Polling evolution

A majority of Americans would not change their views of a candidate who did not believe in evolution, 28% would be less likely to vote for an anti-evolutionist, and 15% would be more likely to back that candidate.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the poll shows Americans deeply confused over what they think about the issue. While over 80% of Americans claim to be "very" or "somewhat familiar" with evolution and creationism:

Two-thirds in the poll said creationism, the idea that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years, is definitely or probably true. More than half, 53%, said evolution, the idea that humans evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, is definitely or probably true. All told, 25% say that both creationism and evolution are definitely or probably true.

That's right, a majority of Americans think the human race was created less than 10,000 years old, and a majority think that it evolved over millions of years. Something's got to give.

I've got a request for clarification in with Gallup, and they tell me they'll have a closer look at those data available on Monday.

Until then, I'll offer some speculation.

First, I'll point out that people tend to make up their minds about issues as pollsters ask questions. The excellent Pollster.com has been discussing this fact in terms of polls on immigration, but it holds generally. Polls on evolution are especially complicated because the way that poll respondents think about the underlying issues is often different from how the poll's author may think about it, and pollsters accidentally conflate a range of issues in their questions, blocking respondents from fully expressing their opinions.

One aspect of this is obvious in Gallup's questions. The Gallup poll's question about evolution doesn't specify whether or not the respondent thinks God was involved, while the creationism question is restricted to young earth creationism. That dichotomy may leave everyone from theistic evolutionists to old earth creationists looking for a different option, perhaps expressing doubts that they don't actually feel, or trying to average out their opinion by answering yes to both questions. The other possibility is that people are literally making up their minds on the issue as they answer, never having really considered the issue before.

My suspicion, based on discussing the issue with people who don't feel strongly about the issue but live in the eye of this storm, is that the problem is deeper. People are not approaching the question in the way that Gallup asks it.

To begin with, Gallup frames the question first in terms of "two different explanations for the origin and development of life on earth," but both options only actually refer to human beings. When asked about acceptance of common descent of all life and also about descent of humans from a common ancestor with other animals, polls show that people are inclined to think humans were created specially, but less inclined to reject common descent as a general proposition.

The reasons that people are especially interested in human origins has little to do with the science, let alone with "explanations for the origin and development of life on earth," and polls that separate those issues illustrate that divide. You can see the same dynamic in Sam Brownback's defense of his own creationism, or in the different answers to questions about common descent at the Kansas Kangaroo Court in 2005. The issue the person on the street typically cares about is not where and how the bacterial flagellum originated, or whether God has an inordinate fondness for beetles. The concern is where human beings fit into the world.

By introducing the question with the broader topic of the origin and development of life, then defining evolution and creationism in terms of human origins, Gallup conflated several issues. It may be that respondents indicated support for both options in part because they favor evolution as a general proposition, but reject it in human origins, the specific instance that Gallup refers to. Others may favor evolution, but want to make it clear that they think God was involved, so express support for both options.

There are several ways to at least try to tease these threads out from the Gallup poll. They rotated the order in which respondents were asked about creationism and evolution. In my query to Gallup, I asked if the order in which respondents were asked the question had any effect on their answers. For instance, if the creationism question got more support when it was the second option, respondents may be rejecting the young earth part of it, but using it as a way to express some sort of generic belief that God was involved.

We'll know more about the data next Monday. Until then, post your speculation in the comments.

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People are always shocked by results like this, but it seems like you would eventually get used to it. My bet is that on any topic whatsoever (other than celebrity news), the majority of Americans don't know anything at all about it. Who was the enemy of the US in World War II: Germany, the Soviet Union, both, or neither? Where is Iraq located on a map of the world? Do you know what a "derivative" is in calculus? If you connect a ball to a string and whirl it around and around, and then let it go, does it fly off straight, or does it take a curved path? Who was the Vice President when George Bush (senior) was President? Which war did the US fight while Abraham Lincoln was President? If an astronaut on the moon dropped a feather and a lead weight at the same time, which would hit the ground first (or would it be a tie)? My bet is that most Americans would get these questions wrong.

In general, most people don't know anything beyond what they need to know to get by in life, plus trivia about celebrities or athletes.

And the arguement goes on. But it doesn't have to...

If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the 'simple' cell.

After all, shouldn't all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a 'simple' cell.

If it weren't so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence 'FOR' evolution for THEMSELVES.

Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the 'raw' stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth's recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

Oh, you don't believe the 'original' Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!

By James Collins (not verified) on 12 Jun 2007 #permalink

Mr. Collins' post provides ample illustration why creationists cannot argue a scientific issue.

I can only offer the observation that those who promote creationism/I.D. suffer from a type of fear peculiar to the small-minded: They fear that, without the over-arching protection of an agency (God) upon which to hang responsibility for their own creation and upon whose glory to hitch their destiny-wagon, they will have to fall back on their own inadequate devices to determine right from wrong. Surely, being mere humans (although claiming the apex of creation), we cannot possibly have any way to determine right from wrong without the omniscient guidance of a God - Great Sky-Father - who himself exhibits the manners and ethics of a spoiled child.

By Schuyler DuQuesne (not verified) on 12 Jun 2007 #permalink

I'm sorry, James Collins, but it's just too difficult to take you seriously. You claim that evolutionists claim that life began by chance, which may or may not be true in some cases, but is hardly what evolution is about; so you show your ignorance in the very subject you're trying to prove yourself superior in. And you seem to think yourself superior to tens of thousands of intelligent, educated people in their field of study.

Get this straight: evolution doesn't need abiogenesis. Go ahead and start with a poof of starter organisms and evolution will be content. Give us a panspermia to start things off and evolution will be content. You're not just starting off on the wrong foot, you're trying to use a foot that doesn't exist. It's painful to watch and it's tiresome.

And here's another thing: even if evolutionists (why evolutionists?) made a new organism from scratch, it still wouldn't convince people. It wouldn't. People don't just dislike abiogenesis (and stupidly taint evolution with it), they also hate common descent and so-called macroevolution and carbon dating (which is just as off-base as the abiogenesis thing). "You need to convince us of evolution by making an organism by scratch" would change to "that's not convincing enough" overnight. I guarantee it.

Oh, and Walla? I'm dying to know if that's intentional. Is it? Par lay voo fron say?

Reply to James Collins post:

I am a believing and practicing Christian who is totally confused with your post.

The theory of evolution isn't about the creation of life and never was. It is about the modificaton of life that already exists. It is a naturalistic explanation of the observed world that God has given us.

All scientific theories are just a framework that attempts to make sense of the observed data. They are never cast in concrete but are subject to modification or replacement whenever a better framework is proven.

I don't Believe in gravity, I don't Believe in general relativity and I don't Believe in evolution. I accept that these are the current best explanations of the data from history and research that can be tested and possibly proven false.

This takes nothing away from my faith in God or in my appreciation of the awesome world that he created. If anything, descoveries of fossils and research into the Big Bang theory seem like a wonderous peek into God's Creation.

Don't let anyone tell you that the world God created lies. What you see is real and it is science that is mandated with the task of observing, recording, testing and trying to make sense of it.