78% of Britons support Darwin?

Well, that’s my conclusion from the poll commissioned by the UK theological think tank, Theos.

However, the headlines give a different message.  The UK Telegraph declared Poll reveals public doubts over Darwin’s theory of evolution. The intelligent design (ID) proponent Discovery Institute’s blog claimed 51% Percent of British Public Doubts Darwin; 10-20 % Attend Church. And the poll sponsors Theos summarised the data from the poll as Half of Britons sceptical about evolution.

The Telegraph headline was picked up and promoted by some other anti-evolution blogs (e.g. Popularity Poll; How to get up Richard Dawkins’ nose; Survey suggests a third of the UK population believes a god created the earth within the last 10,000 years; Poll: 51% of UK Pubic Accept Intelligent Design).

But these are the inevitable biased interpretations. The Theos report “Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in UK Today” can be found  here and the actual Data are in these tables. Here is a brief summary of the questions used and the responses:

Question Definitely or probably true
1: Young Earth Creationism – the idea that God created the world sometime in the last 10,000 years. 32%
2: Theistic evolution – the idea that evolution is the means that God used for the creation of all living things on earth. 44%
3: Atheistic evolution – the idea that evolution makes belief in God unnecessary and absurd. 34%
4: Intelligent Design – the idea that evolution alone is not enough to explain the complex structures of some living things, so the intervention of a designer is needed at key stages. 51%
Total 161%

So we can see where they get the 51% from. But what about support for evolution – surely this amounts to 44 + 34 = 78%! So why not a headline “78% of Britons support Darwin”?

The poll is obviously not well designed. A total response of 161% indicates “double dipping” and poor phrasing of the questions. There is obviously  confusion about the meaning of terms like “Young earth creationism”, “Theistic evolution”, “atheistic evolution” and “design.”

And the headlines obviously indicate biased interpretation.

Theos is disingenuous

I question the morality of the Theos headline. As the sponsors of the poll they would have been aware of the difficulties and the data yet they chose a misleading interpretation. I also question their decision to divide evolution between “theist” and “:atheist” types. This invites negative reactions.

Paul Woolley, the director of Theos, has the audacity to complain that Darwin:

“is being used by certain atheists today to promote their cause. The result is that, given the false choice of evolution or God, people are rejecting evolution.”

And Nick Spencer, the director of studies at Theos and co-author of the report, said:

“The problem is that evolution has become mixed up with all sorts of ideas – like the belief that there is no God, or no purpose or no absolute morality in life”

Isn’t Theos actively mixing these ideas by commissioning such a report to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, entitling it “Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in UK Today,” and introducing “atheist” and “theist” interpretations of evolution into the survey questions?


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11 responses to “78% of Britons support Darwin?

  1. I noticed the double dipping problem myslef but did not include the ID figure as it was not clear to me if ID was meant as an alternative to YEC and TE. Even without it you still get 110%.


  2. Oh, and I forgot to add, that according to the figures, something like 34% of Britons are hard-core atheists who think religion is unnecessary and absurd. That did not make it into the press releease either.


  3. Ken

    If you read the report (it’s a 72 page pdf available from the Theos site), it’s an oddly unreal vision of Britain. For them, everything in the religion-science debate really revolves around the two big Christian churches here in England. They also seem to confuse evolution as an area of scientific study, with the bigger picture of the scientific endeavour.
    The full release of the survey results isn’t until March. I posted my comments on Wonderful Life yesterday.

    Spencer’s been doing a fine job of plugging his new book, published on 12th February (wonder why that date…..)


    PS what is the bookmarking widget you’re using on your posts?


  4. Hi Robert. The bookmark is GetSocial.


  5. Headlines being misleading reminds me of the latest fiasco over the NewScientist headlines, e.g. http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/bioblog/2009/01/headlines-can-be-misleading.shtml

    [off-topic] This might interest you?: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/greatergood/2008summer/Fiske351.html


  6. The New Scientist cover caption caused a major rumpus in ScienceBlogs and elsewhere in the blogosphere. The author of the article weighed in in many of those blogs, but failed to calm the bloggers. I think it was hugely irresponsible, and symptomatic of the media messages that may well be responsible for the people to believe that evolutio nas not been proven “beyond reasonable doubt”.


  7. Pingback: Reasons to doubt that Darwin poll – Politics Unlimited | UK politics news

  8. Pingback: Only 25% of Americans oppose evolution « Open Parachute

  9. Pingback: Reasons to doubt that Darwin poll

  10. Pingback: Reasons to doubt that Darwin poll | Mark Pack

  11. Pingback: Reasons to doubt that Darwin and evolution opinion poll

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