The majority of Americans believe the Biblical story of Jesus Christ being born to the virgin Mary literally, according to a survey released Monday.
Three out of four adults (75 percent) said they believe in the gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ, found a nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group.
Out of the sixty population subgroups in the research, there was only one group where a majority of respondents did not take the virgin birth literally. The exception was atheists and agnostics – among whom only 15 percent said the event happened literally.
Surprisingly, a solid majority of self-described liberals on political and social issues (60 percent) believed in the biblical view of Christ's birth.
The Christian polling organization surveyed over 1,000 adults on a half dozen biblical stories to find out if they view those stories to be factually accurate or to be narratives that were not factually accurate but rather meant to teach principles.
Most of the respondents indicated that they accepted five of the six stories – the virgin birth story being the most widely accepted.
The next most literally accepted story is the turning of water into wine. Seven out of ten adults (69 percent) believe Jesus literally turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Yet there was a large discrepancy in subgroups, with born-again Christians most likely to accept the story (94 percent), compared to unchurched adults (42 percent). Protestants, African Americans, conservatives, and residents of the South were also more likely than their counterparts to embrace the story.
The story of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fishes, and then collecting 12 basket full of leftovers was accepted literally by 68 percent of respondents.
Meanwhile, a smaller but still majority of Americans believe in Noah's flood (64 percent) and the story of the serpent tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (56 percent).
More than four out of five born again adults embrace the story of Eve while less than half as many among the non-born again subgroups believe in it. Only eight percent of atheists and agnostics accepted the story.
Americans were least likely to accept literally the story of Samson's strength being derived from his hair and Samson losing strength when Delilah cut his hair. Only half of the population (49 percent) accepted the story as completely accurate.
Born again Christians (72 percent) were the most enthusiastic in accepting the story at face value. Interestingly, females were more likely than males to accept this story as the truth.
In general, born-again Christians, Protestants, residents in the South, and those who describe themselves as politically conservative were more likely to accept the biblical stories in question as literally true.
"Americans are clearly knowledgeable about many of the key Old Testament stories, but they are also more comfortable accepting the stories drawn from the life of Jesus and the New Testament," concluded researcher and author George Barna, founder of The Barna Group.
"Many people seem to divide the Bible into two separate and unequal portions: the Old Testament, with what they perceive to be allegorical stories, and the New Testament, with what they believe to be factual history," he said.
The telephone survey was conducted by The Barna Group in December 2007 among a random sample of 1,005 adults, age 18 and older.