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Humanist Beliefs

Published:8 January 2007
Fieldwork:26 - 30 October 2006
Keywords:Religion, Science, Values
(Click on keywords to find related Research)

Ipsos MORI recently conducted a survey on behalf of the British Humanist Association. The objective of the research was to gauge the levels of Humanist related opinion that exist amongst the British population.

Just over a third (36%) of the British population has a Humanist outlook on life.

Respondents were presented with four sets of statements (three pairs and one set of three) from which they were asked to choose, on balance, which one of each set most closely matched their views. Where respondents were unsure, interviewers were allowed to select "Neither" or "Don't know", but these options were not presented to respondents and they were encouraged to choose a statement from each set if they could. The 36% who show a Humanist outlook on life is calculated as those choosing the following three statements:

  • Scientific and other evidence provides the best way to understand the universe
  • Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong
  • What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world

44% say the government pays too much attention to the leaders of other countries and 42% to religious groups and leaders

Asked to select from a list of groups that people might think the government pays too much attention to, 44% chose 'Leaders of Other Countries' and 42% chose 'Religious Groups and Leaders'. The list also included 'Newspaper Headlines' (35%), 'Big Business' (34%), 'The Royal Family' (20%), 'Trade Unions' (17%) and 'Ordinary People' (3%).

What happens after death? Opinion is split

Another question found that 41% endorsed the statement 'This life is the only life we have and death is the end of our personal existence'. Fractionally more — 45% — held the view that 'When we die we go on and still exist in another way'. Of those choosing all three of the 'Humanist' answers, more said this was our only life (54%) than believed in some sort of continued existence (38%). And of those seeing this as our only life, 79% chose two or all three of the 'Humanist' answers to the other questions. Just over a fifth of those who endorsed the need for religion in answers to other questions nevertheless also said this was our only life (22%).

Topline Results

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 975 adults aged 15+ across Great Britain.
  • Interviews were carried out face-to-face, in home, using laptops, as part of the Ipsos MORI Omnibus.
  • Fieldwork was conducted on one wave between 26-30 October 2006.
  • Results are based on all respondents (975) unless otherwise stated.
  • Results are weighted to the known population profile of Great Britain.
  • An asterisk (*) denotes a finding of less than 0.5%, but greater than zero.
  • Where figures do not add up to 100, this is due to multiple coding or computer rounding.
  • For each set of statements the Humanist standpoint is shown in italics on the corresponding table.

Q1 I am going to read out some pairs of statements to you. I'd like you to tell me on balance which one in each pair most closely matches your view. You might find that the statements overlap a little, however please tell me which one you feel most closely matches your view. (If you had to choose just one of the statements which one best matches your view?)

  %
Scientific and other evidence provides the best way to understand the universe 62
Religious beliefs are needed for a complete understanding of the universe 22
Neither of these 10
Don't Know 6

Q2 Which of these statements best matches your view? Again, just tell me the letter that best fits your view. (If you had to choose just one of the statements which one best matches your view?)

  %
Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong 62
People need religious teachings in order to understand what is right and wrong 27
Neither of these 7
Don't Know 4

Q3 Which of these statements best matches your view? Again, just tell me the letter that best fits your view. (If you had to choose just one of the statements which one best matches your view?)

  %
This life is the only life we have and death is the end of our personal existence 41
When we die we go on and still exist in another way 45
Neither of these 5
Don't Know 8

Q4 Now a set of three statements, which one of these best matches your view? Again, just tell me the letter that best fits your view. (If you had to choose just one of the statements which one best matches your view?)

  %
What is right and wrong is unchanging and should never be challenged 13
What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world 65
What is right and wrong is basically just a matter of personal preference 15
None of these 2
Don't Know 5

Q5 People often comment on the level of attention the Government pays to certain groups in society. Which, if any, of the following groups of people do you think the Government pays too much attention to?

  %
Religious groups and leaders 42
Trade Unions 17
Newspaper headlines 35
Big business 34
Leaders of other countries 44
The Royal Family 20
Ordinary people 3
None of these 9

Further Analysis

Humanist Tendencies %
Express no Humanist Tendencies at Q1, Q2 and Q4 13
Express at some Humanist Tendency at Q1, Q2 and Q4 (one or two out of the three) 51
Express only Humanist Tendencies at Q1, Q2 and Q4 36

Those who choose only Humanist statements (at Q1, Q2 and Q4) — 'Humanists' by this survey's definition — are more prevalent among:

  • Younger and middle-aged people (aged 15-54) (41%) compared to those aged 55 and over (26%)
  • Those in social classes ABC1 (43%) compared to those in C2DE (28%)
  • Those with children in their household (43%) compared to those without (33%)
  • Those that live in the South (41%) compared to those that live in the Midlands (30%), with those in the North in between (37%)
  • Those working full- or part-time (42%) compared to those not working (29%)
  • Those who read 'broadsheets' (51%) compared to those that read tabloids (33%)
  • Those with qualifications of GCSE equivalent and above (42%) compared to those with no formal qualifications (20%).
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British Humanist Association
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