Atheists have accused the Church of England of "spinning" the results of research that claimed ‘four out of five believe in the power of prayer’ and that young people especially believe in it.
Professor Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist Association has criticised the Church for "seeking to mislead the public", and the story has angered many on social media.
The BHA claim that the ICM survey released on Tuesday never asked respondents whether they "believe in the power of prayer" but instead asked people what they would pray for, regardless of whether they believe prayer could change anything.
The exact wording of the question was: ‘Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?’
The Church of England said 81% of respondents named specific things that they would choose to pray for, such as world peace, relationship problems or problems at work if they were to believe in the power of prayer.
The BHA said the results of the survey did not prove that four out of five people believe in the power of prayer, or that God would help them through their troubles.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said: "If you asked someone 'Irrespective of whether you make wishes of genies, what would you wish for?' or 'Irrespective of whether you believe in Father Christmas, what would you ask him for?' you could hardly use the responses to demonstrate wide public belief in genies or Santa Claus.
"Yet this is exactly what the Church of England is doing with prayer. It is amusing until you remember that this is an immensely powerful institution with a highly privileged position in public life, control of almost a third of our state schools and seats in our parliament.
"A desperate attempt to have an Easter good news story through misleading claims conceals the reality of the religious demography of our country - religious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in long-term decline, now at the level of minority pursuits - and non-religious identities and beliefs are on the rise."
But according to the survey only 14% of participants said they would never pray and 5% said they would not know what to pray for.
The Bishop of St Albans, the right reverend Dr Alan Smith, said in response to the survey the desire to pray is "one of the most natural and instinctive of human responses, so I am not surprised to see these findings. I come across people on an almost daily basis who want to talk about prayer and how to do it.
"There has also been a desire to pray for troubled spots in the world, not least when we see the appalling photos from Syria on the television."
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