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7th grader Colleen from Oregon asks, "How many people believe in god?"

Hi Colleen, I'm guessing you mean "how many people world-wide believe in a god or gods of some sort?"

That's a pretty tough question, but to help me out I visited a site called "Pew Research." They are an organization that does studies on a wide variety of social, political and religious trends. From their "Religion and Public Life" section of their site, you will find that a recent statistical study showed that about 83% of the world's population considers themselves to be affiliated with a specific religion. Christianity, Islam, Buddhist, Jewish, and various folk/traditional religions (for folk religions, think of a group of ethnically and geographically connected people who have a traditional - but usually unwritten - set of beliefs passed down from one generation to another).

So it seems like a vast majority of the world's population believes in a god or gods. However, it's interesting to note that in a separate study, in which they asked respondents how strongly they believe in God, Pew Research discovered that only about two thirds of the U.S. population confidently believes in God. Many other people gave responses like "I think there's a God, but I'm not sure."

Thus, there's a fairly good sized section of the population who identifiy with a particular church or religion, but aren't convinced there's actually a god. Why? Perhaps they see the church as a sort of "social club," or perhaps they are trying to figure out what they believe, and are associating themselves with a church in hopes that it will help them settle their religious questions/doubts.

Also, it's important to keep in mind that not all the religions that Pew included in their study have a "god" in the sense that you might think of it. For example, Buddha rejected the concept of a creator god, and Buddhism is described sometimes as a nontheistic religion. Similarly, many of the folk religions are nontheistic in nature as well. This means that the 83% obtained by Pew Research includes large populations which adhere to a religion but do not believe in God.

If I had to make a guess (and since you asked me, I guess I will!) I would say that the actual percent is closer to 60 than 80. So let's say 2/3 of the world's population. Since the population of the world is approaching 8 billion, I would put my wild guess somewhere in the vicinity of 5 billion people who, with a reasonable degree of confidence, believe in a god or gods.

Thanks for asking!
Professor Puzzler

PS - the picture shown above is a public domain image by Rursus, which contains symbols from 9 of the world's most widely held religions:

  • 1st Row: Christian, Jewish, Hindu
  • 2nd Row: Islam, Buddhist, Shinto
  • 3rd Row: Sikh, Bahai, Jain

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