Who Believes in God--and Why?

Many say their own faith is based in reason, but others' beliefs are grounded in emotion.

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When Sulloway and I noticed the difference between why people believe in God and why they think

other

people believe in God, we decided to undertake an extensive analysis of all the written answers people provided in our survey. In addition, we inquired about family demographics, religious background, personality characteristics, and other factors that contribute to religious belief and skepticism. We discovered that the seven strongest predictors of belief in God are:



1. being raised in a religious manner


2. parents’ religiosity


3. lower levels of education


4. being female


5. a large family


6. lack of conflict with parents


7. being younger



In sum, being female and raised by religious parents in a large family appears to make one more religious, whereas being male, educated, in conflict with one’s parents, and older appears to make one less religious. As people become older and more educated, they encounter other belief systems that lead them to see the connection between various personal and social influences and religious beliefs. This helps explain the differences we observed in reasons people give for their own beliefs versus the reasons they attribute to other people’s beliefs.


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From the responses we received in a preliminary survey, we created a taxonomy of eleven categories of reasons people give for their own and others’ beliefs. The five most common answers given to the question

Why do you believe in God?:

1. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (28.6%)
2. The experience of God in everyday life (20.6%)
3. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (10.3%)
4.The Bible says so (9.8%)
5. Just because / faith / the need to believe in something (8.2%)

And the six most common answers given to the question Why do you think other people believe in God?:

1. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (26.3%)
2. Religious people have been raised to believe in God (22.4%)
3. The experience of God in everyday life (16.2%)
4. Just because / faith / the need to believe in something (13.0%)
5. Fear death and the unknown (9.1%)
6. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (6.0%)

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