Forced to choose, no fewer than 71% of Britons contend that ‘religious beliefs promote intolerance, exacerbate ethnic divisions, and impede social progress in developing and developed nations alike’. Only 29% say the polar opposite, that ‘religion provides the common values and ethical foundations that diverse societies need to thrive in the 21st century’.
This ranks Britain fifth equal in terms of negativity towards religion in a league table of 23 countries surveyed in Wave 14 of the Ipsos Global @dvisor omnibus poll. Fieldwork was conducted online between 7 and 23 September 2010 among a total of more than 18,000 adults aged 16-64, including 1,002 in Great Britain.
The weighted average for all countries produced a pro-religion vote of 48% and an anti one of 52%, but there was wide variation in the national scores. The negative list was headed by several Western European countries, Sweden (81%), Belgium (79%), France (76%) and Spain (75%).
The pro-religion vote was led by Muslim Saudi Arabia (92%) and Indonesia (91%), with the United States one of several countries around the two-thirds mark. In general, developing economies displayed a higher level of support for the positive role of religion than did the advanced economies of the G8 and Europe.
The topic was investigated by Ipsos in the run-up to the Munk Debates on Religion, between the Roman Catholic Tony Blair and the atheist Christopher Hitchens, in Toronto on 26 November 2010, and a summary report of the findings was released on that date. It can be downloaded from:
The same survey also included three other questions on religion, posed on behalf of Reuters News, although the results were not published until 25 April 2011. The full data tables for these questions, with breaks by various demographics, are available at:
Across all 23 countries, 51% believed in God or a supreme being, 18% disbelieved and 30% were undecided. Disbelievers numbered 34% in Great Britain, exceeded only by France (39%), Sweden (37%) and Belgium (36%). The proportion was a mere 7% in the United States and 3% or less in Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey. British disbelievers were especially concentrated among men (43%) and persons with a high household income (42%).
Globally, 51% believed in some form of life after death, albeit not necessarily in heaven and hell, while 23% stated that one simply ceased to exist and 26% were uncertain. In Britain far fewer adults (37%) believed (13% in heaven or hell, 5% in reincarnation, 19% in some other form of afterlife), 31% regarded the present life as the end, and 32% expressed no opinion.
Britons who said that there definitely was no afterlife were more numerous than in 16 other countries, being surpassed by South Korea and Spain (40%), France (39%), Japan (37%) and Belgium (35%) and equalled by China. Disbelievers were again more likely to be found among men (39%) and the wealthiest households (40%).
Asked about the origins of human life, 41% in all countries were evolutionists, 28% creationists and 31% unclear. In Britain evolutionists outnumbered creationists by more than four to one (55% against 12%), although there were fewer than in Sweden (68%), Germany (65%), China (64%), Belgium (61%) and Japan (60%), with the British proportion the same as in France and Hungary.
Creationists were in a majority in only four countries (Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey), three of them predominantly Muslim. The most highly-educated Britons were the most pro-evolution (69%), but the converse was not true. Indeed, creationists never exceeded 14% in any British demographic sub-group. 34% of all Britons were undecided on the issue.
The results for this question on the origins of human life may be compared with the near-contemporaneous statistics from an Ipsos MORI poll for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, which approached the topic from two contrasting perspectives. See our coverage at:
It should be noted that, as is common with online panels, the sample excluded the cohort of over-65s, since these are still generally underrepresented among online users. As this is precisely the cohort which, in other surveys, tends to come out as the most religious, then it follows that the Ipsos Global @dvisor data are likely to underestimate somewhat the nation’s religiosity.