More evidence of decline in religious beliefs

I came across a poll from December 2013 that supports the idea that religion is on the decline in the US. The latest one is the Harris Interactive poll and it reports that the number of people who believe in a god has dropped to 74%, after staying at 82% through the period 2005-2009. Other measures show a similar decline.

Also, while majorities also believe in miracles (72%, down from 79% in 2005), heaven (68%, down from 75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (68%, down from 72%), the resurrection of Jesus Christ (65%, down from 70%), the survival of the soul after death (64%, down from 69%), the devil, hell (both at 58%, down from 62%) and the Virgin birth (57%, down from 60%), these are all down from previous Harris Polls.

Belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, while well below levels recorded for belief in God, miracles and heaven, is up in comparison to 2005 findings (47%, up from 42%).

Also interesting was how the decline in the number who were absolutely certain there was a god, and the demographic breakdown of that group.

In a separate line of questioning, focused on Americans’ degree of certainty that there is or is not a God, two-thirds of Americans (68%) indicate being either absolutely or somewhat certain that there is a God, while 54% specify being absolutely certain; these figures represent drops of 11 and 12 percentage points, respectively, from 2003 testing, where combined certainty was at 79% and absolute certainty was at 66%.

Meanwhile, combined belief that there is no God (16%) and uncertainty as to whether or not there is a God (also 16%) are both up from 2003 findings (when these levels were 9% and 12%, respectively).

Outside of specific religious samples, the groups most likely to be absolutely certain there is a God include blacks (70%), Republicans (65%), Matures (62%) and Baby Boomers (60%), Southerners (61%) and Midwesterners (58%), and those with a high school education or less (60%).

There is further evidence that increasingly people believe in an ‘ordinary god’ who does not interfere with the course of events as opposed the old super-god who controlled everything.

There also a continuing – and increasing – lack of consensus as to how much control, if any, God has over what happens on Earth.

A 37% plurality of Americans (including 52% of Catholics) believes that God observes but does not control what happens on Earth – down considerably from 2003, when half of Americans (50%) expressed this belief. Just under three in ten (29%) Americans, including majorities of those who self-identify as very religious (60%) and/or born-again Christians (56%), believe that God controls what happens on Earth.

All in all, the trends are in the right direction.


  1. cottonnero says

    I’m curious to what degree this reflects change in belief versus change in willingness to admit unbelief.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    A 37% plurality of Americans (including 52% of Catholics) believes that God observes but does not control what happens …


    … majorities also believe in miracles (72%…)

    How many would claim to have given these questions >= 60 whole seconds of systematic thought?

  3. Carlos Cabanita says

    I live in Portugal. More than 90% of the people are considered Catholic (myself included, because I was baptized) and if you ask, the grand majority will say they believe there is a god. Besides, most want to baptize their children, have a Catholic wedding and funeral. But that is a question of social tradition. Most people never go to mass and never pray. Besides, they don’t let the church influence their behavior on contraception, abortion and marriage equality. I say this to note that probably in the USA the major evolution at work is not towards atheism, but towards religious indiference, European-style. That may be, probably, much more difficult to quantify.

  4. Mano Singham says


    People do not always seek or even desire consistency and I think that the way a question is worded triggers different reactions. I think the first one seems to connect to beliefs about the existence of free will while the second reflects a desire to believe that praying has some value and that there is always hope.

  5. doublereed says

    @3 Carlos

    That’s true. Catholics have been shown to be one of the more liberal groups in America, going against their institution rather often.

    So it often confuses me how we seem to care about what the Pope does or says. Catholics themselves barely seem to care.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Mano Singham @ # 5 – You offer a very charitable explanation of these poll results.

    Pls expect an order of excommunication from AntiPope PZ by Thursday at noon!

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Oops – my # 6 intended to be a reply to # 4.

    I await my order of banishment from Archcardinal Ed momentarily.

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