Poll: More people believe in an afterlife than believe in God

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this study from the Institute of Education at the University of London.


More people may believe in an afterlife than believe in God, according to a nation-wide survey of Britons born in 1970.

Almost half – 49 per cent – of those surveyed earlier this year by the Institute of Education, University of London believe that there is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ life after death. Only 31 per cent have said that they believe in God, either without doubts (13 per cent) or with some doubts (18 per cent).

Researchers at the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies are canvassing more than 9,000 members of the 1970 British Cohort Study. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is following a group of people born in England, Scotland and Wales in spring 1970. It collects detailed information on many aspects of people’s lives including health, wellbeing, and financial circumstances. The latest survey, at age 42, is being carried out between May and December.

While members of the 1970 cohort have been asked about religion at earlier points in their lives, the current survey is the first to make the important distinction between religious upbringing, affiliation, practice and belief.

An analysis of the first 2,197 responses shows that 32 per cent of interviewees were not brought up in any particular religion, and an equal number said they were raised in the Church of England. Fourteen per cent said they grew up as Christian (no denomination) and ten per cent as Roman Catholic.

However, when asked if they currently see themselves as belonging to a particular religion, 47 per cent said no, followed by 21 per cent who said the Church of England. Fifteen per cent felt they were Christian (no denomination) and seven per cent said they were Roman Catholic.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents reported never or rarely attending religious services, followed by 16 per cent who attend services less than once a month. Seven per cent attend services once a week or more.

I’m pretty sure that you need to have a God there if there is an afterlife, because if there is no God, then there is no grounding for souls that can survive the death of the body. I think that what’s going on here is that people like the idea of having an afterlife, but they don’t like the idea of being accountable to God. That’s why they hold two mutually incompatible beliefs.

I think that this study tells us a very important thing about how people view religion. Somehow, people have gotten the mistaken impression that religion is like choosing what to eat or what to wear. You choose what you like. You choose what makes your family and friends like you. But imagine if doctors, engineers and scientists operated like that. It strikes me as psychotic to choose a religion based on your feelings. Religion, at the minimum, is a set of propositions about the way the world is. To believe in a religion is to accept it as true, and to take on the epistemic and moral obligations – to know true things and to do right things. To anyone who denies that religion is like any other form of knowledge, then you need to prove that. In my own religion, we have testable claims that can be evaluated using the methods of logic, history and science.

You know this study reminds me of a formative experience I had when I was younger. I remember talking to a project manager when I was a brand new software engineer, and her telling me that she had grown up Baptist but it was “too strict” so she became an atheist. Also, God had allowed her to fall off her bicycle when she was young and she chipped her teeth. So she knew there couldn’t possibly be a loving God. But anyway, she asked me if I believed in souls for animals. I surveyed a few philosophers and concluded with J.P. Moreland’s view, that animals don’t have souls. She said that her dog was going to Heaven when she died. I told her, look I would like it if my cockatiel went to Heaven (he is was about 8 then, and is 24 now) but I have to accept what is true. She looked at me like I was crazy to say such a mean thing. I will never forget that conversation. Back then, I had limited exposure to church and didn’t realize that most Christians are exactly like her. We really need to stop with the postmodern, relativism, universalism and get back to reason and evidence.

4 thoughts on “Poll: More people believe in an afterlife than believe in God”

  1. All for reason and evidence!

    Btw, survival of the soul after death only implies some kind of dualism, not theism. Presumably the souls would need some kind of environment, but this doens’t mean they necessarily have to share it with an intelligent creator.

    On the topic of reason and evidence, the folk at creation.com don’t believe in the Big Bang. They say it is unbiblical. Have you come across their arguments before?


  2. I have a comment about the Young Earth Creationist movement, but that belongs elsewhere.

    Does dualism lead to theism?
    If any such theory explicitly leads to theism, Emergent Dualism is it. You start with just a brain, which eventually (somehow) produces you, but you are not identical to your brain. If there is an afterlife, it is because God decided to sustain you after your brain stopped doing the work.
    What of the other kinds of dualism? Thomistic and Cartesian Dualism both allow an afterlife. Property Dualism doesn’t, unless there is a bodily resurrection, which atheists must deny.
    Thomistic Dualism says that your mind is the immaterial aspect of the soul, which is the form (intelligible principle) of the body; Cartesian Dualism says that the spirit is trapped in the body.
    What needs to be determined is whether Thomistic Dualism is consistent with atheism, and whether having a physical body is important (Cartesian Dualism is obviously false, as seen in by the effects certain chemicals have on our thinking).

    Does anybody have insight? I don’t know of anything that makes Thomistic Dualism inconsistent with atheism.


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