According to recent studies, 21% of atheists believe in God. 10% of them pray. A majority of atheists say that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives. This is slightly more than the larger category of the “nones,” those who say they have no particular religious identity, nearly half of whom say that religion is important to them.
Then again, those who do claim a religious identity do not necessarily have religious beliefs. Eight times as many religiously affiliated people doubt the existence of God than there are atheists and agnostics.
Douglas Laycock brings out these findings in his analysis of the recent Pew study of American religion and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), excerpted after the jump.
Pew Forum surveys, with sample sizes of more than 35,000, found 4% self-identifying as atheist or agnostic in 2007, and 7% in 2014. Pew gets consistently higher numbers than ARIS on this question; there may be a real increase over time in willingness to claim these labels and also some difference in how Pew asks the question. Pew in 2014 found another 15.8% who said their religion is “nothing in particular,” for a total of 22.8% reporting no religion, and only 0.6% who did not know or refused to answer. . . .
Some of the no-religion people report rather conventional religious beliefs. In the 2014 Pew survey, nearly half the “nothing in particulars” and a majority of the atheists and agnostics also said that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives.More remarkably, in the 2007 Pew survey, 21% of self-identified atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 10% of atheists said they pray at least weekly. You cannot assume that survey respondents all understand the questions the same way you do.
These answers suggest believers with no religious identity. But other Americans report a religious identity without having much in the way of belief.
When ARIS asked about the existence of God, 12.3% said “There is no such thing,” “There is no way to know,” or “I’m not sure.” These are the atheist and agnostic answers, and they appeared nearly eight times as often as people who labeled themselves atheist or agnostic.
Another 6.1% refused to answer. It seems unlikely that belief in God is an important part of the lives of those who refuse to answer the question. Another 12.1% said, “There is a higher power but no personal God.” That leaves 69.5% who said “There is definitely a personal God.”. . .
And of course, not everyone who tells a pollster he believes in God is actually religious. The religiously indifferent who rarely think about it much may report belief in God when asked. They may also live their daily lives on a thoroughly secular worldview, with belief in God rising to consciousness only when someone asks.