Following on from their teaser last month, Theos have released a much larger poll on the subject of evolution and religion carried out by ComRes. The full report is available here, hopefully the full tables will follow soon.
I’ll come onto the evolution questions in the later post, today I’m going to look at some of the broader questions on religion and belief that the poll asked. I’ve discused polls about belief in god on here before – they can produce quite different answers depending on whether belief in a “vague spiritual power” or similar is lumped in with belief in a personal god, and whether the survey is conducted on the phone or on the internet. In this case ComRes asked people about whether they believed in a god, offering a list of options that included belief in god, and belief in a vague higher power or just “being spiritual”.
17% said they didn’t believe in a god
12% were agnostic
19% believed in some vague higher power or spiritualism, but not in a god
53% believed in god
They then asked about god’s relationship with the universe.
34% believed in a god who created the universe and remains involved with it
8% believed in a deistic view of god who created the universe, then kept out of it
20% believed in an impersonal god, or that the universe itself is god
31% believed god was just an invention of man.
So while 53% say they believe in a god, fewer than that actually believe in a personal god who intervenes in the world (roughly two thirds of those who said they believed in a god chose that option). While only 17% reject the idea of a god entirely, almost a third said “god” is an invention of man (about half of those who believe in vague higher powers or spirituals think god is a human construct).
Part of what we are getting here is probably people who haven’t thought much about it and are giving inconsistent views, but I expect it’s also because people have quite complex views that it’s difficult to fix into boxes. One person who thinks the gods of organised religion are bunkum, but does believes there is “something out there” might tick the box saying he doesn’t believe in god, another might tick the higher power box. There are a lot of overlapping beliefs here.
Turning then to organised religion, 60% said they were Christian. We can already see an issue here – if 60% of the sample are Christian, and only 53% believe in god, we have lots of Christians out there who aren’t Christians in any meaningful sense. In ComRes’s analysis they asked how often people attended church, read the bible and prayed. They classified people who did the first two of these at least several times a month, and prayed at least once a week as “practising Christians”. I think that’s probably rather a tough hurdle for people to pass (one can think, for example, of devout but bedridden believers), but for what it’s worth it equates to 9% of the population being “practising Christians”.
Asked about the bible, 26% of respondents thought it was the divinely inspired word of god, 37% thought it was a valuable guide… but not the word of god. 19% said it was beautiful literative and no one thatn that and 11% thought it was a collection of downright dangerous myths. Asked specifically about Genesis, 18% thought it was a literal account of the creation, 27% thought it was a theological account intended to be about the meaning of the universe, not a literal account, 17% thought it was intended to be a literal account, but has subsequently been proved wrong and 26% thought it was purely an ancient creation myth.
Finally before we come onto the evolution part of the poll, ComRes asked about belief in other issues. 70% of people believed in a soul, 55% believed in heaven, 53% believed in life-after-death, 39% believed in ghosts, 27% believed in re-incarnation, 22% in astrology and 15% in fortune telling.
I’ll put up a second post later in the week dealing with the evolution questions, though the results are all in the Theos report to read yourself. For those looking for political polling, there might or might not be a Populus poll for you tonight – they normally carry it out over the first weekend of the month, so it depends whether they are counting it as the one just gone or the one coming! We are also overdue a ComRes voting intention poll.