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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and agnostics around the world

Stephen Bullivant, Miguel Farias, Jonathan Lanman, & Lois Lee
Research Report - 2019

Eight key findings

1. Atheists (i.e., people who ‘don’t believe in God’) and agnostics (i.e., people who ‘don’t know whether there is a God or not, and don’t believe there is a way to find out’) exhibit significant diversity both within, and between, different countries. Accordingly, there are very many ways of being an unbeliever (i.e., atheists/agnostics combined).

2. In all six of our countries, majorities of unbelievers identify as having ‘no religion’. Nevertheless, in Denmark fully 28% of atheists and agnostics identify as Christians; in Brazil the figure is 18%. 8% of Japan’s unbelievers say they are Buddhists. Conversely, in Brazil (79%), the USA (63%),  Denmark (60%), and the UK (52%), a majority of unbelievers were brought up as Christians.

3. Relatively few unbelievers select ‘Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic’ as their preferred (non)religious or secular identity. 38% of American atheists opt for ‘Atheist’, compared to just 19% of Danish atheists. Other well-known labels – ‘humanist’, ‘free thinker’, ‘sceptic’, ‘secular’ – are the go-to identity for only small proportions in each country.

4. Popular assumptions about ‘convinced, dogmatic atheists’ do not stand up to scrutiny. Atheists and
agnostics in Brazil and China are less confident that their beliefs about God are correct than are Brazilians and Chinese as a whole. Although American atheists are typically fairly confident in their views about God, importantly, so too are Americans in general.

5. Unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena. Atheists and (less so) agnostics exhibit lower levels of supernatural belief than do the wider populations. However, only minorities of atheists or agnostics in each of our countries appear to be thoroughgoing naturalists.

6. Another common supposition – that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe – also does not bear scrutiny. While atheists and agnostics are disproportionately likely to affirm that the universe is ‘ultimately meaningless’ in five of our countries, it still remains a minority view among unbelievers in all six countries.

7. Also perhaps challenging common suppositions: with only a few exceptions, atheists and agnostics endorse the realities of objective moral values, human dignity and attendant rights, and the ‘deep value’ of nature, at similar rates to the general populations in their countries.

8. There is remarkably high agreement between unbelievers and general populations concerning the
values most important for ‘finding meaning in the world and your own life’. ‘Family’ and ‘Freedom’ ranked highly for all. Also popular – albeit less unanimously so – were ‘Compassion’, ‘Truth’, ‘Nature’, and ‘Science’.

The research is here.

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