Monthly Religion News Surveys Print

Survey | Few Americans see earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters a sign from God

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[03.24.2011]

The new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service following the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Read the news release here.
Read the RNS story here.
Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.

Most Americans believe in a personal God who is in control of everything that happens in the world — fairly standard orthodox theological affirmations –- but they resist drawing a straight line from those beliefs to God’s direct role or judgment in natural disasters.

  • 7-in-10 Americans see God as a person with whom one can have a relationship, and a majority (56%) say God is in control of everything that happens in the world.
  • However, less than 4-in-10 (38%) believe earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God; and even fewer (29%) believe that God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens.
  • The one exception to this pattern is found among white evangelical Protestants.
    • Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. Only about one-third of Catholics (31%) and white mainline Protestants (34%) believe natural disasters are a sign from God.
    • A majority (53%) of white evangelicals believe that God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens–a view held by just 1-in-5 white mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Americans are more likely to attribute the increased severity of natural disasters to global climate change than to signs of apocalyptic biblical prophecy.

  • Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans say that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change, compared to 44% of Americans who say that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of what the Bible calls the ‘end times.’  White evangelical Protestants and Republicans are an exception to this pattern:
    • Among White evangelicals, 67% believe that natural disasters are evidence of what the Bible calls the ‘end times’ compared to 52% who see it as evidence of global climate change.
    • Among Republicans, 52% believe that natural disasters are evidence of what the Bible calls the ‘end times’ compared to 41% who see it as evidence of global climate change.

Only about 1-in-5 (18%) Americans say seeing innocent people suffer sometimes causes them to have doubts about God.

Most Americans have heard about the earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan, and overwhelming numbers support government providing financial assistance despite the current economic climate.

  • Nearly 9-in-10 (86%) Americans say they have heard a lot about the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.
  • More than 8-in-10 also say that providing financial assistance to Japan is very important (42%) of somewhat important (41%) despite economic challenges at home. Support is high across political and religious groups.

Read the news release here.
Read the RNS story here.
Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.