The Gallup Poll is not surprising in any of its results but it is, of course, alarming and interesting. Here’s a summary.

On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way. These attitudes are strongly related to education and, to an even greater degree, religiosity.

The data:
Believe in evolution 39%
Do not believe in evolutoin 25%
No opinon either way 36%

Not surprisingly, education level has a strong effect on tresponse. Have a look at this graph:

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The good news:

Younger Americans, who are less likely to be religious than those who are older, are also more likely to believe in evolution. Still, just about half of those aged 18 to 34 say they believe in evolution.

Well, not great news, but good news.

In answer to the question “Can you tell me with which scientific theory Charles Darwin is associated?” only a little over half knew. That was asked before all the other questions. And, knowing or not knowing the answer to that question went way way up with higher education levels, not surprisingly.

The poll reporters conclude:

As Darwin is being lauded as one of the most important scientists in history on the 200th anniversary of his birth (on Feb. 12, 1809), it is perhaps dismaying to scientists who study and respect his work to see that well less than half of Americans today say they believe in the theory of evolution, and that just 55% can associate the man with his theory.

… Americans who have lower levels of formal education are significantly less likely than others to be able to identity Darwin with his theory, and to have an opinion on it either way. Still, the evidence is clear that even to this day, Americans’ religious beliefs are a significant predictor of their attitudes toward Darwin’s theory….

h/t: Stranger Fruit

Comments

  1. #1 Cal Harth
    February 13, 2009

    Stubborn ignorance is hard to comprehend. It is like encountering someone who insists that the sun rises in the west. Reasoning with such folks seems pointless.
    Paul Sorvino was interviewed on MPR this morning about a human burial site that he and his team discovered in the Sahara desert. The burials occurred during a wetter period about 70,000 years ago.
    I was amazed at the questions posed by two callers. One questioned weather dinosaurs had been present at the site with the humans. The other wanted to know if it could have been the biblical Garden of Eden.
    Sorvino was too nice to them. I would have laughed out loud.

  2. #2 Skysinger
    February 13, 2009

    “surpzising”, “surpizingly”?
    Dude – please spellcheck

  3. #3 Lilian Nattel
    February 13, 2009

    There are several things I find weird about this. 1. “believe” 2. “theory” Why is the question ever phrased as a matter of belief? Are they asked “do you believe in air” or “do you believe in gravity”? Why not? And why the word theory. In layman’s English “theory” has the connotation of an idea, something just to throw around. For example the thesaurus lists “speculation, guess, surmise, suspicion” as synonyms and “fact, proof, reality” as antonyms of the word “theory”. Along with education, perhaps a new approach as to the language of writing about evolution (for Americans) would be a good idea.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    February 13, 2009

    Spelling Troll! Spelling Troll!!

    Lilian: I know. There are consistent patterns across Gallup, more or less, so they tend to be comparable for tracking from year to year. But the same essential question can be asked very differently.

  5. #5 Lilian Nattel
    February 13, 2009

    It isn’t moot. The wording of the question reflects the way the discourse has been framed and it has been framed in a way that distorts the truth. Creationism vs evolution is a false dichotomy. Evolution is the word that denotes the change in species over time due to genetic variation. There was a time when scientists didn’t know about it–and then they figured it out. It isn’t a belief. Creationism isn’t a science. It’s a religious belief. Calling it an ism doesn’t make it science and doesn’t make it reality. If scientists would stop using the words that cater to this false dichotomy, I think it would be a step toward educating the 70% or so of Americans who seem to be woefully in need of it.