    Had the poor man been set free we would have been told that “god entered the captors hearts”. When he was murdered I assume the response is “he works in mysterious ways” – and you can say that again.

  17. @Nick P

    The rational seems to be “The UKBA avoided oversight, so obviously the reason for all the problems has been their organisation as an agency. Bringing them back into direct government control will improve things.”

    I’m not all together sure the world actually works that way.

  18. @Howard – it looks like we can put to bed yesterday’s debate about whether the Dutch finance ministers statement that spooked the markets was a dodgy translation or not. Clearly it wasn’t, if today’s reports are to be believed. An EU Commission spokesman has confirmed that future bailouts could include measures to take part of large depositors holdings from them.

    This appears to clear up yesterdays confusion, and I’m sure will make foreign investors in European banks supremely confident that they have made the right call with their money.

    Effectively the Commission is signalling that at the next whiff of trouble anywhere in the EU banking system, anyone with larger deposits should bail out at the earliest opportunity and take measures to protect their wealth. The Americans are privately saying this is daft (I suspect they are using slightly more colourful language than that) and markets are now highly alert to this prospect.

    While I personally have no problem with wealthy people paying for the cost of austerity, to do it in this way is vaguely mad, albeit completely in keeping with the EU and EZ decision makers abilities to grasp the situation they are in.

    Once again, they have turned a relatively unimportant local issue into one of global significance, and have further undermined trust in the European banking sector. As plenty of people will point out (step forward @Richard in Norway) there is no such thing as ‘money’ – only the confidence to hold a belief in money. The EZ leadership seem to be engaged in an experiment to test just how far that confidence can be stretched.

  19. @Alec

    It is the logical end result of “austerity” politics. Why should the government pay to insure people’s bank accounts, they should take out insurance of their own and pay their own way.

  20. I find it rather sad that the religious amongst us find it necessary to believe that the vast majority of us need the concept of prayer and belief although we ourselves don’t know it or recognise it. Being ex-religious myself (I was brought up an Anglo-Catholic, being the son of a clergyman) I know the difference between what I did then and what I do now when “praying”. Then it involved percieved communication with a deity. Now, it is more akin to “uttering a mutter” at times of exasperation, or desire for an outcome overcoming expectation. Indeed, what I do now is more akin to uttering the mantra “Let the Force be with me” as in the film Star Wars, whatever that is aimed at, rather than praying to a deity for an outcome. Rolling one’s eyes heavenward to invoke Lady Luck’s intervention is not what the religious would regard as prayer I would guess – but I suspect it is what the vast majority meant when they said they pray for things?

  21. The OBR has given evidence to the Treasury committee that, in their view, the new housing loan guarantee scheme will push up house prices in the short term and not lead to any significant increase in building in the medium and longer term.

    With the Telegraph also reporting anecdotal evidence of lots of enquiries to estate agents from wealthy clients looking to use the scheme to invest in more property, we seem to be getting the start of an idea that the policy is potentially going to bomb.

    From The march of the makers to a government engineered housing boom, inside two years. Maybe that’s what they meant when they said they would be ‘transformational’.

  22. @ Richard iN

    “I have just read that the biggest source of direct foreign investment in China is the British virgin islands, wtf! I haven’t had time to check what seems to be an insane stat but the mind boggles”

    Not really. It’s Chinese money flowing to the BVI and then reinvested to China. Tax game…

  23. Of course, the trouble with religious people is that they tend to have a holier-than-thou attitude towards the rest of us.

    BOOM-BOOM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. This isn’t just an odd poll but it shows an odd attitude to prayer.

    Most religious people who pray don’t pray for things the way kids do when they blow out candles on a Birthday cake.

    They pray for spiritual things, compassion, strength, virtue, understanding, not a win on the lottery.

    A few years before my son died he went to Lourdes.

    Just before he left he said;

    “I am not going looking for a miracle, to make this go away I am going to pray for the strength to get through it and to accept whats going to happen”.

    If all prayer does for many is help them face the inevitable darkness, why scoff at it.


  25. “In a population where only around half of people believe in a god at all, any claim that 80% of people believe prayer works should ring alarm bells anyway.”

    Not as strange as it sounds, really. When things get desperate, well, as Winston Churchill said “There are times when all men pray.” (men as in mankind not as in ‘not women’ – just for the picky amongst us)

  26. peter

    “Prayer” can be internalised and a way of focusing inwards and yes, gaining strength and I believe we all do that without putting a name to the thought process involved. I’m quite sure it can make peiole feel better, as can religion – or atheism come to that.

