So close and yet so far . . .

March 23, 2011 • 5:45 am

The Canadians are not only beating Americans in the crucial arena of genitalic dimensions, but they’re also, according to recent polls, far more sensible about evolution.

Monday’s Toronto Globe and Mail commisioned Ekos to survey Canadians for their attitudes about a diverse range of issues, including education, politics, leadership, decision making—and evolution.  The specific question asked, about the origin of humans, is given in the chart below (taken from page 16 of the Ekos pdf), with the Canadian answers shown in red and, shown in blue for comparison, the answers of Americans to a similar question from a Gallup poll taken in December of 2010.

The Canadians have us licked seven ways from Sunday, with a whopping 58% accepting natural selection as the “cause” of humans, and only 33% accepting either the young-earth creationist or theistic evolution explanations.  For Americans those figures are, respectively, 16% and 78%.  In other words, Canadians are 3.6 times savvier than Americans about evolution.

These results are, of course, provisional, for the Canadian sample gives no standard errors, and is based on a sample of 984 people (the Gallup poll, however, has a similar sample size: 1,019).

In its report on these results, the National Center for Science Education gives this caveat:

As the political scientist and polling expert George Bishop observed, however, minor changes in the wording of poll questions about creationism and evolution can make a substantial difference in poll results.

But the Gallup question was nearly identical:

“Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings:

1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process;

2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; or

3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

I’m also heartened by this result from the Ekos poll:

I don’t have the data, but I’d bet a fancy meal that Americans would fall into the “religious leader” column a lot more often.


UPDATEA Harris Poll from 2005 gives the following data from the U.S., with the question asked in a different way:

“Which of the following do you believe about how human beings came to be? Human beings evolved from earlier species. Human beings were created directly by God. Human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them.”

The answers

  • Evolved from earlier species:  22%
  • Created directly by God:  64%
  • Powerful force/intelligent being:  10%
  • Unsure:  4%

The proportion of Americans accepting evolution, even when there’s no mention of “God not having a role in this process” is still about the same as in the Gallup poll, so there’s not much influence of that phrase on evolution-acceptance.

68 thoughts on “So close and yet so far . . .

    1. Oh come on – Canada has some decent weather! It’s just that we also get some, well, less-than-decent weather (as I look out the window into the cold, grey, snowy day).


  1. As much as accomodationists may beat thier chests, one thing is clear: there is an inverse (albeit not necessarily linear) relationship between religiosity in general and acceptance of evolutionary science.

  2. Compare the two:


    Humans evolved through natural selection


    Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process

    The NCSE is correct in its observation. A non-trivial number of Americans would agree with the first and reject the second, for the simple reason that the second one explicitly rejects YHWH. These would be “Easter and Christmas” churchgoers who don’t really buy into theistic evolution but aren’t prepared to go on record as explicitly denying the Horny Spurt.



    1. I don’t know about that. The context of time is given in the first 2 options for the Canadian poll.

      “Humans were created by god 10 000 years ago”

      “Humans evolved over time, but with divine intervention”

    2. Agreed — apropos the next post about earthquakes, natural causation is not necessarily seen as excluding God’s activity, by many Christians. It may not be a coherent position, but I think it’s widely held. That’s what bothers me about these polls: they frequently don’t seem to have been designed by people who understand where the conceptual fault-lines actually lie in the public consciousness; only where they think the divisions are.

      Still, it seems clear that YEC, at least, gets less traction up here (I’ve had skirmishes with the local YECs).

    3. I’ve added to my post another Harris Poll from 2005 that leaves out the phrase “God had no role in this process.” Result: evolution acceptance still very low–about 22%. It doesn’t even come close to the Canadian result.

      1. I think the questions that involve God tend to be answered, in the US, at least, in terms of asserting religious identity rather than biological facts.
        For instance I’ve seen studies in the past (can’t remember the source just now) that show that the vast majority of Americans, when asked, think that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. At the same time most, or close to most, think that the world was created within the past 10,000 years.
        There is clearly a discrepancy here. While this discrepancy is problematic itself I suspect that one needs to leave out the God question entirely in order to get at the real level of understanding of natural history.

      2. Good find, but there’s still some subtle bias in that one compared to the Canadian version. “Evolved from earlier species” will trigger a visceral “I ain’t no monkey!” reaction from lots of people.

        I think it’s pretty clear, though, that the “goddidit” crowd outnumbers the rationalists by more than two to one. Short of “Did you stop beating your underaged same-sex prostitutes at the same time you thought an invisible sky daddy made your great-grandparents from mud?” kinds of loaded questions, nothing’s going to put much of a dent in figures that dramatic.

        I just did a quick Google search for Pew’s take on the matter. Their methodology seems much superior, and they did find significantly more support for naturalism…but it’s still a very depressing picture.



