December 17, 2010
Belief in evolutionary origins of humans slowly rising, however
by Frank Newport
PRINCETON, NJ — Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement.
A small minority of Americans hold the “secular evolution” view that humans evolved with no influence from God — but the number has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today. At the same time, the 40% of Americans who hold the “creationist” view that God created humans as is 10,000 years ago is the lowest in Gallup’s history of asking this question, and down from a high point of 47% in 1993 and 1999. There has been little change over the years in the percentage holding the “theistic evolution” view that humans evolved under God’s guidance.
Americans’ views on human origins vary significantly by level of education and religiosity. Those who are less educated are more likely to hold a creationist view. Those with college degrees and postgraduate education are more likely to hold one of the two viewpoints involving evolution.
Americans who attend church frequently are most likely to accept explanations for the origin of humans that involve God, not a surprising finding. Still, the creationist viewpoint, held by 60% of weekly churchgoers, is not universal even among the most highly religious group. Also, about a fourth of those who seldom or never attend church choose the creationist view
The significantly higher percentage of Republicans who choose a creationist view of human origins reflects in part the strong relationship between religion and politics in contemporary America. Republicans are significantly more likely to attend church weekly than are others, and, as noted, Americans who attend church weekly are most likely to select the creationist alternative for the origin of humans.
Most Americans believe in God, and about 85% have a religious identity. It is not surprising as a result to find that about 8 in 10 Americans hold a view of human origins that involves actions by God — that he either created humans as depicted in the book of Genesis, or guided a process of evolution. What no doubt continues to surprise many scientists is that 4 out of 10 Americans believe in the first of these explanations.
These views have been generally stable over the last 28 years. Acceptance of the creationist viewpoint has decreased slightly over time, with a concomitant rise in acceptance of a secular evolution perspective. But these shifts have not been large, and the basic structure of beliefs about human beings’ origins is generally the same as it was in the early 1980s.
Americans’ attitudes about almost anything can and often do have political consequences. Views on the origins of humans are no exception. Debates and clashes over which explanations for human origins should be included in school textbooks have persisted for decades. With 40% of Americans continuing to hold to an anti-evolutionary belief about the origin of humans, it is highly likely that these types of debates will continue.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 10-12, 2010, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.