The sorry state of the public mind

The British Council has carried out an international survey on people’s opinions about evolution. I cringe at these sorts of things; they so rarely give me an opportunity to put on a big foam rubber hand and chant “WE’RE #1!”. There aren’t really any surprises here.

The results show that the majority of people polled have heard of Charles Darwin with the highest levels of awareness in Russia (93%), Mexico (91%), Great Britain (91%), and China (90%) whilst less than half of people polled in Egypt (38%) and South Africa (27%) saying they had not heard of him. Overall, the majority (70%) of people surveyed have heard of the British naturalist.

Adults in the United States (84%) showed the highest levels of awareness and understanding of evolution and Darwin’s theories followed by Great Britain (80%) saying they had a ‘good or some knowledge’ of the theory of evolution.

Not so fast there — the Dunning-Kruger effect comes into play here. People in the United States do not have a high level of understanding of evolution, and this survey did not measure actual competence. I’ve found that the people most likely to declare that they have a thorough knowledge of evolution are the creationists…but that a brief conversation is always sufficient to discover that all they’ve really got is a confused welter of misinformation.

That’s pretty easy to see in this next sad result.

Only Russia (48%), USA (42%), South Africa (41%) and Egypt (25%) remained sceptical about the scientific evidence that exists to support Darwin’s theory.

So more than half disbelieve evolution, but more than 80% think they’re knowledgeable about it. There’s a problem.

We also have a number for the accommodationists: 53% of Americans are.

In all countries polled more people agreed than disagreed that it is possible to believe in a God and hold the view that life evolved on Earth by means of natural selection at the same time, with those in India most likely (85%) to be of this opinion, followed by Mexico (65%), Argentina (63%), South Africa, Great Britain (54%), USA, Russia (53%), Egypt, Spain (45%), and China (39%).