The vast majority of Americans still believe in angels

December 25, 2011 • 10:35 am

A new Associated Press-GfK poll, carried out December 8-12 of this year, manages to unwittingly combine two superstitions: belief in Santa and belief in angels. It’s a very strange poll, but here are the salient results:

  • Only 84% of children ever believed in Santa.  16% didn’t.  Recall that that 16% of Santa atheists is much higher than the proportion of God atheists!
  • The mean age at which kids stopped believing in Santa was 8.8 years
  • 37% of Americans think that the Santa tradition enhances the religious aspect of Christmas (WHAT?), while 48% say it detracts
  • 38% of Americans consider themselves born-again or evangelical Christians
  • 77% of Americans believe in angels.

Remember that all of those kids who believed in Santa put away that mental toy at about age 9, but those 77% of Americans who believe in angels are all adults (those polled were over 18 years old).

So much for the contention of sophisticated theologians that Americans don’t really believe in the tenets of faith (and angels are barely mentioned in the Bible!), but simply see their religion as a pretty story, or, as Tim Padgett asserts, a “lovely idea” that inspires good works.

71 thoughts on “The vast majority of Americans still believe in angels

  1. It’s not just Christians who believe in angels.

    many Wiccans & Neopagans also believe in them, as do members of some other small religions, though I doubt that all of them together make up a high enough percentage of the population to change a poll like this more than 1 or 2 percent.

      1. I have no idea how widespread it is, but I have heard a few Wiccans invoke different Christian archangels.

        It’s not especially surprising in retrospect, since modern Wiccanism is mostly a hodge-podge of things people like from various older religions that have been sanitized to makethem “cool because it’s going to piss off your uptight fundamentalist parents but doesn’t actually have anything ‘bad’ in it.”

  2. But I’ve seen angels! It was shortly after taking the sleeping medication Ambien; I saw a group of small angels flying in a circle near the ceiling.

  3. Simple thought experiment:

    Which always wins?

    1. “There are magical, loving beings that watch over you and meet your every secret need and wish.” — angels

    2. “Reality consists of hard facts that are largely unknowable and your feelings, wishes and needs are inconsequential.”

    It’s all sales and marketing scams. “Science” will never displace fantasy — in the US.

    1. Never say never! Maybe there will always be those who find easy options preferable because they like to hide their heads in the sand, but there are plenty of sensible young people who would embrace the possibilities of attaining true knowledge were they to be allowed the chance to acquire it.

        1. As an outsider, I wonder why should the US remain unaffected by the decline in religion elsewhere? I do not know – no one can predict the future, but there have to be three main possibilities; either the US becomes more religious (a theocracy – but yet it is so sectarian that this seems a bit unlikely); it stays about the same; religion declines.

          Besides, who knows where evolution will take the pig when we humans have destroyed ourselves? 😉

  4. The standard image of an angel, a human with wings, is traceable to the Etruscans. There may be something in Zoroastrianism, too, but whatever, it’s pre-xtian.

    Conceptually, many religions with one or more deities also has at least one subordinate class of supernatural beings on the side of good. Xtianity, it can be argued, includes at least archangels, angels proper, seraphim, and cherubim.

    Tolkien’s masterpiece, the Lord of the Rings, is not widely recognized as having a distinctly Catholic view, but it does. (Tolkien was a life-long devout Catholic.)

    In the LotR, one finds a supreme god; a bunch of gods and goddesses, the Valar, that run Middle Earth unless and until things get out of control, whereupon they turn to the Big Boss; and a class of inferior supernatural beings, the maya, of which Gandalf is a representative. And even Tolkien’s elves have more than a little of the supernatural about them.

    Happily, it is possible to enjoy LotR without having to believe in any of it, neither the terrestrial (hobbits living in holes) or the celestial (Valar, Maya, and their Boss).

    IOW, a belief in a hierarchy of supernatural beings is extremely common in the world’s religions. Indeed, in some forms of Buddhism, while there is no God per se, there are many classes of non-divine supernatural beings: buddhas, boddhisattvas, demons, gods (not Gods), and who knows what all, absorbed from central Asian folk religion.

