Only 25% of Americans are creationists

Last year Gallup published a survey investigating how many Americans accept evolution. The results were quite disconcerting, revealing that 46% of the American public are actually young earth creationists, a greater number than in 2010. Despite all the pro-evolution books, all the effort invested in improving the science curriculum belief in creationism has actually risen in recent years.

The results of Gallup surveys

The results of Gallup surveys

However, when the 2008 Gallup poll on the subject was published 3 researchers wrote a critique of Gallup’s methodology, raising issues Gallup has yet to fix. The crux of their criticism was that people who “don’t know” or are “undecided” tended to fluctuate between full blown creationism and theistic evolution.  If a particularly large number of these “swing believers” swing in one direction, this can unrealistically inflate the number of creationists in America.

So these 3 researchers conducted their own study. It was basically the same as Gallup’s, except they added “I don’t know” and “undecided” as possible options (Gallup only has a “no opinion”. Given this is such a divisive issue I think the number of people with no opinion will be small). Of course, there’s no guarantee this will catch all the swing believers.

So, to try and further reduce the number of faux creationists, these researchers also asked follow-up questions about whether or not participants agreed with various creationist statements, such as humans and dinosaurs living side by side. The thinking being that someone who isn’t really a full blown creationist will not necessarily agree with these positions, helping weed them out.

Their survey confirmed their suspicions, showing that many “creationists” were really undecided or didn’t know the answer. Even amongst those who did claim to be creationists, most didn’t believe in the creationist statements. In fact, over half of all US creationists believed that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Hardly a young earth position.

When all of this is taken to account these researchers arrived at the conclusion that only 25% of the American public are actually proper creationists. Although this number is still far too high, it does suggest that the situation isn’t quite as hopeless as the Gallup results do.

And in the fight against nonsense, I’ll take all the hope I can get.

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28 thoughts on “Only 25% of Americans are creationists

    • I read another survey a while ago that found only 10% of American science teachers are creationists. I remember thinking “that’s not so bad” and had to actually remind myself that this number is still stupidly high. Especially given these people are meant to be teaching SCIENCE

      • That is not by far as stupid than a limited person like you becoming once a science teacher… andthe goal of those polls/surveys meaning… what?? An obsession, a vocation, a problem with the father figure??
        God!!! Believers still have doubts, but pseudo-scientists are very sure about what they say, although we practically know NOTHING fully relevant. And we all know what category of people never have doubts… need to be clearer?

        • There is a persistent problem with science education throughout our culture, which is quite troubling given how crucial science is to our development. The goal of these polls is to investigate this issue, hopefully leading to improvements.

          Perhaps it is a bit of an obsession, but so it should be. Science has taken us from powered flight to permanent outposts in space in less than a century. It is a pursuit worthy of our attention.

          And for the record science (including evolution) is based on doubt, skepticism and investigation. Claims of dogma are the last refuge of people whose pet theories have been repeatedly shot down.

  1. 10% of American science teachers being creationists is a shocking number, even more shocking than the 25% in the general public (which is, in itself, shocking enough). 10% in positions of authority can do an awful lot of damage.

  2. It is unfortunate that 10% of science teachers are creationists, but when you consider that about 9% of U.S. kids attend religious schools (not including the additional 3% that are homeschooled – although presumably their parents aren’t counted in that study), it is less shocking.

      • No, it should only be (theoretically) secular schools. Unfortunately, what experience I’ve had interacting with school teachers suggests that even those who would like to teach evolution more intensively are frequently not confident enough to do so, especially in the face of parent criticism.

      • In the USA, public schools are the schools that are funded and operated by the government.. These would be the schools that would be subject to constitutional restrictions on teachings that interfere with the Establishment Clause. So it would be unconstitutional to teach Biblical Creationism as a scientific notion.

        Private schools are schools where one pays tuition to attend. Parochial schools are private schools run by religious institutions. Home schools are where kids stay home and are taught by their parents. Neither private, parochial nor home schools are subject to constitutional restrictions on what they teach.

        As a rule, the teaching of evolution in public schools is spotty in its quality across the country. Teachers may not understand it that well, or they or their administration may be intimidated by some of the anti-evolution parents in their school district.

