More Stats, a Response to “Why Evangelicals (allegedly) can’t be Evolutionists”

In his last post, James started the first of our discussions concerning the essays recently posted by the Biologos Foundation. To give everyone a heads up (in case you want to read ahead and not be seeing the essay first though my glasses), I will be posting next on Mark Noll’s essay entitled “Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview.”

There isn’t too much to respond to regarding James’s post, since it was mostly stating the data found in a survey, but I thought I would sling some more statistics your way. Susan sent me a link to a survey by the Association of Religion Data Archives in 2004 on beliefs concerning evolution in the general population, also divided by religious categories. I found it interesting. To summarize, people were asked to rank their belief in the following statement, “Human beings developed from earlier species of animals.” Within the general population, 15% said “definitely true,” 29% said “probably true,” 15% said “probably not,” and 39% said “definitely not.” About 2% couldn’t choose or didn’t have an answer. When the survey is broken into more specific categories, belief in evolution is significantly less common in those who identified as protestant, and is also strongly lower among those who claim to attend church weekly (69% say definitely not). Belief in evolution is also noticeably correlated with education. Specifically those with college and graduate degrees are much more likely to belief in evolution. I also find it interesting that there is a trend with age (at least for the ‘definite’ answers) such that older people are less likely to accept evolution.

I decided to see how these numbers compared with others out there. Quickly I found a 2009 Pew Research poll on religion and science, and another on religious belief among scientists. Again I will summarize what I thought was most interesting. First off, americans overwhelmingly think that science benefits society (84%), and this is fairly independent of religious identification. 55% of the general public said that they perceived conflicts between religion and science, whereas only 36% said that science conflicted with their religious beliefs. Among the general public, 61% believed in some kind of evolution (22% said it was guided by a supreme being). This is slightly higher than the other survey. I don’t know if this reflects differences in the questions asked or a change between 2004 and 2009 (perhaps a result of all of the recent press on this issue?). Among scientists, 97% believed in evolution (8% said that it was guided). When the public was divided by religious affiliation, the lowest levels of belief in evolution are among evangelical protestants. Catholics and mainline protestant more or less line up with the general public.

The poll among scientists was sent to members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I’m not sure how well this group represents average scientists, but it’s at least a start. To me this survey was actually a bit startling. People answered whether they “believe in God,” “believe in some higher power,” “believe in neither,” or “don’t know/won’t say.” The general public responded with 83%, 12%, 4%, and 1% in those categories, respectively. In fairly stark contrast, members of the AAAS responded with 33%, 18%, 41%, and 7% to the answers above. Scientists are less likely to believe in God. I also find it interesting that the percent who “don’t know” is much higher among scientists. I think that the tendency towards skepticism among scientists makes them both less likely to accept a religious faith and less likely to say that they know for sure. Also of interest is that there is a trend with age. Older scientists are less likely to believe in God or a higher power than young ones. I suspect that this evidences the cultural shift from the modern world to the postmodern in which religion is much more acceptable.

I hope that you found these numbers interesting. Some of them were surprising to me. I encourage you to look at the links above as there are a lot more things there I didn’t discuss. It’s also a lot easier to see the statistics in nice colored graphs. The data certainly indicate that there are strong divides on these issues – particularly between evangelical Christians and scientists. I think that’s why we’re writing this series.

-Matt, the elder brother


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