    One can’t help but wonder two things:

    1. Is the human brain constructed so as to favor such belief systems?

    2. If so, what is the evolutionary significance of that fact.

    [Wow! Nice catch! managing to circle out to LotR and thence make it back to the terra firma of evolutionary theory.]

      1. Indeed. There are several accounts of angels appearing as men, or having nothing obviously supernatural about their appearance.

    1. Come on RFW, I have to disagree with a fundamental point in your post.

      It is not possible to enjoy ‘Lord of the Rings’.

      I remember reading it at age 17, and giving up after 900 of the 1,000 pages, realising that I had been completely bored by its interminabilitude.

      1. I agree that Lord of the Rings is boring, but I don’t agree that “interminabilitude” is a word.:)

        BTW, the wife loved the book and the movies and believes in angels! Some women are hard to live with…

        1. If I could die, having coined one widely disseminated neologism, I’d be happy, ‘Mordacious’ – which strikes me as an example; congratulations!

          Shakespeare managed about 2,000 –‘summit’, ‘bare-faced’.

          Dickens, about 200 – ‘snobbish’, ‘fairy-lights’.

          I suggest the reintroduction of a distinct second person plural pronoun into Standard English; ‘youse’, to differentiate it from ‘you’. A work colleague e-mailed me back with this spelling the other day; so there are at least 2 of us. Only about 1 billion to go.

          1. Definition of NEOLOGISM
            : a new word, usage, or expression
            : a meaningless word coined by a psychotic

            I hope you were referring to definition #1.

            1. I have no idea whence definition no. 2, Mordacious, but it seems to be your neologism! To replace ‘Mordacious’, which I find exists; obvious, really, ‘mordre’ to bite.

    2. To be serious about RFW’s post, which taught me a couple of things, angelosity, in Catholic theology, involves several contradictory definitions, or at least an unreasonably burdensome job description.

      Primo, there is the familiar concept of the guardian angel, one of which exists for every human who has ever lived. St. Jerome said, “The dignity of a soul is so great, that each has a guardian angel from its birth.” Dawkins might have questioned, in the case of identical twins, which one received the soul, but that may be an irritatingly pedantic naturalistic quibble. Duty number one: personal guardians

      Secundo, there is the slightly less well-known of the idea of the heavenly throng attending God’s throne, whom Jesus references, “thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him…” (Daniel 7:10) In this context, the apocalyptic Daniel places the 9 types of angels in a tripartite hierarchy. Duty number two: attendants at God’s throne.

      Their third duty is to be God’s divine (and Catholic theology does allege divinity in some cases, in other Roman theology, not) agents governing the world. It is practically the unanimous view of the Church Fathers that it is the angels who put into execution God’s law regarding the physical world. I need hardly add that the angels are therefore charged with administering not only God’s benign intervention in the world but also his genocidal wrath and other capricious acts with which the readers of this site are no doubt familiar. Duty number three: God’s messengers to mankind; ‘Keep it up, my Chosen people’, alternatively, ‘Kill those Egyptian first-born, or it’s the Exile for you.’

      Had these definitions of angel-hood been read to the poll’s respondents before answering the survey, I wonder what their replies would have been.

  5. Corrections:

    Second paragraph, first sentence: wrote “has” instead of “have”.

    In discussion of LotR, wrote “maya” when I should have written “Maiar”.

    I wish we had a preview facility at WEIT.

  6. The 77% who believe in angels correlate nicely with the constant 77-87% of footwear searches on Google (according to containing ’Nike’ as first keyword. Nike being of course the winged allegory of victory that is considered among the Hellenistic forerunners of angel representations. In that sense, it may be said that Americans put their feet where their faith lies.

    The new-found popularity of Gov. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, suggests that the Angel Moroni may be reaching the electorate. In combination with Nike sneakers, one may conclude that Moronic belief is sneaking upon America.

  7. It’s surveys like this that make me wonder whether we can withstand direct democracy.

    Menken was right. (Note: this was written prior to women’s suffrage.)

    When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

  8. No No No!

    “95% of statistics are made up on the spot” … and so are these answers. These numbers don’t reflect what people truly believe, they reflect what people want you to believe about them.

