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zannajune's avatar

What percentage of the population believes in God?

Asked by zannajune (1154points) October 2nd, 2010

I just watched the movie Contact in which a character claims that 95% of the world’s population believes in God. But the movie was made in 1997 so I want to see if anyone has a more recent statistic.

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43 Answers

Sarcasm's avatar

This may give you an idea
You have to decide what your criteria is. Do you only want the Christian believers? Do you include Islam?
Are polytheistic religions included? How about the ones that believe in supernatural powers, but not necessarily a supernatural being?

zannajune's avatar

I was thinking a belief in any God, not just Christians. Thanks for the link.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

A depressingly high one.

poisonedantidote's avatar

latest statistics i had a look at said 89% global, that was about 6 or 7 months ago. but really, these kinds of statistics are useless. it could be 70% or 98% in reality.

Also, these kinds of statistics do strange things at times. like assume certain people believe in a god when in reality they dont.

you just have to come to your own conclusion. the way i look at it is like this:

-everywhere i go online i see atheists and agnostics all over the place, be it spanish sites or english speaking.

-most churches i see sit empty week after week.

-certain organizations like catholics and mormons will never really let you leave. and even if you do there is a good chance they will still count you.

-most religions count babies and children as members, even if their parents are just forcing them to be there, and if they grow up to be atheists or agnostics they still count them

-some people belong to one religion for a while, then convert to another, with both religions counting them as a member, thus bulking up the figures all round.

-china has a lot of people, and most of china is atheist.

-there are religions like scientology and buddhism that are atheistic, and could very well be counted as believers by some stats

-the younger generation seems to be more secular, old people tend to be believers, and old people die every day.

personally, i think about 50% to 60% believe, with another 10% to 15% saying they do believe when asked, just because they think its the right thing to say, even if they only believe as much as they believe a broken mirror is 7 years bad luck.

ragingloli's avatar

Unless the number is 0, the answer is: “Too many.”

MissA's avatar

I don’t know how any figure could be anywhere close to accurate unless you counted the population one by one. No poll is going to do it.

BarnacleBill's avatar

In the US, organized religion is on the decline.

jca's avatar

I think Catholic churches have a high attendance rate, they also make people pay whether or not they attend church, and they pass the plate at least 3 times (one for the church, one for the building, one for the school). I am not Catholic but i have good friends that are Catholic and if you pass a Catholic church on a Sunday or Saturday night they have a full house – at least around where i live.

I used to work at a government archives, and Mormons would come in and obtain lists of people and “baptise’ the lists, therefore, making the people Mormon. This was their way of plumping up the number of Mormons.

everephebe's avatar

I think there must be a large difference between those who don’t believe in god, vs. those who don’t believe in organized religion. I think that, if there were more people believing in some from of deity and not religions, there would be far less religion in the world.

justsomerandomguy's avatar

@jca Here’s some explanation of what they were doing. Mormons believe that baptism is required to “enter the kingdom of God” (e.g. John 3:5). What about those who lived without a chance to be baptized? Mormons believe in proxies, i.e. someone who is living can be baptized on behalf of someone who is dead. The person who is dead can accept or reject the ordinance. Because Mormons don’t know who has accepted or rejected, they don’t count them in their statistics.

roundsquare's avatar

@MissA Why? You don’t think regular surveys can be accurate?

If we could actually randomly poll people, we should get a pretty accurate statistic from about 100 people.

crazyivan's avatar

The 2000 census showed 16% of Americans unaffiliated with religion and an additional 1.2% that identified themselves as atheists. 10 years ago the US had 17.2% non-religious folk and the US is the most religious nation amongst industrialized countries.

