Don’t Believe the New Study About Irish College Students’ Attitudes About Religion… Yet

In Ireland, where atheism is already on the rise as are godless funerals, a new study — being touted on multiple websites and by Richard Dawkins — seems to show that the percentage of young Irish atheists is pretty high, too:

A student survey has uncovered some very interesting statistics regarding Irish students and their changing attitudes towards religion.

Shockingly, while less than 60% of respondents considered themselves Catholic; the second group to top the scale were Atheists at 20%.

That’s not the only shocker: Only a third of Irish Catholic students said they believe communion wafers are the physical body of Christ. Which I thought was one of the items on the Catholic Checklist.

And there’s this:

According to the survey, students regard ‘looking good’ (5th) as being more important than ‘religious beliefs’ (6th), with friends and family topping the list of importance.

Lots of interesting stuff.

But I’m not accepting any of it yet. Neither should you.

There are some basic questions you want to ask anytime one of these studies comes out: Who conducted it? What was the wording of the questions? Where’s the raw data?

We only have the answer to the first question. The study was conducted by Student Marketing Network, a company that… um… well… okay, I’ve looked through their website and I still have no idea what they do. Whatever it is, it doesn’t look like they conduct studies. Furthermore, there’s no mention of the study that I can find on their site.

GodVlogger pointed out something else (via email). Check out the headline in that image above:

only 37 percent are Catholic

Later in the same article, it says this:

Shockingly, while less than 60% of respondents considered themselves Catholic; the second group to top the scale were Atheists at 20%.

How did we go from 37% to “less than 60%”? It’s technically accurate, I guess, but it’s weird. Just weird.

Another thing:

The survey of 1,146 third level students across the country over the last two weeks highlights how religion, and its place in society, has changed in Ireland over recent years.

I don’t know about you, but I find it very impressive that they surveyed more than 1,000 students when school wasn’t even in session.

And was this a random sampling of imaginary students? An online survey? We’re never told.

It’s all pretty shady.

I’m not doubting the results, but I’m not accepting them either. For all we know, these numbers are just made up and promoted as part of some publicity stunt.

I’ve contacted Student Marketing Network and requested the actual report — which is nowhere to be found online right now. I’ll let you know if I hear back.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • EvolutionKills

    Skeptical cat is skeptical of this study.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    It is clear that the tide has been changing in Ireland, with everything from open public opposition to their blasphemy law, to increased numbers of secular funerals and weddings, to open criticism of the Catholic church’s role in helping priests prey upon children, to dramatic decreases in church attendance, dramatic decreases in youth entering the clergy (Ireland used to export priests to countries around the world and now often needs to import them), growth of groups like Atheist Ireland (and similar secular groups in the various regions/counties), and the Irish government even closed its embassy at the Vatican a couple years ago.

    Here’s my YouTube video on this latest study, at least based on the news media coverage:

    However fast or steep the trend is going we can say:
    1) it’s heading in the right direction, and
    2) it’s not fast enough!

  • Scott McGreal

    I would like to see the full report of this study too, the details are very sketchy.

    “Only a third of Irish Catholic students said they believe communion wafers are the physical body of Christ.”

    This reminds me of the results of the Pew forum survey on US Religious knowledge – one of the findings was that a whopping 45% of US Catholics did not actually know that “their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ.”

    In the Irish case, I am wondering whether many of those who don’t believe this particular doctrine are aware of it and are understandably sceptical, or if many of them simply did not know that’s what they are supposed to believe. It would be good to know if the survey had made a distinction between how much people know about doctrine and what they privately think.

  • Rob Cahill

    20% Atheists? I would have thought it much higher than that.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Interestingly, the survey results reportedly said that:

    less than 40% felt certain in the existence of God,

    slightly more than 40% were unsure whether God exists,

    and 20% outright declared they did not believe in any god.

  • islandbrewer

    With the transubstantiation thing, I’ve always wanted to stand outside the church doors after a mass with a clipboard, and ask the exiting Catholics, “Was the host you just ate really human flesh, or was it really a metaphor for the body of Christ?”

    I’d have someone standing next to me with a box of pins saying “Welcome to the Episcopal Church!” and pin a great big “E” on everyone who gave the metaphor answer.

  • JET

    This is true. I was baptized, communed, and confirmed Catholic, and it was long after I stopped going to church that I found out I was supposedly eating the *actual* body and blood of Christ. But then, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Way back then, Latin was still the thing, so most of the time I had no idea what was going on.

  • JET

    Can there be such a thing as a vegan Catholic?

  • baal

    It’s one of those parts of the dogma that’s not emphasized. As such, I’d expect high rates of the metaphor answer. It’d be slightly more interesting to phrase the question as, “The Holy Roman Catholic Church asserts that the host (communion wafer) is in fact the body of Christ and mean it literally. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Then ask the “do you personally believe metaphor or not” question.

  • Laura D

    I grew up Catholic and didn’t know that was the church doctrine until very recently. In my experience most Catholics don’t know this is what the church teaches and believe the Eucharist is symbolic, not the actual flesh and blood of Christ.

  • Anna

    That was my first thought. It’s certainly not a shocker that many Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation. I have Catholic relatives who expressed surprise after being told it’s the church’s official position.

  • Mario Strada

    I always wondered what that bottle of A1 sauce was doing in the sacristy.

  • Guest

    It’s good to see some proper skepticism even about positive news.

  • Guest

    Well a whole bunch of them also use contraception, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they went for the metaphor answer. A lot of them are only Catholic out of habit (make your own nun joke here).

  • Georgina

    And we all know that the change in blasphemy laws is the cause. Throughout time, there have always been plenty of atheists, sometimes it is safe to admit it, other times, it is safer to shut up.

  • Marie

    I took weeks of RCIA classes to get confirmed as an adult and they really gloss over weird stuff like this. Catholic are just supposed to recite and obey Church dogma. Try to think for yourself you risk going to hell.

  • LJ

    Just focusing on one part of this… The 60% and 37% discrepancy could be from two separate questions on the questionnaire as in: what religion are you? Answer: Catholic, and then, do you believe in god/ church doctrine/ or similar? Answer: No.

    Many people in Ireland would tell you their Catholic but then not go to mass or even believe. It is a cultural thing as well as a religious thing and many Irish “Catholics” would blindly answer yes to being Catholic just because they were baptised, made their communion, and confirmation.

  • LJ


    sorry terrible typo

  • Robster

    The baby jesus wine and cracker catholic nonsense is really the best bit of the pantheon of catholic/christian silliness after the silly hats. There’d be much less to laugh at if it were to be removed from the ritual or changed to infer just a symbol of jesus rather than real jesus juice with a freshly baked jesus flesh chaser. It’s so wonderfully absurd and they all take it so seriously, like it’s actually real.

  • pagansister

    As much as I’d like to see the land of my ancestors turning away from the Church, I’d like more details, as mentioned in the article, as to how this was conducted.

  • Agrajag

    It’s unsurprising that many considers themselves catholic in principle, while actually rejecting atleast some (sometimes most) of the actual concrete bullshit the catholic church “officially” stands for.

    85%+ of american catholics use contraception too, and a majority of them don’t consider it a sin to do so. Nevertheless they consider themselves catholic.

    I think that’s okay. It’s like you can be a democrat, without agreeing with *everything* the democratic party claims.