    (One simple question: “Have you sold everything you have and given it to the poor?” will tell you all you need to know about the major faith).

    You can’t even get honest numbers to questions like, “Do you always wash your hands after using the toilet?” or “Do you ever dip your chip twice in the dip?”

    Two truisms:
    1) Every Christian is a cafeteria Christian.
    2) Every Christian will lie for or about Jesus.

    When surveying religion, bring your own salt.

  9. Here is an example of what is how Americans are behaving while devoted to fantasy beliefs like angels:

    “I’ve been a meteorologist 30 years and never seen a year that comes close to matching 2011 for the number of astounding, extreme weather events,….Climate science already offers some insight. Researchers have proved that the temperature of the earth’s surface is rising, and they are virtually certain that the human release of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, is the major reason. For decades, they have predicted that this would lead to changes in the frequency of extreme weather events, and statistics show that has begun to happen….Chief among the difficulties that scientists face: the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile, and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight.”

    The opponents of “science” have cleverly confounded active support of all religious magical beliefs, like angels, with commercially-driven selfish interests like fossil fuels.

    The political algebra of climate science > opposition to your personal guardian angels is very powerful.

    We will all suffer.

    1. It doesn’t make sense to conflate skepticism over anthropogenic driven climate change with a belief in angels. Our understanding of how climate is driven is so shallow, it is an article of faith to believe that the science is settle and pronounce that climate change is being driven by humanity.

      Firstly, there is no such thing as climate stasis so climate change is the baseline condition of the planet.

      The climate has warmed and cooled several times since the last glaciation period went into remission… I can’t see it as reasonable to be terrified about it warming up to a point that still keeps us well inside the current ice age.

      After the Medieval Warm Period we got hit with the Little Ice Age and we’ve been warming back up for about 250-300 years at the rate of 1 – 2 Celsius per century. Since we’ve been directly monitoring the change it has been… between 0.09 and 0.2 Celsius per decade. At this rate it would take us a couple hundred years to get back up to where we were 8000 years ago when we first climbed out of the last glaciation period.

      The climatologists realize that CO2 has very little warming potential itself, it is near saturation uptake already, but some made a guess that it would have a very big forcing on other processes. It was a guess and it doesn’t look to be bearing out as actual measurements show forcing to be more like a third or less of what they estimated.

      It would be easy to look at the current situation and conclude that the science has been hijacked for political ends. The climate change was already taking place so any resulting weather changes we are experiencing fall well within what could be expected to show up even if humans didn’t exist.

      What is the optimum concentration of CO2? From a flora point of view it looks to be somewhere higher than 1000 ppm; but oceans become a little less alkaline (they don’t become acidic) and shell production declines above 1000 ppm so it would be reasonable to want it to stay below that point. We are sitting at about 380 ppm… only 130 ppm above the point where plants start to suffocate and die.

      There is a LOT more room on the upside than on the down.

      1. “The climatologists realize that CO2 has very little warming potential itself, it is near saturation uptake already, but some made a guess that it would have a very big forcing on other processes. It was a guess and it doesn’t look to be bearing out as actual measurements show forcing to be more like a third or less of what they estimated.”

        This is s flat out lie.

        1. CO2 has been known as a greenhouse gas for centuries.

        2. It isn’t even remotely close to “saturation”. In fact, in the history of the world, it is historically very low.

        3. Pretty much every prediction made by the climate scientists has been spot on. They are getting very good at this. The last 5 record low arctic sea ice levels have all occurred in the last 6 years.

        Clint: “It would be easy to look at the current situation and conclude that the science has been hijacked for political ends.”

        If you have to lie, your point is likely to be false. I doubt you are even coherent enough to know what a political end is. Just another crackpot ranting and raving on the internet.

        1. Hi Raven,

          Your very emotional ad hominem attack on me points to why this is such a difficult field for any rational discussion to take place. If I question your belief system then I can only be “ranting and raving”. It may have been my fault that what I wrote wasn’t clear enough for you to follow, but either way, all three of your points are against contentions that aren’t even in my original post.

