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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. Rich

    It's a shame there isn't data on this further back than 10 years, because it seems to be pretty normal to me. When we're young, we know it all. Once we turn 30, we realize we were stupid kids. Younger folks ARE more likely to question and challenge things that they were taught growing up, but as they age, they realize there is value. Whether the subject is faith or politics – when the kids get a few wrinkles, get some money, get some wisdom, and have kids of their own, they'll likely start voting more conservatively and more likely return to faith. It's just the pattern of life.

    Now, that's just my opinion based on my own experience, and observing others over 40+ years. Unfortunately, Pew only has data for 10 years, and data vs. anecdotal stories are comparing apples and oranges. We'll see where it sits in 10-20 years, I guess.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It's fear of the unknown which turns people back to religion when they get old.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • NoTheism

      being a 'believer' and a conservative are not mutually inclusive... one can be a conservative without believe in the supernatural and so on.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • TexanSwagger86

      Actually the older tend to be wiser but dumber too. There's a difference.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • tacc2

      You're right about older people going back to their faith. People start to age and see the end of their life is imminent. Being the ego obsessed species that we are, they just can't imagine a world where they simply wink out and no longer exist. Enter the fairy tales about the afterlife. It's rather depressing that people are so thewless.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Rynomite

      I'm an athiest that votes Republican. I work hard for a living, make lots of money, and recognize that I don't like to share with the poor. Since there is no viable libertarian party, I vote money. Imagine the irony that the party that best represents my economic inetrests just happens to be the one with all the wack job fundies....

      June 13, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Milton

      It isn't wisdom, but neurotic existential angst that drives old people to religion. When you have one foot in the grave, it isn't comforting to know that you will take an eternal dirt nap and become food for worms–no seeing your dead relatives, no embrace of god's love–just the abyss of emptiness and the sweet knowledge that all of your organic parts will ultimately be reused in another organism as part of nature's eternal recycling program. We are literally all reincarnated (through decomposition and absorption by other organisms). We are immortal (we all carry DNA in our bodies that has passed from one generation to the next without fail for at least 3.8 billion years) and our souls live on (through the memories of our living relatives, our good work while we are alive, and technology such as photos and digital video). Science has proven religion to be correct–but if you are expecting to eat bon bons on a cloud and have conversations with a personal god, when you are dead, good luck. It isn't going to happen.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • TexanSwagger86

      'Science has proven religion to be correct'!!! What mean you?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Religion was retarded when I was 30, and at 44 it has only become more retarded, which would seem impossible... but obviously is not...

      June 13, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  2. Jeff

    Whatever...of course this is going to be a headline for CNN. Almost to 30 pages of comments already!

    The truth is I don't want anyone sitting in church that HASN'T questioned the existence of God. Blind faith is ridiculous in my mind. I feel like I'm a fairly educated believer meaning that I see how God has worked within the science that we see everyday. I understand that my opinion is not shared by the atheist, but hopefully we're at a spot where we can at least respect each other and our differing views.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • NoTheism

      respect yes, but within science one must be able to show evidence that supports one's claims.. The god of the gaps isn't it.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Grant

      If you see God working within science, then you don't understand the science very well

      June 13, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • J

      Couldn't have said it better.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Jeff

      @NoTheism...the same gaps you have for the beginning of the universe and the gaps in the fossil record and evolution as a whole. Where you see science being able to prove those things over time, I say that God already has. I'm not oblivious to the fact that I can't prove anything, but I see design in our universe. I see intelligence. I label that God. You don't. That's fine with me...

      June 13, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Jeff

      @Grant...so I can't believe that God works within the science we have uncovered? Ok.

      ...but you can totally dismiss an intelligent designer just because? Even Dawkins admitted that there could have been a designer to kick start the universe. He said it would have been from a species that would have evolved in some Darwinian means, but he at least acknowledged the possibility.

      Surely you have a better grasp on science than Richard Dawkins though...

      June 13, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • J

      Well said, Jeff. Both theists and non-theists place faith in evidence. An important question is: which requires more faith - that this perfectly tuned universe which places man on a planet perfect for the flurishing and sustainment of life and for the observation of the universe was all the result of undirected chance or the product of a designer? For me, I place my faith in the former.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • J

      Err...I meant the latter.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Jeff

      @J...exactly right!

