Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Religiosity of Bigfoot Believers

According to a Gallup survey of over 1700 random people, approximately 17% of the U.S. population believes that creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster will eventually be discovered by science. Belief in Bigfoot is an interesting way to look at religion, because it is essentially independent of any religious teachings. Bigfoot isn't supernatural. People generally don't believe in Bigfoot because of their religion, and they don't choose their religion according to their belief in Bigfoot.

Compared to people who don't believe in Bigfoot (who I'll call "non-believers"), Bigfoot believers tend to have slightly lower income, slightly less education, and slightly more liberal political ideology, but the differences are fairly small. As one would expect, people who believe in Bigfoot (blue bars) are much more likely than Bigfoot non-believers (tan bars) to believe in a wide variety of things, including some that are supernatural.

Thus, one might also expect that Bigfoot believers would be more likely to believe in God and to be more religious in general. That's partly true. 91% of Bigfoot believers believe in God, compared to 87% of Bigfoot non-believers. They also are slightly more likely to believe in Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, and that Jesus is the Son of God. However, according to a wide variety of metrics, Bigfoot believers are substantially less religiously devout than Bigfoot non-believers.

Despite being slightly more likely to believe that God exists and that Jesus is his son, Bigfoot believers are substantially less likely to identify as Bible believing, born again, evangelical, and fundamentalist than people who don't believe in Bigfoot. They attend religious services, religious education, and prayer meetings less often. They also pray and read religious texts substantially less often than people who don't believe in Bigfoot.

Some people say that religious people are religious because they are gullible and willing to believe things for which there is no compelling scientific evidence. Whether that's true or not may depend on whether Bigfoot is real.


  1. I think many religious people are religious because, starting when they were children, they have been taught to believe the tenets of their parents' chosen sect. Most of them are told repeatedly there is a great reward for believing, and a terrible penalty for not believing. To compare this sort of heavy indoctrination to belief in Bigfoot is a stretch. I know plenty of religious people who are NOT otherwise gullible and willing to believe without evidence. It's a matter of compartmentalization, I suppose.

    1. Chuck, I think your hypothesis is testable. I looked at church attendance at age 12 compared to church attendance as an adult, and stratified them by the religion of their parents. Here is a graph:

      I mostly see strong regression toward the mean here. People with non-religious parents become more religious as adults, and people with religious parents become less religious. It doesn't disprove your hypothesis, but it suggests that parents' religion is a fairly minor factor, at least in most cases. I looked at several other variables and found that parents' religion is generally more predictive of political views than of religious views, which is quite interesting (I'd love to explore that more some time) and would be evidence against your reward/penalty hypothesis.

    2. You might find this interesting. From the referencing website...

      NEW THEORY SUGGESTS PEOPLE ARE ATTRACTED TO RELIGION FOR 16 REASONS...There are actually 16 basic human psychological needs that motivate people to seek meaning through religion, said Steven Reiss, author of the new theory and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University.

      Reiss has already done some initial research that suggests the desire for independence is a key psychological desire that separates religious and non-religious people. In a study published in 2000, Reiss found that religious people (the study included mostly Christians) expressed a strong desire for interdependence with others. Those who were not religious, however, showed a stronger need to be self-reliant and independent.

      The study also showed that religious people valued honor more than non-religious people, which Reiss said suggests many people embrace religion to show loyalty to parents and ancestors.

    3. Interesting topic, Josh. It looks like mostly conjecture here without much substance, but I'm sure there's some truth to it. Some of it is common sense. I don't know that things like desire for interdependence are causes of religious belief as much as whatever causes the desire for interdependence also contributes to the need for religious belief. I plan to write a blog about possible genetic predispositions toward religion (and atheism).