        So ironically, the most consistent high school biology education, including evolution, comes from Catholic parochial schools where they are not intimidated by the parent’s beliefs and their doctrines acknowledge the role of modern science.

        • Even here in Britain many faith-based schools have a good reputation, and more often than not it is deserved. Mostly for the reasons you present, they simply don’t have to worry about the obstacles that many other schools do.

          That said, from what I hear the sex ed in these places can be appalling.

  3. I’ve probably said this before but science is a radical activity by evolutionary standards, even for humans. For most of human existence the possibility of actually, really understanding how just about anything works was negligible. You know that being hit with a club might kill you, but you had no idea why. It just kinda happened. However, having beliefs or stories about clubs and bodies, and food, and predators was extremely valuable so we made them up, told them to others, remembered them, and used them. The brain is a belief engine. A good story was not one that was factually correct; it may be *incidentally* correct, but maybe not. A good story is memorable and it motivates you towards survival behaviour and sexual success. There’s no fundamental reason why it can’t be complete bulldust. A good story is one that you, you kids, your tribe are alive to repeat in a decade.

    Think of a mobile phone. People pretend to understand them but at least 75% of the population would not have a clue how they really work. It doesn’t matter, they have stories about what they do, and can more-or-less use them. That’s how humans do it.

    In very recent evolutionary time, science was invented. The idea was not just to collect workable stories but to subject them to destructive testing and only keep the ones that survived everything thrown at them. This is a radical activity in a number of ways. Firstly, it breaks the traditional ways of knowing. You aren’t kitted out for science by evolution, it requires years of training. Secondly, science requires an economic surplus to do all this testing. If you are starving, you don’t have time to run relentless experiments to eliminate errors. Working knowledge gets your breakfast. Science is a product of the industrial revolution because the industrial revolution generated food surpluses that allows time to be wasted in labs.

    Thirdly, science is radical in the possibilities it open up. Looks around. The natural world is transformed by science: machines, materials, communication, medicine, the Internet, and so on. All made possible by science. But you don’t have to believe in evolution to benefit from these things. If that was the deal, creationism would be long gone. But it isn’t.

    For most people, most of the time, mythology rules. Science actually uses our capacity for mythology and narrative, but with the added ingredient of destructive testing. This is the modern way of doing things – radical, expensive, powerful – but it’s up against the force of the past. The narrative style of knowledge, is actually a living fossil, built for tougher times, embedded in our brain processes. Should we be surprised that it doesn’t “get” evolution?

    • Despite this many countries don’t have such a huge problem with evolution. Don’t get me wrong, science is hard to wrap your head around but it’s clearly not impossible; and we’re clearly capable of having the vast majority of people accept evolution. This makes me think that there’s something going on in American beyond the inherent difficulty that comes from science.

  4. Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

    • As I’ve had to say several times on this thread, I’m not American. But based on my understanding allowing creationism back into schools would be unconstitutional. If you can, challenge it (or point it out to people who can, like the ACLU). If you can’t, keep mocking it with pretty pictures.

      • Adam,
        You are correct. It would be unconstitutional to teach Biblical Creationism in an American public school. There are a number of watchdog groups that track the status of this kind of legislation all across the country in each state. If they actually get signed into law, there will be considerable activity to see it challenged in Federal Court.

        After the recent landmark case in Dover, PA, there is a good precedent set for striking down laws that allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design creationism. But this requires that a law go into effect and then someone in the school district challenges the law. Although it would be a state law, or a state board of education guideline, it would be the local school board of that school district who would be charged with the offense. And if they lose (which they almost decidedly will), the school district will have to pay the legal fees, which in the case of the Dover, PA school board, it was a million dollars.

        The legislators know that these laws are probably unconstitutional, but they are hoping they will be challenged and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. And they hope that the “supremes” will decide in their favor thus setting a national precedent for such things.

        Most of this legislation is sponsored and organized by PR/Lobbying firm called The Discovery Institute. Although they are the driving force behind this, they tend to abandon the school board at the last minute and not get involved when the going gets tough.

