Most Americans Tentative About Origin-of-Life Explanations

by David W. Moore

Public says evolution, creationism probably true; divided on intelligent design

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Last month, President George W. Bush fueled renewed debate about teaching evolution in schools, when he opined that "intelligent design" should be taught along with evolution as competing theories explaining the origins of life. Gary Bauer, a Christian conservative leader who ran against Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries, asserted that intelligent design "is not some backwater view. It's a view held by the majority of Americans."

Gallup polling suggests that indeed most Americans believe God played some part in the development or creation of the human species, though relatively few people are very familiar with the term "intelligent design." While close to half of all Americans (45%) say they are "very familiar" with evolution, and an equal percentage say that about creationism, only 17% say they are this familiar with intelligent design.

How familiar would you say you are with each of the following explanations about the origin and development of life on Earth -- very familiar, somewhat familiar, not too familiar, or not at all familiar? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2005 Aug 5-7
(sorted by "very familiar")

Very
familiar

Somewhat familiar

Not too familiar

Not at all familiar

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

Evolution

45

37

10

7

1

Creationism

45

29

15

9

2

Intelligent design

17

28

27

25

3

The percentages who say they are either "very" or "somewhat" familiar with each explanation are 82% for evolution, 74% for creationism, and 45% for intelligent design.

When it comes to expressing a firm belief in one explanation or another, most Americans are unwilling to say that any of the items are either "definitely" true or false.

Forty percent of people have a "definite" view of evolution, with 20% saying evolution is definitely true and 20% saying definitely false. By comparison, 37% have a clear-cut view about creationism (29% definitely true, 8% definitely false), and just 18% express unambiguous feelings about intelligent design (8% definitely true, 10% definitely false).

For each of the following, please say whether you believe it is -- [ROTATED: definitely true, probably true, probably false, (or) definitely false] as an explanation for the origin and development of life on Earth? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?


2005 Aug 5-7
(sorted by "definitely true")


Definitely
true


Probably
true


Probably
false


Definitely
false

Not familiar
with


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

Creationism

29

29

18

8

11

5

Evolution

20

35

14

20

8

3

Intelligent design

8

23

22

10

28

9

While many people are not completely sure about the validity of each of the explanations for the origins of life, majorities believe that creationism and evolution are at least probably true, while people are evenly divided about intelligent design. By 58% to 26%, a majority of Americans express their belief in creationism; by 55% to 34%, a majority also accept evolution. But 32% of Americans tend to reject intelligent design, while 31% say it is probably true.

In principle, the possibility exists that one could believe in both evolution and intelligent design. While many evolutionists suggest that random mutations are at the heart of evolutionary change, many other people who accept evolution nevertheless believe that at some removed point in time, God set the evolutionary process in motion.

However, the conflicts between creationism and evolution appear irreconcilable. Evolution posits millions of years of change, and the emergence of the human species from apes. Creationism accepts the literal creation story in the Bible, which essentially says that about 6,000 years ago God created all living things, including humans, as they currently exist.

The poll shows, however, that many Americans apparently do not recognize the irreconcilability of creationism and evolution. Twenty-nine percent say that both explanations are either definitely or probably true, while 47% accept only one or the other of the explanations -- 26% say creationism is probably true, but evolution is not; and 21% say that evolution is probably true, and creationism is not. Another 4% say both explanations are probably false, and 20% have no opinion.

Comparison of Beliefs About Evolution and Creationism

"Probably"
true/false

%

Both probably true

29

Evolution probably true, creationism not

21

Creationism probably true, evolution not

26

Both probably false

4

No opinion about one or both

20

If we look only at the people who have "definitely" decided whether each explanation is true or false, we find only 25% of Americans with a firm view about the two explanations. Five percent believe both are definitely true, while 2% believe both are definitely false. Another 13% believe creationism is definitely true and evolution is definitely false; while 5% believe evolution is definitely true and creationism is definitely false.

Comparison of Beliefs About Evolution and Creationism

"Definitely"
true/false

%

Both definitely true

5

Evolution definitely true, creationism not

5

Creationism definitely true, evolution not

13

Both definitely false

2

No opinion about one or both

75

Views About Origins of Life Related to Church Attendance

There are some differences in views among Protestants and Catholics on the explanation for the origin of life, but the major differences appear to be among people classified by how frequently they attend church.

People who seldom or rarely attend are much more likely to believe in evolution (71%) than are people who attend weekly (33%). Also, there are differences by education -- the higher the level of education, the more likely people are to believe in evolution.

Evolution

Definitely/
Probably true

Definitely/
Probably false

Not familiar/
no opinion

%

%

%

Overall

55

34

11

Church attendance

Weekly

33

56

11

Near weekly/Monthly

52

36

12

Seldom/Never

71

18

11

Education

High school or less

46

32

22

Some college

56

39

5

College grad

60

36

4

Postgrad

74

24

2

Not surprisingly, those correlations are reversed for creationism. Seventy-three percent of weekly churchgoers believe creationism is probably true, compared with 63% of occasional churchgoers, and just 48% of people who rarely or never attend.

Education also appears to be correlated with belief in creationism, but the differences in views are primarily between postgraduates and the rest of the group. Postgraduates are about evenly divided as to whether creationism is true or false, while the other educational groups all show significant majorities who believe creationism is true.

Creationism

Definitely/
Probably true

Definitely/
Probably false

Not familiar/
No opinion

%

%

%

Overall

58

26

16

Church attendance

Weekly

73

13

14

Near weekly/Monthly

63

20

17

Seldom/Never

48

37

15

Education

High school or less

57

20

23

Some college

64

23

13

College grad

63

27

10

Postgrad

48

45

7

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,004 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 5-7, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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.

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/18748/Most-Americans-Tentative-About-OriginofLife-Explanations.aspx
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