Curious, George: Do Americans literally believe that the Bible is “literally” true?
April 4, 2000
For those who believe in the accuracy and authority of the Bible from its very first verse, findings from pollster George Gallup Jr. present them with both encouraging and discouraging news. The polling results are found in his new book Surveying the Religious Landscape (coauthored by D. Michael Lindsay).
On the positive side, George Gallup cites the famous 1997 poll that discovered that 44% of Americans believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Essentially, that is the biblical account of creation. The percentage is only slightly lower than a Gallup poll taken in the early ’90s (and also one back in 1982). In addition, about 39% of people in 1997 believed in “theistic evolution” (meaning that God guided the evolution of humans over millions of years). In the third category of respondents, very few believed in evolution totally, and no Creator.
Because liberal teachers and liberal pastors have been chipping away at the Bible’s authority and accuracy over the years (usually targeting Genesis), the new book by George Gallup does reveal that, over the past 37 years, fewer Americans believe that “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” By 1997, the figure had dropped to about 1 in 3 Americans.
On reflection, that polling question is flawed. You see, Bible-believing Christians should not “literally” accept all of the Bible. For example, some passages in the Bible are clearly symbolic and not to be taken literally, such as Psalm 91:4, which says that God “shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” Of course, we shouldn’t literally believe that God has wings, for after all He is Spirit (John 4:24). Therefore, there may have been some Bible-believing Christians (but probably not a huge number) in 1997 who could have legitimately answered that they believed that the “Bible is the inspired word of God, but that not everything in it should be taken literally.”
We trust that in his next poll, George Gallup’s questions on Americans’ attitudes toward the Bible will be written less simplistically. By the way, only 17% in 1997 favored describing the Bible as “an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” That is somewhat heartening, considering that the Bible has come under increasing attack over the last 30 years, a time in which evolution has been preached with even increasing fervor by evolutionary fundamentalists in schools and the secular media.
More Gallup findings …
Since the book went to print, the Gallup Organization has released the findings of a new poll. Last month, Gallup reported that 46% of Americans claimed to be “born again” or “evangelical.” Although this is up from 39% five years ago, [CMI] is not necessarily seeing a corresponding increase in accepting biblical authority among Christians. Fewer people appear to be “thinking biblically.” Yes, there may be more people going to church on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday they think and act as if the Bible had little relevance and authority in their lives.