This is a post about a poll, but it’s a very interesting poll, both because it shows the high level of superstition in the U.S. and also shows that that superstition—which includes religious belief—is steadily declining. Do read the results if you have time.
According to a new Harris Poll (2250 U.S. adults surveyed this November), belief in the supernatural is declining on all fronts, and acceptance of evolution is rising. I think this secularization is inevitable as we follow other First World Nations; and acceptance of evolution will be a byproduct this waning irrationality. That’s the good news.
The bad news (which we’ve had to live with for a while), is that acceptance of stuff like heaven, Satan, the virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus far outstrip acceptance of evolution. But that will change!
Here are the salient results (direct quotations from the site are in quotes):
- “[W]hile a strong majority (74%) of U.S. adults do believe in God, this belief is in decline when compared to previous years as just over four in five (82%) expressed a belief in God in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
- “Also, while majorities also believe in miracles (72%, down from 79% in 2005), heaven (68%, down from 75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (68%, down from 72%), the resurrection of Jesus Christ (65%, down from 70%), the survival of the soul after death (64%, down from 69%), the devil, hell (both at 58%, down from 62%) and the Virgin birth (57%, down from 60%), these are all down from previous Harris Polls.”
The data are below. Note that the “don’t believe ins” are 12% (this figure varies between 5 and 15% among polls), but at the least these people can be described as “atheists.” And note that the “not sures” are 14%; these are the on-the-fencers who are most susceptible to reason. It still astounds me that 58% of people believe in “the devil” (note: that’s not simply “estrangement from God,” as Sophisticated Theologians™ now construe “hell”)—11% higher than those who accept evolution.
Still, virtually all indices of superstition are declining, and the one declining most markedly is “belief in God”.
- “Belief in [JAC note: bad characterization!] Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, while well below levels recorded for belief in God, miracles and heaven, is up in comparison to 2005 findings (47%, up from 42%).”
Note that it’s not clear in this precis whether they asked people about “Darwin’s theory of evolution,” or just “evolution.” Note, too, that most Americans who do accept evolution accept a God-guided form of evolution—theistic evolution (almost a 3/1 ratio). Even if they accept “Darwin’s theory”, they might misconstrue it as “guided by God.” The table below show that belief in creationism has also declined, though 36% of Americans still believe it and 33% are not sure.
- Belief in God (data not shown here; but you can see it at the Harris site) wanes in older groups, with Echo Boomers (whatever they are) showing less belief than Generation Xers, who in turn show less belief than “matures.” On the other hand, “matures” show less belief in paranormal phenomena like ghosts, witches, and UFOs. I wonder if this has to do with increasing skepticism, over one’s life, about everything but those beliefs that will give you an afterlife.
- As for the political breakdown (data not shown here; see Harris site), Republicans express higher levels of belief in God and other Judeo-Christian myths in the table below, and lower acceptance of evolution. No surprise there.
General religiosity is declining and “not at all religious” status increasing, especially in the last 4 years. Could it be. . . . .those strident New Atheists?
As expected, certainty about God is higher in Republicans, those with less education, Southerners, and African Americans (historically a highly religious group). But of course they didn’t separate these factors, for there are correlations between education, ethnicity, political belief, and so on.
What about how certain you are of your belief? Certainty about God is dropping, too.
- “Just under two in ten Americans (19%) describe themselves are ‘very’ religious, with an additional four in ten (40%) describing themselves as ‘somewhat’ religious (40%, down from 49% in 2007). Nearly one-fourth of Americans (23%) identify themselves as ‘not at all’ religious – a figure that has nearly doubled since 2007, when it was at 12%.”
- “[T]wo-thirds of Americans (68%) indicate being either absolutely or somewhat certain that there is a God, while 54% specify being absolutely certain; these figures represent drops of 11 and 12 percentage points, respectively, from 2003 testing, where combined certainty was at 79% and absolute certainty was at 66%.Meanwhile, combined belief that there is no God (16%) and uncertainty as to whether or not there is a God (also 16%) are both up from 2003 findings (when these levels were 9% and 12%, respectively).Outside of specific religious samples, the groups most likely to be absolutely certain there is a God include blacks (70%), Republicans (65%), Matures (62%) and Baby Boomers (60%), Southerners (61%) and Midwesterners (58%), and those with a high school education or less (60%).”
As for how Americans see God’s control of Earth, here are the data:
- “There also a continuing – and increasing – lack of consensus as to how much control, if any, God has over what happens on Earth.
A 37% plurality of Americans (including 52% of Catholics) believes that God observes but does not control what happens on Earth – down considerably from 2003, when half of Americans (50%) expressed this belief. Just under three in ten (29%) Americans, including majorities of those who self-identify as very religious (60%) and/or born-again Christians (56%), believe that God controls what happens on Earth.”
Good news, but too late to impede any religiously motivated disbelief in global warming:
- “Just under half of Americans believe that all or most of the Old Testament (49%) and the New Testament (48%) are the “Word of God,” representing declines of six percentage points each from 2008 findings.”
So much for Leon Wieseltier’s claim, in his debate with Steve Pinker, that “only a small minority of believers in any of the scriptural religions, for example, have ever taken scripture literally.” I don’t think that nearly half of all Americans (many of whom aren’t believers) is a “small minority of believers.” In fact, it’s most believers!
I find this next statistic hilarious. How can you know what gender God is, unless you take the word of Scripture? Yet Sophisticated Theologians™ tell us repeatedly that god is not a “person,” but some kind of spirit outside the universe. Why, then, do 39% of Americans think that God has divine but discernible genitalia, while another 10% think that God is “both male and female”? What sense does it make to conceive of the sex of a disembodied divinity?
- “There continues to be no consensus as to whether God is a man or a woman. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39%) think He is male, while only 1% of U.S. adults believe She is female. However, notable minorities believe God is neither male nor female (31%) or both male and female (10%).Women, perhaps surprisingly, are more likely than men to believe that God is male (43% women, 34% men), while men are more likely to believe that God is neither male nor female (34% men, 28% women).”
Overall, I think this is terrific news, for the change has happened within the last decade. I can’t be sure what’s caused it, but I think this kind of secularization is inevitable not only for the reasons Pinker cites in The Better Angels of Our Nature (spread of Enlightenment values, etc.), but because we’re following the lead of Europe. We lag behind insofar as we’re held back by America’s social dysfunctionality (see post later today). In my view, the best way to promote evolution is to get rid of religion, and the best way to get rid of religion is to get rid of those social inequalities and holes in the social network that grow faith from the soil of insecurity. And the best way to fix those problems is to reduce income inequality and enact government-sponsored medical care for all, along the lines of many European countries.
Good news for the holidays!