Only 14% In US Believe In Evolution — That “Humans Developed Over Millions Of Years”

Interesting article about the theory of evolution, “Unfinished Business,” in The Economist. The article reports, “In the United States a Gallup poll conducted last year found that only 14% of people agreed with the proposition that ‘humans developed over millions of years,’ up from 9% in 1982.”

The article says, “Since Darwin’s birth, the natural world has changed beyond recognition. Then, the modern theory of atoms was scarcely six years old and the Earth was thought to be 6,000. There was no inkling of the size of the universe beyond the Milky Way, and radioactivity, relativity and quantum theory were unimaginable. Yet of all the discoveries of 19th- and early 20th-century science—invisible atoms, infinite space, the inconstancy of time and the mutability of matter—only evolution has failed to find general acceptance outside the scientific world. Few laymen would claim they did not believe Einstein. Yet many seem proud not to believe Darwin.”

This article reminded me that Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln have the same birthday. Both will have their 200th birthday this February 12


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7 comments to Only 14% In US Believe In Evolution — That “Humans Developed Over Millions Of Years”

  • Stan Hirtle

    Evolution raises theological problems that quantum mechanics does not. As concepts get further from human experience, people can and do tolerate a lot of inconsistencies as long as they don’t affect their lives. Most everyone believes in science when they turn a switch and expect a light bulb to come on, and fundamentalist Texans who look for oil are buying in to an evolution based explanation of the universe rather than a creationist one. So are people who seek medical treatments that presuppose evolution.

    Cultural issues and questions of how we should treat those in our lives are important to us. Quarks, supernova and the big bang are mostly irrelevant to things that are important to us. The science we do encounter can often seem fickle and untrustworthy (what is good for you or bad for you changes from day to day), and perhaps more complex than what what we originally thought. We have limited comfort with uncertainty. Plus people are optimistic and like to be generous and keep options open, so many believe in horoscopes, UFOs and Elvis sightings, as well as other miraculous and supernatural things.

    In addition, polls and surveys about things like this are often questionable because people may not mean the same things, because people form relationships with polls and often say what they think the pollster wants to hear or what they think is expected, and because polls can be worded in ways that suggest particular answers.

    Underlying this is humankind’s search for meaning and value in a society that does not always produce it.

  • Joe

    Americans might lead on that they are uninformed, stupid, etc… but when it comes to the “theory” of evolution and that we are descended from apes or all life started in some primordial soup, Americans want proof, absolute proof. Since no absolute proof has been brought forth for their examination the result is doubt or disbelief. Evolution will have it’s day when the “missing links” are found in the fossil record, or maybe I should have said, if they are found.

  • Stan Hirtle

    Lots of “links” have been found, though of course then they are no longer missing. People who don’t want to accept this can always demand more links between the things we have found. It’s a little like the math problem that you can always find a number halfway between any two numbers you pick. Since there wasn’t a videotape running as life developed and fossils only happened to a miniscule proportion of creatures that have lived, “absolute proof” is not possible. DNA research is the frontier in the area now, but people aren’t going to believe that either. And while you can show some evolution like things happening in living things and perhaps do some reactions that create building blocks of living things in a laboratory, you can’t duplicate a millions of years of evolution in a laboratory.
    No one has actually seen DNA or electrons or waves or quarks or a lot of other things. We can’t directly experience them. People infer their presence from observations and experiments. You can’t explain quantum mechanics to most people if anyone in words, only in math. People accept these things and live assuming they are true until some better theory replaces them.

    Other aspects of science don’t generate the resistance that evolution does because they don’t threaten things we care about. Evolution raises all sorts of questions for human existence, many theological. What kind of God would operate in that cruel way? Is this the God the Bible describes? Is such a God just or loving? If we can not believe in a God which operates through evolution, what restrains human evil? Should people operate to each other in a dog eat dog fashion? Are the people on top in society the fittest, and do they therefor belong there? (so called Social Darwinism). And of course social issues. Don’t people who believe in evolution look down on those who don’t? Isn’t that what the Scopes “Monkey trial” was about? Isn’t that what the argument has been about since?

    At some level opponents of evolution want to establish the view that evolution and their religious views are nothing more than competing faith statements entitled to equal weight. While belief in evolution and the scientific method that produced it is in a sense a faith statement, faith that science works in explaining the natural world (while not the meaning or value of that world or of human existence) is something that pretty much everyone shares. When we turn on a light switch we believe a light will go on. Therefor faith statements that deny that reality do not have equal weight. This is not to say that everything is explained or understood, or may not be better explained or understood in the future.

    Isn’t the actual evolution statement that apes and people have a common ancestor, not that people evolved from apes?

