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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. TC

    With more people who believe in God not going to church and "being spritiual" this trend will continue. Faith or belief in anything only develops with interaction with other people.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  2. An Agnostic

    If your god is all powerful why is your church always harping that it need more money?

    July 10, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • TC

      Money is a man made method of trade just like most things on earth. Money is needed to accomplish any mission.

      July 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  3. Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind (Fact)

    Would you debate with someone who argues that the sky is yellow, up is down, left is right, a tree is a lamp, or black is white? You debating with this person would leave both parties looking like fools. Christians please stop wasting your time on people who argue that our world and galaxy was made from nothing/has no Creator. I honestly believe that many years ago no one predicted that the world would get bad to the point that people are debating that this perfect system of life is a coincidence. Christians dont indulge in foolishness you will be looked upon as a fool as well.
    Romans 1:20-"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."
    John 3:16-"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
    “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” Albert Camus

    July 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      A useless post from a person with a useless tag. Log off, go to your church, and preach to the choir since that seems to be the only thing you're capable of.

      July 9, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Would you argue with someone who said fairies are real? Of course not..it takes faith to believe in fairies.

      Amen.

      July 9, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Appears Jesus Superstar here is worried about damage control. Christians look quite foolish debating faith and he/she knows it. lol

      July 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Everybody knows John 3:16-"For God so loved the world that he slept with Mary against her will, that whoever believes he is a bas tard shall not perish but have eternal life."

      July 9, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • An Agnostic

      what rubish

      July 10, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • TC

      @hawaii guest – shoots brah – you just go beach, eat your kahlua talk story and contribute nahting

      July 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  4. Dammit

    Soon enough doubt in a god's existence will be a legitimate diagnosis, for which the state will mandate treatment with space-age chemicals.

    July 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • cc

      Or better yet, all morons who believe in "higher" beings are sunk to the bottom of the ocean as fish food. Grow up kid, there is no god.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • An Agnostic

      Ever notice how many pro religious rants are similar to LSD rants?

      July 10, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  5. Traveler 5

    The High court rules against 97% of Americans, in favor of 3%. The court is not functioning as intended. Taking God
    and the 10 commandments out of our lives has had devastating negative results. Teaching kids not to kill, not to steal,
    to honor their father and mother, to be loyal in marriage was found my the court to inappropriate for children to learn.

    The Supreme Court has no value in America, the recent additions to the court make the court a National JOKE.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      60% of the 10 commandments have been illegal to enforce in this country for more than 200 years since the Const.itution was ratified. You mentioned a few that are part of any civil society and are taught to all children. (Murder, theft). There is nothing new about the 10 commandments NOT being a significant influence on our system.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  6. BittyKitty

    I was raised in the Church of God all my life, and about a year ago I finally admitted to myself that I just can't blindly follow any sort of religion anymore. I believed in God because that is how I was raised. I have come to a point to where I can honestly say that nobody knows, and that's not a bad thing. Is there a God? I don't know. If there is, I doubt he/she/it is the fire and brimstone God who will throw you into the fiery pits of Hell just for questioning he/she/it exists, even though he/she/it REFUSES to provide anyone in the past 2,000 years any teeny tiny bit of a hint that they're real. In Jesus' day, they got all kinds of miracles, so of course they believed. It was right in front of their eyes. But noooo, not us. WE have to have faith. Sorry~~not buying it folks. Man invented the gods they worshiped because they needed a way of explaining all of the good and bad things that happened back then. But you know what happened? Dinosaurs happened. Oh wait, how did those get there? I dunno...musta been the devil...yeah, he totally did that.. Hurr Derrr.. Oh, and one more thing, America was not founded on the christian god anyways. Look at the consti*tution, Nature's God. Natural law. Not Jesus. Sorry. I'm sure this is very hard for you christians to take..but it's true. Put your money back in your wallet, the bible back on the bookshelf, and take a long hard look at REAL LIFE. Reality. Live your life to the fullest, because you only get one.

    July 2, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • T-Max73

      Very well put. I had a similar "deconversion" experience about five years ago. I am still tolerant of those who think differently, but my frustration at religious indoctrination of young innocent children is growing. Thanks for sharing.

      July 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • An Agnostic

      Geroge Carlin summed it up perfectly when he asked "If there is an almighty god that determines everything why are the churchs always claiming they need more cash?"

      July 10, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Truthseeker

      I couldn't agree more BittyKitty...Religion is all about controlling peoples minds so they will do like you want them to do

      July 11, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  7. augustghost

    live and let live and shut up

    June 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Marcos

      You are fat and poor.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  8. Brian

    I grew up Cathlolic, never doubted God's existance until I became an adult. I'm disillusioned by church teachings that I don't follow and I'm saddened by prayer's 0% success rate. I think a lot of people feel the same way

    June 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  9. dyslexic dog

    Christian beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.

