New Pew Poll Shows Republicans, Evangelicals Least Likely to Accept Evolution

A new Pew research poll on the “Public’s Views on Human Evolution” was released presenting data that backs up what many political and religious scholars have suspected for some time: that white Evangelical Republicans (particularly older ones) constitute the group that most rejects the basic scientific principle of human evolution via natural selection.

The results are simultaneously unbelievable and yet quite typical, or at the very least, expected.

While only 33% of adult Americans still don’t accept human evolution via natural selection, opting instead to believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”, THAT NUMBER NEARLY DOUBLES TO 64% among white evangelical protestants(!) AND, of those white evangelical protestants that did accept evolution, half of them said that a “supreme being guided [the] process.” As a point of comparison, a majority of Catholics (both white, 68%, and Hispanic, 53%) accept human evolution.

But what is truly disturbing is the continued religio-political marriage between the Republican party and white Evangelicals (the most fundamentalist of whom are spearheading the even more conservative Tea Party movements). While a majority of Independents (65%) and Democrats (67%) accept evolution as the origin of humankind, A MAJORITY OF REPUBLICANS NOW REJECT EVOLUTION – with 48% of Republicans saying that humans “existed in present from since the beginning”, and only 43% of Republicans accepting evolution. And incredulously, unlike trends in nearly every other demographic where science and science education appear to (finally!) be taking root and acceptance of human evolution is increasing, THE PERCENTAGE OF REPUBLICANS ACCEPTING EVOLUTION IS ACTUALLY DOWN 11%(!!) over the past four years, from 54% in 2009 to 43% in 2013.

No wonder many think the Republican party is out of touch. Statistically, Republicans are actually getting DUMBER scientifically! Then again, look at the recent major Republican political candidates and their religious views. Good grief!

Also of note in the survey:

  • Men accept evolution more than women (65% to 55%).
  • Not surprisingly, college graduates accept evolution far more than those with a high school or less education (72% to 51%).
  • And again not surprisingly, younger demographics consistently accept evolution more than their older counterparts, with 68% of those ages 18-29 accepting evolution, roughly 60% of those ages 30-64, but only 49% of those 65 and older accepting evolution. This is likely due to a number of factors, including an increased acceptance of science and scientific principles among high school and college students, the rise of the Internet and the availability of credible information about evolution – information that is not always taught by parents and pastors, and it is also likely a reflection of the increasing rejection of traditional religious institutions by younger generations.

In sum, we now have hard data to support what many of us have observed for some time now: a correlation between older generations, white Evangelicals, the Republican party, and a rejection of one of the basic principles of science, namely human evolution via natural selection.

We can take hope, however, that among both Christian and non-religious groups alike, there is an overall increase in the acceptance of human evolution via natural selection, and that those still rejecting evolution appear to be limited to groups that are lesser educated, Evangelical, and of older ages. Again, this is likely due to an increased acceptance of science and scientific principles among younger generations, the Internet’s ability to provide increasingly credible information about evolution and information demonstrating the fallacies (both scientific and religious) of Creationism, and the increasingly pervasive stigma that Creationism is associated with old, white, conservative, Evangelical Republicans who are out of touch with science, reality, and the majority of the people.

UPDATE: I had the wrong URL in the initial link to the Pew study. It now correctly links to the study.

14 Responses

  1. And in other news, water is still wet.

  2. After reading this blog post, I did a quick probabilistic analysis and came to the result that I am probably the only Evangelical Republican who regularly reads your blog posts. Although I feel a little misjudged right now, I do NOT want you to cancel my subscription.

  3. I know people with advanced Science and Engineering degrees that refuse to believe in evolution and radio carbon dating. They are evangelical protestants but they are young 30 and under. I never understood how they can hold those views. I guess their religious brainwashing was very thorough.

    I am Catholic and Republican and I believe in evolution.

  4. It would be too nuanced for a poll summary but maybe Dr. Cargill will be willing to introduce some nuance into the discussion: Evangelical Republicans refuse to accept evolution-science, EXCEPT FOR … me, and you and … who else might join us?

  5. Wow, I’m wondering what parts of the Bible you do believe.

  6. It fits with my perception that the religious right has has hijacked the gop.

    In a short timeframe, it dates back roughly 40 some years ago when the gop was a party looking for votes, and the religious right, with the rise of Falwell, Vigurie (sp) etc were looking for a party.

    It’s also noteworthy that the national acceptance of gays and gay marriage, now over 50%, also correlates to the younger generation. ( now if we could get them to learn how to spell “you” again? )


  7. Dr. Cargill,
    You noted, “In sum, we now have hard data to support what many of us have observed for some time now: a correlation between older generations, white Evangelicals, the Republican party, and a rejection of one of the basic principles of science, namely human evolution via natural selection.”

    The hard data supports that those people reject, “human evolution via natural selection.” It does not support that they reject one of the basic principles of science. Scientific method is based upon basic principles (like first principles, presuming you’re actually being precise with your terms) such as a correlation between cause an effect, the universe being able to be described in terms of mathematics, the relationship between propositions and reality, the general reliability of the human senses, and the importance of experimental data to confirm sensory experience. Those are basic principles of science. To call TENS (theory of evolution by natural selection) a basic principle of science is to either misunderstand the history of science or to misunderstand what basic principles are. For instance, Newton came up with Calculus to refine astronomy without TENS. Is all of his sciencey math stuff wrong? Bayes theorem, which is used in probabilistic analysis in biology, is not based upon TENS. Most physics theories have little to do with TENS, even education theories are based upon statistical analysis of present states of reality, thus have very little to do with TENS. The point being that most science can get along fine without any individual coming down to a particular stance on an in-debate between Biologists. Hell, early Darwinian theory was at odds with a theory of environmental evolution.