          Your response leads me to believe that you are one of the hundreds of millions who believe whole-heartedly in anthropogenic global climate change because you have been told by people you trust that it is so. My contentions are known to everyone who works in the climate science community and those who espouse a human cause to the warming have cogent arguments against what I wrote. I don’t agree that their case is anywhere near as solid as they publicly make it out to be- but they do make a case. You simply built up a straw man and then proceeded to tear it down as if it were someone’s actual argument against human driven climate change?

          1. Of course CO2 is a greenhouse gas. I don’t know why you would conclude that anyone doesn’t know that? The most rabid, religion based crackpot knows that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The argument is over how much and if it is primarily a forcing or forced effect.

          2. The heat capture of CO2 is in the infrared spectrum. Unlike you, the climatologists know this and understand that over much of the planet, it is capturing a large portion of the infrared that is there to be captured. Once CO2 is intercepting all the energy in the infrared spectrum, it doesn’t matter if you add more CO2 since there is no more to capture. At this point it can no longer increase its greenhouse effect no matter how much more CO2 is added- that is what is meant by “saturation”. Almost all of the warming that the AGW climatologist believe will take place comes from the high forcing that they have faith will come from the small effect of CO2 increases.

          3. The AGW climatologists post-dicted a warming trend that has been going on for a few hundred years. They then predicted that this warming would continue and have several effects, some of these predictions were close and some not so close. These predictions were about the effects of a warming climate and the underlying causes of the warming had no relevance to those predictions. If this warming had been attributed to solar cycles, less active volcanoes, anthropogenic increasing CO2 or the anger of the Olympic gods that the world is turning monotheistic- it would have made absolutely no difference to their predictions. There predictions were simply about a warming planet and then they said they were pretty sure that it was warming because of the CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere.

          When you are so emotional about a subject that any argument against it is met with anger and vitriol… then it is probably based on a belief system rather than an understanding system. The science is not clear and the models that they build are not complete enough to used as the basis for the massive socioeconomic experiments that are being called for.

          1. “Your very emotional ad hominem attack on me points to why this is such a difficult field for any rational discussion to take place.”

            Clint, I called you a liar and a crackpot.

            Those are both facts.

            I even copied and pasted some real data pointing out one of your more outrageous lies about plants dying below 260 ppm CO2.

            You are now just ranting and raving like a loon. It’s contentless, crazy, and boring.

            1. Something to think about is- why do you assign malignant intentions to a different understanding of the situation? That isn’t a sign of a rationally held hypothesis, it is a sign of an emotion based belief system. Rationally, if you fear global warming then your greatest wish should be that AGW be proven wrong… yet you hold to it with such intensity and take great umbrage at anyone who dares not accept its every pronouncement on faith.

              My understanding of the situation leads me to believe that the best hope for the developing world to continue to advance in the face of climate change is to adapt to it. I think that the case for anthropogenic CO2 being the primary causes for climate change are weak. This leads to the conclusion that even if we had attacked it thirty years ago with every effort called for- the difference would fall into the measurement noise… a rounding error in the warming that has, and will, take place. We would bankrupt ourselves in a vain attempt to hold back the tide, locking generations in abject poverty while leaving us with a shattered economy that couldn’t adapt to the changes.

              What you fervently believe to be refutations of what I wrote are simply straw man attacks on incorrect interpretations of what I wrote.

              I do not think you are a liar, I do think that you refuse to look at the matter calmly or rationally. Anyone who doesn’t believe in AGW without question is a heretic and as such can only be “ranting and raving like a loon”. To put forward any evidence against this pronounced truth is by definition “contentless, crazy, and boring” and must be denounced at every turn.

              The actual scientist that work in climate studies do not think that what I wrote is ranting, crazy or boring- they take it very seriously and spend millions of dollars in research, sampling, testing and modeling to try and refute these points. Some of these climatologists make very good arguments for their case but I, and many in the field, find them far from conclusive enough to warrant the actions called for by the politicians.

              1. Clint, do you have a citation for *any* of the claims you’re making?

                Because so far all you’ve done has been to regurgitate the standard climate denial party line.