    The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Horus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

    June 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • falcon

      Thank you. I'm 72, attended church services until adulthood, but never could believe the teachings. I went to church mainly as a social gathering with my friends. I came to realize that early man invented their gods as a way to explain an earthquake, flood, solar eclipse, or even good fortune on a hunt.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • old golfer

      Also 72. Good post and I agree with you. Being a Deist, it seems pretty simple to me. God gave man reason. Man gave man religion. And no-one, including me, can prove or disprove the existence of God. Peace.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  10. dyslexic dog

    deGràsse Tyson 1:1 God is an ever receeding pocket of scientific ignorance

    June 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • craig

      We dismiss God at our own peril. The Word of God predicted exactly what is happening today, a falling away, a world bent on pleasure. The cost is too great to not recognize how much God loves us.

      July 6, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • cc

      Read it again, never mentions anything about today.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  11. Laeren Misha

    I think the problem is that people equate beliefs with something different than what a "belief" actually is. A belief is something that helps form a model for reality. Other people take that to a different context, where a belief is something that is useful and gratifying, versus something that just reflects their own internal model of reality. If Xtians really believed that they are going to Heaven, why wear seatbelts? Why have Life Insurance? Why grieve at funerals? Most Xtians just give lip service to the reality claims of their beliefs, but still claim those beliefs as true. Why pray to an almighty, infinitely wise deity whom they claim has complete control over the universe? What, do they expect to change this almighty being's mind? If they truly believed these things as fact, they wouldn't behave in the ways that they do. But they believe contrary to an actual, full belief in their tenets of reality. And therefore demonstrate that your average believer is simply spouting things they've been taught for years, illustrating their indoctrination.

    June 28, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Colin

      That was logical, articulate and internally consistent. In other words, no Xtian will understand it.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  12. Seth

    Seeing that the gospels were written 40 years after the so called existence of Jesus, I'd say it's all BS. We've all played the quick game of whispering a story to people down a line and by the time it reaches the end the story isn't exactly what it began as. Now span that down the line of 40 years. We can also take into consideration that history has shown the rise and fall of gods, religious beliefs and such. Now the time age of atheism is finally starting to take hold. There is no god, there is no heaven, and there is no hell. For monotheist to abide by doctrines full of ignorance. bigotry and lies as their excuse to oppress and murder other people in the 21st century, I would go as far as to say Christians, Muslims and Jews are no different than Neo-Nazi’s using Mein Kampf as a reference for their beliefs. We wouldn’t tolerate the Nazi’s would we? So why do we continue to tolerate others that are essentially the same thing?

    June 27, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • allfaith

      Whenever we act passively in accord with the actions of a group, no matter our intent, our beliefs are not our own and are prone to prejudice and assumption. However, it must be remembered that generally what we see is a result of the form that our own beliefs take. There is good in everyone. The trick is to remember that there is no sacrifice involved with accepting peace. If we act out of malice and attack, we are forever at war with ourselves and continue to believe in the inequity of individual freedoms.

      June 27, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  13. bob

    Good! We need more people with critical thinking skills.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  14. BDK1023

    Is it just me, or do the comments of the "believers" seem a lot more caustic than the "nonbelievers"? Although it's really hard for me to understand why they believe what they believe, I certainly don't begrudge them the right to believe and behave as they see fit as long as they don't infringe on my personal freedom. However,listening to their ignorance, condemnation, and judgemental spew reminds me of why I abandoned organized religion at an early age.

    June 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  15. AmericanSam

    While logic is incredibly important, I think those who don't profess a religion need to find another way to reach out to people beside cold facts and calculations. I think it's safe to say belief in God or gods comes from an unbearable fear of death. Belief in an afterlife gives life an inherent meaning that nonbelievers have yet to clearly retort. To the nonreligious, remember when you are defending your beliefs that the individuals are often very afraid of a meaningless existence. Perhaps we'd do better to get in touch with our own spirituality.

    For me, I believe conflict is mostly a result of not being able to understand each other, which leads to each side thinking the other is either stupid or evil. On the contrary, I think it's in our nature to be good. It certainly feels good to be good. Perhaps our mere existence is a testament to the power of life itself, and we should rejoice in seeking truth and sharing happiness with others.

    June 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • JWT

      In touch with your own spirituality" Apparently you miss the entire point. Keep trying though.

      June 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Loren Million

      What in the world are you trying to say. There may not be a meaning to life, you're born, you live, you die. To be afraid of death is foolish, it will happen and there is nothing beyond life but death and there is nothing you can do about it. Live your life fully, reach for the stars, have a family, your legacy to humanity is your genetics and DNA passed to your children. Be happy and good your fellow humans and Mother Nature. Simple.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • The Dude

      But if what is good in your eyes is bad in anothers then what is truly good?

