Musings on the "average American"

The concept of the “average American” has come up a couple of times on recent threads. On both occasions I have described this concept as “mythical”.[1][2] I suppose it behooves me to explain myself.

Firstly, as less than 5% of the US population lives in New England, and only about 0.2% of Americans appear to be Congregationists, it seems highly unlikely that “the average American child [was/is/will-be] raised in a New England Congregationalist family.”

When we talk about an “average”, we are talking about a summary statistic, most commonly the mean, but potentially the median, and at a stretch the mode.

Geographically, according to recent census data, the population-weighted center of the US is near Hartville, Missouri.[3] Does this fact tell us anything meaningful about Americans more generally? I don’t think so.

Similarly we could, with a lot of work and a ton of assumptions, place all Americans on a religious spectrum (e.g. between liberal and conservative religious views), and discover the ‘median American’ in terms of religious viewpoint. I don’t think this would tell us any more about American religious demographics than Hartville did about geographic demographics.

It would seem to me that Americans are too heterogeneous and multi-modal to be summarised by such summary statistics. The best, I think, that we can do is to identify significant minorities.

  • A significant minority of Americans, 28%[4], identify as “Nones” in terms of religions. As that group is growing fairly rapidly, it seems likely that an even larger proportion will become “Nones” in their lifetime.

  • A significant minority of Americans are (still) Mainline Protestant. These denominations typically both accept, and do not make an issue about, evolution. It seems likely therefore that a majority of these will have similar experiences to my own and Stephen’s, and not see any real conflict between science (in general and evolution in particular) and Christianity. For such people, “godless evolution” would seem to be no more of a problem than “godless gravity”.

  • A significant minority of Americans take the Bible literally. However there are strong signs that, far from wishing to find a way to harmonise these beliefs with the scientific consensus, many of them deeply distrust this consensus, and are more willing to put their trust in Ken Ham (or worse, Kent Hovind) than in Francis Collins.

What can we learn from these, and similar, disparate groups? That it is likely that no single pro-evolution Apologetic (be it GAE, Francis Collins’ version of Theistic Evolution, or whatever) is likely to be a universal panacea.

One problem that I have long noted with Apologists’ arguments, is that they tend to contain all sorts of implicit assumptions that the listener has the same preconceptions as the Apologist. This means that they tend to fall flat when they’re used for anything beyond ‘preaching to the choir’.

I think it is important to keep in mind what each group believes, and which beliefs are most important to them, as well as acknowledging the liklihood of divergence even within these groups, whether you are trying to convince them of evolution, climate change, the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, who won the last election, or whatever.


The statistics I’ve seen published about recent developments in partisan politics sicken me because of all the deviation toward the mean.

Maybe so. But as far as I’m concerned, whatever somebody chooses to do in the privacy of their own home is nobody’s business but theirs.

(And I suppose the advantage of being heterogeneous is at least you are really smart about something.)


Definitely not but maybe the followup question is whether/how particular subgroups of believers can be helped by GAE or BioLogos or Jesus and John Wayne. Many of us here can share stories of evangelical acquaintances or loved ones who escaped creationism (and fascism etc) with their faith intact or even unscathed. GAE might contribute to such a happy outcome, which is extra happy because it will benefit people beyond the person who gets free.


@sfmatheson ,

I think we can have general agreement that of all the various “planks” in the typical creationist’s platform of beliefs, the most troublesome is Old-Earth denialism!

Other elements dim in comparison:

  • there is a God;
  • Jesus is the literal son of God;
  • human freewill;
  • unlike the Mormon belief in 3 Heavens, virtually all humans will find a heavenly afterlife;
  • God populated the earth with de novo animal creations.

No doubt there are a few more planks that deserve to be added to this list. But i dont think there is anything more troubljng than creationists cherry picking which natural laws to be credible, and during which particular time frame we can safely acceot them!

Well, no, I don’t agree with that at all, but no worries.

Wait a minite: where did that come from? What percentage of Christians believe in universal salvation? Whatever happened to the 144,000 Elect?

@John_Harshman ,

Did you just confuse my reference to Mormons with a belief uniquely held by Jehovah Witnesses?

