New Gallup poll: America still creationist (surprise!)

December 20, 2010 • 11:55 am

A new Gallup poll released three days ago confirms that America is still stuck on creationism, and that the numbers have barely budged in thirty years.  Here’s the upshot in a graph (click to enlarge):

Four in ten Americans are still straight-out creationists; those numbers have been pretty constant since 1982 though there’s a drop of four points since the last survey.  Of the 54% of Americans who accept some form of evolutionary change,  7 in 10 (a total of 38%), are theistic evolutionists, believing that God guided the evolutionary process.  Need I add that this form of evolution is not what we biologists accept?  And a total of 16% of Americans accept real evolution—purposeless and unguided by God.  That’s up from 9% in 1982, and may be a real trend.  Still, it’s dispiriting to realize that fewer than one in six Americans accepts evolution in the way scientists accept it.

As always, acceptance of evolution is positively correlated with level of education; here’s the table from the Gallup survey.  Still, only one in four Americans with a postgraduate degree accepts real, unguided evolution:

And, again, acceptance of evolution is highly correlated with religiosity. Churchgoers are nearly three times more likely to be straight-out creationists than those who don’t go to church, and only one-fifteenth as likely to accept scientific, unguided evolution.  Surprisingly, there’s not much difference between churchgoers and heathens in their acceptance of theistic evolution:

More non-news:  Republicans—and this surely reflects in part their greater religiosity—are more creationist than Democrats, and only 40% as likely to accept unguided evolution.  Dems and independents are about the same.

If there’s any good news here—and there’s not much, since the data still show us to be a benighted, science-rejecting people—it’s the increase in non-theistic evolutionists in the last decade.  I take no heart in the higher proportion of theistic evolutionists, since these range all the way from “God-started-the-process-and-let-it-goers”, to ID advocates who posit continual interjections of God into nature, to old-earth creationists who accept microevolution but not macroevolution, to people like Simon Conway Morris who see God as having intervened (or designed the evolutionary process) to permit the evolution of servile, God-worshipping humans.

What do we do?  My solution has always been to loosen the grip of religion on America, since that’s the overwhelming source of creationism.  Or maybe we just need some Rock Stars of Evolution.  Put me next to Lady Gaga, or Dawkins next to Katy Perry, and Americans will become Darwinists!


UPDATE:  Several people have touched on the issue of the relationship between Gnu Atheism and the putative increase of evolution acceptance.  If you take the evolution-acceptance trend as real, the rise began about 2001, and that was before the first Gnu Atheist book, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, was published (that was 2004).  Still, what one can say is that since accommodationism by the NCSE and other organizations has been pretty constant over several decades, the rise of Gnu Atheism certainly hasn’t hurt acceptance of evolution—as many accommodationists maintain.  (Remember, though, that the “trend” may be specious.)

46 thoughts on “New Gallup poll: America still creationist (surprise!)

  1. If only the great communicator Carl Sagan had been alive during this time to help people realize that we can do science without god. There’s clearly a correlation in that huge upswing in creationists that closely matches the rise in shrilly militant atheist bloggers.
    /snarky moony rant

  2. Put Dawkins next to Emma Watson, and prepare for a mind explosion!

    ps. I liked america more when I was younger and didn’t know how strange you all are. I thought you were like me.

    1. Only slightly more embarrassing to be an American than to just plain be a human. There is nowhere in the world where the Young Earth contingent polls at less than about 1 in 5.

      Frankly, I think 1 in 5 is a good baseline to know whether you have a problem in regards to any particular misconception. We don’t have a particular problem with geocentrism denialism, and yet around 1 in 5 people fail to understand Earth’s annual orbit. There are many other examples. Any scientific fact which collides with naive intuition, you’re going to get about 1 in 5 deniers, and I do not believe it is possible (as long as we are recognizably homo sapiens, that is) to sustain a lower level for any significant period of time in any sufficiently large group.

      1 in 3 (Democrats) is still crappier than it needs to be, though.

      1. There is nowhere in the world where the Young Earth contingent polls at less than about 1 in 5.

        that needs a cite, I think.

        not many YEC’s here in NZ.

  3. Thank goodness we have the National Center for Science Education doing the best possible job to increase the acceptance of evolution! Why, without their stalwart, science-only work, we wouldn’t be seeing the steady progress in eroding creationism due to the grip of religion. . . .

    Oh, nevermind.

    1. heh.

