When the 2,524 people who took part in my survey of paranormal experiences were questioned about their belief in a deity associated with an organised religion, the fell into three main groups.
People in the first group se were ‘believers’, who thought such a deity definitely or probably existed (32 per cent). The second group of ‘agnostics’ thought such a deity probably didn’t exist but kept an open mind on the topic (37 per cent). The third group of ‘atheists’ thought such a deity definitely didn’t exist (31 per cent).
Unsurprisingly, belief in a deity was strongly associated with belief in a soul (i.e. defined in the questionnaire a spiritual entity that can exist independently of the physical body). What was more surprising, perhaps, was the relatively large number of atheists – 24 per cent – who believe in a soul. This I take to indicate that a minority of people who reject organised religion, still believe in a spiritual dimension.
However, atheists were far less likely than believers and agnostics to have had personal experience of one or more of a (pretty comprehensive) list of paranormal phenomena. Between 85 and 91 per cent of believers and agnostics had had a paranormal experience, compared with 70 per cent of atheists.
But this means that, despite their scepticism, the majority of atheists have experienced some kind of paranormal phenomenon. Telepathy and precognition were the most common, experienced by 41 and 32 per cent of atheists respectively; followed by haunting and seeing apparitions (23 and 21 per cent). These were the most common experiences amongst believers and agnostics, too.
Overall, these findings indicate that such paranormal experiences are far more common than is generally believed. When asked about their general attitude to such phenomena, a sizeable majority (62 per cent) were of the opinion that they only appeared paranormal because our knowledge is not sufficiently advanced to understand them; and one in four (24 per cent) thought all ‘so-called paranormal phenomena’ had a rational explanation. Atheists were over twice as likely as agnostics and nearly four times as likely as believers to ascribe a rational explanation to such phenomena.