Credulous Americans? More Americans Believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution than in Creationism

January 18, 2009

It should be no surprise that a vast majority of Americans believe in God, and that most believe the claims of Christianity, such as that people can survive death to go to heaven, or that Jesus of Nazareth is God or the Son of God, born of a virgin, and was resurrected from the dead. It may be more surprising to find out that large minorities of Americans believe in paranormal or pseudoscientific claims.

A new nationwide survey of conducted in November of 2008 by Harris Interactive shows just how credulous the American public really is. There was some good news for secularists and advocates of science and reason, but not all the news was good:

  •   80% of adult Americans believe God exists (the same amount as the Harris Poll’s last survey on these questions in 2005).
  •   75% believe in miracles
  •   73% in heaven
  •   71% in angels
  •   71% that Jesus is God or the Son of God
  •   70% the resurrection of Jesus
  •   68% that the soul survives death of the body
  •   62% in hell
  •   61% in the Virgin birth of Jesus by Mary
  •   59% in the literal devil

From my vantage, the good news in the latest survey includes that more people believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution (47%) than in creationism (40%) and that over a third of Americans (36%) report that they attend religious services less than once a year, or never at all (18% for each category).

Fully 32% of Americans consider themselves “not very or not at all religious,” even though I admit some confusion at the fact that some evangelical Christians are increasingly promoting “

Christianity without the religion

,” including leaders of the church I belonged to in my youth, so I would be hesitant to read too much into the polling data on this point. Being “not very or not at all religious” certainly doesn’t make one a secularist, atheist or rationalist. But I do note that the number of “not at all religious” is up a few percentage points, compared to 2007.

Regarding paranormal and pseudoscientific belief: 44% believe in ghosts, 36% in UFOs, 31% in astrology, and 24% in reincarnation, that they once existed as someone else. I assume that the belief in witches implies belief that witches possess supernatural abilities, as opposed to merely a belief that there are people who adhere to the Wiccan religion.

More details on the results of the Harris Poll can be found




#1 tom (Guest) on Sunday January 18, 2009 at 9:32pm

some kind of typo or error here: “44% believe in ghosts, 36% in UFOs, 31% in UFOs, 31% in astrology, and 24% in reincarnation . . .”

“UFOs” is listed twice.

#2 D.J. Grothe on Sunday January 18, 2009 at 9:37pm

Thanks, and corrected. That’s what I get for posting while watching a Buffy DVD.

#3 bigjohn756 (Guest) on Monday January 19, 2009 at 8:45am

I have received at least six copies of this article in Google Reader. I seems to come in every 6 or 8 hours or so. I have already read it so I don’t need any more copies.

#4 Tim on Monday January 19, 2009 at 12:32pm

sounds like a personal problem, bigjohn…

wow, first time I’d heard about “christianity without religion”. Seems like a savvy way to capitalize on the trend of claiming to be “spiritual but not religious”.

as for “miracles,” I wouldn’t care if so many people believed in them if only the word wouldn’t be tossed around so casually. The NY Governor declared a “miracle on the Hudson” when a quick-thinking pilot and a well-trained crew managed a crisis. I could understand calling the double bird-strike “an act of god”, but the terrific rescue was clearly an act of humans!

#5 Richard D. Pullin (Guest) on Monday January 19, 2009 at 12:57pm

Hi DJ:  From our vantage point it may seem strange that people can believe in so much mythology (e.g. virgin birth, etc).  However, I think we need to see that religion is a perfectly natural phenomenon and really it isn’t so strange.  It’s simply the human condition.  That’s why I’m not shocked or surprised by religious beliefs. Yes, I’ve heard of “religion-less Christianity”—it refers to emphasizing relationship-building with each other rather (and God) than living by rote ritual. In that sense, it’s a good thing.  And what about Darwin? Well, are there a number of Christians (e.g. Catholics) who believe God used evolution to create the world. Are they creationists or Darwinists?

#6 D.J. Grothe on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 3:29pm

Agreed, Richard. There seems to be some evolutionary basis to religious belief. But just because it is natural doesnt mean its good—consider that the same applies to xenophobia etc. Because I am persuaded by the secularization hypothesis—that the more liberal and advanced a society gets, the more secular it becomes, as happened in Europe, Japan, and the UK—I am still sometimes shocked to see that so many people in the US are supernaturalists of one stripe or another. I am happy that more believe n evolution than in creationism, regardless their religion.

And yes, Christians who believe God used Darwinian evolution, as mainline protestants teach and as the Catholic church teaches, do believe in evolution and not creationism, and such belief is far different than intelligent design or creationism, which denies the theory of evolution by natural selection.


#7 bigjohn756 (Guest) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 at 3:48pm

Thanks for the help, Tim.

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