June 5, 2012

Creationism Remains Stable in U.S.

CreationismWe know that the United States lags far behind other developed nations when it comes to public acceptance of the reality of evolution, but just how bad is the problem? Do many people still doubt evolution or do we just hear more from a vocal minority?

According to a recent Gallup survey, 46% of Americans are creationists (i.e., they think some sort of god created humans in our present form within the past 10,000 years). I suppose we shouldn't be terribly surprised. Remember how many Republican presidential candidates raised their hands when asked whether any of them doubt evolution?

Worse yet, this percentage of Americans subscribing to creationist view of human origins has been quite stable during the last 30 years. That is, many of the scientific advances we have seen during this period do not appear to have penetrated public consciousness.

In interpreting the meaning of these findings, Gallup's Frank Newport noted:
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 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. 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.
He's right. As tempted as I am to interpret these findings as suggesting that 46% of Americans remain scientifically illiterate morons, I can't quite bring myself to do so. Such a statement would imply that they alone bear the responsibility for their ignorance, and I'm not sure that would be fair.

When I see findings like this, I feel deflated, pessimistic, and even a tad hopeless. But these feelings are soon replaced with curiosity. I cannot help but wonder if we could make a dent in these numbers if the reality-based community made science education a priority and did everything in our power to disseminate accurate information to the public.

H/T to CNN's Belief Blog