We seem to be awash in various culture wars that seem to never end. So it is good to consider one that was major war less than two decades ago that seems to have ended quietly. A new survey suggests that the war between evolution and various forms of creationism has resulted in science winning a resounding victory. A paper based on survey results gives the reasons for this shift. Its abstract says:
The public acceptance of evolution in the United States is a long-standing problem. Using data from a series of national surveys collected over the last 35 years, we find that the level of public acceptance of evolution has increased in the last decade after at least two decades in which the public was nearly evenly divided on the issue. A structural equation model indicates that increasing enrollment in baccalaureate-level programs, exposure to college-level science courses, a declining level of religious fundamentalism, and a rising level of civic scientific literacy are responsible for the increased level of public acceptance.
Matthew Rozsa summarizes the paper’s findings.
Though it might seem hard to believe, Americans are more scientifically literate than ever in 2021 — so much so that creationism has become a minority opinion. And Americans are likewise been able to identify intelligent design and other forms of creationism as the inherently religious theories that they are.
We know this thanks to a new study published in the journal Public Understanding of Science, one which analyzed surveys of public opinion since 1985 and noticed a trend in attitudes about evolution. As more Americans became highly educated — obtaining university degrees, taking college science courses, displaying rising levels of civi science literacy — acceptance of evolution grew accordingly.
From 1985 until 2010, there had been a statistical dead heat among Americans who were asked if they agreed that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” Acceptance then began to increase, becoming a majority position in 2016 and reaching 54 percent in 2019. Even 32 percent of religious fundamentalists accepted evolution as of 2019, a stark contrast from the mere 8 percent who did so in 1988. Eighty-three percent of liberal Democrats said they accept evolution, compared to only 34 percent of conservative Republicans.
“Almost twice as many Americans held a college degree in 2018 as in 1988,” Dr. Mark Ackerman, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “It’s hard to earn a college degree without acquiring at least a little respect for the success of science.”
The survey says that the Dover ‘intelligent design’ (ID) case in 2005 seemed to have been a significant turning point. ID was a carefully designed strategy to create a biological theory that carefully hid its religious connotations. The idea was to sneak that in as an alternative ‘secular’ theory to evolution and then use it to expand the attack on evolution. But their broader goal was to reverse the long-standing legal precedent that explicitly says that religious instruction has no place in public schools. ID was just to be the thin edge of the wedge. The judge’s ruling in the Dover case that ID was an explicitly religious idea and thus had no place in the science curriculum was a fatal blow to that strategy.
At the end of my 2009 book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom, which looked at the history of this struggle from the Scope trial of 1925 to the Dover case, I predicted that this might be the end of such efforts because I could not see what options were left for the opponents of evolution to get their alternative views into the public schools.
I am glad to see that that prediction seems to be coming true.