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U.S. Public opinion polls on evolution & creationism

Polls by various groups, during 2006, as the
150th anniversary Charles Darwin's book
"The Origin of the Species ..." approached.

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This topic is contiued from the previous essay

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2006: Michigan State University:

Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI sampled; the beliefs of residents of 20 countries. He noted:

"The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicized. Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."

In reality, his comment that evolution of the species "is a non issue" in most of the world cannot be extracted from these data, since the vast majority of countries that they sampled were at least nominally Christian. The survey only included one country from the Middle East, one from the Western Hemisphere, one from Asia, and none from Africa.

chart of beliefs about origins of humans 4

Jeff Hecht, writing in New Scientist said:

"The main opposition to evolution comes from fundamentalist Christians, who are much more abundant in the US than in Europe. While Catholics, European Protestants and so-called mainstream US Protestants consider the biblical account of creation as a metaphor, fundamentalists take the Bible literally, leading them to believe that the Earth and humans were created only 6,000 years ago. ... Miller thinks more genetics should be on the syllabus to reinforce the idea of evolution. American adults may be harder to reach: nearly two-thirds don't agree that more than half of human genes are common to chimpanzees. How would these people respond when told that humans and chimps share 99 per cent of their genes?" 5

Hecht overlooks the opinion of many conservative Christian who believe that a 6,000 year old universe can be stretched out to have existed as much as 10,000 years. One can start with an biblical event that happened at a known date and work backwards to Adam and Eve using the life span of people mentioned in the Bible. However this technique does not make room for skipped generations. That is, a person cited in the Bible as a child may actually be the grandchild of another person, not a child. With this assumption, one might speculate universe was created circa 8,000 BCE, some ten millennia ago.

We suspect that the main opposition to evolution comes from evangelical Christians, of whom fundamentalist Christians are a sub-set. However, we have never been able to obtain data on differences between the two groups.

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2006: About questions polling agencies ask:

Polling companies seem to try to cram beliefs into two options so that they can directly compare and contrast two groups within society. So, for example, Pew Research commented:

"Surveys are fairly consistent in their estimates of how many Americans believe in evolution or creationism. Approximately 40%-50% of the public accepts a biblical creationist account of the origins of life, while comparable or slightly larger numbers accept the idea that humans evolved over time. The wording of survey questions generally makes little systematic difference in this division of opinion, and there has been little change in the percentage of the public who reject the idea of evolution.

However, to do so obscures some very important data in the case of origins of the species.

A more complete treatment of this topic would include at least a third option:

  • Belief in creationism: that God created the species in the past much as they exist today.
  • Belief in theistic evolution: That today's species developed from earlier life forms via evolution as God guided it.
  • Believe in naturalistic evolution: That today's species developed from earlier life forms via evolution -- a process that was unguided but which occurred in response to natural processes -- including natural selection but not necessarily limited to that one process.

Pew Research and Gallup used different questioning procedures to give the respondents more options:

  • In a Pew Research poll of 2006-JUL, subjects were asked a first question:

    "Some people think that humans and other living things evolved over time. Others think that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Which of these comes closest to your view."

Aside from the grammatical error of using "closest" in place of "closer," their use of the phrase "beginning of time" is problematical. A lot of people agree with scientists that the universe started with a "Big Bang" about 13.8 billion years ago and that the earth coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago. Some Christian creationists believe in an "Old Earth" in which life began on Earth at some time much more recently than 4.5 billion years ago.

If the subject selected "evolved over time" Pew then asked an additional question:

"And do you think that humans and other living things have evolved due to natural selection, or do you think that a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today?"

Results were:

  • 42% said that species always existed in their present form.
  • 26% said that species evolved over time through natural processes.
  • 21% said that species evolved with guidance from a supreme being

Even this questioning overlooks a other options:

  • Ken Ham, -- perhaps the most famous creationist -- is the president of Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. He believes that God created an "orchard of life" with limited number of animal "kinds." Further, he believes that today's species developed from one of the kinds. So, for example, a "horse kind" changed over a few thousand years into all of today's horses, zebras, donkeys, etc.
  • Gallup used a multiple choice question in their poll of 2006-MAY:
  • "Which one of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?

    • Human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.
    • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.
    • God created human beings pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so"

Results were:

  • 13% chose evolution without God: 14%
  • 36% chose evolution with God's guidance: 36%
  • 46% chose God creating humans in present form.

An even better design for a poll would involve a question on intelligent design. Unfortunately only about half of Americans were familiar with the term.

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2006: CBS Poll:

A late 2006 poll by CBS showed that:

"[Most] Americans do not believe that humans evolved, and the vast majority says that even if they evolved, God guided the process.  Just 13 percent say that God was not involved. ... Support for evolution is more heavily concentrated among those with more education and among those who attend religious services rarely or not at all."

Poll results:

Belief system Creationist view Theistic evolution Naturalistic Evolution
Group of adults God created humans in [their] present form. Humans evolved, [but] God guided the process." Humans evolved [but] God did not guide [the] process.
Everyone 55% 27% 13%

The creationist view seems to have received increasing support when compared to earlier polls. This might be partly because of the elderly who represent a gradually increasing part of the U.S. population. At the same time, support for naturalistic evolution has also increased. The nation may be becoming more polarized as belief in the compromise theistic evolution position -- that evolution happened , but under God's guidance -- has dropped. 1

By any measure, the United States remains a highly religious nation, compared to other developed countries. American adults tend to hold more conservative beliefs. For example, some polls in the late 1990's showed that:

The percentage of adults who believe that:

"The Bible is the actual word of God and it is to be taken literally, word for word."

is 5 times higher in the U.S. than in Britain.

The belief that:

"Human beings developed from earlier species of animals..."

is much smaller in the United States (35%) than in other countries (as high as 82%).

Church attendance is about 4 times higher in the U.S. than it is in Britain. 2

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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. "GOP debate reveals widespread ignorance of science, startling role of how religion is affecting politics, culture," AANews newsletter, 2007-MAY-06.
  2. Johnathan Moore, "What do Americans believe about the origin of species," Public Religion Project, 1998-OCT-12.
  3. Frank Newport, "Evolution Beliefs," Gallup Organization, 2007-JUN-11, at: http://www.galluppoll.com/
  4. "Creationism: Prevalence," Wikipedia, as on 2014-MAR-12, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Jeff Hecht, "Why doesn't America believe in evolution?" New Scientist, 2006-AUG-19, at: http://www.newscientist.com/
  6. "Canadians believe human beings evolved over millions of years," Angus Reid Strategies, 2008-AUG-05, at: http://www.angusreidglobal.com/
  7. "On Darwin’s 200th Birthday, Americans Still Divided About Evolution," Pew Research Center, 2009-FEB-05, at: http://www.pewresearch.org/

Copyright © 2006 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published in 2006 
Last update: 2014-MAR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson
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