A new Gallup poll shows that, as in the past thirty years, acceptance of evolution in the U.S. has remained static. In fact, the latest statistics (light green line in figure below), show that 46% of Americans are young-earth creationists, 32% adhere to some form of god-guided or theistic evolution (dark green line), and only 15% adhere to evolution as we scientists know it (“human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process”). Young-earth creationism rose 6% since the last survey, which may not be a statistically significant change.
These data of course show several things:
- My book didn’t convert huge numbers of Americans to evolution (duh!)
- The ongoing strategy of accommodationism by scientific organizations, the NCSE, the Clergy Letter Project, and others who assert a harmony between religion and science didn’t work, either
- The books and writings of the New Atheists didn’t work, although they’ve had far less time to operate than accommodationism
That is, nothing much works. Although there are of course converts to evolution produced by atheist writings (I got an email from one yesterday), they are way too few to be reflected in the statistics, and may well be counteracted by the conversion or incursion of people who don’t accept evolution (Hispanic immigrants?). I’d bet ten to one, though, that somebody claims that the gains of accommodationism are counterbalanced by the effect of atheists on turning people away from evolution! I would dispute that given the constant presence of accommodationism over several decades and the relatively recent rise of New Atheism.
As you know, I think this stasis is due almost entirely to the extreme religiosity of the United States. I claim that acceptance of evolution won’t increase until the grasp of religion on America weakens. We can win court cases all we want (thank you, NCSE!), but America remains obdurately resistant to Darwin. And those court cases, and creationism in increasingly cryptic guises, will continue. I am confident that America is becoming more and more secular (after all, acceptance of naturalistic evolution has risen from 9% to 15% (see update below), but it’s going to take a long time before most Americans accept evolution the way scientists do. In other words, not in our lifetime.
In a recent paper in Evolution (free download), I documented the evidence that evolution-denial is largely caused by religion. Here are some more stats from that poll supporting my claim; they show the expected correlation between acceptance of evolution and attendance at church:
Finally, education plays a role, as it always has. Acceptance of both theistic and naturalistic evolution increase with education, and young-earth creationism, as ever, is most prevalent among the undereducated. Note, however, that 25% of American with some postgraduate (i.e., after college) education are still young-earth creationists, and remember that these factors are cross-correlated: I suspect that religiosity, for example, is higher among the less educated. Earlier work has shown that when you partition out these factors independently, religion and education have similar effects on science literacy (that work deliberately didn’t assay acceptance of evolution, though).
Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans’ views of the origin of the human species since 1982. The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.
More broadly, some 78% of Americans today believe that God had a hand in the development of humans in some way, just slightly less than the percentage who felt this way 30 years ago.
All in all, there is no evidence in this trend of a substantial movement toward a secular viewpoint on human origins.
Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. [JAC: what a lame-o statement! "Hard to dispute"? Really? Would Gallup say that it "would be hard to dispute that the earth rotates on its axis?" This sounds like a sop to creationists.] Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.
No, it’s not half of Americans who hold an anti-scientific belief about evolution. It’s more than 3 out of 4—78%, to be exact. God-guided evolution is just as antiscientific as the idea that God guides photons and electrons—or chemical reactions. It’s time to stop saying that the beliefs of theistic evolutionists are in harmony with science.