Harris Poll: In the U.S., a Clear Win For Rationality — Belief In God and Heaven Declines

This Harris poll — under the headline “Americans’ Belief in God, Miracles and Heaven Declines” — is a great holiday gift.

It finds that

… [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.

Here are some other popular superstitions, according to the poll, along with their adherents.

Miracles: 72% of Americans believe, down from 79% in 2005.

Heaven: 68%, down from 75.

The virgin birth: 57%, down from 60.

Jesus is God, or the son of God: 68%, down from 72.

The resurrection story: 65%, down from 70.

The soul lives on after death: 64%, down from 69.

The devil, and hell: 58%, down from 62.

At the same time, more people — 47% — are swayed by the evidence of evolution, up from 42%.

The other good news is that the strongest belief in God and other superstitions is concentrated at the top of the age ladder, where it will — excuse the coldness of the observation — die away the quickest. By contrast, “echo boomers,” a.k.a. millennials, are the least likely to believe in God, heaven, the soul, and so on. If they carry that skepticism forward, and raise their kids with secular values, rational thought could begin to expand dramatically rather than glacially.

Unsurprisingly,

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%).

Perhaps more noteworthy is that only 37% of Americans now believe that God keeps an eye on us but does not control what we do. That’s down rather impressively from 2003, when 50% of Americans expressed belief in God as a chess master rather than a mere voyeur. Also,

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.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people who believe in creationism is now the same as those who believe in UFOs, at 36%. Maybe Ken Ham ought to put a UFO landing pad on the deck of his embattled Noah’s ark attraction. That should draw ’em in.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.

  • God’s Starship

    That’s a nice sized ding.

  • Gabriel

    This makes me very happy. I really think that the numbers will be dramatically improved in 10 years. In 20 years we will be a majority secular society. That means a majority liberal society. Which means when I’m old I will be living in the type of society that I have wanted to live in for a very long time.

  • God’s Starship

    That would make me one happy old fart.

  • compl3x

    The only thing you’ll have to yell about is the neighborhood kids running on your lawn.

    …And politicians. Everyone will always complain about those bastards.

  • Terry Firma

    I’m always struck by the easy conflation of atheism and liberalism. FWIW, I’m a hardcore atheist, but not a liberal; and I do not believe that a majority secular country must mean it’s also a liberal one.

  • Jeremiah Traeger

    As a liberal leaning person, I look forward to the day when I can talk to conservatives about politics without the particular batshit crazy social conservative ideals that come from a result of religiosity (gay marriage, abortion, etc). Economically, It’s good to have opposing sides to keep a balance, but the religious right is doing the secular conservatives no favors in making the conservatives look credible.

  • Anat

    In order to keep a balance the US needs a real left. Some socialists or at least social-democrats.

  • Pofarmer

    I’m with you Terry.

  • Armanatar

    Liberal in general, no, but liberal on social issues? All but guaranteed. There are plenty of fiscally conservative atheists, but not nearly so many social conservatives.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    I wish I could agree with you, but some of the nuttiest MRA types I’ve ever had the displeasure of speaking to on the Internet were atheists.

    I also came across one anti-procreation guy who was … scary. He attacked all the parents for being selfish and creating suffering. Unfortunately, atheism doesn’t necessarily mean skepticism or introspection or the willingness to abandon privilege.

  • Stevie

    Thanks for these stats. Really refreshing.

  • http://anonatheist.wordpress.com/ Mike Hunt

    Yay!

  • WalterWhite007

    The trend is with us…..well, with you. In Canada we are trending away from superstition a little quicker. From the last Gov’t survey in 2011:

    Nearly one quarter of Canada’s population, 23.9 per cent, had no religious affiliation – up from 16.5 per cent a decade earlier, as recorded in the 2001 census.

    I think it really matters how these survey questions are phrased as well.

  • Gehennah

    Just another reason I love my friends up north.

  • Gary

    Actually, the US is moving faster in that regard. Mentioned in the press release (but not the article above) is the finding that 23% of Americans identify as “not at all” religious, up from 12% in 2007.

  • Rain

    47% — are swayed by the evidence of evolution

    Not a good number. Kinda unbelievable actually. I sure didn’t believe it the first time I heard it when an internet creationist troll quoted the number to me. Went and looked it up and sure enough he was right…

  • Louie

    There is still much work to do, and it will not be easy. The religious-minded become more dangerous the more they feel threatened.

  • Aleister Gates

    I think just one more generation might do it

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    From the poll, Table 1a:
    All adults: Believe in god, 74%. Don’t believe in God, 12%. Not sure, 14%.

    I have a couple of thoughts:

    That 12% seems much larger than recent polls (if I remember correctly) that asked people if they identify as atheists. I think this might reflect the curse that the word “atheist” carries, and also public misconceptions of what the word means. So many ugly and scary connotations have been smeared all over that word that people who are quite clear that they don’t believe in gods still won’t use that word to describe themselves. I think that for greater accuracy in measuring what people actually believe, future polls and surveys should avoid using the “a” word entirely, and just ask people what they do and do not believe.

    Of the 14% who answered “not sure” I think not all, but many of them are not unsure in an intellectual way, but are emotionally hesitant to make the final commitment in their minds by saying “I do not believe” on a survey, even if it’s anonymous. There can be a long time in between the intellectual acceptance that one does not believe in the god or gods of one’s childhood upbringing, and the final emotional acceptance. During that guilt and anxiety-ridden time, they’ll say “I’m not sure,” but it’s not about becoming more convinced of their disbelief, it’s about getting over that guilt and anxiety. Admittedly, this is my supposition based on my own experience and from hearing so many people tell of their journey out of faith and into rationality.

    This is an important reason why atheists who come out publicly should share the story of their emotional journey, not just their intellectual journey. Hearing that others have had the same emotional obstacles will encourage people to take the final steps out of their so-called “I’m not sure” neutral zone, and be finally free.

  • Pofarmer

    Those numbers mean there are as many non believers a Catholics. There is hope.

  • usclat

    Seriously, this is fantastic. Perhaps my children and grandchildren can enjoy a much more rational society in the United States than I’ve known. It IS gratifying to know that after decades of countless debates (nay, arguments) with the “faithful”, non-belief is growing and I may have contributed a small part to that! For so long as I’m alive on this planet, I will continue to contribute in my small way.

  • james

    Atheist arguments are making headwinds in what used to be considered a Christian nation.

  • diogeneslamp0

    That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

  • momtarkle

    “Onward, Hitchens’ soldiers, marching as to war,

    with the mind of Dawkins going on before.”


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