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What does the public think about absolute truth?

Barna Research Group periodically conducts phone surveys of American adults. The found:

bulletIn 1997, 50% of Christians and 25% of non-Christians said that there are moral truths which are unchanging, and that truth is absolute, not relative to the circumstances.
bulletIn 2000, 40% of individuals involved in a Christian disciplining process believed that there is no such thing as absolute moral truth. 1
bulletIn 2000-JAN, a Barna Research poll showed that 38% of adult Americans believe that absolute true exists.
bulletIn 2001-NOV, another Barna poll showed that this had dropped almost in half -- to 22%. Their poll showed an amazing diversity of belief among followers of different branches of Christianity, and adults of different ages. Barna found that the following percentages of people believe in absolute truth:
bullet13% those born in 1965 or later.
bullet15% of adults who are not born-again Christians.
bullet16% of Roman Catholics.
bullet22% of all Americans (24% among women; 20% among men).
bullet24% of those born in 1945 or before.
bullet28% those born between and 1946 and 1964.
bullet32% of those who attend conservative Christian churches.
bullet32% of adults who are born-again Christians. 2

Such a rapid change -- from 38% to 22% within 23 months -- is almost unheard of in the field of morality and religion. The terrorist attack on New York City and Washington occurred during that interval; one might speculate that that was the only event that could have caused such a massive shift, in less than two years, in basic beliefs about the nature of truth. Barna Research suggested that because of the attack: "one might have expected Americans to become more convinced of the presence of good and evil, and that there are absolute moral principles that exist regardless of cultural realities and personal preferences." But the shift is in the other direction -- towards a lessening in belief in absolute truth.

Another explanation for the decrease in belief about absolute truth is that Americans were shocked into realizing that to the very small minority of devout, dedicated Muslims who represent the extreme, radical, violent and Fundamentalist element of Islam, killing Christian non-combatants is a very moral act; they believe that it carries out the will of Allah. Thus, assassination of innocent members of the public is seen as a noble, honorable undertaking by one group which carries out the will of God. Simultaneously, it is viewed as the ultimate sin by another group. This small minority of terrorists is living proof that diametrically opposed concepts of moral truth can exist side-by-side in the world.

A report in the Los Angeles Times on Barna Research on 2002-SEP-17 quoted Barna as determining that:

bulletOnly 44% of born-again adults are certain that absolute moral truth exists.
bulletOnly 9% of born-again teenagers believe in absolute moral truth. 3

In 2005-AUG, Barna reported an updated survey. They found:

bullet35% believe that moral truth is absolute -- not dependent upon the circumstances.
bullet32% say that morality is always determined by the circumstances.
bullet33% don't know or did not respond.

Among American adults of various religious worldviews, the following percentages believe that moral truth is absolute:

bullet70% of Evangelicals. This is the only group in which a majority believe in absolute truth.
bullet42% of non-Evangelical, born-again adults.
bullet25% of non-born-again Christians.
bullet27% of those identifying themselves as Agnostic or Atheist.
bullet16% of followers of non-Christian religions. 4

Sample size was 1,002 adults. The Margin of Error is approximately 3.5 percentage points.

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Related menu on this web site:

bulletIs truth absolute, relative, or both?

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  1. The Barna Research Group has a web page at http://www.barna.org
  2. "How America's Faith Has Changed since 9-11," Barna Research Online, 2001-NOV-6, at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  3. William Lobdell, "Pollster Prods Christian Conservatives," LA Times, 2002-SEP-14, at: http://www.latimes.com/features/religion/
  4. "Most adults feel accepted by God, but lack a biblical worldview," The Barna Group, 2005-AUG-09. at: http://www.barna.org/.

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Copyright 2001 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-16
Latest update: 2005-AUG-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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