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Atheists & Christians on Teaching Creationism in American Public Schools


Everywhere across America, there are regular conflicts over teaching creationism in public schools. Courts have consistently struck down creationist schemes to get religious instruction introduced into science classes, but 59% of all Americans and 86% of all evangelical Christians still believe that schools should include creationism in school lessons.

Even 29% of all atheists and agnostics support this inclusion of religious ideology in science classes, which is just bizarre. Why is there so much overwhelming popular support for something that is so clearly unethical and illegal?


American Opinions on Creationism in Public Schools

A Barna survey conducted in May, 2004 (margin of error: ± 2.4%), asked Americans about how Christianized they want their country to be and it included a question about whether they supported teaching creationism in public schools (which should be a hint that the inclusion of creationism is about promoting Christianity over every other religion, not about facts of science):
  • All Adults: 59%
  • Evangelicals: 86%
  • Non-Evangelical Born Again: 70%
  • Protestant: 69%
  • Catholic: 59%
  • Notional Christian: 60%
  • Non-Christian Faith: 42%
  • Atheist / Agnostic: 29%

The biggest question with a poll like this is the meaning of the word "creationism." Even among Christians the term can have a variety of meanings and this creates the problem that people may be expressing support for teaching entirely different things. Ideally, a poll about this subject should give people two or three different options for the sort of "creationism" they would support having taught, but that would be more complicated and difficult to do.

On the other hand, we know that Young Earth Creationism is incredibly popular in the United States - a poll conducted by CBS in 2005 found that 51% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form. The ADL conducted a similar poll that year and found that 57% of Americans believe the Bible is a better explanation for the origins of human life than Darwinian evolution. It's thus not implausible that most of those expressing support for teaching creationism in this poll. have the same sort of thing in mind.


Christian Opinions on Creationism in Public Schools

It's significant that every Christian group included above gives overwhelming support for teaching creationism in schools, in some cases well above the national average. It would be more informative if we had more data on specific Christian denominations, but Barna doesn't typically get more specific than the groups included above.

Barna commented on the survey results by saying: "Evangelicals [are] the group most fervently desirous of integrating a Christian perspective into the basic fabric of American life. The intensity of their commitment to their faith makes them a cultural lightning rod and an easy target for the media. Their depth of commitment often earns them the label 'extremist' related to anything pertaining to faith and morality."

It's probably no surprise that a majority of Christians want public schools to teach Christian beliefs. It is, however, depressing that so few Christians seem to respect church/state separation or understand the importance of science classes actually teaching science. It's difficult to preserve secular schools and secular teaching when so many people oppose them. These numbers help explain why there are so many legal and political battles in so many communities over teaching creationism.


Non-Christian Opinions on Creationism in Public Schools

The only groups where there isn't majority support for teaching creationism are non-Christian groups. This, too, is not surprising because non-Christians shouldn't have much reason to support the inclusion of Christian ideology in science classes. So why is there still so much support for it in these groups anyway, even if it's less than a majority?

This is where differences in how people define "creationism" may play the biggest role because many non-Christians may think of something other that Young Earth Creationism. Proponents of Intelligent Design have been very successful in their propaganda, getting many to believe that Intelligent Design is completely different from the "creation science" that Christians tried to get taught in schools in previous decades.


Atheist Opinions on Creationism in Public Schools

Even some atheists have expressed support for teaching Intelligent Design, but it's a rare position. This poll says that 29% of atheists and agnostics support teaching creationism in public schools and this strikes me as far too high, even if all of them are thinking of Intelligent Design. I suppose most of this 29% could be agnostics because there's less potential conflict in being an agnostic supporting some form of creationism, but you can't be an agnostic who agrees with any sort of biblical creationism so I have to wonder what, exactly, they support and why.

Apparently, Asians were the only demographic group in the survey in which a majority explicitly opposed teaching creationism in schools. According to Barna, around 60% of Asians identify as atheist, agnostic, or as a member of a religion other than Christianity. This is double the numbers of atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians of any other ethnic group.

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