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Thanksgiving Special -- Evolutionists Kick Up Heels at Recent Opinion Polls


Rachel E. Gross at Slate gives thanks that "Evolution Is Finally Winning Out Over Creationism":

Today, 4 in 10 adults in America believe that humans have existed in our present form since the beginning of time, and in many religious groups, that number is even higher. This is woeful.

Now, at long last, there seems to be hope: National polls show that creationism is beginning to falter, and Americans are finally starting to move in favor of evolution. After decades of legal battles, resistance to science education, and a deeply rooted cultural divide, evolution may be poised to win out once and for all.

She quotes Kenneth Miller, in a similarly boosterish mode:

The increase in younger people embracing evolution is "quite striking," says Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University and an expert witness the landmark court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, which kicked "intelligent design" out of public school classrooms in 2005. "We're moving in the right direction."

The cause for celebration here is that while "creationism," i.e. Youth Earth Creationism, remains well ahead of strict evolutionism (42 percent to 19 percent, according a 2014 Gallup poll), evolution is up from 9 percent in 1982 while creationism is down all of 2 percentage points, from 42 percent in that year.

Meanwhile, creationism is stronger among older than among younger people. According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, in the 18-25 year old category, creationism gets the nod from only 25 percent of respondents compared to 34 percent between 50 and 64 years of age.

The problem? Ms. Gross touts Ken Miller and invokes "intelligent design" and the Dover decision (see here for what really happened in Dover and here for more on the excellent decade we've had since then). Yet neither survey asked about intelligent design according to any recognizable description.

Gallup asked:

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

This addresses human evolution alone, while ID investigates the origin and history of life at a scale of millions and billions of years. ID does not speak about "God" but leaves theological questions about the source of design to scholars in theology, philosophy, and other disciplines. ID is agnostic on common descent -- the question of whether "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life" -- with some ID advocates finding major reasons for skepticism about the idea and others comfortable with it. So Option 1 doesn't match ID. Neither does Option 2 (strict evolutionism) or Option 3 (strict creationism).

Pew asked:

Which comes closer to your view? Humans and other living things have evolved over time or humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time?

Here there are only two choices: on one hand, a concept of evolution so broad that it could easily encompass intelligent design; on other hand, strict creationism.

So in fact from this research, it's not entirely clear what Americans think. Rachel Gross offers her comment on "intelligent design" in a paragraph where she celebrates the "increase in younger people embracing evolution." But although I'm an advocate of intelligent design, if I were talking to that Pew pollster, I would have to choose the "evolution" option since it "comes closer to my view"! What a mess.

If I were composing a survey, here's the question I would want to ask:

Which comes closer to your view? The history of animal and human life gives scientific evidence of design, or the history of animal and human life gives no scientific evidence of design.

Now that would be interesting, giving a clear measure of how young and old think about the most urgent issue at stake in the evolution debate. If the question had been asked by successive surveys over the past couple of decades, it would be even more interesting. (Biochemist Michael Behe's seminal book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.)

The obsessive focus on Biblical literalism and the age of Earth, by contrast, strikes me as a projection of media types and pollsters onto the minds of Americans, one that obscures polling data and much else.

Image credit: M. Rehemtulla [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.