A new Gallop poll came out yesterday about belief in evolution in America, and in some ways the poll results are stunning. In earlier polls, answers to the question “Now thinking about how human beings came to exist on Earth, do you, personally, believe in evolution, or not?” were split virtually down-the-middle; 49% yes, 48% no. However, the following formulation gave what I thought were stunning results (emphasis mine):

Next, we’d like to ask about your views on two different explanations for the origin and development of life on earth. Do you think — [ITEMS ROTATED] — is — [ROTATED: definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false]?

A. Evolution, that is, the idea that human beings developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life

Definitely true Probably true Probably false Definitely false No opinion Total true Total false
2007 Jun 1-3 18% 35 16 28 3 53 44

B. Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years

Definitely true Probably true Probably false Definitely false No opinion Total true Total false
2007 Jun 1-3 39% 27 16 15 3 66 31

66%. 2 in every 3 Americans feel that there is some truth to the claim that God created humans “pretty much” in their present form “within the last 10,000 years”. To believe this, you pretty much have to reject all modern science. Not just biology, but astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology…

In fact, compared to other modernized Western countries, the US falls far behind in scientific literacy, even when controlling for variables such as religious faith. We are more similar to Turkey than the UK. And we are falling behind in math and science education, which will hurt us in the global market. Over half of the engineering degrees granted by the excellent university system in America go to foreign-born students.

Despite the claims of evangelical Protestants, faith and science don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, nearly 40% of Americans believe that evolution occurred with God’s influence. The Roman Catholic Church, perhaps having learned their lesson from earlier conflicts with science, officially accepts evolution as true and divinely inspired. Catholic schools teach science, including evolution.

Of those who disbelieve in evolution, just 14% of them say the evidence is insufficient – the rest say some aspect of their faith is why they say evolution is not true. Perhaps less surprising is the strong correlation between being Republican and believing in creationism:

The modern Republican party – the same people who deny global warming (I think faith has something to do with that as well) and refuse to take action because of claims that it will hurt the economy are willingly putting our economic strength at risk by suppressing scientific literacy and cultivating this irrational fear of science. And this is why the fight against “intelligent design” is so crucial.

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  • Len

    Despite the claims of evangelical Protestants, faith and science don?t have to be mutually exclusive.

    Nonsense. Religious faith is the act of believing claims about the world for which there is no empirical evidence. Unfortunately, this ability to believe assertions without proof is held up as the highest of virtues and is taught to children as such. Science, being about testing and verifying the truth or falsifiability of a given hypothesis, is the absolute antithesis of that.

    Faith cuts off further inquiry; X is the way it is because the invisible sky demon says so. If the invisible sky demon is responsible, then there is no need to look any further for the cause of X, right? In fact, looking further is nothing short of heresy. Diseases and natural disasters are caused by divine anger, full stop.

    Basically, clap louder or Tinkerbell gets it.

    It’s not for nothing that the higher the education level, the lower the incidence of religious faith. Over 90% of the National Academy of Science’s members are non-theistic; I suspect that the remainder are very good at mental compartmentalization.

  • Hell, I’m non-theistic. But I do recognize the fact that God, such as it is, is beyond the reach of science. We can no more disprove the existence of a deity than we can prove said existence. There is no evidence, in the scientific meaning of the word, in the existence of God, and I agree that belief in something without evidence is foolish.

    However, it is possible to believe, as irrational as it may be, that God exists and that evolution is true; Catholics manage it. And they believe in transubstantiation!

    What can’t be reconciled is the claim that the Bible is inerrant and scientific fact; but that’s not faith, that’s dogma. I think an increase in atheism is a natural result of increased education, but I do not think loss of faith is a necessary outcome to being scientifically literate.

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