Survey Results: Surprising?

Thank you to everyone who participated in my short, non-scientific survey. Here are the results, which surprised me somewhat — the entire reason I conducted the survey was to either support or correct my assumptions about those who follow me on social media.

I asked five simple questions relating to the underlying perspectives through which we all see the universe, and 21 people responded. That’s a higher number than I expected, honestly, but still a small percentage of my contacts on social media. I have more than 70 “friends” on Facebook, 79 followers on Twitter, and more than 800 people follow me on Flickr (three of the places I posted a link to the poll).

Some of results that surprised me:

• Slightly more than half of all respondents said they were either atheist or agnostic.

• Four people (19%) said they “don’t know” the age of the Earth.

• Only one person answered that the Earth is “about 6,000 years old”.

• One person answered (on the origin of life on Earth): “An ancient civilization created life on Earth” (the same person said extraterrestrial life “definitely exists” and that they identified as a Christian, so it’s possible they were simply being funny).

• The only person who said they will be reincarnated after they die also said they identify as agnostic.

• Three people claimed ETs definitely exist.

• Only six people (28.6%) said they will go to Heaven when they die.

These answers surprised me only because of my mistaken assumptions about the people in my circles. However, I don’t know which people responded to the survey, out of all my contacts on social media. There are several people on my contacts lists that I don’t know well in real life, or haven’t had a “real” conversation with in 20+ years.

First Question

• Self-Identification

The reason I was surprised by the answers to this question is that I thought almost everyone I know identifies as a Christian. A couple of readers of this blog certainly identify publicly as atheist and agnostic, and I know of one closet atheist among my contacts. The rest seem to like/share/post “Jesus”, “God”, and “praying!” fairly often.

Of my 21 respondents, six answered agnostic and five said atheist, for a total of 11 non-religious answers. Nine identified as Christian and one said “Other”, filling in the blank with “Lax protestant, if anything”, which I’m counting as Christian (“Protestant” is a subcategory of Christianity).

# % Answer
9 42.9 Christian
6 28.6 Agnostic
5 23.8 Atheist
1 4.8 “Lax Protestant, if anything”

Second Question

• Age Of The Earth

Here, I was further surprised that 71.4% (15 respondents) gave the scientifically accepted age of the Earth — about 4.5 billion years — while only one gave the biblical answer of about 6,000 years (and one other answered “God knows”). This means that of the nine or 10 self-identified Christians, only one or two believes the biblical timeline of Creation and subsequent genealogies.

This surprised me, since many Christians I’ve known are also “Young Earth Creationists”. Also, 40% of Americans believe in a young earth.

Of the four people who answered “don’t know”, three identified as Christian and one identified as agnostic.

Also note: this was one of only two questions where a single answer got 70% or more agreement from all respondents.

# % Answer
15 71.4 About 4.5 billion years old
4 19.0 Don’t know
1 4.8 About 6,000 years old
1 4.8 “God knows”

Third Question

• Life On Earth

“Evolved over billions of years” was selected by 12 (57.1%) of my respondents, while five (23.8%) said God created life on Earth and another two people answered that some combination of creation and evolution was involved — perhaps life evolved and then God created humans (some believe this) or God created basic life and then allowed it to evolve (this is also a known belief).

The other two responses were “Don’t know” and “An ancient civilization created life on Earth”.

# % Answer
12 57.1 Evolved over billions of years
5 23.8 Was created by God
2 9.5 Was created AND evolved
1 4.8 Don’t know
1 4.8 “An ancient civilization created life on Earth”

Fourth Question

• What Happens When We Die?

Interestingly, this question saw the least agreement. Thankfully, no one answered that they believe they’re going to Hell when they die; it was the only option that got zero clicks. The biggest group was that of eight people who agreed that nothing spiritual happens after death.

