The Gallup organization has conducted its annual poll of Americans’ acceptance of evolution (results here and here). It’s based on a sample of 1,028 adults surveyed in May of this year. They’ve been taking this poll, asking the same questions, since 1982, which makes it the longest-running regular poll on U.S. attitudes towards evolution.
Actually, as you’ll see from the question below, it’s really a survey of attitudes about human evolution. As most of us know, it’s possible for many people to accept evolution for other creatures, but with an exception for humans. In that form of theistic evolution, our species (or hominins) were either created directly, had our evolution facilitated by God-tweaked mutations, or had some metaphysical apps installed by God: usually a soul and, as Francis Collins puts it, “The Moral Law.”
I don’t mind Gallup asking the question this way, for if you don’t accept naturalistic evolution of humans, you don’t accept naturalistic evolution at all. (In addition, that’s the question they’ve been asking for 30+ years, so the results are comparable across decades.) For those who claim that the proper study of mankind is man (I’m not one of these), the correct account of our origins is crucial to understanding ourselves. Regardless, I don’t see how those who require our own species to have involved God’s intervention can be regarded as allies against creationism, especially when, as you see below, 42% of them not only see human exceptionalism, but our creation in the present form in the last 10,000 years.
But the news this year makes me mildly optimistic. Although the pure young-earth creationists are at 42%, and have historically hovered between 40% and 47%, I discern a trend towards an acceptance of pure naturalistic evolution. In the last 32 years the proportion of respondents accepting that for humans has risen pretty steadily from 9% to 19%: more than a doubling! Granted, it’s still a minority view, but its increase is, I believe, keeping pace with the decline of religiosity in America. (It’s religion that prevents people from accepting evolution, and we must await the decline of faith, which is slow, before we get much evolution-acceptance.)
Further, the young-earth creationists have fallen 4% since last year (maybe a blip), and the theistic evolutionists have fallen by 7% over the last two years. I’d say that that’s a cause for optimism.
Gallup has also made three points about the data above (to see the raw data from earlier years, go here):
- Religiousness relates most strongly to these views, which is not surprising, given that this question deals directly with God’s role in human origins. The percentage of Americans who accept the creationist viewpoint ranges from 69% among those who attend religious services weekly to 23% among those who seldom or never attend.
- Educational attainment is also related to these attitudes, with belief in the creationist perspective dropping from 57% among Americans with no more than a high school education to less than half that (27%) among those with a college degree. Those with college degrees are, accordingly, much more likely to choose one of the two evolutionary explanations.
- Younger Americans — who are typically less religious than their elders — are less likely to choose the creationist perspective than are older Americans. Americans aged 65 and older — the most religious of any age group — are most likely to choose the creationist perspective.
There’s not much new here, but look at the large effect of religion on accepting evolution. I’m always surprised that people question this (it’s something the National Center for Science Education likes to play down), but “belief in belief” is so strong that it keeps people from admitting the palpably obvious. What’s heartening is that the people who reject creationism most often are the younger ones. Those, of course, are also the people most likely to lack formal religious affiliation—the famous “nones.”
And, for those who claim that science and religion are compatible, here’s another figure from this year’s poll:
The folks at Gallup put it a bit carefully:
. . . few scientists would agree that humans were created pretty much in their present form at one time 10,000 years ago, underscoring the ongoing discontinuity between the beliefs that many Americans hold and the general scientific consensus on this important issue.
The mills of rationality grind exceeding small, but they grind surely. I’m a bit sad that I won’t see the U.S. become secular—which means that evolution will no longer be an important issue—in my lifetime, but at least I see some progress. And that’s enough for me.