Mormons are a type of Unversalist; there are 3 levels of heaven, and hell is reserved to evil angels and a few other exceptions.

@Gisteron ,

I agree with your statement completely. The Creationist “science” of Young Earthism is certainly a pseudo-science. And it is certainly not obscure in America: 40% to 45% of Americans are Young Earthers.

This doesnt represent something that “almost sounds right”… it is a wild fling into a madding crowd, it is a “bite whole” encouraged by those who say we can start by eating a bowling ball!

It is not a halfway compromise. It is a pathological denial of dozens of credible sciences… all at once. After denying the true age of the Earth, other lies and distortions are child’s play!

I would ask @sfmatheson which idea he considers more frightening?

Christian nationalism, hands down.


@sfmatheson ,

Hard to dispute that!

But I think that Christian nationalism belongs to a different category of terrifying things.

In America, we find Creationism and Neo-Nazism has a large overlap. But the UK - - which is low in Creationism - - is still capable of terrifying nationalism.

Can we agree that of the world’s problems UNIQUELY triggered by “Christian Young Earthers”, that science denialism is the Big One?

No, I think that’s backwards, but I must emphasize “I think” which means I’m sharing an opinion or actually a conjecture. There are people who study misinformation/disinformation and related topics, including belief, and @Gisteron often sounds like they know more about this than I do. Their point about how the non-outlandish, reasonable-sounding errors and lies are more damaging is a point that sounds right to me. And it seems to me (but I could be wrong) that you completely missed it, indeed that you then affirmed the opposite of what they claimed.


I broadly agree here, as I feel for the many youth raised in YEC churches who might be contemplating a STEM career.


@gbrooks9: nobody forced you onto this thread, and I carefully avoided mentioning you by name in my OP. I am therefore confused that you consider me to be “bothering” you, and amused that you have become the most frequent contributor to this thread.



What are your thoughts on the answer to that “followup question”?

I’ve previously suggested of GAE:

Would you disagree with this assessment?

I’ve had little direct contact with Biologos, but have heard from some on this forum that they consider Biologos’ views to be insufficiently theological orthodox to garner a large following among more conservative Christians. Who would you consider they have the greatest potential to “help”?

I’ve read J&JW. My thoughts on the book are on this thread, and it had considerable impact on me – but then I was already highly uneasy about American Christian Nationalism. I’m not sure that the book would have the same impact on somebody who was immersed in that culture, and therefore sees it as ‘normal’.

I think that the book would be of help to Evangelicals trying to find out how they went wrong – but probably only after they have come to a realisation that they have lost their way. Is there another way that this book might help?

That is not to say that I think that these aren’t helpful, just that it seems more likely that a multiplicity of answers to a wide range of idiosyncratic questions might be more helpful than the ‘One Big Answer’.

I wonder if there are any common themes to these stories. Whether it was some grand apologetic that split their world asunder, or questions and doubts that created small cracks in their worldview, that let the wider world leak in.

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I am moving this topic to Conversation so that I can moderate more closely. Apologies if this slows down discussion a bit.

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Still showing up as a “Side Conversation”, and I was able to post this without moderation.

Hmmm … will be investigating soon …

… My fault, fixed now.

I don’t believe I did, but perhaps you expressed yourself badly enough that your point was obscure. Your list of bullet points was ostensibly a list of important Christian, or perhaps creationist, tenets, if I’m not hopelessly lost. And in that particular bullet point, you contrasted Mormon beliefs (3 heavens) with the supposed mainstream belief (“virtually all humans will find a heavenly afterlife”). If that isn’t what you meant, what did you mean?


The reason i contradict @Gisteron is because nothing compares with a 45% market share for the plank of 6 days of creation!

But i do believe you have validly pointed to “hate” politics (as expressed in Christian neo-nazism) as a powerful problem.

And in an earlier age, before the rise of sciene and

BioLogos is quite notorious for seeing Adam/Eve as symbolic or allegorical (aka “not historical”). So it is ironic that those who endorse BioLogos would range between those who think religion is a man-made construct, or mostly so (e.g. atheists?) … and those who embrace religions in a fairly progressive-but-limited way.