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U.S. Public opinion polls on evolution& creation science

Polls by various groups, 1999 to 2005

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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1999: Fox News poll:

During 1999-AUG-25 & 26, Fox News asked what is the more likely explanation for the origin of human life: the theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin and other scientists, or the biblical account of creation. Results were:

bulletEvolution: 15%
bulletBiblical creation: 50%
bulletBoth: 26%

This poll reveals the widespread lack of knowledge of theories of origins. In discussing human origins, Darwin described the evolution of apes and humans from an ancient common ancestor. He believed that species can be tracked further back for billions of years until the first form of life appeared: a single cell. The Bible talks about God creating the first two humans -- one man and one woman -- out of mud, independently of other species. The two belief systems are mutually exclusive and cannot be harmonized. 1

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1999: Beliefs among conservative Christians:

In 1999-NOV, Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian agency, concluded a poll of their web site visitors concerning their beliefs, mainly about age of the earth. Results were:

bullet God created the universe, but I don't know when: 46%
bullet God created the universe thousands of years ago: 43%
bullet God created the universe billions of years ago: 10%
bullet Life came into being and evolved on its own: 1%
bullet I don't have a clue: 0.4% 2

[Author's note: The poll is not particularly well designed; it mixes apples and oranges. The first three options concern when the world came into existence and assumes that God created it. The fourth response concerns evolution of life on earth. A participant in the poll might well believe that God created the world billions of years ago and that life evolved on its own. They would believe in two options, but could mark only one.]

The participants in the poll are self-selected from among the visitors to the Focus web site. They are probably almost exclusively fundamentalist or other evangelical Christian believers.

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2000: Beliefs among some Internet surfers:

The Christianity section of About.com conducted a poll of its readers during 2000-SEP. They listed two responses which more or less agree with the creationist, and theistic evolution beliefs. Their third response, that evolution is a fact, would probably have received the votes of most believers in naturalistic evolution.

Their final option would probably have been selected by some creationists who believe that students should be exposed to all belief systems, and by others who are undecided. Results were:

Belief system Creationist view Theistic evolution Naturalistic Evolution Neutral
Group of adults Evolution is an unproven theory, contrary to God's revealed truth. Evolution was simply the means God chose to create life on this planet. Evolution is not just a theory, it is a fact. Evolution may be an unproven theory, but it is important enough to merit study in our school systems.
Self-selected 27% 15% 50% 8%

These results are based on 2,904 votes. The margin of error in this poll is ±1.8 percentage points.

Needless to say, the Internet surfers who responded to the poll are are not necessarily typical of surfers generally, or of the general public. 3

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2005-MAR: NBC News:

NBC News conducted a survey between 2005-MAR-8 and 10. They asked about the origin of human life -- whether it happened by evolution or "the biblical account of creation." If they answered the biblical account, they were then asked whether they believed that "God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh," or that God was "... a divine presence in the formation of the universe."

Results were:

bulletHumans came to be via evolution: 33%
bulletGod created the world in 6 days: 44%
bulletGod was a divine presence: 13%
bulletDon't know: 10%

We are at a loss to understand what "God as a divine presence" means as far as origin of the species is concerned.

2005-JUL: Pew Research poll:

Between 2005-JUL-7 and 17, Pew Research asked about the history of humans and other species: whether they "...have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," or have evolved over time." If the subject selected evolution, then they were asked an additional question: whether the evolution was driven by natural processes or guided by a supreme being.

Results were as follows. We have included similar results from a Gallup poll of eight months earlier for comparison:

bulletExisted in present form only: 42% (Creationist); cf. 45% for Gallup.
bulletEvolved via natural processes: 26% (Naturalistic evolution); cf. Gallup's 13%
bulletEvolved via God's guidance:: 18% (Theistic evolution); cf. Gallup's 38% for
bulletDon't know: 14%

As Benjamin Disraeli once said: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." The Pew and Gallup results about creationism were a close match. However, the values for naturalistic evolution differed greatly: the Pew results were twice that of Gallup. On theistic evolution, the Pew results were less than half that of Gallup. This is one of the best examples that we have seen of how the phrasing and structure of a polling question can massively affect the result.

Pew Research suggests that the Gallup Poll gave the subjects three options: pro-God (Creationism), another pro-God (Theistic evolution) and anti-God (Naturalistic evolution). Many respondents might have found the third option distasteful because it would deny the existence of God -- or at least the involvement of God. Only 13% chose this option -- roughly the percentage of people who do not believe in a personal deity. [Many sources quote other Gallup polls as stating that about 94% of people believe in a personal God. This is in error. That result corresponds to whether the person believes in God or a universal spirit.]

Pew's technique is very different. The first question asked was whether the subject believed that humans and other living things "evolved over time" or existed in its "present form since the beginning of time." Here the stress is on humanity; God is not even mentioned. The subject might well be more comfortable answering "evolution."  At this point, the second question would be answered: whether life evolved due to natural processes or God's intervention. Note that Pew described naturalistic evolution "a natural process," while Gallup used the expression "God had no part in." The positive nature of Pew's phrase might well encourage more people to choose naturalistic evolution.

This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Reading the Polls on Evolution and Creationism," Pew Research Center, 2005-SEP-28, at: http://people-press.org/
  2. "What do you believe about creation or evolution?," Focus on the Family poll, at: http://www.focusonthefamily.org/
  3. "Darwin makes a comeback in Kansas," at: http://christianity.about.com/ The management of this section of About.com was changed and the poll data removed.

Copyright © 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1995-NOV. 
Last update: 2014-JUN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson
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