At irregular but frequent intervals since 1982, Gallup, America's best-known polling organization, has been sampling the national opinion on this question:
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. (36%)
2 Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process. (14%)
3 God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. (44%)
The percentages I have inserted are from 2008. The figures for 1982, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007 are pretty much the same.
I am in what I am not surprised to see is a minority of 14% ticking the box for proposition 2. It is unfortunate that the wording of proposition 2, 'but God had no part in this process', seems calculated to bias religious people gratuitously against it. The real killer is the lamentably strong support for proposition 3. Forty-four per cent of Americans deny evolution totally, whether it is guided by God or not, and the implication is that they believe the entire world is no more than 10,000 years old. As I have pointed out before, given that the true age of the world is 4.6 billion years, this is equivalent to believing that the width of North America is less than 10 yards. In none of the nine years sampled did the support for proposition 3 drop below 40%. In two of the sampling years, it hit 47%. More than 40% of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we - and by implication all of life - were created by God within the last 10,000 years. This book is necessary.
The questions posed by Gallup focused on human beings, and that could, it might be said, have upped the emotional ante and made it harder to accept the scientific view. In 2008 the Pew Forum published a similar poll of Americans which didn't specifically mention humans. The results were fully compatible with Gallup. The propositions on offer were as follows, with the percentages assenting to them:
Existed in its present form since the beginning of time 42% Evolved over time 48%
Evolution through natural selection 26% Evolution guided by supreme being 18% Evolved but don't know how 4%
Don't know 10%
The Pew questions didn't mention dates, so we don't know how many of the 42% who positively reject evolution also think the world is less than 10,000 years old, as Gallup's 44% presumably do. It seems likely that Pew's 42%, too, would go along with thousands of years rather than the scientists' date of about 4.6 billion years. To believe that life on Earth has existed in its present form for 4.6 billion years without any change at all would seem at least as absurd as to believe that it has existed in its present form for a few thousand years, and it is certainly unbiblical.
What about Britain? How do we compare? In 2006 the BBC's (comparatively) up-market science documentary series Horizon* commissioned an Ipsos MORI poll among British people. Unfortunately, the key question was not well formulated. People were asked to choose one of the following three 'theories or explanations about the origin and development of life on earth'. After each option, I've put the percentage choosing it.
(a) The 'evolution theory' says that human kind has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process. (48%)
(b) The 'creationism theory' says that God created human kind pretty much in his/her present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. (22%)
(c) The 'intelligent design theory' says that certain features of living things are best explained by the intervention of a supernatural being, e.g. God. (17%)
Regrettably, these choices could have left some people without their preferred option. They leave no room for '(a) but God played a part in this process'. Given the inclusion of the phrase, 'God had no part in this process', it is not surprising that the figure for (a) is as low as 48%. Option (b)'s tally of 22%, however, is alarmingly high, especially given the ludicrous age limit of 10,000 years. And, if we add (b) and (c) together to give the percentage who favour some form of creationism, we get 39%. This is still not as high as the American figure of more than 40%, especially bearing in mind that the American figure refers to young Earth creationists, whereas the British 39% presumably includes old Earth creationists, under (c).
The MORI poll posed a second question to the British sample, about education. Given the same three theories, people were asked whether they should or should not be taught in science classes. Disquietingly, only 69% positively thought that evolution should be taught in science classes at all -whether or not alongside some form of creation or intelligent design theory.
A more ambitious survey, which included Britain but not America, was conducted by Eurobarometer in 2005. This poll sampled opinions and beliefs about scientific matters in thirty-two European countries (including Turkey, which is the only substantially Islamic country to aspire to membership of the European Union). Table 1 shows the percentages in various countries assenting to the proposition that 'Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.' Note that this is a more modest statement than (a) in the MORI poll, since it does not exclude the possibility that God played some part in the evolutionary process. I have ranked the countries by percentage assenting to the proposition, that is, the percentage giving the correct answer as judged by modern science. Thus 85% of the Icelandic sample think, as scientists do, that humans have evolved from other species. A paltry 27% of the Turkish population do. Turkey is the only country in the table where there appears to be a majority who think evolution is actually false. Britain is ranked fifth, with 13% actively denying evolution. The United States was not sampled in the European survey, but the deplorable fact that it comes out only just ahead of Turkey in such matters has been given much publicity of late.
Stranger are the results set out in Table 2, which shows the equivalent percentages for the proposition that 'The earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.' Once again, I have ranked the countries by the percentage giving the correct answer, which in this case is 'false'.* Again Turkey comes out bottom, with a full 42% believing that the earliest humans co-existed with dinosaurs, and only 30% prepared to deny it, compared with 87% of Swedes. Britain, I am sorry to say, is in the bottom half, with 28% of us apparently getting our scientific and historical knowledge from the Flintstones rather than from any educational source.
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