  3. Creationists would say,”…it’s because their brain cells have been reallocated (see previous article on genitalia) and therefore Canadians aren’t thinking straight and falling into the evolutionary dogma trap…”

  4. As a Canadian, the first thing I thought of was that this survey was done by the Toronto Globe and Mail. If the survey had been done in Alberta (and I was raised there) you may have seen the blue and red at much the same levels.

    1. “If the survey had been done in Alberta . . . you may have seen the blue and red at much the same levels.”

      There’s a solution to this: don’t vote for Harper; don’t vote Conservative.

      1. …and it looks like we may get a chance, fairly soon. I hope the opposition knows what it’s doing with this, or we may get a Harper majority — and then watch us march backwards to join our American neigbours!

        Either way, though: it still won’t fix Alberta.

        1. I doubt a Harper majority will result in a march backwards. I would expect more of the same of what is happening currently: a somewhat right-of-centre minority government that’s prepared to sacrifice their principles to govern.

      2. At the risk of turning this thread into a political one.

        Is there a better choice to vote for? I don’t care for the ND, I don’t trust the Liberals, and the Greens are too ready to jump into bed with any of the left wing parties (not left wing in the US, but closer to left wing in Europe).

        I am guessing it will be “spoil my ballot” time again as none of these people are worth my 2 bucks a year.

        1. I don’t trust the Liberals, but I trust (and like) the Conservatives less.

          A spoiled ballot, to me, is the equivalent of putting one’s fingers in one’s ears and going “LA LA LA LA!” It may be an accurate expression of ideal personal choice, but its practical effect is to support the majority view.

          1. Well the problem is I am a conservative by nature but I cannot support them.

            I like and trust the Liberals less than I trust the Conservatives so I have no alternative to them outside of spoiling my ballot.

    2. I’m pretty sure this was a Canada-wide survey (at least, that’s what the pollsters say in their document), which means it would have sampled Canadians from across the country.

    3. Perhaps, but here in Calgary, where almost no one is “from” Calgary (lots of people, including me, have moved here from other provinces), I know of only one god-bothering evolution denier among my acquaintances. Rural Alberta may very well be different, but I doubt that overall levels of acceptance of evolution would be as low as in the USA.
      It is puzzling why the province votes overwhelmingly Conservative though – I think it might be all the oil soaking into people’s brains.


      1. I know one as well, he home schooled his kids because “christian schools don’t teach enough about christianity”. He was my boss for a year.

        Albertans vote Conservative because they don’t trust the Liberals (ask any Albertan over the age of 45 about the NEP), and they are conservative people (for the most part) that are not big on change.

        Well mostly conservative, the mayor of Calgary is a Muslim (the first in a major Canadian city).

      2. Good grief! You mean people actually CHOSE to live up there?

        I mean, Banff is pretty and all, but I had to buy a sweatshirt on July 4 a few years back because it was snowing!

        Is everyone counting on global warming?

        1. If we live here we can then get all the benefits of living in the US without any of the negatives.

          Plus we can mock them easier…

        2. Ah, comon’, what do Americans think, that we all live in Igloos? Ha, ha, that would be good. I live in Toronto and it got far less snow than Chicago or New York or Boston. If you live north of the mason/ dixon line, you climate is only marginally warmer than that most of Canadians.


    4. I disagree with this. I moved out of Alberta and the CFI is pretty active there. PZ Myers spoke in Calgary about 2 years ago, Greta Christina was there last week and the local head of the CFI is Nate Phelps. These all raise awareness in the province regarding science and evolution.

      I am not a member of the CFI but they are doing good work in Alberta, fighting against ignorance. You cannot judge the province on your preconceptions of the place.

    5. I’m an Albertan and I’m afraid to say that this statement is probably true – particularly in the rural areas…

  5. I wonder how these things will change in Western countries with increased muslim populations? As has been highlighted by Prof. Coyne before (& by RD), the whole ‘faith schools’ issue is a growing problem in the UK. In education as with other aspects of life, input garbage information & you get garbage opinion. Are such ‘Faith’ schools – or indeed ‘home schooling’ – allowed in Canada?

    1. Private schools, religious or secular, are allowed, but (aside from the anachronism of the Catholic system in a couple of provinces) are not state-funded. Home-schooling is also allowed. (Do I need to repeat the usual caveat that not all HS is done for religious reasons? In fact, I read a paper a few years ago indicating that Canadians tend to do HS for the other reasons, relative to Americans.)

        1. No, it’s not a minor issue here — but as opposed to Britain, it at least seems to be a recognized exception to the rule, one many people aren’t happy with, and more likely to diminish than increase (remember what happened last Ontario election when the Conservative challenger suggested extending the same deal to other religious groups?)

          1. True, and my strong impression is that the separate school system also tends to be more “secularized” than parochial schools in the US (such as the ones I attended).

    2. Dominic

      The “‘Faith school’ issue” is called “the Catholic school issue” in Ontario Canada.


