2012 Gallup Poll on Evolution

This year, as in prior years, the Gallup Organization has conducted a public opinion on evolution and creationism. They announce at their website that In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins.

We discussed the previous Gallup poll on this subject here: Aaaargh!! New Gallup Poll on Creationism.

Gallup’s article on the latest poll begins with news that will either thrill you or chill you — depending on your point of view. They say, with bold font added by us:

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

Forty-six percent of Americans are young-earth creationists (YECs). That’s almost half of the population! Another 47% or so accept evolution, but that includes 32% who are theistic and 15% who are non-theistic about it. We recall from somewhere that about 15% of Americans are atheists or agnostic, so that figure makes sense.

They give you the precise question they asked:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings”

1. Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.

2. Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.

3. God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.

The question is flawed, because the two versions of evolution (with and without God) both refer to “millions of years,” but the creationism part of the question says “within the last 10,000 years or so.” There’s no option for old-earth creationists. If those folks answered, they probably opted for theistic evolution, because it’s godly and old-earth, although they may have gone flat-out for the young-earth form of creationism. There’s no way of knowing.

Then Gallup presents a chart showing the answers to that same three-option question that they’ve asked eleven times since 1982. The full-blown, young-earth segment has bounced around within a narrow range. It’s 46% now, but it was as high as 47% back in 2000, and it was only 40% in 2010. The non-theist evolution segment has actually shown a steady rise, starting at 9% in 1982 and more or less increasing each year to today’s 15%. Theistic evolution (over millions of years) has occupied the space between those two, from a low of 32% this year to a high of 40% in 2000.

Gallup also reports that the more religious one is, the more likely he is to be a young-earth creationist. No surprise there. Sixty-seven percent of the YECs were weekly church-goers. Those who seldom or never attended church were 26% of the atheist evolution responders, and they were 38% of the theistic evolution responders. In other words, whether theistic or not, 64% of those who accept evolution tend to stay away from church.

They also broke it down by political party. 58% of the YECs were Republicans, but another 41% were Dems. In other words, there’s a substantial percentage of both parties who are YEC, but the percentage is higher in the GOP. Actually, the numbers make no sense, because if you add up both of those groups you get 99% of the responders, yet another 39% of the YECs are independent. It’s either a miracle, or we’re not reading properly.

They also break it down by education, into four groups: high school or less, some college, college graduate, and postgraduate. As expected, the YEC responders are the least educated (52% of them are in the high school or less group), and the atheist evolution group have the most education (42% have postgraduate degrees). But a surprising 25% of the postgraduate group are YECs. Perhaps they have divinity degrees, but we don’t know.

You can read the reaction to this by our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) here: The latest Gallup poll on evolution.

So what do we conclude? Well, we’ve been through this before, so we’re not surprised. If half the population is YEC, it’s good to remember that half the population is also below average in intelligence too. Anyway, that’s America — creationists, from sea to shining sea. Half of us, anyway.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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26 responses to “2012 Gallup Poll on Evolution

  1. Realist1948

    We hear a lot lately about the U.S. lagging far behind many other countries when ranking student achievements in the study of science. The Gallup Poll results do not bode well for improving this sorry situation. How are teachers supposed to succeed in teaching science, when nearly half of the kids’ parents or clergy-critters are teaching them creationist fairy tales at home and in church?

  2. Ceteris Paribus

    Realist1948 says: “[n]early half of the kids’ parents or clergy-critters are teaching them creationist fairy tales at home and in church”

    It would be interesting to look at the changes in demographics between the 1982 and 2012 surveys. A reasonable conjecture would be that the 80 million increase in US population during that 30 years is likely more attributable to the numbers of children produced by the ‘quiver full’ fundagelicals than the numbers of offspring of all the other groups.

    In that case, the fact that the distribution of poll answers has changed relatively little in 30 years may be cause to think that the propensity for rationality is actually on the increase.

