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The beliefs of Americans

In response to an earlier post about the surprisingly high percentage of Americans who believe in the rapture and other things, there was some skepticism about how reliable the numbers and how they broke down depending on age, etc.

I have not been able to find further documentation to support the figure of 44% who are either certain or think it very likely that the rapture will occur in their lifetimes. But there are other interesting breakdowns.

For example, in this Harris poll from July 6, 2005, 47% do not believe that apes and humans have common ancestry, which is a key tenet of evolution, while 46% believe it. A similar number 45% do not believe plants and animals evolved from other species. So we can pretty much conclude that slightly less than half the population reject pretty much all of evolution.

Curiously, only 22% believe that humans evolved from earlier species, while 64% believe that humans were created directly by God. I am not sure how this squares with the above answers. Maybe people are interpreting the phrases “common ancestry” and “directly created” in ways that are different from me.

In general, evolutionary ideas gain ground the more education you have. You are also much more likely to find support for evolution from those who identify their political philosophy as liberal and whose political affiliation is Democratic or independent.

The strongest support for evolution can be found in the northeast and the west, with the least in the Midwest and the south.

Support for evolution also declines with age. I am not sure if this is because as a person ages he/she becomes less evolutionary minded or whether this is due to the current group of older people being educated at a different time from the current group of younger people. I am not sure if anyone has done a longitudinal study following people as they age to find out if their views on evolution change, and if so why.

Another interesting Harris survey was done in December 2005 that breaks religious beliefs down another way. This shows solid majorities for a variety of religious beliefs: god (82%), miracles (73%), survival of soul after death (70%), heaven (70%), Jesus is God or the son of God (70%), angels (68%), resurrection of Christ (66%), devil (61%), hell (59%), and virgin birth of Jesus (48%).

Significant numbers believe in ghosts (40%), UFOs (34%), witches (28%), astrology (25%), and reincarnation (21%).

More women tend to believe in all these things than men (sometimes in much higher numbers) except, interestingly enough, for UFOs and witches. UFOs are a kind of kind of sci-fi thing that traditionally has had more appeal for guys, while one can understand women being leery of the witch issue, seeing as they bore the brunt of the cruelty arising from allegations of witchcraft.

Again Democrats are more skeptical than Republicans, with Independents easily being the most skeptical, although a majority of all groups still believe. Perhaps Independents, who are skeptical of both major parties, tend to carry that skepticism over to religion as well.

In the categories of ghosts, UFOS, witches, astrology and reincarnation, the numbers did not differ by much according to political affiliation.

Again, the more education you had, the less you believed, with the numbers decreasing dramatically when you got some post-graduate education.

So what does this all mean? One can interpret these things many ways but for me, the take-home lesson is that education matters.

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart interview

Is Jon Stewart the only person who really knows how to answer a TV interviewer’s stupid questions? Watch how he responds “Are you insane?” to Larry King.

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