A new Harris Poll finds that while 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.
Belief in 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%). (Full results, including data tables, can be found here)
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,250 adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive.
The survey also finds that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, 36% each believe in creationism and UFOs, 29% believe in astrology, 26% believe in witches and 24% believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person.
Generational & political divides
Echo Boomers are less likely than their counterparts in all older generations to express belief in God (64% Echo Boomers, 75% Gen Xers, 81% Baby Boomers, 83% Matures), miracles (65%, 74%, 76% and 78%, respectively), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (58%, 67%, 74% and 75%, respectively) and angels (59%, 71%, 73% and 68%, respectively.
On the other end of the generational spectrum, Matures are far less likely than any other generation to express belief in ghosts (44% Echo Boomers, 46% Gen Xers, 46% Baby Boomers, 24% Matures), witches (27%, 29%, 28% and 18%, respectively) and reincarnation (27%, 25%, 23% and 13%, respectively).
Turning to the political spectrum, Democrats and Independents show similar levels of belief in most of the tested concepts, with Republicans consistently more likely than either group to express belief in those concepts aligned with the Judeo-Christian belief system; Republicans are less likely than either group to express belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution (36% Republicans, 52% Democrats, 51% Independents).
Absolute certainty that there is a God down vs. 10 years ago
In a separate line of questioning, focused on Americans’ degree of certainty that there is or is not a God, two-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%).
Gender of God
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).
God’s control over the Earth
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.
Religious texts as “Word of God”
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.
Prevalence of “Religious” self-identification
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%.
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A Note on the Methodology Used and How It Affects the Results
Other research has shown that when replying to a question administered impersonally by a computer, people are less likely to say they believe in God, or attend Church services when they really don’t. It is generally believed that surveys conducted by live interviewers tend to exaggerate the numbers of people who report the socially desirable, or less embarrassing, behavior, and that the replies given to an online survey such as this, are more honest and therefore more accurate.