The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Polls, Evolution, and Science in the 21st Century

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2009

Sometimes people wonder why I spend so much energy addressing pseudoscience, specifically creationism, in this blog.  Well, some recent news out about U.S. attitudes concerning science and specifically evolution (the linchpin of biology) spells out why it is so important to fight against the anti-scientific agenda of the creationist movement (and pseudoscience in general).

The Pew Research Center recently released a survey where the U.S. public’s views on evolutionary science were compared to those of the scientific community…

“Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while only 61% of the public agrees, according to a new report (p. 37) from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Asked which comes closer to their view, “Humans and other living things have evolved over time” or “Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” 97% of scientists responding chose the former option, as opposed to only 2% choosing the latter option; 61% of the public responding chose the former option, as opposed to 31% choosing the latter option.

Those who chose the former option were also asked whether they preferred “Humans and other living things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection” or “A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.” Among scientists, 87% preferred the former option and 8% preferred the latter option; among the public, 32% preferred the former option and 22% preferred the latter option. Members of the public were also asked whether scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time; 60% said yes, 28% said no.

“Views on evolution vary substantially within the general public,” the report observed (p. 38), “particularly by religion and attendance at religious services.” For example, among white evangelical Protestants responding, a majority, 57%, agreed that humans existed in their present form since the beginning of time, and among those respondents attending religious services weekly or more often, a near-majority, 49%, agreed. In contrast, among the religiously unaffiliated responding, 60% agreed that humans evolved due to natural processes. Also correlated with acceptance of evolution were youth and education.

Another poll which was recently released by the British Council investigated the views of evolution from country to country…

The survey was conducted in April and May 2009 in ten countries: Argentina, China, Egypt, Great Britain, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and the United States. For the question “Have you heard of Charles Darwin?” Russia led the list with 93% of respondents saying yes, with Great Britain and Mexico tied for second at 90%, and China a close third at 90%; the United States was fifth at 84%. For the question “To what extent do you agree or disagree that it is possible to believe in a God and still hold the view that life on earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection?” India led the list with 85% of respondents agreeing, with Mexico second at 65% and Argentina third at 62%; the United States was fifth at 53%, just behind Great Britain, Russia, and South Africa, which tied for fourth at 54%.

For the question “To what extent do you agree or disagree that enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution [sic]?” — posed to respondents who had heard of Charles Darwin and knew something about the theory of evolution — India led the list with 77% of respondents agreeing, with China second at 72% and Mexico second at 65%. The United States was ninth at 41%, just behind South Africa at 42% and well ahead of Egypt at 25%. In keeping with reports on previous international surveys on public attitudes toward evolution, such as Miller, Scott, and Okamoto’s article in Science in 2006, the United States was also conspicuous for the level of disagreement with the theory of evolution: 30%, second only to Egypt’s 63%. Only 29% of respondents in the United States indicated that they neither agreed nor disagreed or didn’t know.

Respondents were also asked which of the following was closest to their own view: “life on earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection, in which no God played a part”; “life on earth, including human life, evolved over time in a process guided by a God”; and “life on earth, including human life, was created by a God and has always existed in its current form.” (Respondents were also offered the response, “I have another view on the origins of species and development of life on earth, which is not included in this list.”) The first view was preferred in China by 67% of the respondents, in Mexico, Great Britain, and Spain by 38%, in Argentina by 37%, and in Russia by 32%; the third was preferred in Egypt by 50% of the respondents, and in India, South Africa, and the United States by 43%. In no country was the second view held by a plurality of respondents.

Folks, we simply need to do better.  If the United States is to effectively compete in and meet the challenges of the 21st century, then we need to do better.  If we don’t, then it is as if natural selection will eventually cause us to be left behind as other countries continue to leave us in the dust, and wouldn’t that be ironic?

3 Responses to “Polls, Evolution, and Science in the 21st Century”

  1. podblack said

    Ooh, lovely survey data! Thanks, I can use this!🙂

  2. […] Polls, Evolution, and Science in the 21st Century […]

  3. […] the years, I’ve spent much time on this blog discussing science education and the need to combat pseudoscientific in the sphere of public education. In the United States, this fight is most evident in the seemingly endless attempts by […]

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