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From Most Americans take Bible stories literally:

An ABC News poll released Sunday found that... ...Sixty percent believe in the story of Noah’s ark and a global flood

This claim is often repeated, including in a number of lists such as The 10 Most Ridiculous Things People Believe, and I recall this or similar statistics being noted in Bill Maher's Religulous.

Is it possible, in spite of the current scientific knowledge, that 60% of the 307 million Americans – some 184.2 million people – actually believe the Biblical account of Noah's ark to be literally true?

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Take a look at Christianity.SE for a very subjective impression, there are quite some people there that believe in a literal flood. –  Fabian Sep 19 '11 at 14:25
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I'd just like to post this from the article: "The poll, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points, was conducted Feb. 6 to 10 among 1,011 adults" 1011 people does not a representative sample make. –  Darwy Sep 19 '11 at 15:14
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@Darwy well it says it has a margin of error of 3%. So the adult creationists are between 58% and 64%; those figures would make absolutely no difference to the question. 1011 people would be a large enough sample to generate that level of error. –  DJClayworth Sep 19 '11 at 20:36
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"Taking the Bible literally" is not the same as Genesis being "literally true". You'd probably need to know a little more about Biblical interpretation for me to give a good explanation in a comment. –  DJClayworth Sep 19 '11 at 20:38
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@Darwy: 1011 people may or may not be a representative sample, depending on how they are drawn from the population, but if it is... If a coin is 60% fair and you toss it 1000 times, the number of heads is a binomial distribution with mean = 600, sigma = sqrt(.6*.4*1000) = sqrt(240) = 15, which is 1.5% of 1000. If you want a 95% confidence, you would take +/- 2 sigma, or +/- 3%. So that's roughly what a sample of 1000 can tell you. If you go to 100 000, you can shrink the uncertainty by a factor of 10. –  Mike Dunlavey Sep 20 '11 at 1:40

1 Answer 1

up vote 22 down vote accepted

While it is possible that the ABC poll mentioned may have had flaws, ABC is an experienced polling organization. It is unlikely that it has made an error of tens of percents in the estimates. The given percentage is 61, with a margin of error of about 3%.

This is in line with other polls. This one gives 54% as the number who believe in a six-day creation. This one gives 55%. This one says 40%. This one says 66%.

So while the precise figure is hard to determine, and probably depends on the question, is is clearly true that something in the region of half of Americans believe in the literal truth of Genesis. And by implication Noah's Ark.

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2  
Good answer; I'd watch the "by implication" part. :) –  Brian M. Hunt Sep 21 '11 at 19:54
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@BrianM.Hunt I think the implication is not too bad -- after all, Noah's ark is not more unbelievable than the rest of the Genesis. –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Sep 25 '11 at 15:19
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I don't think many people take six-day creation as literal, but Noah as figurative. And I know people who would take Noah as a true story (but with the flood covering a wide area, but not the whole world) who wouldn't take Genesis 1 literally. –  DJClayworth Sep 25 '11 at 23:00
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I like your answer, but I would like to say that the "believe in the literal truth of Genesis. And by implication Noah's Ark." I would guess that a decent percent of people who believe that Genesis is literal and true, would not be able to correctly answer what book of the bible is the Noah's Ark story from? –  Garrett Fogerlie Jun 7 '12 at 19:05
    
@GarrettFogerlie I'm pretty sure your guess would be wrong there. –  DJClayworth Jun 18 '12 at 16:09

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