A recent Harris Poll examined Americans' beliefs in God, religion, the paranormal, and (just for good measure) threw in one scientific theory for comparison:
The numbers may surprise you (they certainly surprised me). For example:
- 76% believe in miracles
- 75% believe in Heaven
- 72% believe in angels
- 71% believe in survival of the soul after death
- 61% believe in hell
- 61% believe in the virgin birth (of Jesus)
- 60% believe in the devil
- 45% believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution
- 40% believe in creationism
- 32% believe in UFOs
- 20% believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person
Well, we are, after all, a primarily religious nation. Roughly 84% of Americans claim some religious affiliation. So perhaps the numbers above are to be expected.
But what about Americans' beliefs in areas that can be (and many of which already have been) scientifically analyzed? Gallup looked at that issue, and published these findings:
- 55% believe in psychic or spiritual healing - 17% "aren't sure"
- 42% believe that "people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil" - 13% "aren't sure"
- 41% believe in ESP - 25% "aren't sure"
- 37% believe in that houses can be haunted - 16% "aren't sure"
- 32% believe in ghosts - 17% "aren't sure"
- 31% believe in telepathy - 27% "aren't sure"
- 26% believe in clairvoyance - 24% "aren't sure"
- 25% believe in astrology - 19% "aren't sure"
- 24% believe that extra-terrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past - 24% "aren't sure"
- 21% believe that people can communicate mentally with someone who has died - 23% "aren't sure"
- 21% believe in witches - 12% "aren't sure"
- 9% believe in channeling (allowing a 'spirit-being' to temporarily assume control of body) - 20% "aren't sure"
Additional analysis of the data shows that 73% of Americans believe in at least one of the items listed above, while 27% believe in none of them.
Simply put, that's jaw-dropping.
Meanwhile, National Geographic has conducted The Doomsday Preppers Survey (this is, after all, 2012), and found this:
- 71% envision a major disaster in their lifetime as an act of God, not man
- 49% of Americans would forgo new high-end appliances in a new home if it had a safe room or bomb shelter instead
- 27% believe that the Mayan calendar’s prediction about a calamitous event in December 2012 will be at least “somewhat true”
In other words, many more people believe in miracles, angels, hell and the devil than in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Almost a quarter of adults believe in witches, and another 12% think they "might" exist.
The majority of Americans accepts the idea that an unseen world of magical paranormal power exists, and all we have to do is to figure out how to take advantage of it.
And a majority of us also think that God will rain down a major global disaster during our own lifetime.
On my Vine page, I list just three recommended books. One of them was written by Carl Sagan. In The Demon-Haunted World - Science As A Candle In The Dark, Sagan writes this:
I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.
Where have we heard it before?
Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.
The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers.
The demons begin to stir.
Is our increasing acceptance of the existence of witches, psychic healing, and an impending Doomsday (and our subsequent rejection of actual science) a direct result of the terror of 9/11, the Crash of 2008, the presence of a much-hated/much feared President, and the rise of religious fanaticism?
Or is it a general failure of our education system? Our inability to distinguish credible sources from nonsensical ones? The ease with which we can find an echo chamber on the Internet?
Or something else altogether?
I'd like to hear your thoughts.