Most Americans Still Creationists

Most Americans Still Creationists June 5, 2012

Gallup has been taking polls for 30 years now giving people three options for their beliefs on human evolution: 1) humans evolved over millions of years but guided by God; 2) humans evolved over millions of years on their own; 3) humans were created by God in their present form in the last 10,000 years. And little has changed over the decades. 46% believe that humans were created by God in the last 10,000 years; 32% believe humans evolved over a long period of time with God’s guidance; and 15% believe humans evolved without divine assistance.

The plurality clearly doesn’t know anything about the human fossil record; if they do, they have to engage in some serious rationalization to get rid of the evidence rather than explain it. We have an excellent series of fossil species leading from earlier ape-like animals to modern humans that show the evolution of all the key traits of humanity — bipedality, dentition, brain to body size ratio, etc. — that can’t be explained rationally with either the creationist or theistic evolutionist position.

How would they explain it? Was God just practicing? Is God so limited that he had to work his way up, making an almost-almost-almost human, then an almost-almost human, then an almost-human and finally Homo sapiens? This is how humans often create things, of course, but it seems rather odd for an infinitely powerful being. The young earth creationists have the most absurd argument of all, which is that every hominid species is either obviously ape or obviously human, though amusingly they can never agree on which specimens belong to which group.

Of course, the vast majority of those answering the poll, and the vast majority of Americans in general, are utterly ignorant of all the evidence and have no understanding at all of how evolution operates. They wouldn’t know Homo habilis from homo-eroticism. If they were intellectually honest, 90% or more would answer “I don’t know” to such a question because, in fact, they don’t know. They don’t have the first clue. But they think they do.

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  • imrryr

    How would they explain it? Was God just practicing?

    I’d make a joke about how obviously the answer is “Satan did it to deceive us all”, but it makes me wonder how many creationists actually believe something like that. Probably not too many would be my guess.

  • tricycle

    And now, more news from Dunning-Krugeristan.

  • Stevarious

    May I refer you to the ‘Satan Is a Dick’ theory?

  • Doug Little

    WTF, this is just depressing, 46% of the American population are fucking morons, we are all doomed.

  • anandine

    Doug Little, it’s worse than that. 46% are clearly morons, and another 32% are half-morons, and 7% are ignoramorons. On the issue that underlies all of modern biology, 15% got it right.

  • baal

    While the news is pretty awful, it’s dangerous to assume the words used had their meaning conveyed. It’s possible to even likely that the question was heard as how in the religion tent are you? 1)middle of the road 2) flaming evil scientist 3) with god. Being in the middle position like that also tends to depress rate for that choice. It would help to know if their methodology rotates the positioning. The scaling of the words is off as well (what points on the continuum do the view lie and does the continuum of positions make sense). Anywho, don’t rely too much on the specific language; it’s not how public questiony stuff works.

  • thisisaturingtest

    Is “I don’t know” an option in this poll? Don’t most polls have an option that amounts to “no opinion”? I think a poll without such an option would be dishonest in itself, in not allowing an honest answer, by forcing an incomplete range of choice on the respondent.

    Ok, answering my own question- from visting the link in Ed’s article, it appears “I don’t know” is not an option. I wonder what the results would have been had it been allowed. Maybe it wouldn’t look so bad, the creationist answer wouldn’t be so high in proportion, if folks were allowed to honestly say “I don’t know,” indicating a need for more education, rather than willful ignorance.

  • abb3w

    I’ll also note the latest poll was taken May 10-13, right after president Obama’s May 9 gay marriage shift. The impact of the latter on the news cycle may have primed people to more religious thinking, leading to the twitch in numbers from the ID/TE position to the YEC/OEC position.

    The attitude shift over the last three decades looks to remain at best glacially paced, with occasional seasonal variation.

  • freebird

    Creationists who claim academic integrity always remind me of psychopaths who practice emotive facial expressions in a mirror. In order for their agenda to be successful, they have to successfully imitate an entire dimension of human emotion they cannot possibly understand. All you have to do is scratch the surface by breaking their script to see they’re fakers.

  • cptdoom

    To be honest, the “evolved with God’s guidance” position seems so broad as to be meaningless. This could be everything from God deliberately altering an ape to create a human to the belief that the universe is God’s creation, has set rules and evolution is one of them.

  • lofgren

    As usual I wonder how much of this would shift with slight prompting. I mean, how many of that 46% would change their answer if you said something like “Really!?” And how many more would follow if you said “You know Jericho is more than 11,000 years old, right?”

    It doesn’t change the fact that they are clueless. But I’m not sure they are really the virulently ignorant the way that true problem creationists are. Just people being passively ignorant, or possibly just haven’t bothered to really think about the timescales of world history in a way that leaves an impression. Some education might help, but I learned about chemistry in high school and I’ve forgotten most of it. Ask me about valences or the periodic table and I wouldn’t be able to give a good answer. Give me a multiple choice question and I can’t guarantee I would suss out the right answer.

    Make it a question about economics and I can almost guarantee that I would have at least a 33% chance of getting it wrong, and my worldview would almost certainly play at least as big a role in determining my guess as it does for that 46%. But if you look at me like an idiot (and I trust you even a little) it would very likely prompt me to reconsider my response.

