November 4, 2015

Americans’ faith in God may be eroding

Declining Share of Americans Express Absolutely Certain Believe in GodGod is frequently invoked in American public life. Indeed, there is no shortage of instances of official acknowledgement of the divine, from the appearance of “In God We Trust” on our currency to the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

To be sure, the vast majority of Americans still believe in God. But there are strong signs that many are less certain about this belief than in years past. And a small but growing minority of Americans say they do not believe in God at all.

When asked if they believe in “God or a universal spirit” in the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 89% of U.S. adults say yes – down from 92% from the previous RLS  in 2007. Nearly one-in-ten (9%) now say they don’t believe in God, up from 5% in 2007.

The changes have been even more substantial when it comes to certainty of belief in God: 63% of Americans are absolutely certain that God exists, down 8 percentage points from 2007, when 71% said this.

These shifts have been especially sharp among the growing share of Americans who do not identify with any religious group (and call themselves atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular”). While 22% of these religious “nones” said that they did not believe in God in 2007, that figure has risen to 33% in 2014. And just 27% of the religiously unaffiliated are absolutely certain that God exists, down from 36% in 2007.

Belief in God by Affiliation, 2014But a lack of certainty in God’s existence has become more common even among some Christian groups and members of non-Christian faiths. For example, two-thirds (66%) of those in the mainline Protestant tradition now say they are absolutely certain that God exists, down from 73% in 2007. A similar trend is seen among Catholics: 64% expressed an absolutely certain belief in God in 2014, compared with 72% in 2007. And among those who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, the share saying they do not believe in God at all has risen from 10% to 17% over this seven-year period.

This trend is not universal. Indeed, belief in God has been more stable among some more highly observant religious groups, such as evangelical Protestants and members of the historically black Protestant tradition – among whom nearly nine-in-ten say they are absolutely certain God exists. And 84% of U.S. Muslims are certain there is a God or universal spirit, similar to 2007 (82%).

There are other demographic differences as well when it comes to belief  in God. For instance, blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics (83% vs. 61% and 59%, respectively) to be absolutely certain about God’s existence. Women are more likely than men to be certain about God (69% vs. 57%), as are less well-educated Americans compared with college graduates (66% vs. 55%).

But perhaps the most striking divide – and the driving force behind the overall drop in belief – is generational. As younger Americans enter adulthood, they are far less likely to be sure about God’s existence than are their elders. While 70% of those ages 65 and older express an absolutely certain belief in God or a universal spirit, only about half of adults under 30 feel the same way (51%).

Pew Research Center surveys are not the only ones that have found a long-term decline in the overall share of Americans who say they believe in God. For example, 86% of Americans said in a 2014 Gallup poll they believed in God or a universal spirit, down from 96% in 1994 and the lowest figure since Gallup first asked the question in 1976.

Topics: Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity, Evangelical Protestants and Evangelicalism, Jews and Judaism, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

17 Comments

  1. Anonymous4 weeks ago

    Women also don’t want Catholic priests raping their kids, and Catholics are the worst in the history of the western world at performing organized child rape for their god.

  2. Shane B2 months ago

    This is great news, it mean’s we’re becoming wiser and more intelligent as a country. Even though it often doesn’t feel like it, as it’s extremely slow going to move the needle in any significant way, at least we’re working towards the right direction.

  3. Roger Wasson5 months ago

    Pew needs to do research on why the general standards of analysis are not talked about by either religion or philosophy or science.

    The real scandal for believers in God is that the general standards of analysis are already logically higher in authority than God, and this is implicitly admitted in appealing to arguments for God’s existence.

    Rational argument is an appeal to reason, not God, as the ultimate belief-determining authority, as if we go to Reason The Mind-God to even merely contemplate the question and then hand down a verdict on whether or not God exists. Reason thereby is the believer’s God of the God Question, in spite of their disparagement of it and running interference with faith rhetoric.

    Terrific competing-authority issue here. Rational standards do not require belief in God in order to function.

    A little street wisdom tells the tale: Everyone wants a super-rationalist doctor when they’re ill, and during such times no one cares whether the doctor believes in God or not. Behind the hospital dumpster, the believer is secretly bummin cigs off rationalistic atheism.

    1. diraj robinson1 month ago

      I can understand the concept people in this world has today. But if you read up on different religions that you would never believe doing rites and sacrifices of babies and adults for centuries. And they also becoming world leaders, law makers, presidents, senators, congressman’s, bankers and others who control this world.
      This is what they wanted. This is what they fought so hard to do is make people stop believing.
      These leaders and ones who have politically and financially destroyed tried to destroy our humanity. And if you noticed, they have accumulated more followers in Satanic rites and rituals. They have destroyed the values, morals, respect, and humanity of our deepest souls.
      But understand this. Scientist still have not been able to recreate a human body. Scientist still have not been able to determine how life actually started. Only guesses and assumptions. Scientist has found thousands of other galaxies that all are unstable and unsafe for planets like ours. galaxies that collide and explode on each other. And they are clueless of how this galaxy is stable, versus other galaxies. Scientist are clueless in rationalizing how calm our galaxy is compared to thousands they came across.
      Scientist has not found and are still baffled on it.
      Scientist have found that our human body contains so many genes and other ingredients to make up a human body that they have determined that no science can mimic it.
      No science can break down our human body.
      There have been scientific proof of demons, demonic possessions, stigmata’s etc. And lets look at a person possessed with stigmata. It has been proven that biblical scars have formed on the person. same person speaking latin, who has never had a learning of it.
      These things happened and has been scientifically documented. Science has just made assumptions of what caused it.
      I am just saying that the ones who have power over our lives on earth have been involved in satanic, and voodism. They have been orchestrating our lives for generations. If there is a devil, than there has to be a God or higher spiritual being.
      Do you believe you have a spirit or soul. You can’t see that with the human eye either. But I do know that people who are profoundly in the religion of a pure entity, God or higher spiritual being. You can actually feel the presence within you. Just like satanic can feel the presence of demons.

