(RNS) You don’t have to believe in God or identify with any religion to see a creator’s hand in human life and morality, suggests a new survey.
LifeWay Research’s overall finding — that most Americans believe there is a creator who designed the universe and defines human morality — is not surprising. After all, 3 in 4 U.S. adults identify with a religious denomination.
The surprise is that so many people who don’t identify with a religion — so-called nones — agree.
The survey of 1,000 U.S. adults found that most Americans — 72 percent overall and 46 percent of nones — agree that: “Since the universe has organization, I think there is a creator who designed it.” This view is most strongly held by evangelicals and by older adults.
And most Americans — 79 percent overall, and 43 percent of nones — say they agree that “The fact that we exist means someone created us.”
The phone survey was conducted Sept. 26-Oct. 5, 2014. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for overall findings.
The survey language was framed by classic Christian “apologetics” — the term for arguments for belief. Mary Jo Sharp, assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, said in LifeWay’s news release, “The infinitesimal odds that life arose by blind chance is a formidable argument” for a creator.
But when people were asked about how ideas of right and wrong were established, the numbers slid somewhat: 66 percent overall, and 33 percent of nones, agree that “Since people have morality, I think there is a creator who defines morality.”
“The moral argument has less sway here, perhaps because of our changing views on what is and is not moral,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
However, he said, overall the case for a creator appears strong: “People of faith have always thought that there were hints of the divine all around us, thinking that ‘all hearts have a God-shaped hole in them.’ ”
The news here, Stetzer said, is that “nonreligious people believe the same at a surprisingly high rate. This points to the possibility of a lot of conversations — if Christians would just have those conversations — telling people about the creator that they see in creation.”
The problem with that, said Stetzer, who also specializes in fostering outreach and missions, is “Christians love evangelism, as long as someone else is doing it. So, the openness is there. The question is if the conversation will be started.”
LM/MG END GROSSMAN