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June 12th, 2012
04:49 PM ET

Pew survey: Doubt of God growing quickly among millennials

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – The percentage of Americans 30 and younger who harbor some doubts about God’s existence appears to be growing quickly, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. While most young Americans, 68%, told Pew they never doubt God’s existence, that’s a 15-point drop in just five years.

In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God’s existence.

More young people are expressing doubts about God now than at any time since Pew started asking the question a decade ago. Thirty-one percent disagreed with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God,” double the number who disagreed with it in 2007.

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When asked about doubts of God, no other generation showed a change of more than 2% in the past five years.

The survey found that the percentage of millennials who identify with a religion is remaining constant, while most other generations have seen religious identification increase in the past 10 years.

The findings about millennials and religion were part of a 168-page report that Pew released June 4 but were largely overlooked.

“Notably, people younger than 30 are substantially less likely than older people to say prayer is an important part of their lives,” the report said.

“Research on generational patterns shows that this is not merely a lifecycle effect,” it continued. “The Millennial generation is far less religious than were other preceding generations when they were the same age years ago.”

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The findings are part of Pew’s 2012 American Values Survey, which touches on issues including political partisanship, gay marriage and abortion.

Despite the findings on millennials, the survey shows that the United States continues to be a highly religious nation, with most Americans identifying with a particular faith.

Seventy-six percent of all respondents said prayer is an important part of their lives and agreed that “we all will be called before god at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.” About 80% said they have never doubted the existence of God.

The report points to a growing divide between the youngest and oldest Americans on belief, religion and social issues.

According to Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, the growth in “doubting” youths has led to a surge in secular student groups.

“For a lot of millennial atheists, they are expecting to find a group, they are coming to campus, and if they don’t find one, they are starting one,” Galef said. “This is completely different than what other generations grew up with.”

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The Secular Student Alliance has affiliates on 357 American campuses, Galef said, up from 81 such affiliates in 2007.

Galef says the Internet has created a place for young people to discuss religious doubts.

“It enables anybody to have open discussions without fearing if their parents would find out or what their communities would say,” he said. "The more safe places we create for young people to discuss their doubts, the more they can inspire questions in others."

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Polls

soundoff (4,013 Responses)
  1. Bible Clown©

    Come on, we gave you a clue with Santa Claus. Remember how you believed in Him? Not real, and neither is his Baby Jesus. Sorry.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Saint Nicholas (270 – 6 December 343), also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of "Saint Nikolaos". His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints. His feast day is 6 December [O.S. 19 December].

      June 18, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  2. Ray Ramroop

    Believe in God was and always will be subjective. I predict that in 300 years, there will be no religion, no God to kill for. People will be more "SPIRITUAL" making our planet much peaceful.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • sam stone

      i agree. it seems to me that while faith is entirely personal, top down faith is toxic. no one has any authority to speak for god.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Matt

      I'm doubtful....I think people will always latch onto the notion of a god mainly because it validates them and makes them feel important whether it is true or not.

      Unfortunatley they turn wishing and hoping into a legitimate belief...

      June 13, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • crownme

      there will always be people who need something to believe in. Weak people will always be around. Well, untill world altering event. Then maybe it will only be the strong willed and intelligent. Maybe, then maybe, we can strive again 🙂

      June 13, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  3. specks74

    there are many religions on this earth and they beleive in god, which god doesn't matter. However, the point is that there is a GOD! I was raised christian, but I am open minded to other religions and so called truths out there. We are not here by chance, and i was not once an ape. there is a GOD!

    June 13, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Who is to say that Angus, Belenos, Brigid, dana, Lugh, Dagda, Epona, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Atehna, Demeter, Dionysus, Eris, Eos, Gaia, Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Thuno, Tir, Weyland, Woden, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Black Shuck, Herne, Jack in the Green, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fu.kurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac, Viracoc.ha, or Zaramama aren't true gods?

      June 13, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Keota

      It is impossible for all religions to be correct, but it is possible for all of them to be wrong.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • Frank

      Your extreme ignorance is an embarassment. If you only had a clue.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • BRC

      Specks74,
      What about the option where there is a god of some sort, that started the universe, but it just gave everything a push and let them run from there. In that scenario, there is a god, but at the same time, you did come from an ancient form of primate. How would you feel about that?

      June 13, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • specks74

      ancient form could be acceptable i suppose, I just want to point out that believing in something is actually a good thing for humanity. on another note, sometimes people are a bit radical and use their beliefs to suppress others. i in no way am like that. if there was no organized religion as there is today, i would probably be worshiping the Earth, for she is magnificent and can heal us all if we let her. oops now i sound weird. Lol

      June 13, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • sam stone

      we are all apes. if you want to get all uppity and deny it, have at it.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • sam stone

      "so called truths"?

      do you believe their truths to be less valid than your "so called truth"?

      June 13, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Michelle

      Didn't used to be apes; still are apes.