      “One School System and Abortion” (Mar.11,2011)


      “The Halton Catholic School Board: a “gay” anachronism” and “Catholic school disciplines pro-choice student” at

  6. I guess everyone is dismissing the hypothesis that God created Americans and the US, while everything else evolved. That fits the poll data.

      1. “God’s country”, you know, that amusement park right off the interstate, near Disney and Six Flags.

  7. “1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process”

    Isn’t that essentially the position of theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins and Ken Miller (and Michael Behe)?

  8. About that “which would you prefer to consult?” question – I’m going to throw a monkey wrench in here.

    If I felt I had to consult someone, and it had to be a stranger as opposed to a friend, I might choose the right kind of “religious leader” rather than a psychiatrist or other professional. When I say “the right kind” I mean one I could be confident wouldn’t make it a goddy discussion.

    Why? Because it might well be that what I really wanted was just attention and sympathy. In that case I might not want a “professional.” I think clerics are better able to just listen and sympathize – provided they’re liberal and understanding enough not to push the goddy stuff.

    In other words, if what you want is a listener rather than someone trying to “fix” anything, you might rationally prefer a liberal cleric.

    1. Well, if they aren’t trying to “fix” anything, would not a conservative-god-is-everything cleric be just as good as a “liberal cleric”?? I speculate that you intend to just wail and cry, pour it all out, and with the a priori condition that the listener not “fix” anything, they would simply nod (as good as a wink) and say words of sympathy (“There, there, old boy…” &C. etc etc) without any religious content. Ergo, any type of cleric would do.

      1. Yes, but the conservative cleric is much more likely to consider it his Sacred Duty to fix your problem — the solution being that you need faith in his deity. The liberal one OTOH may be more likely to think her duty is just to weep with those who weep (which as it happens, is even Biblical).

      1. Precisely!

        Which also means that they get a lot of experience in listening.

        That’s the only exception I can ever think of to the otherwise obvious fact that clerics have no expertise in morality. They do tend to have experience in hearing people’s troubles. In a way that itself makes them attractive as listeners.

    2. How come they left off the obvious “Close friend or family member”?
      Also: I knew one minister who had a Masters degree in Counseling from a secular school, putting him in both of the offered categories. Good adjunct qualification for someone in that line of work.

    3. Wow, this really surprises me. Personally I have so much trouble with the irrationality necessary to be a clergyperson that I’d never feel comfortable with them, esp. for “personal crisis.” I dispute that those are the only two options–I’d probably look for a support group, or better yet, a book or two…

  9. I wonder how Massachusetts or Vermont would compare to Canada. Is there any state-level data on Americans’ belief in evolution?

      1. Dumb people are more likely to die from freezing to death, rather than die from the heat. In some parts of Canada, death by freezing at night is a possibility for months on end. And compare that to dumb people who wandered off into the Sahara and thus died.

        1. We lose a few tourists is the desert every now and again. They drive in without adequate provisions, car breaks down and that’s the end of them. More get eaten by crocodiles though. (Australia in case you hadn’t guessed ;-))

      2. No, my hypothesis is that people are less religious and more educated in New England than in Texas or Mississippi. I’m just curious to see how much difference there is by state. It’s not something I’ve ever seen. Surely, someone has done state-level polling before.

        1. Forgive me. I forgot the /snark tag…

          I don’t know if there are state-by-state data, but I’m pretty sure it has been sliced by income and education level…with the results exactly as you’d suspect.

          The higher the income and the greater the education, the more likely one is to get the answers right.

          Gallup has been doing this particular poll worded in that particular way since the 1950s. And since it’s a self-funded poll with only a 1000-person national sample, statewide results probably aren’t powered to show statistically significant differences.

  10. “Now if Canada had some decent weather.”
    I dunno about the rest of the country, but we in southern British Columbia have been sitting here all winter watching snow storms galore in the U.S. midwest,new England and New York areas.

    1. It’s why I hate our slogan “the best place on earth” Everyone thinks their place is best! Egocentric thinking indeed – just like religion.

      1. Well the Economist has Vancouver as the most liveable city in the world (5 years in a row).
        Yes its beautiful here and the climate is great most of the time. For those who can’t stand the rain, head to the DR for January and February like I did. The only problem (besides being the best place to live on the street in Canada) is the cost of housing. Now you know why so many live on the street.

  11. Sadly, it’s not just evolution that the general public is woefully under-educated about.

    I just had to set someone straight who was convinced that aspartame was harmful because it contains phenylalanine.

    *face palm*

    I pointed out that a Denny’s Grand Slam has FAR more phenylalanine than a diet Coke. I don’t think it sunk in.

    Give something a polysyllabic “sciencey” sounding name, and people will panic.

    That nasty dihydrogen monoxide. It’ll kill you!

    1. And phenylalanine is only a problem for phenylketonurics anyway. Or has it become an issue while I wasn’t looking?

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