    2. diraj robinson1 month ago

      do you believe you have a spirit? you can’t see it but you believe you have one. do you believe you have a soul. you can’t see that also but you believe you have one. The big bang theory, scientist has tried to state that is how we were formed. But who put the spirit inside us? Who put the soul inside us. No planet of ingredient can make a spirit. So where did the spirit come from.
      Do you believe in ghost? Than how was that put inside us. Scientist have always talked about the big bang theory to confuse our minds. But not once have they spoken about what is inside the body that is not flesh. because no one has asked that question of them.

  4. Hermit Monk6 months ago

    Monk B from newworldpeacemovemt.com
    I’m not surprised people are turning from religion when people see what is happening round the world in the name of religion. There will come a time when religion will destroy itself with extremist followers, and mankind will realise it was all a lie.

  5. J. Gravelle6 months ago

    As aghast as we are when looking back at ancient tribes who sacrificed the lives of virgins and babies to appease their deities, so too future generations will look at 21st century man and be horrified that we [still] decapitate apostates and shoot up healthcare clinics with the same superstitious motivations.

    Transcending our time frame, and looking at ourselves from the perspective of the archaeologists of the next millennia might be one way to wean ourselves from the comforting yet poisonous teats of Yahweh and Allah et al, but I doubt many have the fortitude and self-discipline to do it.

    Yet.

    The trend looks promising, yes. But we have a long way to go…

  6. Adam Kassur8 months ago

    The more twisted human beings become, the more they manipulate and revolt against God ( I AM ) the one and only LOVING creator, the stronger my FAITH becomes. “Super-Fine Tuned” to take on the most destructive forces on Earth.

    1. RomSK8 months ago

      Given the wars, child molestation, torture and other atrocities committed by those CERTAIN about the existence of the man in the sky, that comment is truly rich.

      We are finally getting some peace, tolerance and compassion as these Stone Age religions lose their hold. Thank “god.”

  7. Marthea Carey8 months ago

    Without generalizing here, there is an applicable universal probverbial mantra about “Wisdom being wasted on its youth.” With this said, yes, Pew does its data-crunching ratio’s well. However, when it summarized its most significant findings in this article with “the most striking divide and overall decline in belief…is generational”, I will offer this: the vast majority of non-theist, non-believers, or nones, have also not yet devastatingly lost, grieved, mourned or bereaved who/what is valuable to them in their lives…assuming that they even know what LOSS means. A dis-proportionate number of under 35 year olds are elecronically, socially, relationally, humanly and communicatively DISCONNECTED from these naturally developing dimensions of their own adulthood humanity and spiritual growth…and I haven’t even mentioned religious beliefs or their institituional systems yet…which most have never even explored or examined. So, this generational disbelief is not from a consciously examined choice, it is from unconscious ignorance and the long-malaised apathy of relativism, rather like a non-spirituality of ADD…which behaviors have very similar rites and rituals, astoundingly so! Hmmm. Was it Socrates who said that: “an unexamined life is not worth living?!” Finally, what Pew and all human beings need to do to further a deeper understanding and knowledge base is to ask the never asked question anymore: WHY?

  8. Richard8 months ago

    In this day and age with the diversity of evolving beliefs would not a more appropriate line of questioning focus on what the word God actually means to any individual – transcendent being, metaphor for internal goodness, nonsensical belief, and on and on!! Results from this type of questioning would be more revealing of shifting beliefs!!

  9. Susan8 months ago

    I believe there is a mistake in this article, when referring to Catholics absolute belief in God. 2014 is listed twice in the comparison of percentages.
    Interesting read.

    1. Michael Lipka8 months ago

      Susan:

      Thank you for pointing that out and for your kind words. We have corrected the mistake above (the second reference to 2014 should have been 2007).

      Michael Lipka

      1. Susan8 months ago

        I apologize if it seemed I was noticing an error instead of the content of the article. The research findings are very interesting. The article well written. As a believer, however, it is sad to think that our young people (among others) are unsure of God’s existence. Sometimes I ask myself, where have we baby boomers gone wrong or is it really just a sign of the times?
        Anyway, good reading and reporting.
        Thanks

        1. larryk8 months ago

          Susan, it is not that baby boomers have “gone wrong” or that it is a “sign of the times.” Rather, it is that people are beginning to realize that believing in something without evidence or rationality doesn’t make sense. Having faith is not an answer. It only shows that one cannot logically justify a belief. I know, I know…everything is not logical, but if I posited that twenty angels were dancing on your table, wouldn’t you laugh at me? So why can’t I find an invisible god equally unbelievable?

          1. Dinari8 months ago

            Who created the heavens, the earth, the food we eat? Who controls the biological process in our bodies? WHo makes us live and die? What did Jesus come for on earth?

            ALl these questions and more; I believe there is that Superior Being which has things in control. Would you Imagine that the digestion takes place in your body with nobody’s permission and leave.

            If that happens by nature.. Then where did this nature come from and who initiated it in the first place? There Must a Superior being who requires other beings to submit to Him and nobody else: and that’s God. The sun doesnt move on its own nor other heavenly bodies.

        2. Logsdon Dana6 months ago

          Probably because the idea of a god is ridiculous to many people who are actually questioning and not thinking that it’s automatically a negative to do so, like you do.