    What I don’t believe there is the remotest evidence for is that prayer is being listened to and acted upon by some mythical god.

  27. Peter Cairns 3.27

    Very good illustration of prayer; this idea that there can’t be a God, or at least if there is I hate Him, because I have a share in the sufferings of humanity, is a strange one.

    I have known many Christians on beds of sickness, deeply suffering, yet radiant in their faith and strengthened by ongoing prayer. Not something you can explain but its power can’t be denied by an unprejudiced witness. It doesn’t mean all is plain sailing and that there aren’t inward struggles to overcome when suffering like this, but the effect of prayer is evidenced by the clear change and peace with them.

    The idea by some that prayer is to achieve my own selfish ends is also a strange one.

  28. Paul

    The prayers are certainly listened to alright. I agree that mythology has nothing to do with it though. In fact, mythology and Christianity are diametrically opposed so you are quite right there.

  29. @”If all prayer does for many is help them face the inevitable darkness, why scoff at it.”

    Why scoff at it at all?

    If people of faith believe in the purpose & power prayer , and it brings them comfort-what business is it of anyone else ?

    Prayer is a highly personal & private thing. I don’t think it is possible to characterise it in a simple way-particularly if it means nothing to you.

    All that is required is to respect it.

  30. I agree with Peter on prayer. My wife is a deeply religious woman but she certainly does not pray for a win on the lottery or anything equivalent. This is as well for everyone as one of our sons is a scientist and while we hope against hope that his hypotheses work out an effective prayer that they work when they otherwise wouldn’t might have incalculable effects on the laws of nature.

  31. May moves the ” UK Backlog Agency “functions from “Agency” status to direct ministerial control.

  32. It always strikes that those who pour scorn on religion and the worship of god, pursue that anti god message with the fervour of a religious zealot so sure is there utter belief.
    It would seem not all zealots need a god.

  33. @ Colin

    All that is required is to respect it [prayer].
    I respect prayer but I think this polling about it invites ridicule. It seems to ask people to consider prayer as something similar to rubbing the genie’s lamp & making a wish.

  34. I have a friend who I describe as an ‘evangelical aethiest’. I fully expect to open my door to find him on the door stop saying ‘There is no God’

    Personally I do not have faith but I find it very uplifting that others do.

  35. When my grandson was in an incubator, I didn’t pray to God instead I prayed to my dead grandparents who were firm believers and basically asked them to ‘have a word’ it obviously worked as the baby got better the next day.

  36. Prayer and respect. Yes, we must all respect an individual’s right to pray – and we do witness some extraordinary effects of faith through prayer in many people. I have seen it many times.
    However, I find it a rather sad “clutching at straws” when the Church makes outlandish claims about the proportion of the population that has faith based on a huge number of people “making a non-religious wish” which culturally for histroical reasons they call “praying”- for in the vast majority of cases that is all it is.
    It reminds me of a survey the C of E did some years ago now, the results of which horrified them. They found that the overwhelming majority of young people didn’t need religion of any kind in their lives in order to feel “complete”, The Church had expetected the opposite – that the results would show a gaping hole in peoples’ lives where “God should be”. It was a profound shock to a number of bishops I knew, and at the time depressed a goodly number of them. For years they had been labouring under a mistaken belief that the majority were just apathetic about organised religion and all they need do is make the C of E more attractive. What they found was that they were a faith minority in a secular society. Not a comfortable outcome.
    After that, they choose to misinterpret polls in a sad attempt to convince themselves outherwise from what in their heart of hearts they know. ie They are a dwindling band losing influence year on year in an increasingly secular society.

  37. who knows

    “they are listened to alright”

    Who by, how do you know and how can you prove it?


  38. May moves the ” UK Backlog Agency “functions from “Agency” status to direct ministerial control.
    Mrs May is definitely on manoeuvres. And she’s bet the house on success in cracking down on immigration & her getting a lot of personal credit for it.

  39. @ couper2802

    Calling on the spirits of your ancestors for help is an older custom than praying to God; some would argue that it is more effective too.

  40. The state, the media etc “respect” religion all the time. They seem to find it more difficult however with Druids, and others, who they refer to as cults – although the evidence for truth in any of them is equally absent.