      June 13, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  4. BOBSTER26

    " If not for the thought of your conscious, your mind would be alone in being".
    :Robert John Thelen

    June 13, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  5. Chris

    Religion grew out of the earlier powers hate of paganism (for MONEY) – when in fact, modern religion is nothing more than a state-sanctioned form of paganism (for MONEY).

    June 13, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • specks74

      Paganism is not all bad, I happen to enjoy my Christmas/worship of sungod or easter/ and the fertility of the bunny, etc…. lol

      June 13, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  6. myron

    Two hands working accomplish far more than a thousand hands praying.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • david esmay

      Second that.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Yeah, but it depends on who is praying and to WHOM they are praying!

      June 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • WASP

      @PRISM 1234
      "Yeah, but it depends on who is praying and to WHOM they are praying!
      June 13, 2012 at 7:59 am"

      ok so i'm guessing you are the correct one to be praying to god to get things done. test this for me, pray to god that your trash magically disappears. simple request for an all powerful being; and seeing you are praying to the correct god it should be done...............right? otherwise you will have to come up with an excuse as to why your god didn't answer your simple request.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      There is a name for someone like you, and it ain't WASP. My God who also be YOUR Judge has spelled it already out. I think you know what it is!

      June 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  7. oldbones24

    I believe that organized religion has caused this. People see the lies and hypocrisy. The churches function as money making businesses and preaching hate and self-righteousness from the pulpit. For Christians the Good News is we are all forgiven and we should care for one another, not judging others or forcing our beliefs on others and the Government.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  8. Jutes

    God is real. In 2002, I had a massive heart attack. Upon reaching the heart center in our state's capital, the specialist informed my daughter and I that I should be dead. While waiting for cath procedure, I asked God to heal me if he would. I didn't beg and cry, just simply asked if He would and for His will to be done. The specialist came into my room hours later and told me, even to his amazement that there was NO damage to the muscle and there was NO build up of plaque, etc. I told him that I had been healed and he readily agreed. I think most of the unbelievers out there will change their minds once something awful happens to them and they have no one but God to call on, through Jesus Christ.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Chase

      What about the millions of other people who have something wrong with them and God does nothing even though they pray and pray and pray?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      But all of the other people who had heart attacks and prayed, but died anyway were just evil people? Grow a brain.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Matt

      pity god doesn't have the power to heal amputees now does he.......

      grow a brain....

      June 13, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • david esmay

      Why would your god create childhood leukemia? Poor engineering?

      June 13, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      Wow! I had the exact same story, except I never even thought of praying. Massive heart attack, cath lab, no damage, except that four days later I thought "Wasn't supposed to have some kind of whiny mid-life crisis and worry about waking up in a cave full of demons?" God must luv me too.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  9. Josef Bleaux

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children and the murder and enslavement of thousands of women and children in Numbers: 31.
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • david esmay

      Excellent post.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      LOL! That's exactly equivalent to a description of sight of a blind man who's arguing with a man who sees, telling him what his view is of the trees, the sky and all things of nature around him, and that the man who sees has no idea what they really look like! LOL!!! 🙂

      June 13, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  10. SV

    God's polling numbers would shoot up if he'd only hurry up and rapture the most annoying Christians out of here. He can start with congress and those who support them in their efforts to disenfranchise the poor and worship at the feet of corporations. You can't sell your religion solely on hating gays and forcing women to have a rapist's baby.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  11. JustPlainJoe

    Growing up is very difficult. When children grow, they experience pain when they no longer see their parents as perfect. When societies mature, the adults feel the sadness of giving up perfection as well. It is scary to give up religion, because, like parents, God is viewed as perfect and totally protecting. Perhaps the new generation is just growing up faster.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  12. cdavidchurch

    Woohoo! People are finally getting some sense! Eventually this silly christian god will go the way of all the other gods before him and be relegated to some ancient religious myths 101 college class. And one day far in the future people will look back and laugh at how dumb the earlier generations were.

    But for now if some one you know survives cancer or flesh eating bacteria, thank medical science and the doctors, not some mythical creature in the sky that no one has ever seen or heard from.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  13. Hustle

    The arguments between Christians and Atheists will go on and on, but what about the belief in other intangibles? How do we prove the exisitence of Love? Can't see it or put it in a bottle. Like the song says, gotta have faith. I can't see or feel Karma either, but I sure beleive in it.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You can't see or feel Karma 'cos it's bulls.hit.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The neuro-chemical processes involved in love are better understood with each passing day.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • BRC

      @Hustle,
      Love is a chemical reaction in the brain. It can be simulating by consuming large amounts of chocolate... which, last I checked, does come in bottles.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  14. believer

    Sad. When you read Revelations, you can easily see that it's coming true. When the world adopts a single currency, and you are asked, no ordered, to take the mark, will you believe then?

    June 13, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • OneOf

      Believe what? That some people will go to any lengths to follow a blueprint, no matter how flawed?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • JustPlainJoe

      This statement could have been made in the year 500, 750, 1000, 1500 as well as today. Everyone in those times saw your "end times" within their lifetimes too.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Revalations, like all books of the bible, is just blah blah blah mumbo jumbo nonsense, written thousands of years ago by members of a primitive culture. Why would anyone in their right mind blindly accept ancient, ignorant nonsense like that?