  3. Curmudgeon: “Forty-six percent of Americans are young-earth creationists (YECs).”

    That’s not true, but not good news either. In a poll that unequivocally asks the age of the earth, only ~20% thought it less than 10K years old. Thus ~1/2 of those who choose the (IMO obnoxiously worded) “God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” are old-earthers, and not necessarily even young-lifers. Many might be “thinking souls, not cells” and not even deny common descent. More importantly, and just as bad as if all were YECs or flat-earthers, the great majority of Americans, including most who accept evolution, theistic or otherwise, are extremely confused and disinterested. Most don’t know a cell from a molecule. Or the Paleozoic from the Paleocene.

  4. Curmudgeon: “There’s no option for old-earth creationists. If those folks answered, they probably opted for theistic evolution…”

    I would disagree even if I hadn’t seen that other poll that contradicts that. OECs, like YECs, first and foremost object to evolution. The very word turns them off, so they (the great majority of them) would not choose that option no matter how much God is emphasized. Especially since it implies common descent. Their aversion to “coming from monkeys” alone would make them avoid that choice. And as I speculate in the last comment, even some theistic evolutionists might ironically avoid the choice that most accurately describes their position. As you know, most people answer these questions on emotion, not reason.

  5. Realist1948

    CP – Don’t forget the millions of people who immigrated to the U.S. in the past 30 years. Nearly 9 million people did so between 2000 and 2009. I don’t have the figures handy for the preceding two decades. Clearly this includes a significant number of Catholic Hispanics, who I’d guess would tend to believe the creation myth. OTOH, there are a lot of folks from Asia, who I’d expect to be less inclined to believe the Genesis story.

  6. retiredsciguy

    Very thought-provoking analyses, all. Thanks for the interesting reading!

  7. OTOH, there are a lot of folks from Asia, who I’d expect to be less inclined to believe the Genesis story.

    Asians, immigrant or not, make up less than 5% of the US population. And many of them do believe the Genesis story: 40% of Koreans are Christian, as are 90% of Filipinos. Asians from China, India, the Phillipines, Vietnam, and Korea are only 18% of the 40 million foreign-born people living in America–you can’t count on them changing the creationism numbers much.

    I don’t have statistics, only anecdotes, but immigrants that I have known from Asian countries are much more likely to be Christian than their home countries. Some convert when they get here, because they want to be more American. Some were Christian before they came and were more comfortable coming here because of that. When I was living in Pullman there was more than one Christian church whose congegrations were Korean and held services in Korean.

  8. Don’t make too much of the current bump up, all the variation since 1982 is within the bounds of error (+/- 4%).

  9. @Tomato Addict:

    Exactly what I was thinking. Though the fact that that “stasis” occured as the evidence for evolution, particularly on the molecular side, increased dramatically is quite alarming. Though much of the evidence is too technical to understand, a lot has trickled down to the popular press. That tells me that we’re not doing our job as well as the scam artists are doing theirs (which is, albeit, far easier). Another poll that I saw a few years ago, which gave “unsure” as an option, had that increase threefold (~7 to 21%) in ~20 years. That tells me that the ID scam, with it’s emphasis on doubt of evolution, and not on belief of literal Genesis (any of the mutually contradictory versions) has sound bites that are catching on. The “I hear the jury’s still out” one is particulary worrisome, as it suggests an increasingly postmodern attitude and/or suspicion of science even among non(scriptural)literalists.

  10. Here’s another analysis that, on the surface looks encouraging, but as one digs deeper, finds nothing to celebrate, and a lot of work that still needs to be done:

    I often note that only ~1/2 of the ~46% is irreversibly in denial of evolution. That’s based on several polls that measure strict literalism. Though that ~25% may overlap a lot with the ~20% that is strictly young-earth, there’s no reason to think that the strict literalists are any more young earth (not just young life) than the ones who don’t give it 5 minutes’ thought. So it’s more like 10-15% that is both irreversibly in denial, and strictly young-earth.