    The funny thing is that religion partly validates itself with the length of its existence whilst at the same time denying just how long the world really HAS been around.

    A couple of thousand years is a pinprick in time.

    However since the only proof that would convince anyone, eve,r would have to be positive I suppose it’s set to continue for a very long time yet…….

  41. I shall go all Ed Mili now……

    Why do I dislike religion?

    Because it takes us away from a search for real truth – which, as David Attenborough, Brian Cox and others shows us, is far more astonishing and wonderful than anything one could make up.

    I am a firm believer that, as Shakespeare wrote, “There are more thing in heaven and earth Horatio” but that does not lead me to a belief system which has no evidential base and is therefore subject to more and more variants by its various followers, some of whom appear to be genuinely deranged and evil people.

  42. “Of course, the trouble with religious people is that they tend to have a holier-than-thou attitude towards the rest of us.”
    I’m not going to comment on prayey but I would have to say it does seem that your (paulcroft) comment as to the ‘holier than thou’ atitude is a tad hypocritical as your comments so far seem arrogant. I would understand where you were coming from if it wasn’t for your aetheism-better-than-all atitude.

  43. Some people seek solace in prayers but others in songs eg Boris Johnson said the popular song by the late Jamaican reggae icon, especially the chorus: “don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be all right”, helped him when dealing with the stresses of the Olympics. Today he was serenading the journalists with the same song –

  44. Howard/Peter Cairns.

    Oh I am FAR from being a Eurosceptic. I am a very strong supporter of the European project.

    I do however, take issue with Europe being driven down a very particular path of economic strategy.

    I take issue with the stupidity of policy makers and individual Governments that rushed into the Euro without a plan for the necessary fiscal management beyond agreed limits that were torn up the moment it suited Germany to do so.

    I take issue with the fact that such a half-finished project was inevitably going to leave a deficit of democratic accountability, in that, in a crisis, it was inevitable that pressure would be brought to bear on countries to do the thing that is in the interests of the EZ as a whole rather than in the interests of the country itself – meaning that the Electorate of that country would effectively be disenfranchised over the crucial decisions. We see that at the moment, with closed door agreements between EZ policymakers and Cypriot central bankers with the connivance of politicians, resulting in an outcome that is clearly in the best interests of the EZ, but that precludes the possibility of the country taking a perfectly legitimate way out of their current abyss.

    On a side issue, I take issue with policy being imposed on the EZ by people like Rehn whose approach is based more on faith and certainty than evidence, and who considers academic debate about the efficacy of his approach to be “unhelpful”. But that is more a personality issue than a systemic problem.

    Any how. It doesn’t do any favours to civilised, intelligent debate to pigeonhole people into “Thoughtful rational” on one side and “Barking Mad Eurosceptics who see threats to democracy behind Brussels’s every move” on the other.

  45. Lizh

    Just visited the link and it has driven me to pray that I never do so again.

    Truly frightening experience.

  46. RE: Prayer – Get them to answer as the lottery numbers are being announced.

  47. I understand that the EU finance ministers belief fervently in prayer.

  48. Reginald

    It was a joke – a play on the phrase which is usually used NON-religiously and the fact the religious people obviously do feel holier than non-religious ones ‘cos they are.

    It was funnier without the tortured explanation but I did think my rather brilliant Basil Brush “BOOM BOOM!!!!!” impersonation woud be a clue as to humorous, rather than “arrogant” intent.

  49. Paulcroft
    I am not referring to that specific blog, I was reffering to all your blogs on the subject. Jokes are great things. (Perhaps not at the expense of good citizenship.)

  50. Dijsselbloem is lapsed catholic.

    By the way the word he used was ‘blueprint’ (blauwdruk), so not a million miles from template except that the former is stronger than the latter, since it is not empty of content!!

    I don’t know whether you sceptics realise this, but D is probably a very popular man now throughout northern Europe. He is also being described in Dutch and German newspapers of ‘telling it like it is’, some deprecating this and saying it is the job of a banker to lie and others saying that is what we trying to get away from (over here think of Alistair Darling).

    By the way Lefty, you addressed Peter and me in your post, but it’s only Peter who debates this EU stuff with you (dead horse flogger). I just view the political side effects and I predict they will be favourable to D in the long term. I’ll report back if I see any polling on this on the mainland.

    I cannot imagine what the view of voters here would be, no view I would predict.

1 2 3 7