      What I don't understand is how anyone can flatly dismiss either side of this argument. I will always believe that God had His hand in the process...but I'll never deny what science proves and the advances that they make. For me though, the more science answers, the more questions they uncover. It's the fingerprint of God to me, though (again) I understand that a large part of the scientific community does not share my view.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Milton

      Yes, and as science has uncovered the unknown, god becomes smaller. Right now, I keep him in a mason jar in my lab. We feed him only if we can't come up with an alternative hypothesis for a particular observed phenomenon. He's slowly starving to death.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  3. WeWereOnTheMoon

    When a person grows up he usually gives up on his imaginary friends, maybe this analogy can also be applied to humanity as a whole.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  4. BlindFaithisSin

    Believe in love of humanity. You and others will be better for it. If the atheists are correct and there is no God, then we still benefit by bettering life in this existence. If on the other hand, theists (which ones?) are right and God exists, he/she/it will undoubtedly welcome those who lived a loving life.

    No matter what, we as souls are given a freedom of choice. Religions rob us of that by giving us supposed answers so we don't have to think anymore. Make up your own mind, and if it sits well with your heart, then you will be fine. 🙂

    June 13, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • TexanSwagger86

      Finally a down to earth comment. Refreshing.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. ktown8

    Younger people believe less and less about God because of the Liberal indoctrination and attacks on Christianity and Religion (well except Islam). We are our worse enemy. We let minority beliefs dictate the majority. We lets atheists and groups like the ACLU force Americans and business to denounce their beliefs and remove any public support of God. We're the new Rome and will suffer the same fate as Rome as our ethics, morals, and society continue to detoriate. CNN is just another media source that helps spread this new Liberal, God-less belief. Congrats.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • sam stone

      Yeah....it is the liberals who are doing it. How are those black helicopters?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Liberal does not equate with atheist.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • mrTestosteroni

      Where did you go to school? Your teachers should be ashamed.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Rick James

      Rome fell down after it adopted Christianity as the official religion. There goes your "theory"...

      June 13, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • TexanSwagger86

      Be careful to equate religion with morals. This misconception is probably the main reason religious people are so scared of atheists.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Gaunt

      Blah, blah, blah. If you loathe the United States the Founders wanted, a secular republic, so much, then pack your bags and get out,. There are plenty of theocracies around the world you can go live in.

      And the name of 'new Rome' is amusing, since the original Rome existed for centuries under pagan gods, yet within a short time of becoming Christain, the entire western Empire totally collapsed.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • William Demuth

      I rarely commnet anymore, but that is the STUPIDEST thing I have ever heard.

      Christians are Christians SOLEY because they are instructed to be one during immpresionable years.

      If your Mama want you to be Mormon, or Shinto, or Buddist, that is what you would be.

      Sheep ALWAYS believe they have free will as they are being led to the slaughter, and you are no different.

      PLEASE educate yourself, your redneck indoctrination is an embarrasement to modernity.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Not Afraid

      LOL

      June 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • karl

      No Ktown we are less religious because we utilize all forms of information provided to us. We no longer believe the ramblings of one priest or of an archaic indoctrination that suggests creationsim is a rational thought. Maybe its time you start realizing the difference between the technological age and the mythological. Religion was created not only as a control but to explain factors in our life that no longer require such whimsicial answers....We know why the sun rises every morning...we don't need a sun god to answer a basic physics concept. Start using your brain or keep it in church..

      June 13, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • sam stone

      Some of the most liberal people I know are among the most religious. I know conservative religious and both liberal and conservative atheists, too.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Stephen Roberts

      June 13, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • tacc2

      If you want to believe in imaginary gods/demons/spaghetti monsters, that's just fine. No one is stopping you. But don't try to push your belief on anyone else. We don't need your religion in our government.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Milton

      Yeah, we're the new Rome. Let majority rule. If 10,000 Romans like to be entertained by letting lions eat a few Christians, why should they be concerned about what Christians think about it? Majority rules right?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  6. WASP

    @crackedskull44
    "No Matt, there is evidence POST big bang theory, the expansion being traced back to a BIG BANG possibility. There is no explanation of where the energy came from. It takes energy to make energy, you cant spontaneously create heat out of nothing. No elements existed, it was void space and you are telling me that random things just start happening? Im waitning for the rain of live elephants in this case. Or falling spontaneous falling rocks that pop up at the snap of fingers. Ill stick with God, TYVM.
    June 13, 2012 at 9:03 am"

    energy can not be created nor destroyed; it merely transfers from one form to another. either potential (stored energy) or kinetic (action energy). so the energy that exsisted at the time of the big bang is the same energy that exsists today, just in various forms. matter can be created and destroyed, that is how a nuclear bomb works; it takes the potential energy of plutonium and turns it into kinetic energy. in that theory matter and energy inside an object are equal, if i disentigrate your body your matter would give out equal energy, however a large portion would be released as heat and light instead of explosive force.

