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Recent polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy – what do they really show?

The recent North American polls I’ve seen recently show several key trends:

1. Both evolution and creation are widely accepted, and the distribution of numbers is roughly stable over the years. No dramatic proof or disproof of Darwin’s theory that would change many minds has occurred. That said, it is quite likely that many people believe contradictory things.

2. Americans are (or think they are) well aware of the arguments on either side, and generally do not want the issues politicized.

3. Canadian responses differ markedly from American ones in several ways, principally because the issues have not been politicized in Canada. The reasons why they have not are worth noting.

Newsweek Poll, March 31, 2007

In Newsweek’s breathless prose:

Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.

Now, as I noted in By Design or by Chance?, and elsewhere, most human history about which we have any significant information is compressed into the last 10,000 years or so. Support for the view that “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years”should not necessarily be equated with support for young earth creationism (the universe/the earth is only 10,000 years old) – though it usually is. While comparing the responses to this question year by year is convenient for pollsters, it artificially inflates the apparent numbers of young earth creationists. Here are the numbers.

One person who agrees with me is David A DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University and author of Unraveling the Origins Controversy. He writes to say,

Actually, one of the problems with surveys of this type is that people are extremely confused on the subject of origins. Many of them actually believe mutually exclusive things. We have been doing creation worldview assessments at LU for several years and have published several studies on it. One of the surprising findings is the fact that there are a number of students who would agree with all of the following statements:

Adam and Eve were real people

God made Adam directly from the “dust of the earth”

All living things share the same common ancestors

God made all living things in six 24 hour days

The dinosaurs died millions of years before man existed

Noah’s Flood was global in extent and effect

The geologic column shows evidence of millions of years of history

The universe began with the “big bang” about 14 billion years ago

and so on

People often don’t realize that some of their beliefs are contradictory. A common belief is that evolution of all living things happened but God made Adam and Eve separately. This is because of the way worldview development occurs. It is not in the linear manner that worldview definitions and list would lead us to believe. It is through a hodge-podge interactive hypertext manner with a smorgasbord of different beliefs. Sometimes I ask people who say they believe that God made everything in 6 24-hr days if dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. They have to think about it because they reflexively say no, dinosaurs died millions of years before man, but this contradicts what they just said.

Steve Deckard and I developed an instrument to measure a young earth creationist view. It asks a number of questions and quantifies the strength and consistency of the young earth view. We give this as a pretest and post-test in our creation course at Liberty University.

If there really were 45% of Americans that believed God specially created man roughly 10,000 years ago and all that this implies, evolution would not be so dominant in our society. The problem is that they believe both. .

That sounds familiar to me. Most people live in hypertext. Mind you, it’s not clear which side the confusion helps more.

While we’re here, asking questions about creation-evolution at the same time as asking a whack of questions on political topics encourages “culture wars” stereotypes. But for budget reasons, it probably can’t be helped.

Gallup Poll USA, 2007 06 07

In the responses to this recent poll of 1007 Americans, 44% said evolution is false and 31% said creationism is false. Eighty-two percent claimed to be familiar with evolution (and 17% not familiar), and 86% claimed to be familiar with creationism (and 13% not familiar). Over half of registered voters said that a presidential candidate’s views would make no difference, and 70% did not consider the issue relevant.

These figures are quite interesting because they indicate, on the one hand, a high level of public interest (based on the small numbers who claim to be unfamiliar with the terms) and a broad consensus that it is not a political issue.

David DeWitt adds, concerning the Gallup poll,

One of the observations in the recent Gallup poll is that >60% said that the
creation statement was definitely or probably true and 53% said that the
evolution statement was definitely or probably true. It is funny because the
creation statement says 10,000 years and the evolution says millions of years.
That reinforces the point that people are confused about the subject even though they don’t realize it.

(Note: I would be interested to know Gallup’s rationale for “evolution” vs. “creationism”, as opposed to “evolution” vs. “creation”. The two terms are obviously not balanced. If the intention is to advantage evolution and disadvantage creation, I wonder how that affected the poll results?)

Canadians pretty evenly split on human origins in 2007

Decima polled Canadians, reporting July 3, 2007:

Here are the Canadian responses to the 2007 question by percentage, along with the US figures to a similar series of questions in brackets:

- Less than one in three Canadians (29%) believe that God had no part in the
creation or development of human beings. (US: 13%)
- Fewer still (26%) believe “that God created human beings pretty much in their
present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”. (US: 46%)
- A plurality, but still only 34%, say that “human beings have developed over millions
of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process”. (US: 36%)

Not only are Canadians pretty evenly split, but the ones most likely to credit God are middle-of-the-road voters. This is not good news for anyone who wishes to politicize the controversy in Canada.

One factor that differentiates Canada from the United States, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is this: While Canada is a more secular country, it also allows tax-supported religious schools under certain conditions. As a result, the number of people who feel compelled to be in a fight over what students are taught is, inevitably, lower.

All this information will be added to the file of polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy.

It’s too bad if we have to admit that we really don’t have a good theory of how evolution happens, but apparently we really don’t.

A physicist recommends some fun online “evolution” games.

More surprising information from neurosurgeon Mike Egnor’s caseload about how people can manage with greatly reduced brains.

Buddhist psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz on why The Spiritual Brain is different frm your average book condemning materialism

Alexander Solzhenitsyn on fear of death

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One Response to Recent polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy – what do they really show?

  1. I don’t see why the burden of proof is on IDists to prove what most people, all over the world and througout time, already believe, as shown in these polls. http://outrageoracle.blogspot.com/

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