  • Joe

    My statement was Americans want proof; we want proof in the unknown such as, UFO’s, evolution, belief in our fellow human beings, etc… I only said that is why only 14% of Americans believe in the theory of evolution. The debate on climate change is another example in which competing scientist voice conflicting theories based on their interpretation of facts. It is a shame the public, who funds most of these “intellects”, cannot get a complete and accurate representation of theory of evolution. Instead, we have researchers who are funded by tax dollars who year after year change the interpretation of the evidence to suit their needs. I only have to bring up how many times caffeine and coffee has been proven through a multitude of “studies” to be either good or bad for you. It just depends on who is doing the study and how much they are receiving in government funds.

    You state: If we cannot believe in a God which operates through evolution, what restrains human evil?

    Your infer belief in God operating through evolution restrains human evil. I must have missed the restraint of human evil. Many in theological circles would argue man is evil because God is absent in his conscience. On the other hand, did evolution evolve man and his capacity to inflict so much evil? If evolution has designed man’s evil, then we may not have a very bright future for further evolvement. On the other hand, many would argue a just God would not allow man to be so evil.

    Should people operate to each other in a dog eat dog fashion?

    In my opinion, this occurs at least 50 per cent of the time. Is this the lack of conscience or evolutionary design?

    I am open to the theory of evolution but for me to believe, although I am not from Missouri, I must be shown more proof.

  • Stan Hirtle

    Has anyone proved that UFOs exist? But many people seem to believe that they do. No one has proved that they don’t, of course. And it may be impossible as a practical matter to do so. But people don’t just believe because it is possible but because it does something for our psyches.

    Climate change is a political issue in part because the businesses that don’t want it accepted as a problem had friends in the Bush Administration who stifled the science politically. You can’t of course prove what the climate would have done without human interference, and in fact the climate has changed naturally over the millenia. You can prove what people have done highly likely to add to global warming, and measure that there has been an extraordinary amount of overall warming in recent years. I’m not sure anyone has self interest in claiming that global warming is happening, but certainly there is a lot of self interest in not making cars and power plants fuel efficient and with less CO2, and then pocketing the money they would have had to spend.

    There is also a kind of macho “we don’t care about the environment” culture that is popular in conservatism. This seems to have fueled the irrational Bush Administration desire to drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge despite the minimal oil to be found there that could not be reached from elsewhere.

    As to the various changes in what is good for you and what is bad for you, I agree some and that is why I said “The science we do encounter can often seem fickle and untrustworthy (what is good for you or bad for you changes from day to day), and perhaps more complex than what what we originally thought.”

    I do not think anyone believes that God is successful in restraining all human evil, but many believe that belief in a god is important to either scare people into being good or at least convince them that goodness has some inherent value that overpowers the temptations of wealth and power. As to whether peoples’ religious inclinations are the result of evolution, or whether our evildoing results from evolution (books like Selfish Gene and African Genesis promote ideas like this. Some may argue that altruistic cooperative and and sacrificial behavior can also result from evolution) these may remain to be shown or may remain the subject of speculation. Why people do evil, whether a God can be all powerful, all good and all loving and the extent that God intervenes in human affairs remain vexing theological questions which people deal with with concepts like original sin, free will, and for Christians the idea of God’s redemptive sacrifice through Jesus. None of these are slam dunks for satisfaction.

    “It is a shame the public, who funds most of these “intellects”, cannot get a complete and accurate representation of theory of evolution. Instead, we have researchers who are funded by tax dollars who year after year change the interpretation of the evidence to suit their needs.” I understand that the theory of evolution is pretty solidly accepted bhy scientists although not by lay people. Whether it is “complete and accurate” may be a definitional issue, as it is not clear any science is either of these things. And whether “suits their needs” means their need for fundoing, as Jeff suggests, or are searching for some explanation of the mechanism of evolution, which would seem legitimate.

    One interesting question is whether the “intelligent design” theory can define itself with some valid scienntific process instead of philosophical speculation. How do you define intelligence and design in some recognizable way that makes it amenable to science, particularly to exclude “non-intelligent” developments over long periods of time? Complexety is not the same as intelligence. Of course intelligent design is in theory compatible with evolution being the means of the design, although I suspect those who adhere to it are all no votes on your survey.

  • Joe

    Absolute conservatism believes stewardship of our natural resources is mankinds responsibility. Climante change has occurred throughout time. If you were born and raised in Ohio and watch the weather, you will notice during the summers of the 1930’s hold most of the high temp. records to this day. Climate change is a fact. What is not a fact is if man has, and the key word here is has, played a part in its change. Unfortunately Stan I work two jobs and I am too tired right now to offer any contradictory points to the rest of your statement but I will take them under advisement. Thanks for the conversation.

  • Linden

    Joe, The Theory of Evolution (which does not try or claim to address the origins of life) has so much categorical unassailable evidence how can it be denied? If you can find a way to live a million years you can have absolute proof, otherwise the evidence shows this happening, you can see it for yourself. Also evolution and faith can easily be married, and is by the majority of Christians that i know

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