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.

15 Responses to “ComRes poll on religion and evolution – part 1”

  1. Mmm, as a pretty committed mainstream Christian I know what I think about most of the issues covered in this survey – but I’m not sure I would easily answer “yes” or” no” to maostof the options people were apparently presented with – and I wouldn’t want to say “don’t know” when I think I do!

    I’d have given a pretty patchy response to these questions given the options apparently offered – but is asked if I belieived in the Nicean Creed – a straightforward and traditional statement of catholic (in the broadest sense and certainly including anglican) belief – I’d happily have just said “yes”.

  2. A very complex subject.

    One wonders whether it is possible to distil attitudes to it an any meaningfull way by box ticking.

  3. What might be meaningful, despite the problems would be the same question asked over a long period. Is belief in this or that declining at a rate greater or slower than the belief in astrology?

  4. On a related subject….

    The humanists claim in their recent bus advertising campain, claimed that there is “probably” no God. This caused outrage amongst some religious groups and complaints of advertising designed to mislead and offend.

    Whereas the Christian Party is now running a counter campaign claiming that there is “definitely” a God – Surely the use of the word “definitely” should be backed up with some kind of proof, and is more out of step with advertising standards than its forerunner.

  5. It seems that a lot of people believe in a lot of silly things. It’s scary to consider that roughly two out of ever five people believe in ghosts.

  6. The ghosts do rather well actually!. A huge lead over reincarnation and astrology!

    If we compare Comres’ two latest polls, many more people believe in ghosts than are currently considering voting Labour at the next election, and the Tories can hardsly afford to be complacent with only a single-figure lead!

  7. Matt,

    But then, how many people would know the Nicene Creed (or indeed about the council of Nicea, especially with the growing evangelical community)? And how many of them would be put off with believing in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (I would imagine plenty of the “non-denominationals”).

    I actually quite like the questions regarding God, but not those regarding the Bible, there are simply too many different interpretations and grey areas.

    But my greatest worry will be on how questions regarding Intelligent Design and Creationism are phrased. There is a good deal of ignorance about what either of those concepts are, especially the former (most people having failed to read, through no fault of their own, the judgement in Kitzmiller vs Dover which rightly equated the two.)

    Oh well, we can wait and see.


  8. A couple of years ago The Pope gave a speech about extending human boundaries of reason, and theology’s involvement in that.

    He was widely castigated for enticing anger amongst people who hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.

    Hey-ho. Most church-goers recognise that catholic means universal in the context of the creed – that’s why it’s included in anglican services.

  9. One thing I will be interested in in the detailed figures is the percentages who profess belief in other religions – Islam, Hinduism etc.

    Generally, I think that all beliefs that have stood the test of time have some element of truth to them – even astrology. For instance anyone who has worked with the mentally ill will know that the moon affects human moods, quite drastically in some cases.

  10. Pete B,

    “For instance anyone who has worked with the mentally ill will know that the moon affects human moods”

    There is absolutely no scientific basis for any claim that the moon effects human behaviour, despite numerous studies on the issue.

    Many people, with some form of mental health issue, claim that the moon effects them and do react to it, but that is a very different thing.


  11. Peter Cairns

    Well here’s one study that shows a connection:

  12. It confirms the view that a lot of British people are Christians in a kind of wishy washy cultural sense while being agnostic or aethiest at the same time.

  13. Pete B,

    and the conclusion was;


    We can speculate neither as to what the nature of these moon-related problems may be, nor as to the mechanisms underpinning such behaviour.

    However, we have confirmed that it does not seem to be related to anxiety and depression.”

    As i said, people with some conditions may feel the moon has an effect, but that is not the same as the moon causing their condition.

    Some people are almost paranoid about spiders, but that hardly means that spiders are out to get them…..


  14. Pete

    ..”the moon affects human moods”.. Indeed ! That is the origin of the term “Lunatics” – seriuosly.

    Having looked at the detailed questions included in this survey I found myself debating which of the alternatives offerd “most closely” reflected my views.

    Given the detail and nuances in the questions, with several topics approached from different angles, we should not be surprised that some of the responses are apparently contradictory. Bear in mind that one is not normally given the option of going back several questions to amend an answer having come across the same topic tackled slightly differently later on.

    Overall the Theos survey is worthy, especially if taken in the round, but the danger is if people take a single question out of context and try to draw major conclusions from it. (The debate we had on the BBC report re Muslims and Hindus) .

    The biggest problem is the extent of ignorance, and this is touched on in this report. Perhaps if the report were widely publicised it might actually provoke some serious thinking out there.

  15. Clearly the whole question of religion is a lot more complex than often pretended. We had a very good dialogue about some of these issues at the Royal Society on Monday.