According to a Gallup poll released today, there’s some heartening news: acceptance of evolution in America is on the rise. It isn’t jumping up precipitiously, but here are the latest data in a long-term (29-year) survey of Americans’ views on one aspect of evolution: how humans came to be (click to enlarge):
The good news is that although America still remains well behind most European countries in accepting a purely naturalistic scenario for human evolution, an increase from 9% to 16% is a 77% rise! That’s not to be sneezed at. And the proportion of Americans who think that God poofed humans into existence has dropped by 4%—a 10% decrease. (Those who think God helped human evolution along—the official position of the Catholic Church—have remained steady at 38% with some minor ups and downs.)
Some of the pro-evolution change has come from the “undecided or don’t know” camp, which this year is 6% but in 1982 was 9%. The other 4% of the increase came from the drop in straight creationists.
So things are looking up, I think. And this increase resolves what had been a puzzle for me. The data on religiosity in the United States shows it declining over time (see Sigmund’s post from earlier today). Here, for example, is a figure from a 2011 paper by Solt et al. in the Social Science Quarterly on religiosity and economic inequality. (I discussed this paper a while back):
So if religiosity is dropping in America (the data above shows a decline of 20% in religiosity since 1955 or 13% since 1982), and Coyne’s Theorem predicts that acceptance of evolution is negatively correlated with religiosity (because religion prevents people from accepting evolution), then why hasn’t acceptance of evolution increased? Well, the latest data show that it has: the increase that seemed to begin in 2000 has been sustained.
It’s not a big increase, but remember also that, at least among countries, the Darwin-vs.-God curve is relatively flat. Here’s a slide I made from survey data showing the relationship between acceptance of evolution and belief in God in 32 European countries (the US is circled). The regression on these data (which is highly significant: p = 0.0002) shows that religious belief among countries explains 36% of the variance in evolution-acceptance (this may, of course, not be causal!), and that the slope of the line is -0.33. That means that to get a 10% increase in evolution-acceptance, you have to give up 33% of your belief in God. So there’s a flat curve for the tradeoff between Darwin and God. (I am aware, of course, that the relationship among nations may not be relevant to the tradeoff in the U.S).
But, at any rate, we have good news today. And many of us feel that the benefits of waning religiosity far exceed those of simply increasing acceptance of evolution.