    Now, think about how many of that 10-15% is actually convinced that independent evidence validates what they believe. Most have no clue of how science works, and the few I have talked to have admitted that they don’t care what the evidence says, but that “you gotta believe” anyway. That puts the would-be “scientific” YECs in the single digits. With about the same % of would-be “scientific” OECs. Though the latter these days mostly prefer the “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when” ID strategy. OEC peddlers may be nearly extinct, but OEC believers probably outnumber YEC believers.

    Another thing to ponder is that the career activists (at the DI, AiG, WND (which even DI fellows find absurd)) constitute only a small, though very vocal minority of evolution deniers. Even if you add those who write those comically parroted letters-to-the-editor, it’s still a small, non-representative minority of evolution-deniers.

    What’s the bottom line? The activists need to be answered, of course. But every answer ought to be accompanied by detailed questions about their elusive “theories.” But our focus must be not on them or those irreversibly in denial, but rather on those who can and do change their mind when explained how they have been misled. And that includes many who accept evolution (usually in caricature form) for the wrong reason, and think it’s fair to “teach both sides”. That adds up to at least ~1/2 of the public, and once included yours truly. Remember, the activists are targeting them, not the ones who will deny evolution with or without their propaganda.

  11. @Frank J: Very well said. It is useful for Gallup to ask the same question over a long period of time, but it doesn’t capture the dynamics of how people really think. I have a friend who is firmly YEC, but he quietly acknowledges that religion and science must disagree. This is a victory too – a small one – but it’s a good start.
    Keep in mind that we can argue for weeks or months on end with people like Lee Bowman and make no progress at all. Real progress comes IMO from talking quietly with people and coming to a mutual understanding of what we think and why.

    >”… And once included yours truly”

    I recall when I first heard about Intelligent Design, thought it was a nice philosophical way to reconcile belief and science, and didn’t give it another thought. It wasnt until several years later (when “Expelled” was getting lots of attention) that I learned ID was being pushed as actual science. I had a very long arguement with a IDC troll called “FrankM”, that really got me fired up on the subject. I’m sure he was no relation. ;-)

  12. Jack Hogan

    Forty-six percent of Americans are young-earth creationists (YECs).

    Not really. The poll question was about human origins, not the age of the earth or the origins and age of other life.

    The problem I have with these polls is that the pollsters ask imprecise questions.

    To me the poll only indicates the level of hostility, doubt, and skepticism about the evolution of humans from lower animals.

    I very much doubt more than about 10% of the population thinks the earth is only 6000 years old, if that.

    However, there is widespread resistance to and rejection of the theory that humans evolved from low animals, in my view most of it due to ignorance, scientific illiteracy, and childhood indoctrination.

    Interestingly, Behe does not seem to dispute that humans evolved from lower animals. I wonder how he would answer that poll question.

  13. Jack Hogan

    I see Frank J has addressed the point more fully than I did.

    I’m curious about the poll showing about 20% of the population believing the earth is about 6000 years old. I don’t recall seeing that poll number. But considering the results of polls about things like UFO abductions, witches, and whether GWB personally planned 9/11 I suppose it is not too surprising.

    For example, the following poll indicates 21% of Americans believe in witches.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/19558/paranormal-beliefs-come-supernaturally-some.aspx

  14. @Jack Hogan:

    This is the poll I was referring to. Compare the first and 3rd question to see how dramatically the wording affects the answer. That confirms 45 years of my personal anecdotes – that most people are very confused, and give almost no thought to the consistency of their answers.

  15. Depressing. Where’s that bottle of Smirnoff’s?

  16. Lurker111 asked:

    Where’s that bottle of Smirnoff’s?

    Refrigerator, middle shelf near the back, marked “Spirit Based Entity”.

  17. I agree with Jack, I think people were answering this strictly with human origins in mind. I’ve known a few religious folk who accept evolution in general but believe humans were created separately, and one or two that believed only human souls were created separately – on the logic that the soul was the thing likely to be in the image of god, not the body.

    It would be interesting to see a survey which asked about peoples belief in evolution other than human.