# % Answer
8 38.1 Nothing spiritual/magical happens after death
6 28.6 Go to Heaven
2 9.5 Don’t know
1 4.8 Be reincarnated
4 19 • “Live on but not necessarily in a place we call heaven”
• “I hope I go to Heaven, but I might end up in purgatory. Who knows?”
• “In certain moods, I lean toward reincarnation of some sort”
• “Ask me when I get to the other side. (One knock is ‘yes’)”

Last Question

• ETs

This is the question that saw the most agreement — it was the only question where more than three-quarters of respondents agreed on one answer. That answer was the “possible/probable” one, when it comes to extraterrestrial life; it got 16 of the 21 clicks, for 76.2%. The second-place answer was “definitely exists”, with three (14.3%), which was surprising. Perhaps people don’t know what “definitely” means, or perhaps they have actually met or seen aliens. And for the one person who answered that life does not exist beyond Earth, I wonder how they can be certain.

I don’t think it’s any surprise that this question saw the most agreement. “Possible/probable” covers a lot of ground, everything from just above a zero-percent chance to just below 100% chance. It’s also not a thing that religion (especially Christianity) mentions as true or false. Note: the one person who said “doesn’t exist” identified as a Christian, while another Christian said “definitely exists”, and the rest answered possible/probable or “don’t know”. (The other two “definitely exists” identified as agnostic.)

# % Answer
16 76.2 Is possible/probable
3 14.3 Definitely exists
1 4.8 Doesn’t exist
1 4.8 Don’t know

• Correlations

When I divide the respondents by their answer to the first question, and then compare the answers to the other four questions, I see that only atheists agreed on all the questions — all five answered identically across the board. One agnostic otherwise agreed with the atheists, though agnostics were more likely than the rest of the respondents to answer “I don’t know” — which makes sense, considering the etymology of “agnostic” (without knowledge).

One correlation that surprised me is that Christians were the most likely to disagree with one another on all other questions. This can only be partly explained by Christians being the largest group in this survey. Even if you subtract three Christians (to make them equal in number to the agnostics), they still tend to disagree the most. Christians didn’t agree on (or didn’t know) the age of the Earth, whether life was created and/or evolved, what happens after death, or whether ETs exist.

• Wrap-up

Again, I’m grateful to everyone who answered (I don’t know who you are, though I’ve made a few assumptions), and I hope you learned as much from these results as I did.

I realize that the people who responded are limited to (1) my online social circles, (2) people who don’t mind filling out surveys, and (3) people who happened to see my announcement of the survey in the past few days. So these numbers only tell us about them.

I was glad to discover such a diversity of views among those who interact with me online. Based on the success of this poll, and how easy it was to create it using Google Forms, it’s likely I will try others in the future.

  1. six answered agnostic and five said atheist, for a total of 11 non-religious answers

    Agnostic doesn’t automatically imply non-religious. See

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      “Agnostic doesn’t automatically imply non-religious.”

      You’re correct, of course. For that matter, atheism doesn’t necessitate it either; there are people who identify as “Christian atheists”. There are people who are members (even pastors!) of Christian churches who don’t believe in God.

      Additionally, atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive; one refers to belief and the other to knowledge. “Agnostic atheist” is how I described myself when first admitting to my atheism.

      However, if someone considered herself to be something other than the choices listed, I’d like to think that the “Other” (fill in the blank) option was for exactly that. If I had taken this survey sixteen years ago, I would have used “Other” and filled it out with: “I consider myself a disaffected, alienated, questioning, deistic-agnostic-hedonist” (quote from my journal in June 2000).

      I readily admit that my phrasing (in that particular sentence) could use improvement. Still, I think that given the option to identify with a religion OR choose “Other”, if someone instead chose “agnostic”, then I can — by many definitions of “religion” and “agnostic” — consider them non-religious.

      Your point stands, of course, and I think it perhaps points to several weaknesses here: (1) the impossibility of diving someone’s full spectrum of belief/knowledge with a multiple choice question, (2) the still-evolving framework of understanding — in my own mind, and (3) the vast disagreement among humans about how to properly use these words.

      As always, I appreciate your input here. Thank you.

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