A recent Gallup Poll that asked Americans their views on the origins of human beings yielded disappointing results. But the numbers may not be quite as bad as they seem.
In May, Gallup asked just over 1,000 adults whether God, evolution or a mixture of the two are responsible for the existence of humans. Overall, the survey found that 42 percent of respondents said “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Another 31 percent said they believe “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.”
Just 19 percent said they believe in evolution without the influence of a creator.
On their face, those numbers are pretty troubling. The National Center for Science Education, an Americans United ally that advocates for the teaching of sound science in schools, noted on its website that “there were no surprises” here.
Indeed, Gallup has been conducting this poll since 1982 and the percentage of Americans who said they believe in creationism has never dropped below 40 percent or risen about 47 percent.
But there is some good news: It turns out that those who are exposed to evolution are less likely to believe in creationism. Gallup found that 64 percent of respondents who said they are “very familiar” with the theory of evolution either believe God had no part in evolution, or at least believe that humans developed over millions of years with some help from God. By contrast, just 28 percent of respondents who were only somewhat familiar or not at all familiar with evolution said they believe the theory is true.
Maybe that’s why the Religious Right fights so hard to force creationism into schools. Whether it’s in the form of old-fashioned creationism or the stealthy “intelligent design,” many misguided lawmakers and teachers are constantly trying to discredit evolution.
For example, one large publicly funded group of charter schools, run by Responsive Education Solutions, goes so far as to teach its students that evolution is “dogma” and an “unproven theory,” and that secular scientists will do anything – even lie – to promote evolution.
Given the high percentage of Americans who fully or partly reject evolution, it seems fundamentalists have been pretty effective in spreading their agenda, but that could become a thing of the past. Maybe. Gallup found that 30 percent of the people it polled between the ages of 18-29 believe in evolution, compared with just 16 percent over the age of 65.
The times could be changing –however slowly – but the reality is American high school students continue to fall farther behind in science compared with their peers in other countries. National Public Radio reported in December that American 15-year-olds finished 22nd in the world on a standardized science literacy test taken in 2012. This put Americans behind countries like Ireland, Poland and Vietnam. In 2009, American 15-year-olds finished18th in the world on that test.
Clearly much work remains to be done to improve science education in the United States. Surely a key to that improvement will be the removal of creationism or “intelligent design” from public schools. Not only is the teaching of religious dogma in public schools a violation of the U.S. Constitution, teaching sound science is simply the right thing to do for America’s future.
If enough progress is made in science, perhaps we can crack the top-20 internationally. That would be a start.