    So, I guess my point is that even though your argument (that republicans/evangelicals are dumb and stuff), starts off well, your final conclusion misses the point of your own evidence entirely because you mistook a scientific conclusion in one field as a principle that is necessary for the whole scientific enterprise. These things happen. At least there is hope that in the future white people will get in touch with science.


  8. Geoff,

    I note your distinction. I would argue that evolution via natural selection is now an underlying principle in science. It is as much a fundamental principle as gravity, whether you call it a law or theory, whether we fully understand it or not.
    (You supplied the ‘first principles’ assumption, rhetorically seeking to restate my claim for the purposes of framing your response. So some jury points for effort there.)
    You also err in assuming that fundamental principles in biology must be employed in astronomy. Not every calculation requires/employs every scientific principle.
    Adding 1+1 to get 2 does not invoke Euler’s Laws of Motion, but this does not make the latter any less of scientific principles.

    And yes, here’s hoping that all people get in touch with science, and cease in their rejection of fundamental scientific principles because they believe their religion tells them to do so.


  9. I guess my misunderstanding was your phrase, “basic principles of science” if you meant “basic principles of the results of biology” then I agree.

    Also, thanks for the jury points. You said “basic principles of science” though. I supplied that definition because I couldn’t see what you could mean.

    Though I do wish that Christians, and people in general, should become more science literate what do you think that entails?

    I’ve always said that it means that they should be conversant in the technical language and arguments among the scientists. But many educators (even a NYT piece by a math teacher) think we should even stop teaching Algebra because of the waste of hours and billions of dollars getting children to try to learn the basics. I’m not sure I agree, but the amount of adults I know who cannot do basic algebra is astounding. There is current research that only about 5% of people utilize what they’ve learned beyond pre-Algebra.
    What I’ve discovered is that many research scientists and especially biologists are bad at the most basic aspects of the Calculus, Differential Equations, and Statistical Modelling. There is evidence for those claims outside of my experiences talking to biologists I know who complain about this. The famous sociobiologist E.O. Wilson wrote an infamous article about how difficult mathematics should no longer be required for biologists because too few people completed the degrees when they couldn’t pass the math courses. Similarly, a medical researcher named Ionnides published a report about why, for a host of statistical, financial, and motivational reasons most published research in the biological sciences is wrong. Kimmo Eriksson conducted a study and found that in the Biological sciences, the more difficult equations that are present, the less likely biologists are to read a journal article. (if you want links to these articles I can send them your way, they just jumble up the comments and I don’t know if wordpress allows html).
    I would argue that the mathematics is a more basic scientific principle for biologists than even TENS. Assuming TENS to be true doesn’t help me calculate the Type II error in a study of produce yields based on fertilizer use. But, knowing statistical modelling like I know riding a bicycle makes it easy. The point of all of this is to ask this question: Does scientific literacy entail accepting the results of science (which tend to change or be disputed even when one side of a debate is popularized), or does it mean being able to competently read journals and determine if the science is good? I mean, people who believe in evolution accept results of studies all the time that are clearly bunk if you look at the actual numbers and understand how simply phrases like, “statistical significance” are being used. You want people to be in touch with science, but unless they understand the actual practice, they will be cowed by so many poorly designed research projects that I get depressed just thinking about it.

    It hope that this discussion isn’t super boring to you because your main field is archaeology, but you do seem to share my interest in scientific literacy. And we both had to learn Hebrew in college, so I figured we had that in common.

    The point I’m making is that scientific literacy has to, in my opinion, go beyond “not rejecting fundamental scientific principles [of the results of biology].” If we want to use the word literacy to describe it (my term, not yours), people have to know statistics and mathematics, because they have to actually be able to read scientific literature.

    Thanks for your time Dr. Cargill

    P.S. Its funny you should mention Euler. Though he was one of the most able minded mathematicians of all time, he also wrote a great deal of theology. So at least certain great minds reject neither mathematics nor science because of religion.

  10. Btw, my sarcastic tone in the first was not because I am, at heart an internet jerk, but rather because you yourself use it and, I hoped for some debatish fun with somebody who knows what they’re talking about. Peace.

  11. Most of them were theologians or believed in God (or at least contemplated it in their writings). They’d be alienated if they didn’t, and/or some of them still couldn’t comprehend past what they didn’t know. But as science and technology have advanced, we see that much of what could not be explained either has now or is beginning to be explained, and we are learning to separate their brilliant contributions to the fields of science and math from the vestiges of thought inherent to the times in which they lived. Fortunately in science, one’s positive contributions when correct are not negated by the often hundreds of times one was wrong. This is the beauty of science: it progresses based upon refutation, and it rewards those who think imaginatively, yet logically, despite the fact that one will be found by the very nature of science to be incorrect more often than not.

  12. […] – something that progressive-minded Christians are more inclined to reject as evidenced by other recent surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Christians now accept human […]

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