I was watching this talk by Phil Plait given at TAM(The Amazing Meeting) 8. You can find a partial transcript here. It will help provide some context.

In the talk he makes the following claim:

Studies have shown that people who lose their faith tend to replace it with something else, with a different type of belief. If you start out religious and lose your faith in God, you’ll replace that with something else, some other non-evidence-based reasoning.

My questions:

Q1: Which studies is he referring to?

Q2: How much evidence is there to support the claim ?

  • $\begingroup$ I hope this is appropriately tagged $\endgroup$ Jul 19 '14 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Jung states quite a few times that people replace religion with "isms", as our psyches are hardwired to "believe" in something. He doesn't provide any proof or evidence other than his own experience with his patients. $\endgroup$ Jul 21 '14 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question. I personally see a lot of these kind of conversions going on, but I don't know if that's just an observation bias on my part or if they can generalizable. From my non-PC, non-researched point of view, I just think that these generally are people with (1) limited intelligence and (2) an attraction to beautiful/interesting/comforting/et cetera theories rather than believable theories. On another note, is that "context" really necessary for your question? I don't see how it is and I would edit it out if I were you. $\endgroup$
    – Speldosa
    Jul 21 '14 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Speldosa I edited it out. There is still a link to a site which has a partial transcript, which I think helps a little to understand where he is coming from. $\endgroup$ Jul 21 '14 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds a lot like the "need for control" literature. As far as I can recall, the argument is that people will, for example, put a certain degree of faith in the functioning of a political system. $\endgroup$ Jul 21 '14 at 20:26

This is an interesting question, so I'll take a stab at it. Direct evidence for the claim is hard to come by. Generally, religious affiliations, conversions, and loss of faith are self-identified in surveys. The reliance on self-identification makes it difficult to test the claim that people move to some other non-evidence-based reasoning, as they may not be aware of it. Indirect evidence is easier to find.

The extensive Religious Landscape Survey (2009) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life for example, asks the self-identified "unaffiliated" who grew up religious to explain their reasons for leaving their faith. Only about 40% leaving Christianity cite not believing in God as their reason, and less than 30% leaving Catholicism cite no longer being religious in some way. Looking at specific survey responses, most converts leave their religion for reasons other than relying on science and logic, and remain "spiritual" in some way.

Another way to test the claim is to ask people about their beliefs, as is nicely summarized here, from the same survey. A large proportion of non-religiously affiliated participants - even some self-identified atheists - believe in God, the afterlife, or some other type of spirituality.

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  • $\begingroup$ Atheists who believe in God? This is a contradiction in terms. Right? $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    May 23 '16 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ A newer study published by PEW in 2018 based on updated data (surveyed earlier) has an interesting quote: "American “nones” are as religious as — or even more religious than — Christians in several European countries, including France, Germany and the UK." The paper suggests that religious affiliation does not match religious beliefs in many cases (eg, atheists who believe in God). Again, the available evidence indicates that people who lose their faith often replace it with other non-evidence-based beliefs. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Aug 4 '20 at 19:03

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