Belief in Evolution Up Since 2004

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The number of Americans who believe that human beings evolved without influence from God has increased since 2004


Yesterday was the 88th anniversary of the decision in the famous Scopes Trial. In the case, John Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher, was charged with teaching evolution, then against the law in Tennesssee. The trial attracted national attention, becoming a focal point of conflict between religious "modernists" and "fundamentalists". While Scopes lost the trial, the event is considered a watershed moment in American public opinion, with support for evolution among the establishment becoming the norm following the trial.

Questions regarding evolution have continued to divide America over the past century, but new YouGov research reveals the number of those who believe that humans evolved with no influence from God has increased since 2004.

Overall, 21% of Americans believe that "human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process," while 25% believe that "human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions, but God guided this process" and 37% believe that "God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years".

Written By: Ben Henderson
continue to source article at today.yougov.com

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  1. The figure for the number who accept evolution, even if God smiles benignly on the process and interferes from time to time is even more important. Those people are rejecting biblical inerrancy — the biggest evil. They are willing to accept the scientific method to determine what happened. That number would be even more encouraging.

  2. Up since 2004 but arguably down since 1900. I think the scientific community has to share the blame for the low number of people who know about evolution. More of them need to come down from their Ivory Tower and teach.

    Imperial College has a course on teaching science, because many academics lack the skills to communicate or disseminate the knowledge they’ve gained.

    • In reply to #2 by Stafford Gordon:

      Imperial College has a course on teaching science, because many academics lack…

      I don’t know how things are handled elsewhere, but in France we are evaluated solely on research. So long as you show up and are mildly competent about the subject matter, how involved you get in your teaching has no influence on your career.

      On the contrary, getting involved means spending more time, doing less research, publishing less, and thus actively harms your career.

      This is compounded by the fact that most undergrads just want the diploma and have little interest in the subject matter, especially when it gets theoretical (I’m in compsci), so when you do get involved, it’s often disappointing.

      So yes, the quality of teaching in academia is extremely variable, because it rests on the individual fortitude of the professors, with very little external incentive to do more than the minimum. Actually none at all; it’s just the warm and fuzzy feeling you sometimes get when a student “gets it”. Thankfully there are generally a handful of genuinely interested students.

    • In reply to #2 by Stafford Gordon:

      Up since 2004 but arguably down since 1900. I think the scientific community has to share the blame for the low number of people who know about evolution. More of them need to come down from their Ivory Tower and teach.

      I strongly disagree, we’ve been sending kids to schools forever and evolution hasn’t changed, pun intended, for teaching purpose since it was described by Darwin. What has changed is the massive organised religious lobby that was created by the cold war and solidified by the likes of Reagan into a massive political power. Religion is the only requirement of public office despite it literally being not a requirement. The academics can stay in whatever towers they have funding to be in, this is a much simpler level of science understanding we’re talking about – besides the people in the ivory towers have been hard at work on my smart phone and all the cool new space and science stuff so don’t distract them, let alone blame them.

      I am excited at the “new atheists” more aggressive approach to combating the religious nutters but I wish we didn’t need a cure for this mind virus.

    • In reply to #2 by Stafford Gordon:

      Up since 2004 but arguably down since 1900. I think the scientific community has to share the blame for the low number of people who know about evolution. More of them need to come down from their Ivory Tower and teach.

      Ivory Tower? To my knowledge, most scientists DO teach. Certainly, most scientists who work at universities have teaching duties that take a fair fraction of their time and many of them still do public outreach in their local community without compensation. That is certainly true at my university. I don’t understand the perception of “Ivory Tower scientists”. It is not like we are actually hidden without publicly available office and lectures every week.

  3. It seems like unnecessary nonsense to me, but if people feel the need to think that God gave the whole process the odd nudge in the right direction, provided that they accept the main outlines of evolution over vast spaces of time, by (more or less) natural selection, well…why worry?

    That saving grace (irony intended), to keep God in the picture will give them comfort, but it won’t last for too long; the next generation or two won’t bother much about that sort of belief/comfort.

  4. and 37% believe that “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years”.

    A monument to failed science teaching! – certifying gross incompetence in biology, geology, astronomy, physics, and Earth sciences.

    • In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

      and 37% believe that “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years”.

