Americans’ Belief in God, Miracles and Heaven Declines

New York, N.Y. – December 16, 2013 – 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.

    New York, N.Y. – December 16, 2013 – 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%).

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,250 adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013.

    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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    TABLE 1a

    WHAT PEOPLE DO AND DO NOT BELIEVE IN

    Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not

    Base: All Adults

     

    Believe In

    Don’t Believe In

    Not Sure

    Believe In

    Change

    2005

    2007

    2009

    2013

    2005-2013

    God

    %

    74

    12

    14

    82

    82

    82

    74

    -8

    Miracles

    %

    72

    15

    13

    79

    79

    76

    72

    -7

    Heaven

    %

    68

    16

    15

    75

    75

    75

    68

    -7

    Jesus is God or the Son of God

    %

    68

    18

    14

    72

    72

    73

    68

    -4

    Angels

    %

    68

    18

    15

    74

    74

    72

    68

    -6

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ

    %

    65

    19

    16

    70

    70

    70

    65

    -5

    Survival of the soul after death

    %

    64

    16

    20

    69

    69

    71

    64

    -5

    Hell

    %

    58

    25

    18

    62

    62

    61

    58

    -4

    The Devil

    %

    58

    26

    16

    62

    62

    60

    58

    -4

    The Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary)

    %

    57

    24

    20

    60

    60

    61

    57

    -3

    Darwin’s theory of evolution

    %

    47

    29

    25

    42

    42

    45

    47

    +5

    Ghosts

    %

    42

    37

    21

    41

    41

    42

    42

    +1

    Creationism

    %

    36

    31

    33

    39

    39

    40

    36

    -3

    UFOs

    %

    36

    35

    29

    35

    35

    32

    36

    +1

    Astrology

    %

    29

    50

    21

    29

    29

    26

    29

    Witches

    %

    26

    54

    19

    31

    31

    23

    26

    -5

    Reincarnation – that you were once another person

    %

    24

    49

    27

    21

    21

    20

    24

    +3

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% because of rounding

    — indicates no change


    TABLE 1b

    WHAT PEOPLE BELIEVE IN

    By Generation & Political Party

    Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Generation

    Political Party

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Republicans

    Democrats

    Independents

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    God

    74

    64

    75

    81

    83

    87

    72

    70

    Miracles

    72

    65

    74

    76

    78

    83

    71

    68

    Heaven

    68

    62

    68

    74

    73

    80

    66

    65

    Jesus is God or the Son of God

    68

    58

    67

    74

    75

    83

    64

    62

    Angels

    68

    59

    71

    73

    68

    77

    66

    64

    The resurrection of Jesus Christ

    65

    55

    63

    72

    74

    80

    60

    60

    Survival of the soul after death

    64

    59

    63

    68

    67

    74

    63

    60

    Hell

    58

    54

    58

    60

    63

    74

    53

    53

    The Devil

    58

    53

    60

    60

    60

    69

    55

    54

    The Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary)

    57

    48

    52

    64

    67

    72

    52

    53

    Darwin’s theory of evolution

    47

    49

    48

    45

    43

    36

    52

    51

    Ghosts

    42

    44

    46

    46

    24

    43

    45

    39

    Creationism

    36

    33

    35

    38

    37

    49

    30

    34

    UFOs

    36

    36

    36

    37

    30

    36

    37

    35

    Astrology

    29

    33

    34

    26

    23

    29

    31

    27

    Witches

    26

    27

    29

    28

    18

    27

    26

    25

    Reincarnation – that you were once another person

    24

    27

    25

    23

    13

    18

    30

    18

     

    TABLE 2a

    CERTAINTY THAT THERE IS/IS NOT A GOD

    Are youâ€_?

    Base: All Adults

    2003

    2006

    2009

    2013

    Change 2003-2013

    %

    %

    %

    %

    % points

    Absolutely/ Somewhat certain there is a God (NET)

    79

    73

    74

    68

    -11

    Absolutely certain that there is a God

    66

    58

    59

    54

    -12

    Somewhat certain that there is a God

    12

    15

    15

    14

    +2

    Absolutely/ Somewhat certain there is no God (NET)

    9

    11

    13

    16

    +7

    Somewhat certain that there is no God

    5

    6

    6

    7

    +2

    Absolutely certain that there is no God

    4

    6

    7

    9

    +5

    Not sure whether or not there is a God

    12

    16

    13

    16

    +4

    Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.


