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Agnostics & Atheists More Open to Change & Doubt (Barna, 2007)


If you ever had the feeling that atheists and agnostics were more open to change and new things than religious believers, you might be right. Surveys done by Barna from 2005-2007 reveal a pattern of greater openness among atheists to change and technology than among "active-faith" adults. Atheists and agnostics are also more willing to doubt their own beliefs, a prerequisite for change and development.

Barna conducted a number of surveys over the years and they brought the data together to paint an interesting picture of belief in America. In addition to studying atheists and agnostics, they also focused on "active faith" adults, which they defined as "simply having gone to church, read the Bible and prayed during the week preceding the survey."

Are You Into New Technology?
  • Agnostics & Atheists: 64%
  • Active-Faith Adults: 52%

Do You Adapt Easily to Change?
  • Agnostics & Atheists: 81%
  • Active-Faith Adults: 66%

It's good that the comparison is between nonbelievers and those who have a relatively "active" set of beliefs rather than people who believe but never act upon it. On the other hand, it's a shame that Barna did not or was not able to break down the believers a bit more — for example, liberal believers, evangelicals, and fundamentalists.

Are You Convinced You're Right About Things in Life?
  • Agnostics & Atheists: 38%
  • Active-Faith Adults: 55%

Why would openness to doubt, change, and technology be more prevalent among atheists and agnostics than among religious believers? Why would religious believers be more likely to reject change and be convinced that they are already right about things in life? It's unlikely to be atheism by itself, but there are a number of possible factors.

For one thing, the population of atheists and agnostics in America tends to skew younger, so it's possible that age is a primary factor in all this — younger people do tend to be more open to change and technology. It seems unlikely, though, that age alone would be able to account for this.

Another factor is likely cultural. In America, for a person to be an atheist they usually have to go through an extensive process of questioning and doubt about the religion they were raised with. This isn't an easy thing to go through and few are entirely happy about it. Once a person does go through such a process, though, it would be difficult for them not to become more open to doubt and change in their lives.


Atheists, Agnostics, Technology, and Change

Or do you think there may be other explanations? Why do you think atheists and agnostics in America are generally more open to doubt, change, and technology than "active-faith" religious believers? If youth and the cultural context of atheism in America aren't sufficient to account for this difference, what else is there?

These statistics are based on surveys conducted by The Barna Group from January 2005 through January 2007 and have a margin of error of =/- 3%.

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