2009-08-18

7 predictors of belief in God; and the different reasons why “I” and “They” believe

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by Neil Godfrey

Why Darwin Matters contains several sharable nuggets of dot-points findings and here’s one more. In 1998 Frank Sulloway and Michael Shermer surveyed 10,000 Americans about their beliefs in God. Here are the summaries (pp. 34-37):

The seven strongest predictors of belief in God are:

1. being raised in a religious manner
2. parent’s religiosity
3. lower levels of education
4. being female
5. a large family
6. lack of conflict with parents
7. being younger

They also asked respondents whey they believed in God and the top 5 reasons were as follows:

1. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (28.6%)
2. The experience of God in everyday life (20.6%)
3. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (10.3%)
4. The Bible says so (9.8%)
5. Just because / faith / the need to believe something (8.2%)

But an interesting thing happened when they were asked why they thought others believed in God. What had been the mainly rational reasons for each respondent believing (concluding design required a designer, thinking about life experiences) were dropped to last and third places when asked why they thought others believed in God. Others — not themselves — were mainly thought to believe for emotional (nonrational) reasons.  Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (26.3%)

  1. Religious people have been raised to believe in God (22.4%)
  2. The experience of God in everyday life (16.2%)
  3. Just because / faith / the need to believe something (13.0%)
  4. Fear death and the unknown (9.1%)
  5. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (6.0%)

Related post — Why people do not accept evolution

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3 Comments

  • 2009-08-18 19:28:37 GMT+0000 - 19:28 | Permalink

    Indeed !
    Now, how about a list for Atheists — it might help to divide into three groups:
    1) NBA: Natural Born Atheists – have no superstitious leanings
    1a) Never participated in a religious community
    1b) Participated but never felt what others felt and now out
    1c) Part of a religious community
    2) SA: Superstitious Atheists: have superstitious perceptions but don’t act on them !
    2a) Never participated in religion
    2b) Got out of religion
    2c) Still participate in religious community

    But anyway, for type #1, risk factors may thus be:
    1. being raised in a atheist manner
    2. parent’s athiosity
    3. higher levels of education
    4. being male [and probably white]
    5. a small family
    6. conflict with parents
    7. being older

    It seems we are all demographic determined to a large degree. And I’ll bet Atheists were all ready to feel a little smug after reading your stats !
    Smile !

    I must say, I am curious what the risk factors for type # 2 atheists are? Any ideas?

    • 2009-08-18 20:12:56 GMT+0000 - 20:12 | Permalink

      🙂 interesting thoughts, but I dare say that #7 of the Sulloway-Shermer list is enough of a variable for some — to paraphrase Saint Paul and Vardis Fisher:

      When I was young, I thought as a child, believed like a child, but when I became “a bit” older I saw I no longer needed a father figure to cling to . . . .

  • 2009-08-19 03:41:03 GMT+0000 - 03:41 | Permalink

    This is fascinating and very telling. I do believe the first answers about their own reasons are what they want others to see and trust, but when speaking about other people, they reveal their own true inner motivations. Projection, if you will.

    I may have to reblog this!

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