      A monument to failed science teaching! – certifying gross incompetence in biology, geology, astronomy, physics, and Earth sciences.

      Two points to be fair. You can’t blame university lecturers for the general ignorance in society; unless you can prove that a significant number of science graduates are holding on to these irrational beliefs, which I doubt you can. Second, you can’t ignore the cultural aspects of education as it pertains to schooling. Any educationalist will tell you that the parents have a huge influence on what a child thinks regardless of what is being taught in school. A teacher in the bible belt might be working far harder than one in say New York, providing a higher quality of lessons and still fail to get through to their students.
      The answer to this is not to pass the buck to teachers but for every well educated person to get involved with the debate at a local level. That will prove a more effective catalyst for change.

      • In reply to #9 by mr_DNA:

        In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

        and 37% believe that “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years”.

        A monument to failed science teaching! – certifying gross incompetence in biology, geology, astronomy, physics, and Earth sciences.

        Two points to be fair. You can’t blame university lecturers for the general ignorance in society; unless you can prove that a significant number of science graduates are holding on to these irrational beliefs, which I doubt you can.

        I was referring to a failed education system, rather that singling any particular sector out for “blame”.

        (Evolution is taught in science in UK state schools – and there is no choice about it.)

        Second, you can’t ignore the cultural aspects of education as it pertains to schooling. Any educationalist will tell you that the parents have a huge influence on what a child thinks regardless of what is being taught in school.

        Very much so, but schools are there to correct and challenge parental ignorance!

        A teacher in the bible belt might be working far harder than one in say New York, providing a higher quality of lessons and still fail to get through to their students.

        They certainly could be.

        The answer to this is not to pass the buck to teachers but for every well educated person to get involved with the debate at a local level. That will prove a more effective catalyst for change.

        Very much so. ( been there – done that) – but what is important, is for the educated with expertise to participate at high enough levels to make a difference – and to take the muppets who work their way on to committees.

        National and local government also has considerable responsibility in enforcing standards and academic integrity.

      • In reply to #9 by mr_DNA:

        You can’t blame university lecturers for the general ignorance in society; unless you can prove that a significant number of science graduates are holding on to these irrational beliefs, which I doubt you can. Second, you can’t ignore the cultural aspects of education as it pertains to schooling. Any educationalist will tell you that the parents have a huge influence on what a child thinks regardless of what is being taught in school. A teacher in the bible belt might be working far harder than one in say New York, providing a higher quality of lessons and still fail to get through to their students.

        Very true. As an astronomer, I do my best to spend time conveying an interesting and accurate perception of astronomy, but it is very difficult to change the mind of someone who has been indoctrinated since childhood and who feels that his or her identity, life and future and predicated on the rejection of science at all cost.

  5. A big problem in this country is even finding textbooks which directly refer to evolution. Because they sell to christain and state schools many textbook authors refer to adaptation but don’t mention darwin by name or his theory. They certainly don’t highlight that evolution disproves the literal stories of the bible. People keep saying teach the controversy. I say bring it on. I try repectful to tear the arse out of any creationsist dogma that gets spat out in my science classes.

    • In reply to #6 by Reckless Monkey:

      A big problem in this country is even finding textbooks which directly refer to evolution. Because they sell to christain and state schools many textbook authors refer to adaptation but don’t mention darwin by name or his theory. They certainly don’t highlight that evolution disproves the literal…

      We had this discussion some time ago when Alan4disucssion had an extended go at me. I completely agree with you, the way to teach science, is to show how the scientific method was able to replace older belief systems by using observation, experiment and logic. This has the effect of placing science where it belongs, into a cosmological, intellectual and a social context.

      Teaching Darwin without teaching about the biblical creationist myths (you don’t have to do any more than lay them out, half a lesson maximum, and then show how they were gradually demolished in D’s mind), is like teaching Hamlet and leaving out the Ghost. It also leaves you wide open to challenge from people who say that you are scared to tackle the word of God. Also, it’s a bloody exciting story, the Beagle, the Falklands, riding with gauchos, the Andes, earthquakes, Pacific islanders, Aboriginal corrobories in Albany…

      I had a mate who taught science. He used to spend one lesson driving the students mad by claiming that the world was flat. Every objection they had, he could answer, he had them tearing out their hair. What a brilliant way of teaching them how to spot and counter bulldust pseudo science, much better than just pretending that it doesn’t exist.