              2. Since there is no “reply” link beneath microraptor’s post, I will have to answer above him rather than below.

                By their own inadvertent admission, many of the leading climatologists have been putting every effort into blocking any peer reviewed paper from publishing work skeptical of their views. Even so, there are hundreds of publications that counter their claims.

                You will find a comprehensive listing of vetted and peer reviewed publications numbering over 900 that hold forth results that give evidence counter to anthropogenic causes for global warming.


                The file structure of the CMS is created based on the original files publication date but the page is continuously updated as new papers are released.

                While there are six or seven papers supporting AGW published for every paper skeptical of it- that is still a significant number countering a supposedly “settled” hypothesis.

                By no means am I saying that the climatologists are wrong when they insist that the warming will be well above what would have been expected without human influence. I don’t think that they are right but they well might be. The next question should be whether the net result would be positive or negative for humanity? If you automatically assume that it will be negative, you are viewing it through ideological blinders not rationally and dispassionately.

                It raises red flags for me when people are so intensely conservative, cherishing a belief in a golden past that was the best that it could possibly be. They fear any change as always and only bad.

              3. A large part of why global warming is thought to be a bad thing is because there’s an overwhelming body of evidence showing that sudden massive alterations of ecosystems (which is what a very fast change to global temperatures would cause) pretty much never results in things getting better for that ecosystem. For example, snow packs and glaciers are decreasing in the US, resulting in less water in rivers during the summer. Lower water levels cause the rivers to heat up more, as well as concentrating the levels of various forms of runoff in the water. This can lead to quite a few things, from fish dieing high in the watershed to toxic algae blooms at the river mouth.

                Farmers and towns often depend on local rivers for their water. If the river levels drop too low or the river stops flowing altogether, how will they get the water they need? This is just part of one example of the problem.

                And as to your other part, I looked at that link and, well, it ain’t exactly an unbiased source.

                In fact, given that it’s got articles on the so called “Climategate” scandal, which was artificially created by anti-AGW people by outrageously misrepresenting a few emails, I’d have to say that it’s an extremely biased source. And that it doesn’t appear that all of the articles it lists actually made it through peer review, despite the claims to the contrary. And the number of authors appears to be a lot smaller than the number of articles. In fact, it looks like there’s quite a few of the articles that are really just copies of other articles that were published in multiple places and each one was counted as being a separate article despite them all being identical.

                I’d also like to note that none of the people who run the website list “climatologist” as one of their credentials, either.

                Really, the more I look at the link you provided, the more similarities I see to such groups as the Discovery Institute.

      2. Clint lying:”only 130 ppm above the point where plants start to suffocate and die.”

        wikipedia: During this time, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has varied by volume between 180–210 ppm during ice ages, increasing to 280–300 ppm during warmer interglacials.

        Another lie from Clint. Plants don’t die below 260 ppm CO2. It was a lot lower than that during the last ice age, about 15 kyr ago.

        1. Hi Raven,

          Even at today’s 380 ppm, plants are stressed from lack of CO2. If you want them to make the best use of water, nutrients and sunlight while being as resistant to pests as possible- then you would push the CO2 up over 900 ppm. This is what they do in greenhouses where economics make it possible and it makes a big difference.

          Just like a human struggling to breath at the top of Mount Everest without an oxygen tank, 250 ppm isn’t the hard floor where plants keel over and die. It is a place where they are greatly stressed and have trouble surviving… they start to suffocate. They die from levels of water, nitrogen and pests that they would shrug off if the CO2 was at higher concentrations- that is exactly what I said, and meant, with “start to suffocate and die”.

          The actual point where most plants do keel over and die is about the 150 ppm point. I know that we get close during the heavy glaciation periods and that is something to actually worry about.

          You do know that we are still in an ice age, right? We are in an interglacial period between heavy glaciation- but we are well within an ice age and it would take a lot of warming to get back out of it to a global optimum.

    2. Climate change is here no matter what anyone thinks.

      We aren’t going to do anything but adapt. It’s not clear that we could do anything anyway.

      This is a world wide problem in slow motion and requires a world wide solution. It didn’t happen and the window for action is gone. The lead time for a carbon sequestration power plant is 18 years and there is a huge installed base. It would take drastic action or a century to change over. Isn’t going to happen.

