NPR asks why so many people have trouble accepting the theory of evolution, and reports on survey data that shows a direct correlation with educational achievement. The lower one’s level of formal education, the more likely they are to reject evolution, and vice versa.
The evidence is clear, as in a February 2009 Gallup Poll, taken on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, that reported only 39 percent of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent don’t have an opinion either way.
The same poll correlated belief in evolution with educational level: 21 percent of people with a high school education or less believed in evolution. That number rose to 41 percent for people with some college attendance, 53 percent for college graduates, and 74 percent for people with a postgraduate education.
Another variable investigated by the same poll was how belief in evolution correlates with church attendance. Of those who believe in evolution, 24 percent go to church weekly, 30 percent go nearly weekly/monthly, and 55 percent seldom or never go.
Not surprisingly, and rather unfortunately, religious belief interferes with people’s understanding of what the theory of evolution says.
This should hardly come as a shock to anyone. I think there are two primary reasons why people reject evolution: mundane ignorance (they simply don’t know enough about it to understand it) and virulent ignorance (they have swallowed whole a large set of falsehoods, mostly religious, that make them believe they understand it when they really don’t).