      • In reply to #11 by Kevin Murrell:

        Teaching Darwin without teaching about the biblical creationist myths (you don’t have to do any more than lay them out, half a lesson maximum, and then show how they were gradually demolished in D’s mind),

        What an effective strategy that you could unfortunately never use until you don’t really need to. When would you slip it into a ciriculum that is controlled by the popular opinion of people with vested interest in promoting religion, you could have the class after the “comparative religion” class that they won’t let you teach either.

        I’m encouraged by the recent tranche of education guidelines in the “land of the free” but I very much doubt they are free to teach that there is any problem with the bible.

        • In reply to #22 by alaskansee:

          In reply to #11 by Kevin Murrell:

          Teaching Darwin without teaching about the biblical creationist myths (you don’t have to do any more than lay them out, half a lesson maximum, and then show how they were gradually demolished in D’s mind),

          What an effective strategy that you could unfortunately ne…

          A problem I agree.

          I taught in Australia, but not science. Things were easier there, provided you taught the syllabus properly, you could teach what else you liked, within reason, being careful if anyone noticed, to use the term “enrichment.”

          I used to teach technical writing amongst many other things, which of course involved; teaching about objective observation, which involved the role of Aristotle in medieval scientific thought, which involved how Aristotle achieved his position of unassailable prestige in medieval thought, which involved teaching about transubstantiation and substance and accident, which involved Galileo and the weights off of the leaning tower of Pisa, which involved various experiments and group think/obeying authority (Milgram, 1963; E. Noelle-Neumann, 1974: Asch, 1955: etc).

          Eventually that got to the need to write science and technology in the third person. I don’t know where it got us, but the students always enjoyed the half hour trip through two and a half thousand years history, and maybe it lit a candle somewhere in their brains, and maybe it gave some of them something to think about. Maybe it gave some of them a nudge towards thinking for themselves, I don’t know. It was an unmeasurable component of the educational non curriculum. Anyhow, from their reaction, it was certain that no science or history teacher had covered those most essential subjects for a truly informed and independent mind.

          • In reply to #23 by Kevin Murrell:

            I may be wrong but I believe “enrichment” is one of the fundies strategy so I am nervous of teachers teaching anything other than a well researched and approved curriculum. In my youth I imagined that a (ever) school curriculum was evolving as societies knowledge and understanding improved, I had never imagined political interference from a conservative privatizing government let alone a crazy christian right wing. A wing so crazy that it would in a presidential nomination bid criticize “college education” as it lead children away from faith.

            These guys have gone so far up their own arses they can’t even hear themselves and my head is about to explode.

            Currently they have the critical mass, organisation and energy to make a serious and worrying difference. The further we go down the harder it is to get back and we couldn’t openly teach evolution in comparison to creationism as we wouldn’t want them to teach creationism in comparison to evolution the way they want. We want their shit out of our class as much as they would want a loud atheist out of their church service.

            In reply to #22 by alaskansee:

            In reply to #11 by Kevin Murrell:

            Teaching Darwin without teaching about the biblical creationist myths (you don’t have to do any more than lay them out, half a lesson maximum, and then show how they were gradually demolished in D’s mind),

            What an effective strategy…

          • In reply to #24 by alaskansee:

            In reply to #23 by Kevin Murrell:

            I may be wrong but I believe “enrichment” is one of the fundies strategy so I am nervous of teachers teaching anything other than a well researched and approved curriculum. In my youth I imagined that a (ever) school curriculum was evolving as societies knowledge a…

            I gave you a “like.” Don’t know the answer to your point. Soldier on…when I said that you could lay out the bible account of creation in half a lesson, I was correct, that’s all it would take. Xtian creationists would not last much longer, but good science teachers have years worth of lesson plans to explain the narrative. As a creatonist teacher, what would you do with the rest of the year, once you had laid out the bible account of creation?

            Milton said, “who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” I still think that is correct. In spite of all the money, organisation, threats and mendacity of the opposition, they are still only fighting a rear guard action, and they are not very good at getting honest teachers sacked or creationist teaching taken seriously.

            I believe in well researched curricula, though I have seldom encountered one, but that surely can’t be the begining or end of teaching. The extra you put in is perhaps the best that you will ever teach, and the best that they will ever learn,. Leave the destruction of the pseudo scientists and chancers to the kids. We don’t have that much power anyhow.

