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  • Monday, January 17, 2005


    Virgin Birth of Jesus

    On occasion, I can't help but wonder at the accuracy a particular statistic. Then I feel driven to try to find the source to verify the methodology and whether I agree with it. When I came across this quote at Counterpunch
    Today, as we blow out 76 candles to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am thinking that in a nation where 79 percent of the people believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, there is no good reason not to imagine the possibility of a revived and renewed Christian left.
    I start hunting. So in a New York Times Op-ed piece in August, 2003, I found
    Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent).
    Wow, that's a 4% jump in a year and a half! Or are they refering to the same poll? Then I found a source poll at Harris Interactive from 1998 which said
    Almost all self-styled Christians believe in God (99%), the resurrection of Christ (96%), and the Virgin birth (91%) -- beliefs that are central to Christianity. What is more surprising is that many people who say they are not Christians believe in the resurrection of Christ (49%), and the Virgin birth of Jesus (47%).
    Hmm... These don't quite line up. Perhaps they averaged the Christians (91%) and non Christians (47%)? Nope, the average is 69%. Wait, I then found a later Harris Poll (2000) that said 82% of of Americans believed in the Virgin birth of Jesus. That's at least in the range of the earlier quotes, but I boggled at the broader religious statistics.
    The overwhelming majority of adult Americans believe in God (94%), heaven (89%), the resurrection of Christ (86%), the survival of the soul after death (86%), miracles (85%) and the virgin birth of Jesus (82%).(These are some of the findings of a Harris Poll of 1,010 adults surveyed by telephone between August 10 and August 14, 2000.)
    So about 950 of 1010 Americans said they believe in God. (Should I ask which god?) Wow. What about polytheism? Unsurprisingly, that doesn't seem to be option in a 2003 Harris poll, although they did manage to ask about God's gender:

    Most Americans agree that there is a God, but their perceptions of who God is and how much God controls events on Earth vary greatly. There is no consensus on God’s gender, form or role on Earth:

    A plurality (42%) of all adults (but only 37% of men) thinks God is male, but only 1% thinks God is female. Almost half of all adults believe that God is neither male nor female (38%) or that God is both (11%).
    I've lost my initial focus but found some interesting stats on the way. I'm still not sure I believe in the accuracy of any of them. I feel like taking a random poll on a streetcorner just to see whether I come into the ballpark of these estimates. Then I remember that for every person who answered the Harris poll, approximately 3 refused to answer. This is the average rate of nonparticipation in phone polls. Isn't that interesting?

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