    "No elements existed, it was void space and you are telling me that random things just start happening?" this statement is both speculation and shows a total lack of understanding of molecular science. quarks make up protons,neutrons and electrons; said atomic structures make up atoms, which based on how many protons,neutrons and electrons are in said atom depicts what element they create i.e. one proton,neutron and electron make hydrogen the first element in the periodic table. the speculation side of your statement is that you couldn't know what exsisted back then seeing you weren't there to witness it.

    the remainer of your post is complete and utter babbling, but to each his own. enjoy your god.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Milton

      Actually the big bang began as a singularity where all energy was squeezed into a nearly infinitely small space. This isn't the same as nothing. In fact, in some ways, it is the opposite of nothing. The big bang theory doesn't actually postulate that stuff came from nothing, but rather an abrupt expansion of stuff that previously was the same stuff smooshed into a tiny spot.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  7. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wm1u0S3o0c&w=640&h=360]

    June 13, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  8. Leucadia Bob

    REGGAE IS MAKING A HUGE COMEBACK IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wm1u0S3o0c

    June 13, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • mrTestosteroni

      STFU meat.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  9. Barry G.

    Horus,

    You obviously have no understanding of how literature (including sacred) functions, what ritualized history is, or the meaning and point of the Exodus material.

    If I were able, I'd explain it to you.

    In short, I refer you to the wealth of scholarly works, which explain these matters–that is if you're sincere and interested in becoming enlightened.

    My point stands, and I stand by it.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Horus

      I suspect we'd differ on the definition of a "scholar" as well ;-} I can point to any number of "scholarly" works that disprove or scientifically explain most all the content in the Bible. Guess it comes down to level of confirmation bias. I'm willing to listen to any argument, no matter how d.umb, but at the end of the day, for me logic and reason are my master.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • NoTheism

      "sincere and interested in becoming enlightened", and that would happen through understanding your 'sacred' texts? I am not sure if the Buddha would agree...

      June 13, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  10. Tammy

    I think that the Bible says that the end of times will come and that when the end of times comes nations will be in dire straights "as in the days of Noah"....

    June 13, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Horus

      The flood has been disproved to the point that anyone who claims to believe it I simply can't take seriously.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Primewonk

      There was no Noah. There was no ark. There was no global flood.

      Sorry.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Horus

      btw I assume you know that the entire flood story was a recycled and revisioned version of the Epic of Gilgemesh – written at least 2000 years prior to the OT......

      June 13, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  11. asdf

    No wonder there's so many religious people still. Most of them consciously repress the urge to question it!

    June 13, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Tammy

      to question it is to have doubt in God, and that's something that true believers refuse to do. If you question it then you might as well question your very existence.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Madtown

      Tammy
      to question it is to have doubt in God, and that's something that true believers refuse to do
      -----–
      To "question" is to utilize your brain as it's been designed, to think and analyze. The functionality of the human mind is a gift, don't you think God would be pleased if you'd actually use the gifts given to you, instead of throwing them away?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • sam stone

      Tammy: To not question it is to be a slave. Spend a lot of time on your knees do you?

      June 13, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • sam stone

      to question god is to question your own existence? gosh, what subservient drivel

      June 13, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  12. Jim

    Finally, People are starting to wake up! No god...no religion....NOTHING!

    June 13, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • JT

      Does it anger you that most of the founding fathers were Christian men? It must drive you mad.

      P.S. Non-religious myself here.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Reemo

      Whenever I see people make that statement, they start out happy because they made someone else feel stupid for believing in God. Then, a moment later, that smile washes away as the person realizes that a meaningless life with an inevitable death is not all that it's cracked up to be. Soon, depression sets in and the only way to cope with it is to:

      A: Continue to belittle believers in an effort to remind yourselve that you know something they don't know.

      B: Party while under the influence of some foreign substance to keep your mind off the existential reality that life is meaningless and you're gonna die eventually.

      C: Enter into a state of denial: "I don't know what happens when we die, so I'm not gonna worry about it."

      June 13, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Atheist Meme Of the Day

      Had no idea that deists were Christians, how is that ? they didn't believe Jesus was the son of god.....

