June 1, 2012

Between the Bible and the Deep Blue Sea

Gallup’s 2012 public opinion poll on the acceptance of evolution in the U.S. is out. The results indicate that Americans feel pretty much the same now as we have since Gallup started polling the question 30 years ago.

When asked which of the several statements most closely match the respondent’s views on the origin and development of human beings, 32% believed that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process." Only 15% said that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process," while the majority, fully 46% were convinced that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

Gallup provided this nice graph tracking the results from 1982 to this most recent polling.

The poll results are "based on telephone interviews conducted May 10-13, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia." And have a sampling error of +/- 4%. Respondents with a lower level of education leaned more toward the creationist view.

In 2006 a group of researchers Led by Jon D. Miller, a political scientist at Michigan State University used the Gallup results to compare the U.S. results with similar polls in 31 other countries. The results were published in the Journal Science in August 2006.

The 2006 Gallup poll showed that in the U.S., only 14 percent accepted that evolution is "definitely true," while those completely rejecting the theory was about 32%. In this comparison, in the European countries of Denmark, Sweden, and France, somewhere over 80% accepted the concept of evolution. Europeans calling the theory "absolutely false" numbered between 7% in Great Britain to 15% in the Netherlands. 

A 2010 Topline poll conducted in Great Britain asked many questions, but there were two that could be used to measure the differences between that country and the U.S. on the question of evolution. 

“We depend too much on science and not enough on faith”
Agree 29
Disagree 46

”Human beings have evolved from other animals”
Agree 68
Disagree 17

In the Miller et al paper, there are three key influences that seem to make Americans more susceptible to doubting Darwin. First and foremost is the effect of fundamentalist religious belief. Miller shows this effect to be almost twice as prevalent in the U.S. as in Europe. Fundamentalists in the U.S. view Genesis as accurate.

In Europe, after the 16th century break from the Catholic Church, Protestants retained a political hierarchy and maintained it as part of their educational system. "In the United States, partly because of our frontier history, most of the Protestant churches are congregational—they don't belong to any hierarchy," says Miller. "They're free to choose their own ministers and espouse their own beliefs." This is the cafeteria model of religious belief. Keep what you like and discard the rest.

This cafeteria system spawned the creation of Bible colleges that trained preachers in some oddly configured theologies. As Miller says, "If you send them to a Bible college that teaches only the Bible, they'll come back preaching only the Bible," The study authors further stated that "There are very few European counterparts to that." 

Miller’s team next looked at our American political philosophies. They found that individuals identifying as socially conservative Republicans and holding anti-abortion views rejected evolution to a much higher degree than those with more liberal, pro-choice views. 

In Europe no such correlation between Darwin deniers and individuals holding anti-abortion or right-wing views could be determined. Miller says that this indicates evolution in the U.S has become politicized "in a manner never seen in Europe or Japan." 

"In the second half of the 20th century, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as part of a platform designed to consolidate their support in Southern and Midwestern states," writes Miller. 

Miller offers the example of when Ronald Reagan was running for President. The soon to be President would slip in the comment, "I have no chimpanzees in my family," into his speeches. This was Reagan’s way of denying that humans had evolved from lesser creatures, and it was his way of attracting the votes of lesser educated individuals. When a respected presidential candidate utters such denial, it "lends a degree of legitimacy to the dispute." 

The study found also that some knowledge of genetics is more likely to lead to a positive attitude toward evolution. Unfortunately the study revealed that in the U.S. a rather large percentage of adult Americans are woefully undereducated in even basic scientific knowledge. To illustrate this Miller cites a 2005 study showing that fully 78% of adult Americans believed that animals and plants had evolved from lesser organisms, but in the same study 62% also stated that humans were created by God outside of evolution, and that less than 50% could offer even a minimal definition of DNA. 

Seems that it is pretty easy to understand why Americans tend to be such deniers of accepted scientific theory. While the church in the rest of the world seems to not have so much of an effect, the fundamentalist churches in the U.S. have demonstrated a measurably negative effect on even the most basic and accepted data. 

The conclusion is obvious. Christianity is dumbing America down into a third world status, and the Republican Party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the fundamentalist Christian church.