In a recent post:
Jerry Coyne bemoans the fact that a high percentage of Americans believe such things as that baby Jesus was laid in a manger (81%).
But here’s the thing. If I were asked in a poll, whether Professor Moriarty were the arch rival of Sherlock Holmes, I would assent to that belief. I would assent even though I am fully aware that both are fictional characters. And I suspect that many Sherlock Holmes fans would do likewise. If you hear people talking about popular movies, you will hear them expressing beliefs that are true only in the context of the movie plot.
What we believe, and what we hold to be true, is sensitive to context. And we often pick up the context from the way the question is asked or from earlier parts of the conversation.
I think Jerry is taking that Pew poll too seriously. Given the time of the year, I’m inclined to see it as a “feel good about Christmas” poll.