      June 13, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • karl

      Most of the founding father were NOT christian men! Please check your facts and read simple quotes. Most could not tolerate organized religion but understood a society that needed acceptance.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • paco128

      believe in jesus and just see what happens.your life will only get better.believe me I KNOW

      June 13, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  13. Atheist Meme Of the Day

    I love seeing stories like this, it's like our hard work is paying off. Face it everyone lives without gods, some folks just pretend to have one

    June 13, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Blow Me

      I guess getting rammed in the ass is better than believing in God. Good luck with that.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Atheist Meme Of the Day

      I love how you godtards never make sense, what does that even mean ? Sorry to break it to you, but believing fictional book characters are real is beyond my age bracket. So what's it like basing your life on nothing ?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  14. Gaunt

    If you BELIEVE in God, I think you are mistaken, but I respect that. Lots of people believe lots of different things all over the world after all.

    However, if you have NEVER had any doubts at all about the existence of your personal interpretation of your version of your god, then you are a fool. Period.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  15. tacostand

    People are getting smarter.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  16. Meburningyou

    Not only does 'faith' pretend to be a virtue, but it demonizes doubt. But people are getting smarter about realizing that faith and theism did nothing to prevent the state of the current world. The MAJORITY of the world is religious, yet religion has failed us completely. The world is not this screwed up because a small handful of us are non-believers. There are enough actual BELIEVERS in the world that it should be a far better place, but it's not. I am proud of today's youth for finally using their heads and asking questions rather than be mindlessly indoctrinated into these mega-cults. Way to go millenials! Keep it up! 🙂

    June 13, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Frank

      You are correct and also faiths demonizes all other faiths but their common enemy are atheists for they fear anyone who dares to ask questions more than anything.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  17. Sortakinda

    Even Jesus on the cross quoted the psalm: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" That reflects at least a momentary questioning of all He knew to be true. Doubts and questions are healthy. In the end, atheists cannot explain the first cause, as defined by Aristotle.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Horus

      Neither can religion. At least science uses logic, reason and is evidence based.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • here's a question

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeVhkXW6BKY&w=640&h=360]

      your turn to explain....

      June 13, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Gaunt

      He didnt 'quote the psalm', he called out 'oh god, why have you forsaken me'. And there is actually an answer as to why he did that though most Christians are too fundamentally ignorant of their own theology to know what it is. Anyone?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • richunix

      No we Atheist have long understood how to separate (argumentum ad verecundiam) truth from fantasy..

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      June 13, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Tammy

      @ Horac "Neither can religion. At least science uses logic, reason and is evidence based" according to man, and we all know man is infallible, right? ;-)~

      June 13, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Tammy

      @ Gaunt: ok, I'll bite, only b/c what you believe won't shake my faith, kindly educate me on what you believe.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Horus

      @Tammy – well then: All religions throughout history were conjured up by someone, or some group at some point, therefore ALL religions were born of man, and all religions are fallible, no?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Gaunt

      Tammy: its not belief, its well known fact. Early Christaisn did NOT believe jesus was the son of God, They thought he was a regular man who was inhabited by the spirit of god after his adolescence, and abandoned by the same spirit on the cross. So God literally forsook jesus. This was the mainstream of Christianity for over 200 years. Its also why books like The Gospel of Thomas were excluded rom the Bible after 400AD, because the new orthodoxy was purging the bible of elements they politically didnt like.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Gaunt – Sin is defined as separation from God. Jesus took on the sin of the world. Thus, in that moment Jesus experienced something he had never known, separation from God. The scourging, the condemnation, the crucifixion, these things were all blessings to him as the will of the Father. But, to be separated, to take on sin, this was His sacrifice. This was His gift to us. This is the proof that He is who he says He is, that while were yet sinners, we were loved.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Tom Paine

      Man is not infallible, and neither is his creation: The Bible.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Christ's divinity did not become dogma until 300 years after His death.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  18. Rynomite

    Evidence that our educational system much be better than we thought it was!

    June 13, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • WOW

      @Rynomite: LOL we can see it has done wonders for you skills LOL

      June 13, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • sam stone

      "you skills"?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • G Bush

      Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Rynomite

      Hah. Yeah Yeah. I mistyped. As did you apparently. 🙂

      June 13, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  19. zeus_z

    Pretty amazing-

    Its a bible prophecy that not only we will have environmental disasters near the end of times, including a financial disaster, but people will not know his name...

    June 13, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • WOW

      @Zeus: Yep.

      June 13, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  20. DrDiomededes

    I consider this a potentially good thing for America; a positive trends. However, if this younger generation underperforms, the atheists and irreligious will be blamed. We shall always be open to criticism, and as we gain publci status, we are even more open.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:19 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.