Although biblical literalism now ties with biblical skepticism nationally, these views vary somewhat across different segments of the U. Nonwhites, adults aged 50 and older, and adults with no college education all lean toward believing the Bible is the actual word of God rather than stories and history recorded by man. Men, whites, adults aged 18 to 29 as well as those aged 30 to 49, and college graduates lean in the other direction, with more being skeptics than literalists. Still, in all of these groups, the largest segment takes the middle position, believing the Bible reflects the inspired word of God.
Naturally, there are also strong differences in Americans' perspectives on the Bible by religious preference. As a whole, more Christians take the Bible literally than say it is a book of stories and history recorded by man.
However, within the broad group of Christians, Protestants including those who generically refer to themselves as "Christian" lean toward the literalist view, while Catholics divide evenly between seeing the Bible as the literal word of God and saying it is a book of stories. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those with no religious affiliation fall into the skeptics' camp. Notably, in , some of the same groups -- older Americans and Protestants, along with women, were more inclined than their counterparts toward biblical literalism.
Over the past three decades, Americans' view of the Bible as the literal word of God has been declining, while their view that the Bible is a collection of fables, myths and history recorded by man has been increasing. The shift is most pronounced among young adults, indicating the trend is likely to accelerate in the years ahead. Americans in all age groups still largely accept the Bible as a holy document, but most of these downplay God's direct role in it. That could mean people are more willing than in the past to believe it is open to interpretation -- if man, not God, wrote the Bible, more can be questioned.
And that, in turn, may have consequences for where Americans come down on a number of morally tinged issues. The country may already be seeing this in growing public acceptance of a variety of behaviors that were once largely frowned on from a Christian perspective -- ranging from gay marriage and premarital sex to out-of-wedlock births and physician-assisted suicide.
Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics. Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May , , with a random sample of 1, adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting. Compared with Christians, Jews and people with no religious affiliation are much more likely to say they do not believe in God or a higher power of any kind.
The survey did not include enough interviews with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or respondents from other minority religious groups in the United States to permit separate analysis of their beliefs. When asked about a variety of possible attributes or characteristics of God, U. Christians by and large paint a portrait that reflects common Christian teachings about God. In total, three-quarters of U.
Christians believe that God possesses all three of these attributes — that the deity is loving, omniscient and omnipotent. However, the survey finds sizable differences in the way various Christian subgroups perceive God. Evangelicals and those in the historically black Protestant tradition are also more likely than members of other major U.
Christian traditions to say that God has personally protected, rewarded and punished them. But across all subgroups, Christians are far more likely to say God has protected and rewarded them than to say God has punished them. See Chapter 2 for details. But there are stark differences based on how, exactly, members of this group describe their religious identity. None of the survey respondents who describe themselves as atheists believe in God as described in the Bible.
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Self-described agnostics look very different from atheists on this question. Just three-in-ten say there is no higher power in the universe. But young adults are far less likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God as described in the Bible. The survey also shows that, compared with older adults, those under age 50 generally view God as less powerful and less involved in earthly affairs than do older Americans.
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At the same time, however, young adults are somewhat more likely than their elders to say they believe that they personally have been punished by God or a higher power in the universe. Among U. The data also show that, compared with those with lower levels of educational attainment, college graduates are less likely to believe that God or another higher power in the universe is active and involved in the world and in their personal lives.
And just one-third of college graduates say God determines all or most of what happens in their lives, far below the share who say this among those with less education.
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Republicans and Democrats have very different notions about God. Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say God has protected, rewarded or punished them see Chapter 2. Among Democrats, the survey finds big differences between whites and nonwhites in views about God. Most nonwhite Democrats, who are predominantly black or Hispanic, say they believe in God as described in the Bible, and seven-in-ten or more say they believe God is all-loving, all-knowing or all-powerful, with two-thirds ascribing all of these attributes to God.
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In these ways, nonwhite Democrats have more in common with Republicans than they do with white Democrats. And just one-in-three white Democrats say they believe God or another higher power in the universe is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving.
About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research.
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A note on trends in belief in God. Why, then, is this an opportune moment for a new survey exploring American beliefs about God? In this report, Protestants are categorized into one of three traditions the evangelical Protestant tradition, the mainline Protestant tradition or the historically black Protestant tradition based, as much as possible, on their denominational affiliation. Pagination Next: 1. Beliefs about the nature of God 2. Related Fact Tank Apr 25, Publications Nov 3, Publications Jul 16, Publications May 12,