  6. “human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions, but God guided this process”

    that’s a start. if it means they’re not scared to accept evolution they can start being curious again. a typically biblical thing that goes on in evolution is global disasters, very god-like and if xtians want to believe god wiped out, say, the dinosaurs with an asteroid it opens the question, at what point did god shove the asteroid into an intercept trajectory? was it just before they died out (i.e. he made a MISTAKE and had to do something about it!) or was it, as scientists would accept, on a long path from the beginning of the solar system, in which case god planned everything in advance so doesn’t interfere. these are the sort of questions that science loving kids brought up as christians ask themselves on their way to acceptance of atheism in my experience.

    an increase since 2004..? my guess is this has a lot more to do with popular science books hitting the best sellers than improvements in education. 2006 was a very good year for example

  7. Posing the question this way implies science is a matter of personal belief, comparable to religious beliefs.

    Furthermore, the expression “human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years” exposes a misunderstanding of the evolutionary process. Apparently people can’t help but see evolution as a ladder, humans being the final product. This misconception understandably allows the question “why are there still monkeys”. What do they mean “less advanced”? Ok, in this case they are not calling other contemporary animals less advanced than us, but is it just about the point in timeline? Is it fair to say all life forms that predate us were less advanced? We have less durable bodies, less powerful limbs and much weaker hearing and eyesight than many of our ancestors. How about the cavefish, is it now more advanced than its ancestors having lost its vision altogether? After our technology, culture, societies and human life as we know it is gone, are the possible sad remains of humanity more advanced than their 21st century ancestors, whatever our future descendants are like?

    Is it a trick question? Did they allow “None of the above”? Or am I being a bit Aspergerian here?

    • In reply to #10 by ColdThinker:

      I actually like the “why are there still monkeys” question because it is easily refuted and opens up a discussion about the tree of life. People can easily grasp the idea that life has branched out over its history, and that humans and our monkey cousins evolved on separate lineages from a common ancestor (who resembled a modern monkey).

    • In reply to #10 by ColdThinker:

      Posing the question this way implies science is a matter of personal belief, comparable to religious beliefs.

      I agree with your post, ColdThinker, so maybe we’re both on some spectrum somewhere. I can get a little uncomfortable using the term evolution itself, not because I don’t believe in change due to natural selection, but because the term implies some sort of hierarchy or goal or, as you describe, ladder. Talking about a “belief” in evolution, coupled with the way they described our ancestors as “less advanced”, just seem all sorts of wrong to me. It makes more sense to ask, “do you accept that change can occur due to natural selection”, or something of the sort, implying that change isn’t even necessary, just possible. Sharks certainly feel the pressure of natural selection, and they haven’t changed much at all in recent years.

      I’m not sure whether a more rigorous approach would help or hurt our goal. The word “evolution” is loaded with all sorts of baggage, it might make sense to go with something else. (I’m thinking of Dawkin’s anecdote, paraphrasing: it’s fine that you don’t believe in god, but an atheist!?!)

      • In reply to #14 by karen.sieradski:

        I can get a little uncomfortable using the term evolution itself, not because I don’t believe in change due to natural selection, but because the term implies some sort of hierarchy or goal or, as you describe, ladder

        There is a difference between the way we use terminology in every day life and the way we use them in science. Inflation has a very specific meaning in physics related to but different than what the word in general means. The Big Bang wasn’t really a bang in the sense of matter propelled through space via force because it was space-time itself that was “banging”. And the same goes for evolution. If evolution (the scientific term) means ladder to you the you just don’t understand it yet.

        I see people spending endless time debating “should we use this word or that word” and it seems like a complete waste of time to me. Read some of Steven Pinker’s books on language, language is fluid, definitions change constantly, the important thing isn’t picking the right magic word for what we call evolution, we can call it Foo Bar and someone somewhere will think its a place you can get Foo drinks. The important thing is define your terms unambiguously and use them that way and to clearly communicate those ideas in a way that most people can understand.

  8. I don’t like the part about “…God did not directly guide this process….” It is just the best of a bad lot of choices–every one of the three choices provided still kept God in the picture. If there were a fourth choice, one that made it clear that there was no deity involved at all, the picture would not appear as rosy as the numbers look at first reading.