      Even Australia which has been visibly hit the hardest isn’t even trying anymore. They now talk about “adaptation” to climate change. That is all we can do and all we will do.

  10. “Who are the angels?
    The angels are purely spiritual creatures, incorporeal, invisible, immortal, and personal beings endowed with intelligence and will. They ceaselessly contemplate God face-to-face and they glorify him. They serve him and are his messengers in the accomplishment of his saving mission to all.”

    (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §60)

    1. In other words, demi-gods.

      Why in the world does the Catlick Church insist on monotheism. It hasn’t been from the beginning.

      1. With the Christian god being “three gods in one” (= the Father + the Son + the Holy Spirit), the Christian religion seems tritheistic rather than strictly monotheistic such as Islam.

        1. Islam is only a strictly monotheistic religion because they retconned Allah’s consort out of existence.

          Come to think of it, that’s more or less how Judaism ended up as a monotheistic religion.

    2. Gods, angels, demons, human souls all belong to the categorie spiritual being or spiritual substance.

      “[T]he idea of a peculiarly mental substance is, when you think about it, extremely weird: it is quite unclear that there is any intelligible conception associated with the words ‘immaterial substance’. This is shown in the fact that the alleged substance tends to get characterised purely negatively; it is simply a kind of substance that is not material. But we need some more positive description of what it is if we are to be convinced that we are speaking of anything comprehensible. In fact, we are prone, in trying to form a coherent conception of the alleged immaterial substance, to picture it in imagination as an especially ethereal or attenuated kind of matter, stuff of the rarefied sort we imagine (with dubious coherence) the bodies of ghosts to be made from—the kind of stuff through which a hand could pass without disturbance. In so far as the idea of immaterial substance gains content from such excesses of imagination, it is mere fancy and not to be received as sober metaphysics. The strangeness of the idea comes out in the difficulty the dualist has in coping with such questions as whether immaterial substances are located in space, or whether there could be a science, analogous to the science of matter, investigating the laws and inner workings of the incorporeal stuff. If it is not located in space, then how do mental phenomena manage to interact with things which are so located? But if it is located, then how is this possible without the possession of properties of extension, mass, gravitational force etc.? And what would a science of immaterial substance look like? What sorts of concepts would it use? Would it represent its subject-matter as particulate or continuous in structure? Would it yield quantitative laws characterising special sorts of non-physical forces? We do not really know how to start answering such questions, and good sense counsels us not to put ourselves into the embarrassing position of having to take
      them seriously.”

      (McGinn, Colin. The Character of Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. pp. 24-5)

  11. While we are the subject of the supernatural.

    I heard a Bapist preacher, in trying to explain the magnificence of Jesus’s birth, say,”It’s incomprehensible to me that a baby was the God of the universe, but it’s true because that’s what the Word says.”
    He intended that statement to reflect god’s greatness, but it only solidified my confusion regarding the irrationality of religious people. I mean, an evangelical pastor admitted the biblical birth of Jesus seemed incomprehensible to him, but he believes it anyway because it is in the Bible.

    1. The Bishop of Norwich was on BBC Radio 4 yesterday talking about Small is Beautiful and linking that into god manifesting as a baby! If you say something vaguely profound and then add, “…and that’s a little bit like Jesus…” it amounts to the same depths of profundity of most christian theology.

      1. I assume you are talking about ‘Thought for the Day’. Even if you aren’t I’ll tell the story anyway.

        One Anglican priest in that slot told the tale of Jesus explaining to Nicodemus of how you must be ‘born again’. I e-mailed the ‘Today’ programme to explain that New Testament scholars have proved that Jesus could not have said that.

        Needless to say, given the fact that the editors will not allow humanists to speak in the ‘Thought for the Day’ segment, the e-mail was not referred to in the programme. (But I said it anyway).

        So yes, the slot is satirically predictable. ‘This quirky thing happened to me the other day…It’s a little bit like (insert your deity here).’ Still, it’s a lot more pallid than the ferocious assault that our American friends seem to have to put with every day.

