Based on the average of three surveys of 1000 American adults each over the past three Mays, Gallup’s Frank Newport reports that less than one fifth of Americans think the Bible ‘is an ancient book of "fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."’ Nearly a third believe it is literally the word of god and a plurality of nearly half think it is somehow divinely inspired.
The good news is that the average of 31% who believe in the most literal interpretation over nine surveys since 1991 is somewhat lower than the average of 38% over the seven surveys between 1976 and 1984, twice reaching 40%.
There is a clear negative correlation between education and superstition. Among those who never started university, 83% believe the Bible has some kind of supernatural origin, while only 13% understand its human origins. Among those who started but didn’t complete university, 81% think it’s divinely inspired, and 19% don’t. Ominously, 73% of college graduates and 68% of those with postgraduate education adopt the superstitious explanation, while only 25% and 30% of these populations respectively accept human authorship.
Perhaps the scariest revelation of all is that 36% of those with ‘no religious identification’ still believe in some kind of non human origin and 10% that the Bible is literally the word of god.
In related polling from the Pew Research Center, in the latest values survey, conducted Dec. 12, 2006-Jan. 9, 2007, the proportion saying ‘Prayer is an important part of my daily life’ has declined since 1999 by a full ten percentage points, from 55% to 45%, still a frightening level, and still above the low in 1987 of 41%. The proportion claiming, ‘I never doubt the existence of god’ has also declined considerably since 1999, from 69% to 61%, and even more dramatically since 1994, when it peaked at 72%!
Furthermore, on Pew’s generational basis, younger generations are becoming more ‘secular’, which Pew defines as calling oneself, atheist, agnostic, or no religion. Only 5% of ‘Pre-boomers’, born before 1946, are secular, as defined. Of the ‘Boomer generation, born 1946-1964, it’s 11%. ‘Generation X’ (1965-76) boasts a secularity rate of 14%, while of the post 1976 ‘Generation Y’, 19% claim to reject religion. Still, that means over four fifths of the most secular generation are still steeped in superstition.
A more encouraging trend, presumably unrelated to the hocus pocus factor, is that the proportion agreeing that ‘the best way to endure peace is through military strength’ has declined to it’s lowest point since 1987, at 49% after a steep decline from the 2002 peak of 62%, while those disagreeing have reached a 20 year high of 47%, up from the 2002 nadir of 34%.
There also appears to be some erosion of ‘conservative’ social attitudes. Sixty-nine percent now say the ‘Government should care for those who can’t care for themselves’, up from a low of 57% in 1994, but still short of the 1987 peak of 71%. A 20 year high, 54%, say the government should help the needy even if means greater debt’, the highest since 1987 after bottoming out at 47% in 1994. The proportion who think ‘school boards should have the right to fire homosexual teachers’ has plummeted by nearly half, 23 percentage points, from a high of 51% in 1987.
While the trajectories on these four indicators may be cause for optimism, it’s important to realise that even in this day and age, over 30% don’t want any government provision ‘for those who can’t care for themselves’, presumably the disabled. Nearly half begrudge ‘the needy’, and a plurality still think that military power is the key to peace.