The Intersection

Brits on Evolution

Allegedly the British populace is not nearly so pro-evolution as one might assume. That’s the finding of a survey just released in connection with a BBC special, but I’m a bit skeptical of the results in at least one respect.

The survey asked over 2000 participants what best described their view of the origin and development of life, whereupon 22 percent chose creationism, 17 percent chose intelligent design, and 48 percent chose evolution. (The rest were, as usual, clueless.) Now, I suspect that perceptive readers of this blog will have already noticed the problem with this data. That’s right: “intelligent design” is a form of creationism. By presenting creationism and ID as alternatives, then, the poll gave Britons two anti-evolution options to choose from rather than what probably should have been one.

I’m not a polling expert, but it seems to me that this could certainly have skewed the results away from support of evolution. So until I see more polls, I’m going to withhold judgment about whether the country that has Darwin’s picture on ten pound note is nevertheless somehow abandoning him.


  1. #1 Johnny Vector
    January 26, 2006

    Best response to this story was in a Slashdot comment. Thus proving that a thousand monkeys with keyboards can produce great works.

  2. #2 cm
    January 26, 2006

    I would expect the ID portion to grow over time, because it is seen as a “middle ground” or compromise between what seems like far-fetched alternatives (that all was created in 6 days vs. all was created by chance). When considering ID and whether it will take off or not, I think this is one of the primary concerns. Normal sensible people tend to learn that life is often about compromise, and so let’s take a bit of this and a bit of that and combine it into the best for everyone.

    Yes, I know this is wrong.

  3. #3 razib
    January 26, 2006

    i think people are getting confused. in this survey (large PDF), dating from 1990, various europeans were asked:

    Humans, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals

    form page 40:

    Although EC-wide, more than two thirds of respondents agree with this statement, the country results vary from 77 per cent in Germany (East), followed by 76 per cent in Denmark and 75 per cent in the United Kingdom, to 48 per cent in Greece….

    i think the question above is less ambiguous in what it is asking for, as the question noted in the more recent survey seems to conflate the question of abiogenesis with evolution.

  4. #4 Steve
    January 26, 2006

    I doubt very much that 17% of the British population know what Intelligent design is. Certainly in my experience belief in creationism is a very minority view, however i’m reasonably well educated and work in the science/health field. Horizon has come in for criticism recently for ‘dumbing down’ science content and increasing flashy computer graphics content.

  5. #5 RPM
    January 26, 2006

    As a biologist, I wouldn’t know how to answer the question. Evolution offers nothing in terms of the origin of life (nor does it claim to), and “development” is ambiguous. In fact, by including the term development, it sounds like “orgin and development” refer to fertilization and and the subsequent cellular divisions. I don’t think that they survey intended the question to be interpreted this way.

  6. #6 Daniel Collins
    January 26, 2006

    Following from cm, and putting the ambiguity of the poll question aside for a moment… Since ID is touted as scientific, could a movement from 6-day creationism towards ID reflect a growing willingness to incorporate science into people’s worldviews? Of course, people may get the science wrong, but perhaps they are trying (with the exception of those building Trojan horses).

  7. #7 outeast
    January 27, 2006

    As a Brit, I’d just add that I grew up with the assumption that ‘creationism’ meant any narrative involving creation – even one that reduced God to a non-personified, non-interventionist ‘First Cause’. Given that Britain is a nation of new-agers (insofar as it’s a nation of anything) rather than a nation of Xtian fundamentalists, I’d guess many others made the same assumption.

  8. #8 gengar
    January 27, 2006

    I agree that most people over here are probably, at best, hazy on what ID actually is. But I think (or hope!) it’s possible that many of the people who opted for it were mixing up ID with a form of theistic, ‘guided’ evolution.

    And don’t worry, the pretty graph here indicates that the USA is still waaay ahead in the ignorance stakes…

  9. #9 David Hadley
    January 27, 2006

    Following on the comment from Steve about the ‘Horizon’ programme dumbing down. The Horizon programme has undoutably dumbed down over recent years, mainly – I think – since it began co-producing with an American company.
    The dumbing down is probably intended to enable the programme to reach a wider American audience, so maybe that is why the ID part of the questionaire was inserted.

  10. #10 megan
    January 31, 2006

    Well they just nominated his house as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so lets hope that’s a sign he’s still in their hearts as well as their wallets.