Most Americans do accept evolution

We seem to be told again and again that the majority of Americans reject evolutionary science. But is this true? After all people often draw unwarranted conclusions from polling data.

A recent Gallup poll seems to contradict the popular view. It’s worth considering this poll because the questions asked are similar to those used in last year’s UMR Research poll showing 75% of New Zealanders accept evolution (see New Zealand supports evolution).

The questions asked in the Gallup poll were: “Which comes closest to your views:

  1. Humans developed over millions of years, God guided;
  2. Humans developed over millions of years, God had no part;
  3. God created humans as is within the last 10,000 years.”

Results showed 50% accepted evolution while 44% rejected it.

In fact this level of acceptance has not changed markedly over the last 26 years. Polling using these questions shows creationist support varying between 43 and 47% since 1982.

Support of theistic evolution

We can also compare the proportion of theists who accept evolution in the two countries. This poll indicates 45% of US theists accept evolution. In New Zealand the figure is 53%.

However, a worrying conclusion from this poll is the role that organised religion may play in promoting unscientific beliefs.  The level of support for creationism rose from 24% amongst those who seldom or never attended church, to 50% amongst those attending monthly, and 70% amongst those attending weekly.

I can appreciate that people may attend church regularly for a sense of community, social support and spiritual satisfaction. But it is sad if this turns them against scientific knowledge.

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See also:
Republicans, Democrats Differ on Creationism

22 responses to “Most Americans do accept evolution

  1. Where did the idea that “the majority of Americans reject evolutionary science” come from? From what sources are you hearing that over and over again? I’m a 48 year old American and I’ve only met one person who told me that she rejected evolution. (She was eleven years old and so was I. She said carbon dating and fossilized dinosaur remains were created by God to test her faith.) I’m not saying that demonstrates anything in particular, but even 44% sounds to me like a very high number of creationists, so I’d like to know where the idea that the number is higher comes from.

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  2. US Gallup polls consistently give a number around there. From memory (home computer, data on work computer…) around 40-50% profess to be YEC; around 45% would say ‘yes’ to the proposition that god created humans in pretty much their present form around 10,000 years ago. There’s a summary of the poll information here: http://www.gallup.com/poll/108226/Republicans-Democrats-Differ-Creationism.aspx

    NB Sarah Palin was reported the other day as agreeing with the idea that humans & dinosaurs were contemporaries.

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  3. Thank you. What I’m most curious about is Ken’s opening phrase about the majority of Americans. It sounds like he got the idea from somewhere that it was a lot more than 50% or he wouldn’t have been so impressed that it was contradicted by a poll saying 44% or by learning that that Gallup shows the number between 42% and 47% since 1982. But, I came on this one entry by following a link from an unrelated page and don’t know this site or Ken’s opinions, so I don’t know if he’s talking about polls or general impressions. I assumed he was talking about general impressions.

    YEC = Young Earth Creationist ??

    The eleven year old was more sophisicated in her ideas about the evidence for an older Earth than Sarah Palin. A thoughtful Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian that I talked with was also more sophisticated when she explained that her church teaches that the Bible is the transmitted word of God and is literally true, and that the parts of it that are unbelievable, such as creation and the sun stopping at noon, must be defended, not because anyone wants to believe them literally, but because the removal of one element to be examined as possibly untrue breaks the whole belief system. That’s also why the subjugation of women is accepted, while some other types of Christians, (as I learned from a thoughtful Episcopalian), study the Bible historically and dismiss Paul’s writings about women as having been added later for political reasons.

    (I didn’t count the thoughtful Evangelical, a recent convert, as a believer in creationism, because after her explanation I didn’t believe that she really believed it. The Gallup poll questions don’t allow for these nuances.)

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  4. @ Kate:

    Hi Kate.
    I’m pleased to hear you assessment of relative support for evolutionary science in the US..

    There does seem to be an impression that the majority of Americans reject evolutionary science. Even people like Richard Dawkins will repeat that impression.
    I agree that many polls probably don’t ask the right question to justify that conclusion. My interest in the quoted poll was that it was similar to the New Zealand one which, I think, gave a clearer assessment that we normally get.

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  5. Hi Ken. Thank you for responding. I did understand why you presented the poll. I appreciated your comments about it and the other one that correlates church attendence and support for creationism.

    Even people like Richard Dawkins? The name was only vaguely familiar, but looking at the titles of some of his books, I would say that it serves him (or motivates him) to say (or to believe) that a majority of Americans have the kind of religious view against which he is arguing. Is there any less biased source?

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  6. @ Kate:

    I don’t think it’s a matter of bias, Kate. I think Dawkins is just repeating a common assessment about the US that we get via our media. In fact, Dawkins actually does acknowledge from his experience on his US book tours that the response of audiences does contradict, at least to some extent, the common impression.

    A search for news media reports about views of US citizens on these issues would, I am sure, provide sources. But, as you say, these assessments may be wrong – or at least biased. Especially when we consider the actual results of legal actions where the issue has been tested. After all, the anti-evolution, anti-science lobby is very active and skillful at using the media.

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  7. You’re right. I searched, I found. Just pulling from the first page of Google search results for ‘percentage opinion OR position OR view OR poll US OR “united states” OR american evolution creation OR creationism’, I found CBS News polls from 2004 and 2005 with 51% and 55% believing that God created humans in present form. The basic question was very similar to Gallup’s, so, without even getting into the question of bias, I would attribute the difference to faulty method. Below each article was a short paragraph explaining that this was a “random” telephone poll conducted by CBS of 808 and 885 adults. With samples that small and the number of time zones in the US, even the time of day of the phone calls would influence results. Unfortunately, the link to the page further explaining the methods was broken for both articles. I wonder how much more effort Gallup makes to sample populations proportionately.

