A multi-year research project conducted across six countries has shown that atheistic and agnostic beliefs are different depending on the country and that many agnostics and atheists still reportedly believe in the supernatural or the underlying forces of good and evil.
Researchers from the St. Mary’s University, University of Kent, Coventry University, and Queen’s University Belfast surveyed people from Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the UK, and the US to better understand how a person’s “unbelief” shapes religious identity and what unbelief looks like outside of western countries.
The researchers recently released their findings in a report called the “Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and agnostics around the world.”
What the report shows is that atheism looks very different from country to country.
“Atheists…and agnostics…exhibit significant diversity both within, and between, different countries,” the researchers wrote. “Accordingly, there are very many ways of being an unbeliever.”
Even within the communities of unbelievers, the researchers found that many reportedly still identified as Christian or Buddhist or believed in supernatural forces.
“Unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena. Atheists and (less so) agnostics exhibit lower levels of supernatural belief than do the wider populations,” the researchers wrote.
In the US, 20 percent of people reported believing in the supernatural while in China, 50 percent of self-identified atheists said they believed in the “underlying forces of good and evil.”
The study also shows that even self-identifying atheists are not wholly confident in their unbelief.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “the universe is ultimately meaningless,” Brazil had the highest number of atheists/agnostics who agreed with the statement, but no country had a majority of 50 percent or more who ultimately agreed with the sentiment.
“First, in no country surveyed does the proportion of either unbelievers, or the general population, affirming a meaningless universe reach 50%,” the researchers wrote.
Atheists and agnostics from Japan were the least likely to believe in supernatural forces.
The report also puts to rest the notion that unbelievers have low moral values and don’t place the same importance on family, nature, or fundamental rights as the general population.
The surveys showed that most atheists and agnostics value’s lined up with the general population and that family, nature, justice, and compassion were some of the highest rated values.
By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer
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