The 2010 census numbers will be quite revealing but polling suggests that the number of “godless” folks has gone up by a considerable amount. Thank God…

Loried2008's avatar

I don’t think there is really ever a true statistic for that. I mean yeah we can go by all the different religions that believe in a higher power, but you still have all the people that think it’s a possibility but would never say so. Even though I’m a Christian at times in my life I thought the opposite, that he didn’t exist and I can think of a few non-christian friends that thought maybe he did exist but wouldn’t say so.

roundsquare's avatar

@Loried2008 I wonder if there are more people on one side or the other of “I think this might be true but I’d never admit it.” There might be a way to correct for that…

Loried2008's avatar

@roundsquare I’m not sure I follow the last part of your post lol

roundsquare's avatar

@Loried2008 Sorry :)

I’m just saying that if we know what percentage of people are less than honest (or we can estimate it…) there might be a way to fix survey results.

E.g. in surveys during elections, there are corrections done all the time. For example, they only use land line numbers and lots of younger people don’t have land lines. Since young people are more likely to be democrats than republicans, your results will be skewed towards republican support. Survey companies have to correct for this.

Maybe there is a way to do something similar with the problem you mentioned.

Jabe73's avatar

I’m not so sure I would believe 95% is that accurate. There are many variations on this issue. There’s the deist god who created and then disappeared. You then have the theist god (who varies greatly depending on denomination or religion). You have pantheists (multiple gods). You have a belief in the supernatural or spiritual realms without a god along with those religions/belief systems as well. Personally I feel most people theist/atheist are really agnostics. Most will not admit this but I think even the most religious people have an agnostic mindset. If most people gave an honest answer I bet the numbers would be more like 75% agnostic, 10% atheist, 10% true diehard religious believers and the remaining 5% in the others category.

Those are only my own opinions and not actual numbers I’ve looked up. I really do think most people (without admitting/acknowledging or even being aware of it) are agnostics.

Master's avatar

wow I just read the novel two weeks ago. I think I want to point out that Carl Sagan’s view was one of doubt or agnosticism, despite his profession the search for God was also a driving force in his life, as can be seen in his novel, depicting a Creator who does not interfere in everyday life but who left ‘clues’ or signatures in Its work. Contact was a good read.

Loried2008's avatar

@roundsquare Ah, now I understand :) It would be great if they could do that. I’ve just come to an understanding that people change and opinions are constantly being formed. The way I feel has changed with time and I can only assume that surveys will never be an accurate source of information.

JustmeAman's avatar

I don’t know what the percentages are but I think a better question might be “What percentage knows there’s a higher being”?

crisw's avatar


Nope, that’s a terrible question, because it presupposes the existence of a higher being.

fundevogel's avatar

@Jabe73 “You have pantheists (multiple gods).”

You mean polytheists. Pantheists believe nature or the natural laws are god.

“Personally I feel most people theist/atheist are really agnostics.”

I’m an technically an agnostic atheist. But that just means that I know I don’t have enough knowledge to know if god exists or doesn’t exist in absolute certainty. It doesn’t mean that I’m not confident in the information available to me and the conclusion I’ve drawn from it.

“If most people gave an honest answer I bet the numbers would be more like 75% agnostic, 10% atheist, 10% true diehard religious believers and the remaining 5% in the others category.”

Agnosticism is not a position on the existence of god but of knowledge. It may qualify a position of atheism or theism, but agnosticism on it’s own says nothing about belief in god. Laci explains the difference between terms here.

mattbrowne's avatar

I wonder what percentage of the population is depressed about people believing in God.

It’s feels kind of odd that my belief has got the potential to make other people feel depressed.

roundsquare's avatar

@mattbrowne Every belief can do that. My belief about reality television, higher education and hamburgers certainly make someone depressed.

Jabe73's avatar

@mattbrowne Are you talking about those fundy anti-godders’? My own term there. Yes your statement seems really true. So many on Fluther depressed about my own belief in heaven and that I look forward to being reunited with my deceased loved ones. Oh so depressing.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@mattbrowne “depressed” because so many feel that we need to make fundamental all-society policy decisions, i.e. ‘laws’, based on their chosen belief set. Which is why science as settled as “evolution” faces tough sledding in some American classrooms, and why there’s currently so much nonsense against “gay marriage” in the USA (it’s not like people are being forced to marry homosexuals or anything) and why I can’t legally buy a bottle of gin on a Sunday in Connecticut. That’s why I’m “depressed” about other people’s belief in god/s.