    Two sources from the same search that appear more trustworthy (religioustolerance.org and livescience.com) describe and critique polling methods and site numbers closer to the Gallup poll, or actual past Gallup polls, along with other polls, including non-US polls, and use them to support the notion that a very large number of Americans reject evolution compared to other parts of the world. (I still think 44% is a huge number and apparently so do they.)

    So, I’m now not surprised that people outside the US have the impression that you have. I guess it’s better than dwelling on how we interfere with the sovereignty of other nations and slaughter civilians.

    Thank you for your blog. I will check it out again.

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  8. Excellent posting , You really hit the
    nail on the head, I just don’t understand why people quite get it.
    I don’t know how many individuals I’ve talked to about this very
    thing in the past few days, and they just don’t understand.

    Never the less, Excellent post!

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  9. Wonderful posting , You really hit the
    mark with this, I just don’t think that people quite get what you’re saying.
    I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to about this very
    thing in the past month, and they just don’t understand.

    I as well am associated with carpet cleaning and it is
    quite good to see others this business with like mentalities and positions
    Never the less, Excellent post! I plan to visit this blog from now on, on a regular basis

    Like

  10. Listening to cracked urns like the late CARL SAGAN and persons like RICHARD DAWKINS and CHRIS HITCHENS one must realy question their source of so called knowladge and the way they deceive the people

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  11. What the hell are you on about Flu-Bird?

    You seem to have such a knee-jerk hatred for Sagan, Dawkins and Hitchens that you are randomly commenting in inappropriate places.

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  12. “NB Sarah Palin was reported the other day as agreeing with the idea that humans & dinosaurs were contemporaries.”

    Got a link? Evidence?

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  13. Max, I don’t think I have commented on Palin. However, the idea of the coexistence, indeed co-habitation, of humans and dinosaurs, is a common creationist mythology. The Kentucky creation museum very much pushes that story.

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  14. It was not you Ken – it was Alison above.
    I know many creationists push this line (my favorite is “Dr” Hovind)
    However there are so many myths (read “lies”) floating around about Palin on the internet that I wonder if this is one of them. I am no Palin fan by any stretch… but I am suspicious whenever i hear an un-backed up “Palin said…” story.

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  15. Perhaps you should contact Alison directly about that. The thread is over 2 years old so she won’t otherwise get your message.

    Or do a search.

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  16. Ah… I did not look at that… I will assume it is one of those CNN created Palin myths…

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  17. Richard Christie

    I will assume it is one of those CNN created Palin myths…

    Quite right, we can’t have those undermining the Fox News created Palin myths, can we?

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  18. Well, the source of the “Palin thinks that Jesus danced with dinosaurs” seems to be from here.
    Received a lot of publicity and it’s been out there for a long time.
    Nothing whatsoever from the Palin publicity machine to smack it down.
    Plenty of people do indeed believe that nonsense in America.
    Millions of them. They are a large voting bloc.

    Palin neatly fits the profile. If it’s really a “myth” then it’s an easy one to dispel.
    While she’s at it, she can give some details on her views on rolling around on the floor babbling in tounges and the sciencyness of Intelligent Design and how to protect yourself from witchcraft with blessings from visiting Keynan preachers at your local church.
    (Gotta watch out for those witches after all!)

    What is your favourite Palin moment?
    It’s a hard choice but here’s one of mine…

    Sarah Palin: Anti-Science, Anti-Research, Anti-Intelligence (Anti-Fruit Fly

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  19. Here’s Palin on dinosaurs:
    Palin told him that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time,” Munger said. When he asked her about prehistoric fossils and tracks dating back millions of years, Palin said “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks,” recalled Munger, who teaches music at the University of Alaska in Anchorage and has regularly criticized Palin in recent years on his liberal political blog, called Progressive Alaska.

    It’s not only some churches that appear to be afraid of science it is a broader problem in education. People fear what they don’t understand and with a brittle simplistic faith such as Kate’s friend they will oppose it. Regrettably, Radio Rhema, Christian bookshops, and not a few churches support creationist ideas and pseudohistory … it’s a group identification signal that delineates outsiders and reinforces the “secret knowledge” in-group ego. However there are good things happening in the Bible colleges such as Laidlaw which has excellent academic standards and seems friendly towards theistic evolution.

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  20. However there are good things happening in the Bible colleges such as Laidlaw which has excellent academic standards and seems friendly towards theistic evolution.

    Don’t take this the wrong way but what do you mean?

    What does “seems friendly towards TE” look like? I understand that you have that impression and you may well be correct but…how did you reach that judgement?

    Are there specific courses you can point to or is there a campus newletter that takes the YEC’s to task over science denial or is this a general impression based on personal experience? (Once again, don’t take this the wrong way.) How do you form your impression based on what evidence?
    Could someone opposed to your viewpoint make a good argument that YECism is alive and well on religious campuses and that “real Christians” are firmly in control?
    Just asking.

    …Bible colleges…

    In the US or NZ?

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  21. It’s based on a sample of a few NZ Laidlaw College graduates I have personally talked to. It is the pre-eminent Bible college in NZ, so I think some of the problems accepting evolution are being resolved, but there’s a lot of work to do yet.

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  22. Fair enough.
    🙂

    Like

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