      July 5, 2012 at 5:29 am |
  16. DL

    This report/statistic is skewed for the election year. If you look at the Pew study they cited, about half way down on the page, there's a chart with the "Belief in God" statistics. You'll notice a large spike in the early 2000's.

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/12/pew-survey-doubt-of-god-growing-quickly-among-millennials/

    There was a game-changing event at that time, near the end of 2001, and talk of God was all throughout pop culture at that time; a time when the Millennials would've been seeking guidance and direction in life. The numbers didn't "drop" out of the sky. They spiked first, then dropped; essentially, it leveled off.

    This CNN article is misleading.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Adam

      ...meaning.... NineEleven scared the crud out of people, who had to confront a world absent any apparent justice or mercy, so they turned to the common source of such things: getting comfort by professing belief in a supernatural agent, and interacting with others who profess the same belief. Then, when people had resumed their ordinary lives, they found that the effort to supplicate oneself to an invisible celestial dictator just didn't make much sense, and, oooooh, is that the new iPad......

      what were we talking about again? must not have been important.

      June 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • dyslexic dog

      denial is not just a river in Egypt ...

      June 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  17. D

    Doubt in god is fed by his followers. As an outsider looking in, one can see the discrepancies against logic, and among varying groups of the faithful. Compound that with the fabricated "war on god" and "us against them" views held by the faithful, and it is easy to see the lack of desire to be affiliated.

    The church would be more productive preaching love, tolerance, etc. while expounding on the teachings of prophets. Preaching the fire-and-brimstone intolerance only singles one out as a hate group.

    June 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  18. allfaith

    God is just a word. Perhaps we should consider using the term 'All That Is'. In other words, I'm a part of All That Is and you're a part of all that is. That makes us all important. It's time for the organized religion crap to go. It's impossible for All That Is to disappear. I am, You are, All That Is.

    June 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  19. Al Ford

    For those who believe in the bible, do you believe everything or do you chose to be selective?

    June 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Prometheus

      Selective, cherrypicking sections by believers is how they justify their actions whether those actions be good or bad. It is kinda sad really.

      June 20, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • da_soji1

      Generalizing is fun for both sides I see.

      June 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      @da_soji1, Is it a generalization to say that christians cherry-pick the bible because they no longer kill people for eating shellfish as is commanded by the bible? That's sounds like a statement of fact to me.

      June 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Carla

      Al, in answer to your question, I think that one has to understand that there is much symbolism in the Bible. It is also a compilation of writings from many authors and over a long period of time. Let's face it, there are some strange things in there that, if we did take it literally, we'd be in trouble. For instance, did Jesus really mean that we should pluck out our eye if it sins? No, that should not be taken literally.

      June 21, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • gill

      What is symbolism? What is literal? This is decided by man. Not the divine. Many things that are considered symbolic now, were considered literal 500 years ago. As things in the bible become less applicable to our times, they become symbolic. Whenever the bible expresses an unpopular view in our moral paradigm, it becomes symbolic. How convenient. The bible was written by humans, for humans. It has been translated many times, by humans. It is neither timeless or flawless.

      June 26, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • ryan

      Do you beleive in every theory about how the earth cam to be and all that is living on on it or do you choose to be selective? not saying that to mock you, its just that your quesiton isn't that simple to answer if you've actually studied the Bible and really looked at what Jesus was teaching in the New Testament.

      I beleive everything I read in the Bible and I choose to follow the teachings of Jesus. Read a red letter Bible. I cannot find one thing that is not worth living out in the words that Jesus spoke. If you want a Bible by any chance, I would honestly buy one and send it to you for free. Not being pushy, Just an offer. I'd be happy to chat back and fourth with ya. Have a great week Al Ford. Im from Canada so Happy Canada day if you're from here and happy 4th of July in you're in the USA.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  20. Prometheus

    I have no trouble with believers, I have trouble when some of them become bigots and persecute those not like them ( Gays, Lesbians, Muslims etc.) I am glad that my generation is on the right track. For those that say that us non believers are going to hell, well do you think about the hell you create and have been creating for centuries? No? I didn't think so.
    Accountability is nice.

    June 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • ryan

      I also have trouble with believers that persecute other people. As a believer myself, I try my best to be open, honest and respecful to all people. I may not agree with their lifestyle or their actions but I respect the fact that that is who they are. Some people might call me a hater for saying that but in the same breath, they are hating what I beliave. I would NEVER talk down to anyone for the lifestyle they lead or the faith they believe, EVER and I sure wish people would do the same thing back. The only reason why I don't keep my faith to myself is because I believe in Jesus and that by beleiving in Jesus and following His word, I am saved and forgiven for the life that i could never even imagine to live perfectly. I want others to know what I bleieve but there is no way that I am going to try and convince someone that they HAVE to believe this. anyway, I'mi from Canada but happy 4th of July to you!!! Have a great week.

      July 2, 2012 at 10:48 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.