    TABLE 2b

    DEMOGRAPHIC VARIATIONS IN CERTAINTY THAT THERE IS A GOD

    Base: All Adults

    Absolutely Certain there IS a God

    All Adults

    %

    54

    Region

    East

    %

    48

    Midwest

    %

    58

    South

    %

    61

    West

    %

    46

    Generation

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    %

    47

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    %

    51

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    %

    60

    Matures (68+)

    %

    62

    Gender

    Male

    %

    48

    Female

    %

    59

    Race/Ethnicity

    White

    %

    53

    Black

    %

    70

    Hispanic

    %

    53

    Political Party

    Republican

    %

    65

    Democrat

    %

    50

    Independent

    %

    51

    Education

    High school or less

    %

    60

    Some college

    %

    55

    College graduate

    %

    48

    Post graduate

    %

    37


    TABLE 3

    GENDER OF GOD

    If there is a God, do you think of God as male or female or neither?

    Base: All Adults

    All Adults

    Gender

    2003

    2006

    2009

    2013

    Change 2003-2013

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    % points

    %

    %

    Male

    42

    36

    38

    39

    -3

    34

    43

    Female

    1

    1

    1

    1

     

    3

    Neither male nor female

    38

    37

    34

    31

    -7

    34

    28

    Both male and female

    11

    10

    11

    10

    -1

    10

    9

    Do not believe in God/Not sure

    9

    17

    15

    19

    +10

    21

    17

    Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

      indicates less than 0.5%; — indicates no change

     

    TABLE 4

    GOD’S CONTROL OVER EARTH

    Do you think Godâ€_?

    Base: All Adults

     

     

    All Adults

    Very vs. Somewhat Religious

    Catholic/Protestant/Born Again

    2003

    2006

    2009

    2013

    Change 2003-2013

    Very

    Somewhat

    Catholic

    Protestant (NET)

    Born Again

    %

    %

    %

    %

    % points

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Controls what happens on Earth

    29

    29

    30

    29

    60

    35

    27

    44

    56

    Observes but does not control what happens on Earth

    50

    44

    43

    37

    -13

    34

    49

    52

    41

    37

    Neither observes nor controls what happens on Earth

    6

    8

    8

    8

    +2

    2

    5

    8

    5

    1

    Do not believe in God/Not Sure

    15

    18

    19

    25

    +10

    4

    11

    13

    10

    6

    Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

    — indicates no change


    TABLE 5

    WHICH BOOKS REPRESENT THE WORD OF GOD

    To what extent do you believe that the following represents the word of God?

    Base: All adults

     

     

    All Is Word of God

    Most Is Word of God

    Some Is Word of God

    None Is Word of God

    Not Sure

    All/Most is Word of God

    2008

    2013

    Change 2008-2013

    The Old Testament (texts used in the Christian religion)

    %

    33

    16

    14

    17

    20

    55

    49

    -6

    The New Testament (texts used in the Christian religion)

    %

    31

    17

    15

    18

    20

    54

    48

    -6

    The Torah (the texts used in the Jewish religion)

    %

    12

    11

    16

    23

    39

    26

    22

    -4

    The Koran (texts used by Muslims)

    %

    3

    5

    15

    39

    38

    9

    8

    -1

    The Book of Mormon (texts used by Mormons)

    %

    5

    4

    15

    38

    37

    10

    9

    -1

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% because of rounding

     

    TABLE 6

    HOW RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE

    Would you describe yourself as . . .?

    Base: All adults

     

    Total

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2013

    Change 2007-2013

    %

    %

    %

    %

    % points

    Very religious

    21

    23

    21

    19

    -2

    Somewhat religious

    49

    45

    48

    40

    -9

    Not very religious

    19

    17

    16

    19

    Not at all religious

    12

    15

    15

    23

    +11

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% because of rounding; — indicates no change

    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.

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States November 13 and 18, 2013 among 2,250 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    J43568

    Q1055, 1060, 1065, 1070, 1075, 1340

     

    The Harris Poll® #97, December 16, 2013

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager