Weird Evolution Poll Results in Australia

Public rejection of evolution and acceptance of creationism is not quite as much of a problem in Australia as it is in the United States, where nearly 50% of Americans say that humans were created by God directly in the last 10,000 years. But this result in a recent poll has me baffled:

A national survey reveals that one in eleven Australians do not believe in evolution — and three in eleven think that humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. The survey, conducted by Auspoll for the Australian Academy of Science, was intended to assess the level of science literacy in Australia. The survey used the same questions as a previous poll of Australians conducted in 2010 and the California Academy of Sciences in 2009…

In the 2013 survey, 73% of respondents said that “The earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs” (presumably “non-avian dinosaurs” was intended) was false while 27% said that it was true; “people with less education and older people” were the most likely to say that it was true. In 2010, 70% of respondents said that “The earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs” was false while 30% said that it was true.

Also in 2013, 70% of respondents agreed that evolution is occurring, 10% said that it is not currently occurring, 9% said that they do not believe in evolution, and 12% were not sure; “men and people with higher education” were more likely to agree. In 2010, the figures were very similar, with 71% agreeing that evolution is occurring, 8% saying that evolution is not currently occurring, 10% rejecting evolution, and 11% unsure.

So 9% say they don’t accept evolution but 27% say they think humans lived alongside dinosaurs. Then I’m afraid 18% have no idea what they’re talking about. You can’t accept evolution and think that humans and dinosaurs lived together, not if you have any idea what evolutionary theory actually says. If human beings lived 65 million years ago, before any of their primate ancestors lived, then the theory of evolution has to be false.

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  • robert79

    The categories: “No, I do not think evolution is currently occurring”, “No, I do not believe in evolution” and “Not sure” add up to roughly that 27%.

    I’d have to see the actual data instead of the summaries, but I’d guess they would explain the dinosaur factor.

    Also, the labels by the axes only mention “age”, while the title mentions “age and education.” I suspect we’re not seeing the full data.

  • It’s not unusual for people to give completely contradictory answers in a poll. It’s also not unusual for several percent to agree with something even if it’s completely insane — you can ask literally any far-out question, and a certain percent will say they agree. All of which goes to show that a large fraction of people either don’t understand the questions or don’t give serious answers.

  • exdrone

    I accept the science of evolution, and in as much as far-right conservatives are amongst us, I believe that humans are currently living with dinosaurs.

  • John Pieret

    So 9% say they don’t accept evolution but 27% say they think humans lived alongside dinosaurs.

    Aussies really like Raquel Welch?

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    I think it’s perfectly plausible that there are people out there who accept that evolution is true but have no grasp of the timeline involved.

  • otrame

    Maybe those 27-9% were talking about birds. We do live with birds. I have one sitting behind me right now, providing sound effects. (He loves playing Guild Wars 2 and provides theme music.)

  • Ben P

    This is almost certainly not the reason for the poll results, but I thought it interesting to mention that The Megalania a 4m, 150kg+ monitor lizard lived in Australia at a time when it co-existed with the aboriginal population, there was also the Quinkana, a 5-7 meter crocodile that went extinct some ~40k years ago, as well as saltwater crocodiles that live today.

  • Doug Little

    I agree with Sigurd @5. You can definitely accept a consensus position but have little or no idea of the details of that position, instead deferring to the experts in the field. You would probably come up with a similar result on all sorts of scientific positions.

  • To be fair, if you lived in Australia your views on evolution would be pretty messed up too.

  • eric

    Agree with @5 and @8 – seems a pretty innocuous mistake. Misordering events in deep geological time is a huge step upwards compared to creationism.

  • Abby Normal

    Of course humans and dinosaurs lived side by side. I saw it in that documentary, Caveman, with Ringo Star.

  • Karen Locke

    Even people who can intellectually understand that dinosaurs lived before people have trouble getting their heads around Deep Time; though I was a geology student, it took me a couple of semesters to truly grasp it.

  • kantalope

    The Flintstones are real to 30% of Australians? No wonder the Wilma or Betty arguments in the pub are so heated.

  • Brain Hertz

    So 9% say they don’t accept evolution but 27% say they think humans lived alongside dinosaurs. Then I’m afraid 18% have no idea what they’re talking about.

    You mean 27% have no idea what they’re talking about, surely?

  • anubisprime

    WTF are they teaching in Aussi?

    I am a little surprised the flat earth controversy was not an issue!

  • Michael Heath

    Modusoperandi writes:

    To be fair, if you lived in Australia your views on evolution would be pretty messed up too.

    I recently finished Bill Bryson’s highly entertaining and informative travelogue about Australia. Your quip here resonates especially well with the weirdness Bryson reports.

    Particularly enjoyable was Bryson’s reporting on the large number of species in Australia that can kill a person.

  • Tough situation, because in Australia, humans aren’t really at the top of the food chain.

  • Childermass

    Mere acceptance of evolution does not mean that one is knowledgeable about it or about the fossil record. So I too will agree with the fifth comment. As strange as the notion of a non-avian dinosaur and man living together is to someone who is scientifically literate is, it should not be surprising that many don’t get it right. How many times have polls shown that a very large chunk of the population does not know that the Earth orbits the Sun in a year?

    I would gladly have the U.S. and Australia swap their poll numbers in any event.

  • meg

    @otrame – glad it’s not just me! My cockateil used to imitate the machine guns from whatever game I was playing. It was considered a sad indictment on how much time I spent on those games. . . Discovered he doesn’t care for crowd noises though.

    I did once come across a creationism stand at a local festival once. (Granny Smith for any Sydneysiders) I was debating arguing with the guy running it, but a bunch of 12 year olds started on him. They were pretty ruthless. It was a wonderful site.

    Also worth mentioning is the fact that when it comes to serious stuff, we like to poke fun at it. I could see a number of people I know giving contradictory answers just to annoy the pollsters. Now, if it were about sport . .. .

  • Rip Steakface


    That’s great, but there are living dinosaurs right now. They’re called birds.

  • Michael Heath

    Birds are descended from dinosaurs, they’re not dinosaurs.

  • lofgren

    Birds are descended from dinosaurs, they’re not dinosaurs.

    Depends on who you ask, and what version of cladistics they adhere to.

  • Thumper; Atheist mate

    Those numbers smack more of a misunderstanding of evolution, and more importantly of geological time, than they do of evolution denial, though. So that’s still alot better than having over 40% of the country being young-Earth Creationists.

  • bushrat

    I’m thinking that 18% is a pretty low estimate of people that don’t know what they’re talking about.

  • Nick Gotts

    Birds are descended from dinosaurs, they’re not dinosaurs. – Michael Heath

    On the other hand:

    Birds are dinosaurs – American Museum of Natural History

    Now, who to believe? Tricky, tricky.

  • gertzedek

    It’s probably to do with the whole Flintstones-style “cavemen living with dinosaurs” image that’s burned into the popular psyche. There’s nothing explicitly contradictory about the statements “Early humans lived alongside dinosaurs” and “Humans evolved from lesser species”; it’s just that the fossil record supports one and not the other.