      June 13, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      To all the posters/trolls on here 'doubting' the existence of God, please forward all cash to me...you know, the ones stamped with "In God We Trust". You don't believe in it anyway.

      And don't whine when Obamney comes to take away your rights-remember, they are state given, not God given.

      What sicko minds.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @elliot
      My money has poems about hockey – but regardless, US currency didn't carry that motto until the McCarthy era when the US government went to great lengths to conflate communism with atheism.
      And which president was it that gave you the Patriot Act – a bit of legislation that effectively removed privacy as a right?

      June 13, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • sam stone

      Gosh, believer, you seem to put a lot of weight in an Iron Age comic book

      June 13, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • sam stone

      elliot....making this a political statement, are you? what an intellect....bravo

      June 13, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • myron

      Actually most scholars today, including devout christian biblical ones, are of the opinon that the John who wrote Revelations (he is not the same John who wrote the Gospel for anyone who wasn't aware of that) was referring specifically to the Roman Empire after their crushing of the Jewish rebellion and destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. John was a a staunchly messianic militant and seethed with furious hatred at Roman governorship. He fervently believed that his god could not possibly let this stand and would surely intervene to take revenge on Rome. As older prophecies predicted the Jewish messiah as the savior and avenger of the Jewish people when they were most oppressed, he most assuredly thought that this was the time. He was writing for his contemporaries and was not at all concerned with future peoples centuries down the road. So you see the "Revelation" to John already happened, oh except that it didn't really. Unless of course you take the interpretation that the Roman Empire did fall (well the Western part anyway) a few centuries later and this is what John predicted. Oooh, good one John, you predicted the fall of an empire sometime in the distant future, not like that ever happened before.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  15. OneOf

    Not my thought, but I like it: we are like fish debating the existence of water. And, imagine a fish telling another fish, "God didn't intend for you to swim like THAT!" To literalists: I know, fish have hard lips and their tongues are stiff and English speech doesn't carry very well under water, and so it would be difficult for us to understand. It's still funny to me.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:43 am |
  16. ThruTH

    doubting God does NOT mean that he does not exist. If God stop existing so does this world.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Yeah, and if Santa stops existing, the universe will fart itself into oblivion.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      You really should see psychiatric help.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • sam stone

      And, believing in god does not mean he exists in any place other than your mind

      June 13, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Hey Zeus!

      …right along with unicorns, leprechauns, santa clause, the easter bunny, and don’t forget the tooth fairy.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "If God stop existing so does this world." And that's the thruth, is it?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  17. realityville

    We are all born atheists. We are brainwashed into religion..

    June 13, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I think it would be fairer to say that were all born non-theistic. Atheism is an assertion of your disbelief.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      Heck no, our physiology is wired to do what Mom and Dad say because it was necessary for survival in our more tribal years. We nearly worship our parents, and that's easy to train into "now worship the shaman" and then "worship the thunder." Magical thinking is in our nature; we have to slap ourselves not to tell the golf ball "go in, go in!"

      June 13, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Thinker

      The best part is when we get mad at the golf ball for not going in. Like it was the ball's fault. Angre at inanimate objects is both comical and sad at the same time. Can't say I've never done it however, at times it can be a great stress reliever!

      June 13, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  18. Robert

    Sometimes the news is actually good.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  19. The doctor

    Man created god, god did not create man. The bible is a fictional fairy tale

    June 13, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Doc, here's an experiment: go to Goodwill and purchase a $2 watch. take it apart and set the hundreds of pieces before you. Sit there until it all comes together and starts working. That is what you would have us believe about how the universe came into being.

      Takes a lot more faith to believe that than in a Creator.

      June 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • The doctor

      Elliot, I do have faith, I have faith their is no god.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Brian

      This is false. Only the most basic environment that could foster life was created by accident. The nature of beings is to evolve. It's not as if the Big Bang happened and, suddenly, New York City was formed. Man created that. Creating an environment suitable for life is not hard; try leaving bread out on your counter.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • sam stone

      Elliot: Tell us how you make the logical leap from a creator to a "God".

      June 13, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "Sit there until it all comes together and starts working." That's all you got, a $2 watch and a motionless universe? FAIL. The universe is in constant motion and is incredibly old. You cannot conceive of a time-span longer than six thousand years because your mind is crippled by Bible-theory. As far as we can tell, the universe is infinite, and we are in one tiny corner of it, and it's possible and even likely that this is the only place life exists; those are some long odds. But in the infinite universe, the unlikely only has to happen once. Heck yeah I have faith, faith that gravity will always work and that the physical world is subject to entropy and the passing of time.

      June 13, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Alyssa

      Elliot, your example basically just shows that man is capable of extraordinary complexity. Is it not also possible that so too is the universe from which we come?

      June 13, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  20. ron

    church is nothing more then a buisness

    June 13, 2012 at 7:37 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.