      Indeed. How does the NCSE look at the only positive statistic: the growth of not theistic evolutionists, but NON theistic evolution supporters, and conclude their methods are bearing fruit?

      this, more than anything, should really suggest to the accomodationists that their methods are full of fail.

  4. The poll is misleading because the choices, while exclusive, are not truly exhaustive. Deists, some sorts of Buddhists, and various others would probably not say God guided the process, nor that God had nothing to do with it. But I suspect they would select the option “God guided process” when forced. It would be interesting to know if there have been any changes in the proportions of those who believe in an active intervening deity vs. a Jeffersonian or Lyellian clockmaker acting only through secondary causes. It is of course useful to have long term trend data, which can only be had by asking the questions consistently.

  5. If the apparent increasing trend in regards to “god played no part” is real — and that’s a giant “if”, hence my use of both italics and bold — then that would be, in my mind, a strong argument in favor of the Gnu stance over the accomodationist one. There appears to be essentially zero mobility between theistic evolution and Creationism… which sort of makes sense if you think about it — both positions privilege certain crucial dogmas above evidence, with the difference between the two simply being whether or not the individual considers the young-earth dogma to be “crucial” or not. Public information campaigns cannot really alter that.

    If the trend is real, then it would appear the only vector for improvement is to shift people into the “god played no part” category. This also makes sense if you think about it: As long as it is okay for any dogma to take precedence over evidence, there will be a certain percentage of people who privilege the “wrong” dogma. I put “wrong” in scare quotes, because the decision as to which dogmas may or may not be privileged is one of political expediency, not epistemology.

    The accomodationist program seeks to disabuse people of a particular cherished belief via an argument based on expediency, while the Gnu program seeks to disabuse people of a particular cherished belief via an argument based on epistemology. In other words, while the latter is faced with the quixotic task of convincing people that the foundation of their beliefs is inadequate, the former are attempting the even more fanciful approach of convincing people to substantially modify the foundation of their beliefs just because, you know, it would be really nice if they did.

    1. you’re bang on there.

      what’s more, there has NEVER been ANY data, in any study, supporting the idea that accomodationism for any ideology is what moves that ideology in one direction or the other.

      …and it’s not like the accomodationists are unaware of the history. They literally choose to either ignore it, or lie about it to themselves and others.

  6. Each of the three questions postulates the existence of an entity “God” — the only variation acknowledged by the poll is the postulated entity’s interaction with the world.

      1. I conclude that the authors of the poll purposely slipped in the idea/assumption that a “God” actually exists. Even the 2nd answer that “God had no part in this process” assumes/accepts that there is a “God”. Is that not begging the question (petitio principii)? Else, what is the point of your own question?

        1. I think you’re reaching.

          I think they frame the questions based on the reasonable assumption that, whether or not one believes in the judeo-xian “god”, if you live in the US, you surely have at least heard of it.

          1. I’m not “reaching”; you’re purposefully favoring the bias. ‘Hearing of’ doesn’t automatically promote to accepting as fact. Also, the expression “believes in” is an excessively elastic pedestrian term that presupposes the existence of whatever one purportedly “believes in”. I opine that what you think is not supported by what they post.

            1. yes, you are reaching.

              the imagined bias you’re speaking of is irrelevant since these are poll questions that measure WITHIN your purported bias, not between.

              these poll data have been analyzed to death for literally decades.

              have you ever bothered to read any of the actual critiques and responses?

              do you think it’s just tradition that informs how the questions are formed and asked?

              1. No, I’m not ‘reaching’ — you’re merely selecting the particular subset that supports your own (unimagined) bias, indicated by your handle. The poll was presented to the public — not exclusively to an elite analytically-minded subset population.

              2. ou’re merely selecting the particular subset that supports your own (unimagined) bias, indicated by your handle.


                what does “all things related to fish” have to do with anything?

                you’re nuts.

  7. I prefer to see the trend lines. 7% loss of creationists per decade. 7% gain in rationalists per decade.

    At that rate, the lines should intersect somewhere in the early 2030s?

    I may still be around to see it.

    Remember, the Catholic Church just apologized to Galileo in 1992.

  8. There’s something that strikes me about that very first graph.

    The theistic evolution option, in the middle, is damned near flat. Indeed, the number today is exactly the same as it was in the Reagan administration.

    The creation option shows a bit of decline, perhaps insignificant.

    The non-theistic option shows a small but significant gain.

    The undecideds (not shown; do the math) also show a small, perhaps insignificant, decline. They went from 9% in ’82 to 6% today.