  9. Red Dog, I do understand that evolution doesn’t mean “ladder” or what not, there was no need to make it personal. We’re not talking about discussing evolution in a scientific setting, we’re talking about discussing it with the general public. And I have read Pinker, thanks.

  10. A woman from one of the homeschool groups we belong to was lamenting on the group message board that the summer science class she signed her child up for was okay, but a little too “evolution centered” for her taste. I just wanted to scream “that’s because it’s a SCIENCE class and not religious studies!” I could be mistaken about her viewpoint because I have met people who reject evolution as a valid theory for explaining life on our planet, but don’t necessarily follow the creationist view either, at least outwardly. I have yet to engage them in conversation to find out what they really think happened to create the massive biodiversity we have on Earth. Maybe it was aliens.

    • In reply to #19 by Neodarwinian:

      ” Belief in?!? “

      Indeed, I cringe when the word “belief” is used with “evolution” with regard to acceptance of the theory and its principles. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the phrase “I believe in gravity”, or thermodynamics, or particle physics, etc. etc.

  11. I hope to get some fed back from some of you on this question:

    Recently I was debating with a theist on-line about evolution. In the heat of this discourse I related to him the story of my son who was born with a radial club hand(no thumb, no radius bone either). I equated this “genetic defect” to an example of evolution at work. This story cause the theist to back off his position and pretty much ended the debate.

    In retrospect I wonder if I perhaps overstated my case. My question is: Are what we today refer to as “genetic defects” really examples of evolution at work?

    Thank you all.

    • Evolution consists of repeated iterations of mutation followed by selection pressure. The genetic defect is a mutation. The selection pressure is probably present, but we cannot know exactly what outcome selection pressure will have in the case of your son. This is a very visible example of the mutation part of evolution at work. If your son was born with no obvious defects, he would still be an example of evolution at work. We are all examples of evolution at work. Evolution is not always obvious when viewed over very short periods of time. If your son had been born with a genetic defect that killed him at a young age, evolution (in the form of eliminating that genetic defect from the world population) would have been seen in just one generation.

      In reply to #27 by RonE:

      I hope to get some fed back from some of you on this question:

      Recently I was debating with a theist on-line about evolution. In the heat of this discourse I related to him the story of my son who was born with a radial club hand(no thumb, no radius bone either). I equated this “genetic defect” t…

      • In reply to #29 by Chuck Johnson:

        Evolution consists of repeated iterations of mutation followed by selection pressure. The genetic defect is a mutation. The selection pressure is probably present, but we cannot know exactly what outcome selection pressure will have in the case of your son. This is a very visible example of the muta…

        Genetic “defects” occur. I don’t like that term, start again. Genetic changes occur. That’s better.

        The genes are carried on much larger, more complex organisms. If the genetic change advantages the host organism, then it is likely to survive better than its non-advantaged colleagues. Those of its progeny which carry the advantageous change will also prosper, eventually outbreeding and outlasting those who do not carry the changed gene.

        If the change is neutral, it will be eventually spread or not spread through the population, by happenstance, as the name Smith spread through the English population, to become the most common name.

        If the change is really disadvantageous to the host, then it will quickly die out.

        In the primordial state, your son’s changed gene would probably have been a disadvantage, but in our society, with familial care, and easier living conditions, it will probably make little difference to his chances or those of his children.

  12. Aaaah! One does not “believe” in evolution!
    A person either: has never encountered the concept, accepts and understands it, or rejects it (for whatever reason). Leave “belief” for the religious.

  13. One step at a time, especially for those 37% that believe, “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years”. Get them accepting the Theory of Evolution first, then work from there to the faith nonsense. This would of course incorporate learning the meaning of the scientific use of the word ‘theory’, a whole other kettle of fish for many of that 37%, who think it is just an ‘idea’ that has popped into someones head.

  14. Fundies such as Ray Comfort are busy trying to discredit evolution and attacking Richard Dawkins.
    See https://www.facebook.com/evolutionvsgodcom.
    I have tried putting a few comments on his FB page promoting real science instead of Comfort’s pseudoscience. For my troubles I have received nasty replies from fundies, quoting the bible and suggesting I’m a son of the devil.
    I shouldn’t be surprised, after all Christians have been persecuting scientists for centuries. Just ask Galileo!

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