        What will usually poison this kind of legislation right away is that its proponents, using secular sounding material from The Discovery Institute won’t be able to disguise their religious motivation. And in a heated discussion will give it all away, like the school board members in Dover who said they were defending Jesus. So if it makes it to court, it will be shot down quite quickly on constitutional grounds.

        Also, mocking will happen regardless.

        The best source for tracking this kind of legislation is the National Center for Science Education.

        http://ncse.com/

  5. Dear Adam, thanks for this post! This is very interesting data that I hadn’t seen before, but having some understanding of how the media works (I’m a small-town journalist myself), I don’t find it all that surprising. I’m a Christian who believes evolution and an ancient universe are compatible with the Bible as long as you read it the way it was meant to be read (which, in some cases, means “not literally”). I’d be honored if you and any of your interested readers checked out my blog sometime. It’s at http://www.godofevolution.com. Thanks again!

    • In fairness the study is getting on for 5 years old, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most people haven’t heard for it.

      As for your site, it’s very nice to hear Christians talking about evolution in a positive light outside of Ken Ham et al.’s straw men. And it’s well written to boot!

      That said, I’ve never found the claims of theistic evolution particularly compelling since they either tend to involve hamstringing evolution to make God relevant (ala intelligent design), inventing new mysterious to make God relevant (such as souls). Or they make God unnecessary.

      Now I’m not Jerry Coyne and I’m not going to argue that evolution is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity (except the hamstrung views, because they’re just wrong) just that none of these approaches strike me as particularly compelling reasons to believe. If you still want to then I have no qualms with it

      • Hey, thanks for the reply! My philosophy is to let scientists do science, and let everyone be free to discuss, think about and ultimately choose what they believe when it comes to spiritual matters. I mostly agree with your assessment of theistic evolution. That’s kind of why I don’t really like calling myself a theistic evolutionist (although I sometimes do because it’s the most common descriptive term). But I do think there’s value in at least a few voices demonstrating that the anti-evolutionists aren’t even as faithful to the Bible as they like to claim they’re being, and that the simple fact that evolution happened does not necessarily mean God doesn’t exist any more than the facts of gravity or the water cycle do. Thanks again for the response!

        • Speaking of being faithful to the Bible, I heard something the other day and I would be interested if you could shed light on the subject.

          As you probably know, YECs are quite fond of citing references to Genesis by other Biblical figures as evidence a literal belief in Genesis is key to Christianity. And the original Hebrew associated with God resting on the 7th day refer more to stopping work than being actually tired.

          However, one of the later references to Genesis they like to cite (I believe it’s in Isaiah) uses the phrase for “got tired out.” So either Biblical figures viewed Genesis metaphorically, their inerrant literal Bible has made a mistake or creating the world really did tire God out.

          At least, that’s how it was explained to me. Is this claim valid at all?

          • Hey Adam, that’s a new one for me, sorry to say. However, there are other examples I know of in which biblical figures clearly inferred metaphorical meanings from Old Testament scriptures, including Genesis. One of the most obvious is in Galatians 4:24, in which Paul is discussing Sarah and Hagar, the wives of the Genesis figure Abraham. Many modern translations soften that verse’s introductory clause, but the most straightforward interpretation of the original Greek appears to be “These things are allegory…” (I think the KJV and the NASB are the closest to this). Young-earthers don’t generally like it when I point out that even the writers of the Bible themselves seemed to have no problem ascribing allegorical meaning to what might otherwise appear to be a historical text.

            • Quoting a verse that is literally saying “this is an allegory” is a lot easier than my rather long winded example. I’ll be shamelessly stealing that example if I ever wind up discussing the subject again.

          • Hey Adam, cool! Please do! Whomever you’re discussing the subject with will may say something like, “Well that’s not what my Bible says,” because they probably read the NIV or the ESV, which soften the translation for theological reasons (in my opinion, anyway). Just point them to the KJV or the NASB, or even the RSV.

            • I went and had a look at a few of the alternate editions (isn’t the internet great) and even a few of the “softer” translations seem to be rather damning. To me as an outsider, at least.

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