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.
Matt G says
If scientific literacy is so high in the US, why do we have just barely above 50% fully vaccinated? I can’t help but notice that rates of creationism and vaccine refusal are quite similar, and I’ll bet the Venn diagram is pretty close to a circle. While I would say that evolution is *ahead*, I wouldn’t say we’ve won.
Marcus Ranum says
If scientific literacy is so high in the US, why do we have just barely above 50% fully vaccinated?
I don’t think it’s science literacy. The science is pretty easy to understand and there are many ways to access knowledge. I think it’s old-fashioned anti-intellectualism, which is tied to class consciousness and a toxic interpretation of liberty. “You can’t make me think!” Basically.
consciousness razor says
An eight-point spread still isn’t all that much to write home about, though. I mean, if you’re going to say that this means you’ve won a war, you don’t really want it to be quite so easy to reverse the outcome and “lose the war” again. It would be sort of nice if you could have a Dubya-style “Mission Accomplished” sort of moment and not be in too much danger of looking like a fool in the years to come. But that just seems rather premature at this point, you know?
I also want to point out that the proposition in the quote above (accepted by a mere 54%) is still compatible with certain flavors of “creationism,” just not those which are the most openly and fervently opposed to evolution and with it the claim that human beings are biologically related to other animals. There’s simply a whole lot more to accept and understand about it, beyond just that. But notice that it doesn’t say anything about any of the physical or biological processes which brought about this development, so things like that are simply left unanswered.
Did God perform some kind of miracle, which crafted people into something different from non-human animals? It’s not clear how many of this 54% would say yes to that. Is it also the case that humans developed from earlier non-animals as well, because all organisms on Earth have a common ancestor? Or did God intervene somehow to create animals separately from plants, for example? Did aliens come here in the distant past and engineer various lifeforms that could survive and adapt on it?
There’s just no indication that respondents are rejecting any ideas like that, or maybe even wilder ones that I can hardly imagine. So based on that one question in that one poll (even assuming that it is accurate), we’re still very much in the dark about that sort of thing.
Here’s the NCSE page on the study:
Even though more than half accept, the minority that rejects is worryingly large. I wouldn’t say that the war is “won” by any means. A milestone has been passed, that’s all.
If evolution won the war there would be very few people who support creationism. The fact is that those people are out there in abundance. You can find polls that say whatever fact you want to put across. In my experience as an atheist there are plenty of people who dont believe in evolution, because most of them dont understand the first thing about evolution. The argument that if man came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys is alive and thriving. One poll proves nothing. Go out and talk to theists like I do and be dismayed like I am at how sadly uneducated people are. This problem is not getting better, its getting worse.
54%? That’s it?
Canadian Steve says
what jrkrideau said…
Seriously, 54% is pretty damn low especially considering the weaker nature of the poll question that allows for divine intervention along the way. And I would expect the change is largely due to generational change, not changing anyone’s mind.
I would say still a pretty strong indictment of the american education system.
“Evolution has won the war over creationism”
uh, you seem to have forgotten the entire point of modern creationism.
it was a wedge issue.
Look at who your last president was. look at SCOTUS, look at Texas, along with half a dozen other states and rising…
and now tell me who won again.