Last week I posted a survey encouraging readers to reveal their religiosity. I was curious about the demographic makeup of our readership after reading a number of comments on religion over the past few weeks. Rather than a simple poll, I thought I would add a small variation to capture an extra level of nuance. I had all sorts of respondents from strong atheists to animists, pagans, Catholics, a Discordian and a “technoshamanistic gnostic buddhist monist”. Below I will describe the questions and reveal the results.
The survey is split into two questions: religious belief and religious activity. For the first question I used the Spectrum of theistic probability, which some of you might recognize is from biologist Richard Dawkins. I will repost the questions for those that did not see the survey. The parts in bold text are categories that did not appear in the original survey:
Where do you stand on the probability of God’s existence?
1) Strong theist. 100 percent possibility of God.
In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’
2) Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist.
‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’
3) Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism.
‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’
4) Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic.
‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’
5) Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism.
‘I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’
6) Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist.
‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’
7) Strong atheist.
‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung ‘knows’ there is one.’
I posted these questions without labels to avoid sociolinguistic bias. (Sidenote: If anyone wants to learn more about these positions, and why some are more tenable than others, I highly recommend Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, Chapter 2: The God Hypothesis, section: The Poverty of Agnosticism). In the analysis below I will use slightly modified terms: Theist, Weak Theist, Strict Agnostic, Weak Atheist and Atheist. For the purposes of this survey I am ignoring any distinction between theism and deism (this was brought up in some comments). I am simply looking for belief in a supernatural force v. unbelief. Another term brought up in the comments was “faith”. The term is irrelevant in this context. If you “have faith” then you should choose 1.
For the second question I tried to capture the amount of participation in religious functions. There is a difference between belief in religious dogma and belief in religious institutions. I wanted to capture a segment of the “religious” community that for one reason or another do not have a religious outlook on nature, but feel that religious institutions can nonetheless provide some positive benefit to society or their own lives. The philosopher Dan Dennett says these people have “belief in belief”. Here are the options:
A) I am an ACTIVE member of my religious community
I go to church/synagogue/mosque regularly, I participate in rituals such as praying and fasting.
B) I am an INACTIVE member of my religious community
I go to church/synagogue/mosque every once in a while, during important religious days.
C) I have no religious community
I prefer sitting at home reading Carl Sagan (or ComingAnarchy.com for that matter!)
Some people pointed out my islamo-judeo-christo-centrict terminology. At the expense of lengthy explanations, I tried to make the questions short (and thus, the response time short). Being that most of our readers are from “the West”, and the complete lack of confused comments, I think most respondents understood what I meant. Jewish identity was also asked about in the commentary. I think that was captured well enough in the three options. If you are an ethnic Jew, who only attends the occasional Bar or Bat Mitzvah, then you would be a C.
Obviously, with just two questions we cannot capture every nuance, but I thought we could cast light on the variety of positions on religion. From that starting point, we could debate the validity of one position or another. Now, onto the results.
The survey was posted for one week. The survey was made as short as possible to get the most respondents. In total there were 212 respondents, most of them within the first 24 hours of posting. Since we have many more readers than that it can be assumed that the respondents were self-selecting (ie. not a random selection of the readership) and the totals presented below cannot be considered representative of the CA readership as a whole.
As mentioned above, I have broken down the seven categories presented above into five categories: Theist, Weak Theist, Strict Agnostic, Weak Atheist and Atheist.
First, let us examine the results of each section (Belief and Activity):
* 38% of respondents have (some) religious belief
* 58% of respondents do not
* 4% of respondents remained strictly in the middle
* 14% are active in their religious community
* 26% only show up for the big days
* 60% do not identify with a religious community
Respondents to our survey tend to be non-religious. A thumbnail sketch would suggest it is a 60-40 split for both religious belief and activity. This is closer than I thought since much of the readership is American (where religionists outnumber the irreligious nearly 6 to 1).
If we examine the relationship between the two variables we find a more nuanced story. The following three graphs show the respondents grouped as practitioners of religion — namely those who are active or inactive, and those who do not identify with a religious community:
Unsurprisingly an overwhelming amount of religious practitioners are theists (left chart). However, there is 10% that go despite their own atheism (“belief in belief”?). Looking at the right-most chart, it is also unsurprising to see that 85% of those that do not identify with a religious community were atheist or agnostic. It is flattering to see that some (17%) god-fearing readers preferred Coming Anarchy over church (wot wot!). The middle chart (Inactive) is the most complex. Of the people that are only occasionally going to church, a combined 63% are theists and a whopping 34% are atheists. In real terms, of the 123 self-proclaimed atheists surveyed, 3 are active and 19 are periodic practitioners of religion (for a total of 18%). That is a surprising proportion of “belief in belief” (with a couple of “belief in my marriage” thrown in).
Finally, a table of all responses for you to peruse:
My original reason for posting the survey was my curiosity over the lack of theist response in Curzon’s origins of religion post. The 60-40 split seems to indicate that theistic readers were not willing to participate in that discussion for one reason or another. I think this data somewhat confirms my hunch.
Furthermore, I also took the chance to find out how many have “belief in belief”. I was surprised to see almost 1 in 5 self-proclaimed atheists feel that religious institutions have something to offer. This is especially surprising when 1 in 4 theists thought the opposite. As Curzon alluded to in his comment, there is a debate about institutionalism that needs to be had. Unlike him I think it is related to belief because of how those institutions can be used to influence policy in negative ways and provide political cover for extremists. But, I digress, and shall leave that discussion for another post.