        1. The BBC printed this on their site –

          Reading through it any rational person would come to the conclusion that the Gospel stories describe Jesus performing miracles that were just rehashed events from the Old Testament, all with the purpose of convincing people of the time that Jesus was the promised messiah.
          Yet the article never even floats it as an option.
          Instead it talks about how people would have felt while witnessing the miracles.

          It does make a pretense of scepticism by writing things like “Or perhaps the boy wasn’t dead in the first place, merely in a coma. There will never be an answer to satisfy everyone.” but then it follows later with “Only by understanding the audience can we hope to understand the message they received when Jesus healed the widow’s son at Nain.”

          Or when it talks about the miracle of the loaves and fishes you get –
          “Others have speculated that the mood of harmony and selflessness spread by Jesus’ teaching might have inspired the crowd to offer up their own private supplies of food and share them with each other. But as with Jesus’ healing of the widow’s son at Nain, the key element here is the belief of the crowd that a miracle had taken place. They were convinced that from such meager rations Jesus had fed everyone, and left them all satisfied. As with the miracle at Nain, what the crowd witnessed would have made a huge impact on them, but that impact would come as much from the explosive message – the symbolism contained within the miracle – as from the supernatural feat with the bread and fish.”

          The frustrating thing is that it had the chance of being a good article if it had been written by a sceptic. As it stands it is just *headdesk* material in its pandering.

  12. These are the only angels I have ever seen!

    If I recall rightly, the key text for angels is the Book of Enoch, which was never fully adopted by the orthodox Jews or Christians. Angels are much beloved, as was said up above (!) of the wackos, interpreted as spacemen etc. From the Ashes of Angels is one such strange book – humans are too stoopid to have invented civilusashun so Angels did it. The great archaeologist T.C.Lethbridge went wacky in a similar way – the whole War in the Heavens, which links into von Däniken and his ilk. It is a fascinating area worthy of a learned treatise, (is there one?) fringe archaeology merging into total wackiness.

  13. Actually this Radio 3 programme (I am listening to now) –
    is very interesting – about St.Vitus Dance in Strasbourg in 1518, said dancers are more likely to have certain genetic markers, and be more ‘spiritual’, so perhaps there are some people who really are more more likely to fall for strange beliefs.

  14. About angels and wings. Why do they need them? Superman doesn’t need them. Wings are needed by poor biota, like birds and bugs, subject to gravity who need to generate a force to counteract it. How worldly.

    1. Angels couldn’t have wings, since nothing material could be attached to an immaterial being. Angels couldn’t wear hats either, since they are bodiless and thus headless.

  15. We’re raging against evolution here. Humans will always tend to believe in angels and other invisible/imaginary agents because evolution made us so. It’s the Hyperactive Agency Detective Device in our brains in action!

      1. The Hyperactive Agency Detection Device is what sees agents no matter how, the Hyperactive (well) Agency Detective Device is what discover agents aren’t actually there.

  16. Biblical literalism is a drag on the American economy. I was raised in a fundamentalist environment. When I graduated from a religious high school my knowledge of science was dismal. I probably spend seven hours a week studying the bible, at the expense of history, science and classical literature.
    Not being exposed to science limited my career options. I was just not aware of all rewarding and well paying jobs in the various scientific fields.
    I believe some 5 million hi-tech jobs go unfilled because the American education system does a dismal job in teaching science.
    If it wasn’t for immigration, America would be in even worst shape. I work for an environmental agency and about one-third of our engineers are immigrants, most of them are from India.
    This is a crisis that hurts America’s competiveness in the world’s economy. I doubt there will be any political leadership on this issue anytime soon.

      1. The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, located in Switzerland, was founded in 1954 by 12 states: Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia.

        They were later joined by: Austria, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria. It is not a Swiss organisation.

        There are currently 20 member states; Yugoslavia dropped out, as it no longer exists; West Germany dropped the ‘West’. Romania, Israel and Serbia all want to join. The U.S. has had observer status since 1997.

  17. Oh, I don’t know. I never actually believed in Santa Claus, I knew my mom was just making it up all along. But if anyone had asked me, I would have said yes, especially if an adult was standing right there. Would not want to hurt mom’s feelings, and anyway young kids have a funny sense of what belief is anyway.

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