A new study finds ‘credible evidence’ that people who say they are Christian can be atheists

A new analysis of the “religious affiliation” of Americans finds “credible” evidence that Christians are more likely to be atheists than people who don’t identify with a particular faith.

A University of Illinois study, published online in the journal PLOS ONE, examined nearly 3 million people, looking at the religious affiliation of American adults in a database compiled by the Pew Research Center.

It found that Americans who said they identify as Christians were more likely than those who didn’t identify as Christian to say they were agnostic, atheist, humanist, and other religious traditions.

That finding “is consistent with the broader empirical literature on the relationship between religiosity and religious affiliation,” the researchers write.

They also found that people with higher religious affiliation were more often “skeptical of religion.”

“The finding that those who say their religious affiliation is Christian are more often atheist than those with a higher religious identity is consistent with other evidence from the field of sociological psychology and in social psychology research on the effect of religious affiliation on religiosity,” the study’s authors write.

The researchers also found “similar results” with respect to people who said their religious identification was “none of the above,” a term used to describe those who said that they don’t believe in God.

The results show that people whose religious affiliation was “None of the Above” were more than three times more likely as those with the highest religious affiliation to be atheist.

“This pattern is consistent across both religious groups and across both surveys, with the majority of the variance in religious affiliation being explained by the difference in religious identity,” the authors write, adding that it is likely that “other variables that may influence religious affiliation also explain this pattern.”

The findings suggest that “a number of factors, including cultural beliefs, religious practices, and family dynamics, could explain the relationship,” they write.

Among the factors the researchers identified that may explain this relationship are the fact that people in higher religious circles tend to be more religious and have more experienced the benefits of religious belief, and that people of faith are more attuned to spiritual matters, as well as being more likely and educated to take religious beliefs seriously, the researchers wrote.

They noted that a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that the “most common religious beliefs among Americans are those that include an acknowledgement of God and an acknowledgement that the Bible is the word of God, with only about half of those surveyed saying that their religion includes a belief in evolution.”

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