Bible Versus Darwin and Other News


Bible versus Darwin

Given a list of 30 books, and invited to select three which they considered to be most valuable to humanity (as opposed to having read or enjoyed), 37% of the 2,044 adult Britons recently questioned by YouGov for the Folio Society put the Bible in top spot, narrowly ahead of what is often thought to be its arch rival, Darwin’s Origin of Species (35%). However, in the battle between religion and science, Darwin won out among men (37% against 36% for the Bible), while women put the Bible (38%) ahead of Darwin (33%). In regional terms, the Bible scored most highly in Northern England (41%). Asked why they had opted for the Bible, the most frequent response was because it ‘contains principles/guidelines to be a good person’. The Koran came in eighth position, on 9%. The top ten titles are shown below.  



1 Bible


2 Origin of Species – Charles Darwin


3 Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking


4 Relativity – Albert Einstein


5 Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell


6 Principia Mathematica – Isaac Newton


7 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee


8 Koran


9 Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith


10 Double Helix – James Watson


The survey has been widely reported in British and overseas print and online media during the past few days, from which the above summary has been compiled. Irritatingly, the Folio Society’s press release is not yet posted on its website, and the data tables are not yet in YouGov’s online archive either. 

Religious liberty

Religious liberty issues are of some concern to a minority of the electorate, according to a ComRes poll conducted for the Christian Institute in the 40 most marginal constituencies of England and Wales. Fieldwork was carried out online among 1,000 adults between 18 and 26 September 2014. Full data tables have yet to be released into the public domain (albeit they have been generously made available to BRIN by ComRes), but a news release from the Christian Institute (on 31 October 2014) is available online at:

Two-fifths (39%) of the sample disagreed with the proposition that religious liberty in Britain had been improved by the current Coalition Government, with just 11% in agreement and 50% recorded as don’t knows. A plurality (44%) thought that UK law should ensure that people are not forced to provide goods or services that violate their beliefs, while 31% dissented from the view that enforcement of equality should always take precedence over conscience in law. Asked whether ‘the tide of legislation has gone too far in elevating equality over religious freedom’, 43% agreed, 21% disagreed, and 35% were undecided. One-third believed that Britain should follow the example of other nations in offering asylum to displaced Christians in Iraq, and 17% said that they would be more likely to vote in the forthcoming general election for a party which promised to grant such asylum.

The Christian Institute’s purpose behind the poll was presumably to ascertain the extent to which neglect of religious liberty might cost politicians votes in May 2015. In practice, however, this seems highly unlikely since we know from a myriad of other polling that it is topics such as the economy, immigration, and the health service which are foremost in the public mind. When it comes to the crunch, religious issues per se generally do not have saliency in British politics. 

Jewish vote

Talking of religion and politics, Ed Miliband’s condemnation of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza this summer seems to have upset many Jewish voters, according to a survey published by the Jewish News on 6 November 2014. Three in ten admitted that they would be less likely to vote Labour at the next general election as a result of Miliband’s comments, and 16% that they would be more likely to vote Labour (perhaps suggesting a certain lack of sympathy for Israel’s actions). A plurality (39%) stated that they would not have voted for Labour in any case, with 15% intending to vote Labour anyway.  

Overall, 48% of the 1,300 Jewish News readers questioned online on 3-5 November 2014 said that they would vote Conservative if a general election were to be held now (rising to 63% among orthodox Jews), 19% Labour, 8% UKIP, 4% Green, 3% Liberal Democrat, with 16% undecided. The economy was ranked as the top political issue by 85%, followed by the National Health Service (57%), Israel (51%), education (49%), and Europe (40%). The majority (56%) said that a party leader’s or a local candidate’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a major factor in determining how they voted. For further information, go to:

The usual caveat applies: the poll was evidently completed via a self-selecting sample alerted via various Jewish organizations, so it may not be representative of Britain’s Jewish community as a whole. The pattern of prospective voting by Jews is certainly a little different from the British Election Study (BES) 2015 panel (analysed by Ben Clements for BRIN on 17 October 2014), which was 46% Conservative, 30% Labour, 5% LibDem, and 12% UKIP. However, the BES data were based on only 134 Jews and omitted the undecideds, so the comparison is by no means exact. Moreover, a lot of the fall in the Labour vote between the two surveys may be accounted for by the negative reaction to Miliband’s criticism of Israel. Capturing the opinions of minority religious populations is no easy task.  