On a personal level, I don’t give a rip one way or another, but when someone else’s parents’ choice about the family god makes restrictions on my life, then I chafe.

Jabe73's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Not everyone’s belief in God or even spirituality clashes with those issues you’ve mentioned. I don’t like the above you’ve mentioned either.

There is another side to this however, many atheists themselves have taken it upon themselves to attack anyone with even a hint of spirituality and god while lumping everything into the same category. When atheists stoop to that level I will attack them back. There are just as many disrespectful atheists. Were not all creationists or preach hell.

mattbrowne's avatar

@CyanoticWasp – In my view many very rational non-believers seem to be irrational about one thing: that almost all theists worldwide are irrational or even dangerous. Religious anti-evolution nutcases is mainly a US phenomenon and it doesn’t include the non-evangelical Protestants and Catholics.

To equate a belief in God with the rejection of evolution or alcohol sales on Sunday is a very irrational thing to do. Most people who believe in God are not fundamentalists.

I’m worried about creationism too, but not depressed. Resignation won’t get us anywhere. Better education does. No public school in the US or elsewhere should be allowed to teach creationism as part of the science curriculum. We’re in this fight together whether we believe in God or not.

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne “To equate a belief in God with the rejection of evolution or alcohol sales on Sunday is a very irrational thing to do. Most people who believe in God are not fundamentalists.”

Actually 60% of American’s don’t accept the theory evolution. So it’s not so irrational to equate religion with anti-science when it was has convinced over half of the country that established science is something you can just choose not to believe in and continues to crusade to restrict or redesign science education to fit their religious perspective.

I wasn’t taught evolution until I went to a private college. My public schools were scared to teach it, though it had been drilled into me at church for years and years that evolution was wrong and that science couldn’t explain how a bumble bee could fly. My Methodist preacher in high school gave a sermon once where he suggested parents should consider Not send their kids to college if it might result in them losing faith. Methodists are not one of the sects considered fundamentalist.


roundsquare's avatar

“science couldn’t explain how a bumble could fly.”

It’d be funny if it wasn’t sad.

fundevogel's avatar

@roundsquare lol, I fixed it, but a flying bumble would be a pretty hard thing to explain.

roundsquare's avatar

@fundevogel Whats funny is that I didn’t even notice that problem. I just thought it was sad that your church claimed that science couldn’t explain how a bumble bee could fly.

fundevogel's avatar

@roundsquare Yeah…that brand of Christianity (and plenty of non-Christians) seem to revel in ignorance.

“We don’t understand! It must be a miracle!”

Religion really can foster ignorance. Thankfully in spite of my pastor my parents sent me to a wonderful university with plenty of professors to challenge me and my views. Though sometimes I think my mom second guesses that decision.

crazyivan's avatar

@fundevogel My high school experiences mimicked your own. I was taught about evolution from a teacher who kind of laughed out loud as she taught it and made it very clear to everyone in the class that she thought it was a load of crap.

mattbrowne's avatar

@fundevogel – It’s irrational to assume that American Christians represent all Christians. There are 2.1 billion Christians worldwide and about a billion of them are part of the Catholic Church which clearly supports evolutions. There are about 250 million Protestants in Europe and the vast majority supports evolution. So if 60% of American’s don’t accept the theory of evolution I think America got a big problem.

Yes, religion can really foster ignorance. But out-group homogeneity bias and aggressive atheism can also foster animosity, distrust and suspicion.

crazyivan's avatar

But is fostering animosity, distrust and suspicion of a superstition that seeks to actively push itself on an unconsenting public a bad thing?

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne “It’s irrational to assume that American Christians represent all Christians. There are 2.1 billion Christians worldwide and about a billion of them are part of the Catholic Church which clearly supports evolutions. There are about 250 million Protestants in Europe and the vast majority supports evolution. So if 60% of American’s don’t accept the theory of evolution I think America got a big problem.”

I don’t, but I think that when people built their world view around a book and ideology that often contradicts human discovery and makes a virtue of blind faith there will always be vulnerability to this sort of religiously motivated ignorance.

“Yes, religion can really foster ignorance. But out-group homogeneity bias and aggressive atheism can also foster animosity, distrust and suspicion.”

I brought it up because you didn’t seem to realize how serious the problem is. I’m probably and aggressive atheist. I don’t see why I can’t be just as aggressive about expressing my views about religion as I am about sexuality and misappropriation of history. Religion is the only one that demands a free pass that in itself gets me going.

crazyivan's avatar

@fundevogel Well said. One thing I’ve always loved about agressive atheists is the fact that no matter how “agressive” they get, they are always grounded in reason. PZ Myers did a great blog the other day about the “apologist” approach and why he doesn’t take it.

@mattbrowne Lack of belief in evolution is only one of the many ways that religion can stand in between people and knowledge. You bring up the ubiquity of the Catholic Church and my first thought is the stance they take on profalactics and the devestation that causes in many of the less developed Catholic nations…

fundevogel's avatar

@crazyivan Thanks for the complement and link. I have trouble keeping up with the frequency of PZ’s posts so I often miss stuff.

mattbrowne's avatar

Aggressive atheism in the US is actually part of the problem. Many Christian fundamentalists in the US actually think that evolution is an atheist theory (which is total nonsense of course). Many atheists also act as if people have to choose between rationality/knowledge/science and religion/superstition/irrationality (which is total nonsense as well, but many atheists fail to recognize the differences between various forms of religion).

Vocal religion bashing by atheists is making matters worse. Soon you will end up with 70% Americans not believing in evolution. Creationists are having a field day. The more aggressive atheists behave, the better the recruitment efforts and creationist brainwashing will work.

PZ Myers is one of the greatest atheist hate mongers and representative of a spiritually dumb subculture I know of, so I’m not impressed by any of his posts. The religious hate mongers of course do love his frakking cracker posts helping them to grow their flock.

Fueling dissent is not a solution for the future.

I will end my participation in this thread.

This debate is getting out of hand.

crazyivan's avatar

@mattbrowne I (not surprisingly I guess) disagree with almost every word you said there. But I think the real tell is the line in parenthesis about atheists failing to recognize the differences between various forms of religion. What you’re really saying there is that your superstition is better than somebody elses superstition. All unprovable superstitions are equal in my mind.

And how can fueling dissent to something you dissent to not be a solution? The whole notion that atheists should tip toe around apologetically, ever fearing the threat of religious people widening their circle of ignorance is ridiculous. You can’t blame the growing number of intellectually-impaired evolution deniers on PZ Myers. That’s like blaming the fireman instead of the arsonist.

fundevogel's avatar

@mattbrowne – You accept that there is a problem, and yet you oppose strong resistance to it. You’re implicating that aggressively contesting something is a less successful means of addressing a problem (like hobbling education in the name of religion) than acknowledging the problem and waiting for it to go away on it’s own. But assuming that the people perpetuating it will stop of their own just doesn’t make sense.

You can’t expect the people perpetuating the problem to stop doing it without pressure to face why its a problem and the refusal of the rest of the people to accept the continuation of the problem. That doesn’t change anything. It’s not really any better than saying, “Yeah, segregation is bad, but eventually it will go away on it’s own so stop bitching about it.”

There hasn’t been a meaningful social advancement in the world that defied the status quo without a fight.

To acknowledge a problem, but condemn strong opposition to it is a value judgment. In this case it prioritizes the authority of religion and the comfort of its members over the ability of America’s pubic school system to give any of America’s children the education they deserve.

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