  18. Gary: “Refrigerator, middle shelf near the back, marked “Spirit Based Entity”.”

    My dog is wondering why I am laughing so hard. Oh, and I did get to run a few hill-sprints this morning, but Lee Bowman was nowhere to be seen.

  19. TA: “My dog is wondering why I am laughing so hard.”

    Oh, good! I was afraid we were going to have to confuse the poor creature!

  20. Argh! Okay, I broke the Interwebz this time! My bad!

  21. Gary admits: “Argh! Okay, I broke the Interwebz this time!”

    I think that caused an earthquake.

  22. SC: “I think that caused an earthquake.”
    I hope the C.I.T.A.D.E.L. is on shock-mounts!

  23. @Gary: You are a genius – We just need to call Confuse-A-Creationist!

  24. @Ed, about the belief that human souls were created separately.

    This is something that I have heard from time to time ever since my youth as an accommodation with evolution. But ever since I first heard it, I realized that, on the standard theology, souls are individuals, while it was reproductive biology, not evolutionary biology, which was about the origins of individuals. So if someone is worried about scientific conflict with the origins of souls, their worry should be about reproduction, not evolution.

  25. Thanks again, Tom. maybe if you say it enough it’ll finally catch on. And yes, I’m complaining about fellow “Darwinists” who keep squandering excellent opportunities to ask anti-evolution activists the hard questions, and shoe how they bait-and-switch everything from evolution to abiogenesis to reproduction. Sure the ID scammers will just whine “we don’t need to connect no stinkin’ dots” and the old-style YECs and OECs will keep slouching towards Omphalism. With that “defense” sooner or later all but the most hopeless ~25% will find them pathetic. Whereas letting them set the terms of the “debate” lets them continue to fool a majority (~75% thinks its fair to “teach both sides” in science class). It’s our war to lose.

  26. I am not surprised by the recent Gallup poll. It is ironic however that the biggest swing in opinion comes at a time when there is an increase in publications like: “The Fact of Evolution,” and “Not Just a Theory.” For once evolutionists are striking back. But there is a lot more work to do. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of our educational system. When my college decided to add Physical Anthropology to its meager science curriculum, I told my department chair that we would have to teach evolution as part of the curriculum. She suggested that I not go into depth on the subject. I always had a few Young Earth, ID and Creationists in my classes and took pains to demonstrate the facts of evolution. One student insisted that they Grand Canyon had been created since 4004 B.C. He’d been told that during a church sponsored tour of the canyon in 2005. I broke out my cross section of the canyon and personal slides to present a fact based argument that the canyon could not have been created in a mere 6,000 years (laying down the sediments would take 600 million years or more, then those sediments had to be eroded away). I’ve climbed the canyon walls on several occasions and showed the class fossils found at various levels). Another student wrote in a review of the class (in week 3) that I was attempting to brainwash students. Day one of class, he told me he was a young earther and hoped to convince me. I suggested that for class project he prepare a presentation on these views to present to the class. In week 4 of the class I covered evolution and its discontents. The student was absent. Then my department chair, seeing the negative review, demanded that I talk about creationism, ID and young earth, giving these concepts equal time with Darwin’s Theory. This represented a major breach in academic integrity, changing learning objectives are not permitted. I refused and got hammered by both the department chair and the dean of academics. This was at a for-profit college. A friend of mine taught political science for more than two decades at the University of Maryland. for an intro. class, he had students read Fran de Waal’s “Chimpanzee Politics.” Fully one third of the class refused to read the book because they believed it taught evolutionary principles and appeared to give chimps human qualities. Public middle and secondary schools don’t do much better with teachers taking the easy way out and not discussing the concepts of evolution. The same student who criticized me for teaching evolution did the same in an environmental science class when that instructor talked about mounting evidence of global warming, accusing him of being a shill for Al Gore. As education moves more toward for-profit, church-based and home schooling, millions of students are not being education on the real world. As public educators seek the path least resistance, they feed this ignorance and as the Gallup poll shows, these narrow, anti-science opinions encroach all aspects of our lives.