Asked about five different types of content in television and film, only 7% of the British public are concerned about blasphemy, compared with 17% who object to racism, 14% to sex, 14% to swearing, and 11% to homophobia, with 37% not being troubled about any of them or undecided. Blasphemy is of most concern to the over-60s (10%) and Conservative voters (9%) and of least concern (4% each) to people aged 25-39 and Labour supporters. The survey was conducted by YouGov for The Sunday Times among 2,022 adults, who were interviewed online on 6 and 7 November 2014. Data tables are at:

Anglican statistics

The Church of England’s Statistics for Mission, 2013 were published on 10 November 2014 in 63 pages of tables, figures, commentary, and methodological notes. They are based upon an 80% completion rate of parochial returns, with estimation being used for the remaining data. The report revealed a by now all too familiar picture of slow net decline, with some more dramatic reductions (for example, electoral roll membership dropped by 9% last year, which saw its first renewal since 2007), but also tempered by some pockets of growth. As columnist Giles Fraser commented in The Guardian for 15 November 2014 (p. 40), ‘it seems that the Church of England continues to slip quietly into non-existence’ while, at the same time, ‘it is holding up pretty well, despite seriously adverse market conditions’.

A variety of measures of all age churchgoing were included; in descending order of magnitude these are: Christmas attendance 2,368,400 (equivalent to 4% of the English population); Easter attendance 1,272,000; worshipping community 1,056,400; average weekly attendance 1,009,100 (2% of the population); average Sunday attendance 849,500; and usual Sunday attendance 784,600. Additionally, an estimated 5,000,000 individuals attended special services during Advent. Overall, it was calculated that 24% of churches were declining, 19% growing, and 58% stable. Enhanced information about joiners and leavers indicated that losses arise from death/illness (38%), moving away (32%), leaving the church (17%), and moving to another local church (14%). Gains derive from joining church for the first time (46%), moving into the area (29%), returning to church (14%), and moving from a local church (12%). Statistics for Mission are at:


Only 29% of Britons think the official link between the Church of England and the state is good for Britain, according to a ComRes survey for ITV News between 31 October and 2 November 2014, for which 2,019 adults were interviewed online. The range by demographic sub-groups was from 16% in Scotland to 39% among retired people with a private pension. A similar overall number (30%) believed that establishment is a bad thing, while the plurality (41%) was unable to express a view. The results were comparable with previous polls by ComRes this year (27-29 June and 12-14 September) which posed the identical question. Data tables are at:

English and Welsh Catholic statistics

Tony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre Trust has recently published, as a blog, the second part of his critique of the collation of Catholic statistics in England and Wales printed in the 2014 edition of the Catholic Directory. This part covers mass attendance, baptisms, marriages, and receptions, together with some overarching reflections on the quality of Catholic data. It also describes the Trust’s own plans for future publications on pastoral and demographic statistics. The blog can be found at:

Sectarianism in Scotland

Earlier this year, Equality Here, Now released on its website an analysis of the religious composition of the workforce in Scottish local authorities, concluding that there continues to be significant institutional discrimination in the employment of Catholics. A robust response to this has just been published by Steve Bruce in ‘Sectarian Discrimination in Local Councils and Myth-Making’, Scottish Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 4, November 2014, pp. 445-53. He points out the fundamental methodological flaw of Equality Here, Now in drawing conclusions from very incomplete data (religious affiliation only being available for 14% of council staff). He also presents an alternative way of interpreting these partial statistics, suggesting that, in general, ‘self-declared Catholics and self-declared Protestants are present in ratios that fit local council profiles [in the census of population] reasonably well’. Access to the article can be gained from:

The original Equality Here, Now report can still be read at:—general/catholics-work-and-local-authorities-in-scotland-2014

On retreat

The Autumn 2014 issue of Promoting Retreats: The Newsletter of the Association for Promoting Retreats includes (on pp. 7-9) a summary by Ben Wilson of a survey of the membership of the Association earlier this year, to which 200 members (approaching one-quarter of the total) responded. Two-thirds of them were aged 65 and above, with one-third over the age of 75, and almost two-thirds were women. One-fifth had joined the Association within the past five years, while one-third had been in membership for more than two decades. Members currently attended an average of one retreat and two non-residential quiet days each year. Time constraints (56%), cost (34%), and distance to the nearest retreat house (20%) were cited as the main barriers to going on retreat more often. The newsletter can be read at:

Islamic State

Things have been a bit quiet on the polling front of late regarding the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the British public has certainly not forgotten about the group, 78% regarding it as a very or fairly serious threat to Britain in the most recent YouGov poll, for which 2,003 adults were interviewed online on 12-13 November 2014. This was a slightly higher proportion than said the same about al-Qaeda (72%) and significantly more than with Iran (40%) or Russia (38%). The data table is at:


British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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