Gallup recently re-polled Americans about their views on evolution (poll can be found right here at this link) and once again, the results are unsurprising yet depressing. 46% of Americans chose “I’m an idiot*” when asked their views on evolution and humanity. 32% chose the “God guided evolution” option, leaving only 15% to agree with nearly every scientists with relevant knowledge on the planet.
I’m used to this. The “humans evolved with the guidance of God” answer is to be expected from a large portion of Americans. While atheism is definitely increasing, we are still far from resembling a western European nation religiously. If you believe in God, especially a personal God who gives a shit about you, then you are obviously going to insert God into the creation of the human species.
The Idiot 46%* is disturbing mainly because this number was down to 40% in 2011, which was the lowest percentage of morons in the history of Gallup asking this question. (47% is the high water mark of stupid, reached twice; in 1993-94 and again in 1999-2000.) Hopefully this spike was just the luck of the polling sample. Honestly, even 40% is a disgrace for our education system and intelligence.
Over at the Nation, Katha Pollitt answers those who would look at the polling data and ask, “So What?”
Why does it matter that almost half the country rejects the overwhelming evidence of evolution, with or without the hand of God? After all, Americans are famously ignorant of many things—like where Iran is or when World War II took place—and we are still here. One reason is that rejecting evolution expresses more than an inability to think critically; it relies on a fundamentally paranoid worldview. Think what the world would have to be like for evolution to be false. Almost every scientist on earth would have to be engaged in a fraud so complex and extensive it involved every field from archaeology, paleontology, geology and genetics to biology, chemistry and physics. And yet this massive concatenation of lies and delusion is so full of obvious holes that a pastor with a Bible-college degree or a homeschooling parent with no degree at all can see right through it. A flute discovered in southern Germany is 43,000 years old? Not bloody likely. It’s probably some old bone left over from an ancient barbecue. To celebrate its fifth anniversary, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, has installed a holographic exhibit of Lucy, the famous proto-human fossil, showing how she was really just a few-thousand-year-old ape after all.
(Bolding is mine, to highlight a great point.)
Why do we as a nation fail so hard teaching evolution and the evidence for evolution? It’s not like 46% of the nation is home-schooled by lunatics. (Ever see Jesus Camp? *shivers*)
Patricia Princehouse, director of the evolutionary biology program at Case Western Reserve University, laughed when I suggested to her that the Gallup survey shows that education doesn’t work. “There isn’t much evolution education in the schools,” she told me. “Most have no more than a lesson or two, and it isn’t presented as connected with the rest of biology.” In fact, students may not even get that much exposure. Nationally, Princehouse said, at least 13 percent of biology teachers teach “young earth” creationism (not just humans but the earth itself is only 10,000 years old or thereabouts), despite laws forbidding it, and some 60 percent teach a watered-down version of evolution. They have to get along with their neighbors, after all. In Tennessee, home of the Scopes trial, a new law actually makes teaching creationism legal. “No one takes them to court,” Princehouse told me, “because creationism is so popular. Those who object are isolated and afraid of reprisals.” People tend to forget that Clarence Darrow lost the Scopes trial; until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in 1968, it was illegal to teach evolution in public schools in about half a dozen states.
More and more, to be an informed citizen, you have to be scientifically literate. So many upcoming debates and decisions require a basic scientific understanding to properly understand.
Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University and practicing Catholic who is a leading voice against creationism, agrees with Princehouse. “Science education has been remarkably ineffective,” he told me. “Those of us in the scientific community who are religious have a tremendous amount of work to do in the faith community.” Why bother? “There’s a potential for great harm when nearly half the population rejects the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. It’s useful for us as a species to understand that we are a recent appearance on this planet and that 99.9 percent of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct.” Evangelical parents may care less that their children learn science than that they avoid going to hell, but Miller points out that many of the major challenges facing the nation—and the world—are scientific in nature: climate change and energy policy, for instance. “To have a near majority essentially rejecting the scientific method is very troubling,” he says. And to have solidly grounded science waved away as political and theological propaganda could not come at a worse time. “Sea-level rise” is a “left-wing term,” said Virginia state legislator Chris Stolle, a Republican, successfully urging its replacement in a state-commissioned study by the expression “recurrent flooding.”
46%. And I’m sure a good portion of them vote. Willfully ignorant people electing our leaders. Sometimes, democracy seems like such a bad idea.
* I’m sure someone will take offense to me calling the 46% who believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last ten thousand years or so” “idiots.” Not all of the 46% are idiots. Most are probably just ignorant. Perhaps they believe their pastors and creation museums and websites when they claim that evolution is a theory in crisis, or that their are no transitional fossils, or that the eye could not have evolved, or that humans rode dinosaurs, etc, etc…. I must admit I take a dim view of most creationists. The evidence for evolution isn’t hidden away in dusty tomes that only the most exalted scholars can access. In the time it takes to write a typo-filled, all caps,wall of text rant for posting on Facebook or some poor science bloggers comment thread, you can go to Talk Origins , read the FAQ and begin gaining an understanding of the Theory of Evolution. Yet most creationists I talk to/argue with seem like they would much rather keep pounding home their debunked talking points rather than actually trying to learn something. So, yeah. Idiots.