    But, when you add it all up, what we find is that undecideds and diehards are (very slowly) coming to their senses, but the great wishy-washy unwashed masses that the NCSE is so desperate to reach aren’t even paying attention.

    When Richard Dawkins claims that his words, though directed at hard-core fundamentalists, are intended for those in the middle…well, this graph would seem to demonstrate that he’s really on to something.

    And all those former hard-core fundamentalists we keep hearing from whose deconversions started with reading polemic treatises from the Gnus? They’re represented on the graph as well.

    Just something to think about.



    1. “But, when you add it all up, what we find is that undecideds and diehards are (very slowly) coming to their senses, but the great wishy-washy unwashed masses that the NCSE is so desperate to reach aren’t even paying attention.”

      This seems to imply that you think the “diehards” became “rationalists” but the “wishy-washy” theistic evolutionists didn’t change there minds at all. Isn’t it more likely that a few diehards became “wishy-washy” and a few “wishy-washies” became rationalists?

      1. I dunno. It seems to me that the diehards are often more likely to ‘see the light’ than the wishy-washy. Atheism tends to result from actually thinking about and reading about the issues which the great wishy-washied don’t bother to do. The stories I hear are much more likely to be ‘I was raised rabidly religious and escaped’ than ‘my folks didn’t really care about religion and one day I gave it up out of boredom’. They both do happen but the first is far more common.

        1. I guess we’re both relying on anecdotal evidence here, but my own experience and experiences I’ve heard and read about involve a transit through the “wishy-washy” middle.

  9. I think the most frightening figure is the 37% of college graduates thinking humans are less than 10,000 years old. They’ve had 4 years of adult education in which they’re meant to be thinking for themselves, and to have the ability to criticise others, and they still manage to call a couple of centuries of various sciences which are all settled ‘lies’.

    It’s not as if it’s a general Christian belief, either – Catholics and mainstream Protestants all accept the real pre-history of humanity, even if they think there’s a soul inserted somewhere. The number of graduates brought up in evangelical churches who still believe the myths must be truly scary.

  10. From the first poll, obviously the second statement matches my views, but darn there are so many things wrong with it.
    The species had been around 200.000 of years so it has not “developed over millions of years”.
    “from less advanced forms” Less advanced ? What scale is that ?
    “but God had no part of the process”, begging the question.

  11. And to think that of the American voting public, 46% of the American population believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, while 53% believe he was born in Bethlehem. Go figure.

  12. The 1000 people surveyed doesn’t seem like a large number.

    Also, I wonder what the numbers would look like re. % who have read at least one nonfiction book of at least, say, 200 pgs in the last year, correlated with the above?

  13. Directed evolution contradicts teleonomic evolution rather than complement it. So much for Ruse and other accommodationists!
    Remember tLamberth’s atelic/teleonomic argument that the weight of evidence maintains that teleonomy rather than teleology is at work. To combine the two not only makes that contradiction but violates the Ockham with a convoluted, ad hoc assumptions for a grand mystery,surrounded by still more mysteries, purportedly as the Ultimate Explanation that both Aquinas and Leibniz think necessary to fathom the intelligibility of Existence!

  14. The “but” in options 1 and 2 annoys me. Why not just “and”? I’m suspicious of polls with loaded phrasing like that, though in this case it doesn’t look like it’s benefiting either side.

  15. we are losing culture war big time.I suggest clever means to get across.I was at my last job surrounded by workingclass people who roundly reject evolution.If you wish to continue calling them nutjobs or whatever,fine-then do so.Those kind of tactics will change exactly zero minds.I was flamed on another post by one your politically correct acolytes for disagreeing.Free thinkers indeed

  16. Also,Victor Stenger has pointed out that the Dover decision was deeply flawed inthat it stated that science has nothing to say about God,or supernatural claims.Science does have something to say about those things.Perhaps the judge was trying to give religion safe harbor from legitimate criticism.He is a believer.

    1. Science had better *not* have anything to say about God in a public school science classroom, or it would be unconstitutional. But, you are right, science does indeed have things to say about certain gods and most religious claims.

      How scandalous it would be if the NCSE actually did address the science of religious claims instead of being completely mum about them.

  17. My last comment folks.I propose we challenge AIG to build an actual Ark that is seaworthy,and demonstrate exactly how Noah got everybody on board.Of course hell refuse,but wouldnt be a good pr stunt,and expose the whole thing for what it is-a money making scheme that is reinforcing falsehood,and seriously miseducating children

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