When it comes to surveys on religion and evolution in America, accepting the constant high numbers of creationists—nearly half of Americans—usually involves an extra finger of scotch for me. A new survey from Biologos, a Christian thinktank that promotes science, challenges these previous studies by asking more nuanced questions.
The publication of the full study from Biologos is available online. Below I’d like to point out three interesting takeaways that get at why this study is different and why Americans might not be the Young Earth Creationists we’ve come to think they are.
1) Slate: Americans are not confident in creationism
While there are plenty of YouTube videos of ministers saying that evolution is of the devil, and while we’ve come to think of this as an American opinion, William Saletan at Slate (“God’s Work: A new poll suggests Americans aren’t so confident in their creationism“) says this study changes that image.
“…Nearly half of Americans, if not more, seem to be hardcore creationists…But they aren’t…The results show far more nuance, variation, and doubt than is commonly supposed. Most Americans do believe God created us. But the harder you press about historical claims in the Bible, the less confident people are. The percentage who stand by young-earth creationism dwindles all the way to 15 percent….
…Let’s start with the number at the top. When Americans are asked whether “God (or some other intelligent force) was involved in any way with the origin of humans,” two-thirds say yes. But when they’re asked to choose among three versions of this divine role—“direct involvement by miraculously creating humans,” “direct involvement but through the ordinary laws of nature,” or “indirect involvement by creating the laws of nature which led to the emergence of humans”—only half choose the “direct involvement” version. And when these people are asked about their level of certainty, the percentage who say they’re “absolutely” or “very” certain about a direct role drops to 30. (The next option below “very certain” was “somewhat certain.” Saying you’re only somewhat certain is basically a way of saying you’re not certain.)…
2) NCSE: The public attitude toward science is diverse
The National Center for Science Education’s take on the survey notes the areas of diversity (“A major new survey on religion and human origins“) among Americans.
“…Only 8% of the public are young-earth creationists, who accept that the days of creation were literally twenty-four hour days and that humans came into existence within the last 10,000 years. But the report adds, “The remaining two-thirds of creationists do not take the Old Earth view[,] however.” Rather, many “are simply unsure whether the days of creation were literal, and they are especially unsure about when humans first came into existence.”
As for theistic evolutionism, the report described it as less popular than creationism: “Using the broadest categorization, respondents who (a) believe in human evolution and (b) believe that God (or an intelligent force) was somehow involved in the creation of humans, 16 percent of the population can be placed in this category. Furthermore, only half of this group (8 percent) is very or absolutely certain of both of these beliefs.”
Just 9% of the public are atheistic evolutionists (in the sense that they deny that God was involved in human evolution, not necessarily in the sense that they deny the existence of God). The remaining 39% of the population is unsure (or holds “uncommon views (such as believing that humans did not evolve from earlier species while simultaneously believing that God had nothing to do with the emergence of humans”)….”
3) The Atlantic: It’s not what you know
Before the report came out, The Atlantic wrote about its results in a highly shared piece (“You Can’t Educate People Into Believing in Evolution”) and their take on the results has a lot to say about human nature.
“…In his report, Hill found that religious belief was the strongest determinant of people’s views on evolution—much more so than education, socioeconomic status, age, political views, or region of the country. More importantly, being part of a community where people had stated opinions on evolution or creation, like a church, had a big impact on people’s views. “Creationists are substantially more likely to belong to networks who agree with them about human origins,” he wrote. “Likewise, creationists are more likely to belong to congregations who have settled positions that reject human evolution.”
What that means is that “debates” about evolution and creationism actually might not be that effective. “For those invested in the position that human evolution is compatible with orthodox Christian faith, the findings from
[this survey] tell us that persuasion needs to move beyond a purely intellectual level,” Hill wrote. “Ideas are important, but ideas only persuade when individuals are in a social position that allows them to seriously consider what is before them.” For those who value the widespread acceptance of evolution, this is an important insight: There may be more effective ways to persuade people to consider principles of biology without trying to debunk the existence of God….”