What do Americans Believe?

The American Association of Physics Teachers just published a study of 1,000 likely U.S. voters about science, religion, evolution, and creationism. The results are frightening. Here are some of the “highlights” of their study:

    • 38% of Americans are in favor of the teaching of religion in public school science classrooms.
    • 65% of Americans do not think that it is an important science goal to understand the origin and diversity of biological life on Earth.
    • 47% of Americans believe that the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.
    • 21% of Americans do not believe that the continents move.

In fact, when we take a look at where we rank in the scheme of the world’s countries according to the PEW report in terms of acceptance of evolution, it isn’t a pretty sight; only 40% of Americans accept evolution as true, placing us 33 out of the 34 countries surveyed.

In fact, I point you to this video about how an eye evolves, but many people still think an eye is too complex to come from anything other than an intelligent designer.

How are we going to get people to believe the facts about how life, the world, and the Universe really works? There is one point of this article that gives me hope, though.

Now I’m going to read you a list of people who might get involved in explaining science to the public. Please tell me how interested you would be in hearing from each person about Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design.

  • 77% interested (39% very interested) — A scientist
  • 76% interested (26% very interested) — A science teacher
  • 62% interested (20% very interested) — A member of the clergy
  • 37% interested (12% very interested) — A Supreme Court Justice
  • 30% interested (5% very interested) — An elected school board member
  • 11% interested (2% very interested) — A celebrity

I wonder if I’m just going to have to get out there and make a damned documentary film about this myself. Oh, wait, I just might do that!


  1. #1 dave
    May 7, 2008

    Keep fighting the good fight Ethan!!!

    I am constantly amazed at how 17th century many persons in this world are. Hell, I want to live next door to George Jetson, yet most of America is content with a sod house (or a cave) and a bible as their only text book…….

    We laymen depend on you guys!

  2. #2 brian
    May 7, 2008

    Thanks for sharing this study with us, Ethan. I knew the numbers were bad, and now I know just how bad they are. This is yet another reason why Scandinavian countries are probably the best societies on Earth (others being health care, life expectancy, quality of life). Anyway, the U.S. is fast becoming a dinosaur that is being overrun by more nimble other countries who embrace science rather than ignore it. We’re no longer the scientific and technical leaders in so many areas, and sadly I don’t see that trend reversing without significant changes in the U.S.

  3. #3 dan w.
    May 7, 2008

    incredible! I had no idea. how can people living in this age not accept evolution??? I have started to teach my kids about space and science so this doesn’t happen to them as well. keep up the good work, Ethan! I really enjoy you blog.

  4. #4 Clement
    May 8, 2008

    In Europe most of us were outraged when we heard on the news that people actually wanted to teach creationism in science classes in the US. It’s really weird to us because that’s completely out of question here. I actually find it sad. I think religion is sad (I’m gonna get flamed…). It’s important to inform people about evolution. John Paul II himself said that evolution was “more than a hypothesis”. Honestly, it seems like the middle ages aren’t over yet.

  5. #5 ethan
    May 8, 2008

    I don’t have a problem with religion, but I have a problem with people clinging to beliefs that don’t stand up to scrutiny or reality. I’m someone who majored in classics as an undergraduate because I was fascinated with how people made sense of the natural world thousands of years ago, and I’m also someone with a PhD in astrophysics because I’m fascinated with how we make sense of the natural world today.
    But the world makes sense, and that’s something worth teaching, at least it is for me.

  6. #6 Kendall
    May 8, 2008

    Great pic from the Flintstones. Perhaps that show is responsible for convincing many people in their developmental years that the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. Then there’s One Million Years BC, with the hottest cave-woman ever. And my favorite Dino movie, Caveman, which shows how we evolved to walk erect. 😉

  7. #7 Matt
    May 8, 2008

    It’s really scary how scientific illiterate the public is (not just in the US). Your post reminded me of Sagan’s chapter about science and the public in his book “Demon Haunted World”, could you imagine that many many people don’t know that antibiotics only kills bacteria and not viruses? That electrons are smaller than protons? Believing that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time is only the tip of the iceberg.

  8. #8 Clement
    May 8, 2008

    Post added to Stumbleupon! thanks for the great read Ethan!

  9. #9 ethan
    May 8, 2008


    Actually, the stat on the number of people who think antibiotics kill viruses was looked for in this study, too. 57% thought they did. The ignorance is staggering, but that’s why I’m working on all of this. The world is too beautiful to stumble through it without a knowledge or understanding of it.


    Thanks! I appreciate the support!

  10. #10 Corey
    May 15, 2008

    I am amazed at these statistics and my guiding ray of light is that hopefully these surveys were taken in the far reaches of Mississippi. But having had to deal with the “outside” world recently (ie, people not in academia or in a lab) I am not at all surprised by the ignorance I found screaming at me out there. One question, how are you going to find a scientist willing to discuss Creationism and Intelligent Design with 77% of the people?

  11. #11 ethan
    May 15, 2008

    Hello. 😉

  12. #12 BillinDetroit
    May 22, 2008

    I am a daily reader of the Bible … and have been for years. I do not live in a sod house although, with energy prices being what they are, that possibility keeps creeping ever closer.

    Those who read ONLY the Bible are likely to mis-read it as well … a lot like those who ONLY study physics are going to lose track of its relative importance. But, to tell the truth, I don’t know anyone who ONLY reads the Bible and I doubt if you do either. So your analysis sucks primordial pond scum … it’s bad science based on unsubstantiated and anecdotal evidence.

    So how does it feel to be gratuitously belittled? That’s what you did to Bible readers.

    This world is a cohesive whole. What science and religion both seek is to understand the glue that holds it all together.

    What the survey shows is that science has not proven its case to the satisfaction of the average man or woman. Other surveys also show that religion, considered as a whole, has fared no better.

    The survey was about scientific ignorance, but the very first post slammed religion. Except for terminology, this is just another religious war like that between the Jews and the Muslims (or the Muslims and pretty much anybody else).

    How did you like it when I questioned your scientific ability … when it was -your- ox being gored?

    Well before the Greeks postulated a 4-element creation, the Bible was describing the planetary water cycle. The Greeks were ultimately proven wrong by other scientists. There has been, however, no need to revise the description of the water cycle.

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