Opinion pollsters Populus have recently released the results of an online survey of attitudes to topical questions, including a number of religious interest. Fieldwork was conducted between 20 and 23 August 2010 among a representative sample of 1,037 adult Britons aged 18 and over.
In the realm of what might be termed traditional beliefs, only 19% of Britons now accept the biblical account that God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. 55% think this to be untrue, while 25% are undecided. The biggest demographic difference is between men and women, 63% and 48% respectively disbelieving the Bible story.
Conversely, 67% of adults take a Darwinian line in thinking human beings to have evolved from apes. Just 14% consider this statement untrue, with 18% uncertain. Notable here are variations by socio-economic group, with 73% of ABs being evolutionists against 61% of DEs.
A minority (37%) now believe in life after death. This is a lower proportion than in most British polls on the subject since the Second World War, although not completely unprecedented (four surveys in the 1970s returned between 35% and 37%). See the time series at:
A further 26% deny the existence of an afterlife and 37% are unclear. Women (44%) believe more than men (29%). Whereas 26% more women believe than disbelieve, for men there is a net 6% disbelief. Other groups registering large net belief figures are the 25-34s (+19%), the 45-54s (+17%), the over-65s (+14%) and the DEs (+25%).
As for alternative beliefs, opinions are less clear-cut. For example, 39% think that some people have genuine psychic powers and can foresee the future, but 32% disagree and 29% do not know. Women (50%) are almost twice as likely to believe in psychic powers as men (28%). Other highs are recorded among the middle-aged and the DEs.
Asked whether unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have visited the earth from other planets, 31% say this is the case, 31% that it is not so, with 38% unsure. Those aged 18-24 are particular disbelievers (45%, against 23% thinking the statement to be true).
As for time travel, 18% believe this to be possible, 49% impossible and 33% cannot say. 18-24s (31%) are most likely to accept the possibility, three times as many as among the over-65s (10%).
This is a somewhat disparate set of questions, and it is hard to draw very firm conclusions from them. Perhaps one of the most significant features is the large number of don’t knows, suggesting that people often struggle to engage with or comprehend the supernatural and transcendental, or perhaps simply do not care. Among those with firmer views, on the evidence here, Christian orthodoxy is more likely to be rejected than accepted.
For the full data tables from this survey, with breaks by gender, age, socio-economic group and region, see: