January 2016 Church & State | People & Events

A recent poll found that the persistence of America’s belief in creationism is beginning to deteriorate, thanks mostly to millennials.

While a 2014 Gallup Poll showed that 42 percent of Americans believe humans have either always existed in their current form or changed with the help of God, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 73 percent of respondents under the age of 30 say they believe in evolution. That is up from 61 percent in 2009, the first year of this particular survey. The number of poll respondents who believe in evolution without divine intervention increased from 40 percent in 2009 to 51 percent.

Kenneth R. Miller, a Brown University biologist and a witness in Americans United’s successful Kitzmiller v. Dov­er case, which struck down a Pennsylvania public school’s attempt to teach “intelligent design” in 2005, told Slate that the results were “quite striking.”

He added: “We’re moving in the right direction.” 

Despite this encouraging data, the latest poll still indicates a generational divide. Approximately 34 percent of Americans aged 50-64 years believe in creationism; the number jumps to 37 percent for Americans over the age of 65. Advocates of sound science education note that millennials, a generation usually defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34, are responsible for the shift in opinion.

“From the perspective of people who endorse evolution, that’s a good thing – because, not to be insensitive, but old people die,” wrote Slate’s Rachel E. Gross. “When these elderly creationists shed their mortal coil, they will be replaced by that younger generation…. The result: a steady phasing out of those who oppose evolution.”

Others attribute the changing landscape to open-mindedness of younger people.

“Young people are growing up with a less ideological closed mind,” Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, told Slate. “Which is what a lot of the anti-evolution, anti–climate change thinking is: It’s an ideology. It’s a refusal to engage with reality. Hopefully what we’re seeing here is that younger people are less prone to that. They’re allowing themselves to see the reality in front of them, as opposed to shutting their eyes on the basis of ideological denial.… They’re growing up in the midst of the conversation, growing up in the midst of reality, being open to reality, and not simply refusing to see what’s in front of you.”