Sunday, August 13, 2006

Americans increasingly confused about Evolution.

In many ways, religion seems to pervade just about every aspect of American life, including politics and science. This of course also depends on where you live in this vast country – it is more so in the middle of country or in the south than on the East or West coast or in big cities.

In any case, a lot of American Evangelical Christians will tell you that the pervasion of Christian belief in American society is a sign that America is a very Christian nation - a true believer, they say, cannot ever put their faith on the side, it is part of who they are and therefore it should affect every aspect of their lives. They take a lot of pride in that, and as a Christian myself, I can certainly appreciate that.

My problem, however, is when faith becomes dogma and when people deny evidence when it is in conflict with their interpretation of the Scriptures to the point they even distort reality rather than change their interpretation.

As J2T has often discussed (here, here and here) the confusion between science and religion is one that reflects such a dogmatic view of faith. This recent study published in the Aug. 11 issue of the journal Science shows that among the 34 countries - including the EU countries- where the data was collected, the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution (just before Turkey):

This study was actually conducted over the last 20 years – between 1985 and 2000 and it shows that:

  • fewer U.S. adults accept evolution (from 45% down to 40%)
  • but also that fewer US adults overtly reject evolution declined (from 48% to 39%).
  • in fact, 3 times as many are now unsure (from 7% to 21%)

While the results may not be entirely surprising in how they reveal a state of confusion, there are some other more fascinating results:
The analysis found that Americans with defined religious beliefs (i.e. in substantial divine control and frequent prayer) were more likely to reject evolution than Europeans with similar beliefs. This is an indication that a significant part of American Christians actually embrace fundamentalist theology.

The two other reasons given for the results are:

  1. the politicization of the issue:

According to one of the researchers:

“There is no major political party in Europe and Japan that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform. In the United States, there are people who think it is a political advantage to discount evolution.”

2. Bad education in science with a poor understanding of biological concepts, especially genetics, by American adults. (for instance in one of the statements asked "All plants and animals have DNA." Americans had a median score of 4 in their response)

One last interesting point was made by the director of the National Center for Science Education in California. He believes that “the rejection of evolution is not something that will be solved by throwing science at it” but by having other Christians (Catholics and mainstream Protestants) speak up about their theologies' acceptance of evolution.

Since the number of American adults unsure about the validity of evolution has increased in recent years, (from 7 to 21%), there is hope. Ater all, it also means that there are more people than before who actually recognize implicitly they need to be educated on the subject.

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