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I regularly read articles a few years old to see if their original projections panned out.
Such an article was a Nov. 19, 2015, piece in Slate by Rachel E. Gross titled “Evolution Is Finally Winning Out Over Creationism: A majority of young people endorse the scientific explanation of how humans evolved.”
The good news is that, in 2021, evolution is still winning over blind faith. Somewhat. The not-so-good news is that even a lot of people who believe in the scientific factuality of evolution still cling to God and the biblical idea that He must at least have had something to do with the process.
But, in my opinion, the good news is more compelling, if not by a lot.
The Slate article begins:
“Few issues have divided the American public as bitterly as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Since On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, it has driven a wedge between those who accept that humans and this planet’s other inhabitants have evolved over time, and those who believe that our species was created in its current form with no alterations. While the majority of people in Europe and in many other parts of the world accept evolution, the United States lags behind. Today, 4 in 10 adults in America believe that humans have existed in our present form since the beginning of time, and in many religious groups, that number is even higher. This is woeful.
“Now, at long last, there seems to be hope: National polls show that creationism is beginning to falter, and Americans are finally starting to move in favor of evolution. After decades of legal battles, resistance to science education, and a deeply rooted cultural divide, evolution may be poised to win out once and for all.”
As with the steep upward trend in increasing irreligiosity in the U.S. — led by the surge in numbers of so-named “nones” (people who claim no religious affiliation) — a primary driver is young people. The Slate article cited a then-recent Pew Research Center report asserting that 73 percent of American adults under the age of 30 “expressed some sort of belief in evolution.” That was a jump from 61 percent in 2009, the first year Pew posed that question.
The surge in younger people embracing evolution is “quite striking. … We’re moving in the right direction,” Brown University biologist Kenneth R. Miller told Slate. Miller had served as an expert witness the landmark court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, which banished “intelligent design” (a form of creationism) from public school classrooms in 2005.
Although young people are in the vanguard of this de-faithing trend, they are not the whole story. By 2014, Slate reported, the overall fraction of Americans who in 1999 said they believed in wholly secular evolution had more than doubled — from 9 percent to 19 percent, according to a according to a 2014 Gallup poll. Much of that change came from Americans who previously believed evolution was a divinely guided progressive process but had since come to an alternate secular conclusion. By 2014, only 31 percent of the evolution-but-with-God’s-help group still retained a divine assumption about evolution. Initially, 40 percent did.
Even as early as 2014 America was manifestly becoming less religious, Slate reported. Fifty-six million citizens by then were self-identifying as “nones,” meaning as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” on national surveys. That was a huge jump of 19 million since 2007, according to a 2014 Pew survey. Thirty-six percent of young adults between 18 and 24 then identified as nones, and the number of religiously unaffiliated millennial adults (roughly born 1981-1996) was then “growing fast,” surveys showed.
Fast forward to 2021: A Gallup Poll released in the summer of 2019 reported that 40 percent of adult Americans then ascribed to “a strictly creationist view of human origins, believing that God created them in their present form within roughly the past 10,000 years.” However, the report continued:
“… more Americans continue to think that humans evolved over millions of years — either with God’s guidance (33%) or, increasingly, without God’s involvement at all (22%).”
Although the die-hard creationists have maintained a steady proportion of the population into 2021, recent surveys show more nuanced views are starting to predominate. As stated above, the divine-evolution crowd lost significant numbers to those who came to believe God was uninvolved, while the secular evolution group grew.
Also boding poorly for American religiosity and divine-evolution views, recent polls indicate that people who attend church regularly and don’t have college degrees skew sharply toward religious belief and creationism, while church backsliders and college grads are moving sharply away from organized religion and toward wholly scientific understandings of reality.
The 2019 Gallup Poll found that among the 56 percent of Protestants who attend church at least weekly, 68 percent believe God made mankind in the form it retains today. On the other hand, 59 percent of nones believe in nondivine evolution. A similar split was revealed between college grads and those with less education.
As Americans are increasingly earning post-secondary degrees and also shunning church affiliation and attendance, the handwriting seems to be on the wall.
While this is all good news for American secularists, indicating a continuing trendline away from religion, led by the young, there is a fly in the ointment:
Gallup found that even among college-educated adults — including among nones and believers — “more believe God had a role in evolution than say it occurred without God.”
So, this is no time to relax in the campaign to promote reality in American life.
Don’t forget, there’s still tens of millions of our countrymen — even after he incited a riot at the U.S. Capitol that killed five, and his manifold other sins against God and crimes against humanity — who actually believe Donald Trump was sent by God to save us.
Clearly, there’s still a lot of work to do.