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Deism: About the God who went away

The number of Deists in the U.S.

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How many Deists are there in the U.S.?

We have been unable to find a reliable estimate of the number of Deists in North America. In fact, an accurate estimate is impossible to obtain because any public opinion poll result is heavily influenced by the way in which questions are asked:

bulletIf a pollster simply asks what people's religion is, they will return a miniscule estimate of the number of Deists in the country.
bulletIf a pollster delves into the precise nature of the subject's belief about God, they will probably obtain an number of Deists that is many hundreds of times larger.

The ARIS study estimated that there were 6,000 Deists during the year 1990, rising to 49,000 in 2001. 1 They listed Deism the fastest growing religion in the U.S. with a 717% increase over 11 years. The next highest percentage increase was among Sikhs at 338%. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this massive telephone survey:

bulletMany Deists would have identified themselves as Freethinkers, Humanists, persons of no religion, secularists, Agnostics, Scientologists, etc. There might even have been persons with Deistic beliefs who registered as Atheists on the basis that they don't believe in a personal deity actively involved with humanity and the world.
bulletMany Deists who feel a wish to join a spiritual community of searchers for truth become members of congregations associated with the Unitarian Universalist Association or perhaps Progressive Christianity.

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An alternate way of estimating the number of Deists:

Public opinion polls on religion typically rely on each person to define their religious affiliation. Thus they all greatly underestimate the number of believers in Deism. However, there have been two exceptions:

bullet2005/2006: The Baylor University religion survey was conducted during the winter of 2005/2006. They concluded that most American adults hold one of four views of God as defined by their understanding of:
bulletThe degree of God's engagement with humans and the rest of the world, and
bulletThe degree of God's wrath -- how angry he is towards human sin and how willing he is to punish transgressors.

The Baylor study found that those Americans who believed in God had four very different understandings about his nature. The researchers found that Americans are divided among believing in a

bulletType A (Authoritarian) God,
bulletType B: (Benevolent) God,
bulletType C: (Critical) God, and
bulletType D: (Distant) God:

The study found that 24.4% of the population believed in a Type D or Distant God who exhibited both low engagement and low anger. They typically view God as a cosmic force who created the universe and the natural laws by which it runs. He does not interact much with the world and does not judge or punish humans. This is close to a definition of the God of Deism that many Deists could agree with.

A larger percentage of west coasters, Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews, men, persons with higher educational attainment, and persons with higher income believe in this type of God than does the average American. More details. This would imply that over 50 million American adults are Deists, even though the vast majority of them haven't the foggiest idea what "Deism" means.

bullet2008: The ARIS study was repeated. This time, they asked for people's belief about God. They found that:
bulletOnly 70% of Americans believe in a personal God. This contrasts with the over 90% values that are often mis-reported by the media.
bullet12% are either Atheists (do not believe in God's existence) or Agnostics (do not know whether a personal God exists).
bullet12% are Deists (believe in a higher power but not a personal God) even though the vast majority have never heard of the term. 2

Apparently, between 12 and 24% of the adult population of the U.S. believe in the principles of Deism. There is a massive untapped resource here! A Deist evangelist might make millions of dollars, like some of the evangelical evangelists.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "American Religious Identification Survey," The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 2001, at:  http://www.gc.cuny.edu/  This is a PDF file.
  2. "American Religious Indetification Survey [ARIS 2008]," Trinity College, 2009-MAR, at: http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/ This is a PDF file.

Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Deism > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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