    I would bet that we all have something that we are that ignorant of and yet remain unaware of our ignorance. The folks who visit this blog feel that evolution is especially important because we like science and because evolution is a touchstone in the culture wars. But it’s not necessarily that important to most other people. Not that this news isn’t disheartening but without knowing how committed these people are to their error it’s hard to know what this means, other than that we need better science education in this country (which would probably be true no matter what the results of this poll were).

  • naturalcynic

    @ turing:

    I beg to differ. One thing that religionists seem to have is a sure knowledge that what the Bible says is true. And it can’s be any other way. I would imagine that many of the 32% in the theistic group might be hedging some bets, but that leads to the apparently unanswerable questions about: If so, how much of it is divine intervention, how can we tell or how it was done.

  • Taz

    If they were intellectually honest, 90% or more would answer “I don’t know” to such a question…

    But that would make the baby Jesus cry!

    …God deliberately altering an ape to create a human…

    By shooting a soul into him with his turkey baster of love.

  • Doug Little

    anandine @5,

    I was going to give the guided evolution people a little credit as this is at least not YEC. But I’m having a hard time swallowing the fact that 46% of the people polled are YEC.

  • thisisaturingtest

    naturalcynic: I agree that all “religionists” are deluded to some degree. The question is the degree of that delusion; and I think your assumption is the same mistaken one that the poll makes by leaving out the “I don’t know” option- that they’re all in either one camp or the other. In fact (this is anecdotal, I know- but so, essentially, is a poll), I’ve known religionists (to stick with your term) who are religious because they “don’t know.” These are the folks who would answer honestly “I don’t know” to the question (and probably add, “and don’t really care, either”). I give these people credit for doubt they would admit to, where the poll demands a certainty they may not actually have.

  • Sastra

    One of the most successful strategies used by the creationist is the jedi-mind-trick of repeating and repeating that “scientists” are divided on the “controversial” issue of evolution. When people who don’t have much invested in a particular scientific finding think there’s not a lot of consensus either way, they’re more likely to jump into their tribal loyalties — in this case, religion. Or, perhaps, social or political class.

    I’d love to see the question asked this way: “If scientists are correct about the theory of evolution, would you believe God must have worked through evolution — or would you renounce Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

    I’m not sure what the responses would tell us, but I’d love to see the question asked that way.

  • wscott

    I don’t have much of a problem with the 32%; I’m willing to overlook their need to believe in a higher power as long as it doesn’t interfere with their acceptance of actual evidence. It’s the 46% that makes me cry.

    The question I would be curious to hear some pollster ask is: Do you believe that animals evolved over millions of years? I’d bet a large chunk of that 46% have no trouble with the concept of animals evolving, but their Sense Of Specialness can’t handle the idea of humans evolving from animals. Paging Dr. Dissonance, Dr. Cognitive Dissonance….

  • Childermass

    The numbers it gives for YECism should taken if with a grain of salt as the poll ignores the existence of old-earth creationism. Admittedly most special creationisms are of the young-earth variety, but to ignore a position contrary to all listed options and is held by non-trivial part of the population is just bad polling. It would be more informative if they asked the age of the Earth and whether evolution is true separately.

  • latecomer

    What’s interesting is that fundies like to claim that 1 of the main reasons we lagging behind n science is because of those evil liberal/commie/atheist teachers forcing evolution down our throats, yet studies like this refute that accusation since if 46% of Americans don’t accept evolution at all, then evolution can’t be the cause. Not theat fundies really care about logic and evidence anyway.

  • Gallup’s poll on abortion showed a similar recent and unexplained spike in the percent of people calling themselves pro-life. As with the creationism/evolution question, the numbers have historically been very steady, and while there have been long-term changes, they have been very slow, basically imperceptible from year to year. And then suddenly… poof, a several point jump. This is a little hard to believe.

    I suspect that Gallup may be having a hard time adjusting to the ongoing domination of mobile phones, and the model they’re using may not properly sample mobile-only users (who are younger, more urban, more liberal, etc.). Otherwise, we have to assume that since 2011, which is less than one year ago, a whopping 6% of the population flipped beliefs towards religious conservatism for no apparent reason, and in defiance of all other evidence.

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  • abb3w


    The numbers it gives for YECism should taken if with a grain of salt as the poll ignores the existence of old-earth creationism. Admittedly most special creationisms are of the young-earth variety, but to ignore a position contrary to all listed options and is held by non-trivial part of the population is just bad polling. It would be more informative if they asked the age of the Earth and whether evolution is true separately.

    Back in 2002, the Cleveland Plain Dealer polled in Ohio using a five-way question, YEC/OEC/ID/TE/AE. Ohio is very US-median — income, relative degree of party ID, racial distribution, religiosity, et cetera — so makes a plausble proxy for the US as a whole. Their numbers indicated a 2:1 YEC/OEC ratio, with the percentages together roughly equal the numbers from Gallup’s creationism response (and the ID+TE corresponding to Gallup’s “God guided” response).

    As the overall numbers haven’t shifted much in decades, I’d presume the ratio between YEC/OEC hasn’t changed much. So, the 46% probably breaks down about 31% YEC, 15% OEC.

    That’s not much better.