More Americans believe in devil than Darwin - poll

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin's theory of evolution, according to a new Harris poll released on Thursday.

It is the latest survey to highlight America's deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world.

It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have "Intelligent Design" theory - which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance - taught in schools alongside evolution.

The poll of 2,455 US adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 per cent of those surveyed believed in God, a figure unchanged since the question was asked in 2005.

It further found that 79 per cent believed in miracles, 75 per cent in heaven, while 72 per cent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 per cent.

Darwin's theory of evolution met a far more sceptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 per cent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin's theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual's theory of "natural selection."

There are unsurprising differences among religious groups.

"Born-again Christians are more likely to believe in the traditional elements of Christianity than are Catholics or Protestants. For example, 95 per cent believe in miracles, compared to 87 per cent and 89 per cent among Catholics and Protestants," according to the poll.

"On the other hand only 16 per cent of born-again Christians, compared to 43 per cent of Catholics and 30 per cent of Protestants, believe in Darwin's theory of evolution."

What is perhaps surprising is that substantial minorities in America apparently believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology and reincarnation.

The survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus two percent, found that 35 per cent of the respondents believed in UFOs and 31 per cent in witches.

More born-again Christians - a term which usually refers to evangelical Protestants who place great emphasis on the conversion experience - believed in witches at 37 per cent than mainline Protestants or Catholics, both at 32 per cent.