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Educated Americans More Likely to Accept Evolution, Reject Creationism

Human Origins & Education Levels


The more education an American has, the more likely they are to accept natural evolution and the less likely they are to be a creationist. In the general population, 46% of Americans believe that God created humans just as they are about 10,000 years ago, but only 25% of people with a postgraduate degree believe this. Among those with a high school education or less, in contrast, only 11% accept evolution as the explanation for human origins while 52% are young earth creationists.

So it seems clear that education has some impact on whether or not a person accepts natural evolution... or does it? Correlation is not the same as causation and there might be other underlying factors at work here.


American Beliefs About Human Origins

Gallup conducted a poll May 10-13, 2012, with a margin of error of +/- 4%, in which Americans were asked which of the following comes closest to describing their views on the origins and development of human beings:

  2012 2010 1982
Humans evolved over millions of years,
but God had no part in the process
15 16 9
Humans evolved over millions of years,
with God guiding the process
32 38 38
God created humans in present form
in the last 10,000 years or so
46 40 44

I've written elsewhere about the links between these beliefs about human origins and people's church attendance. Americans who go to church weekly are far more likely to be creationists (67%) while those who rarely or never go to church are more likely to accept natural evolution (26%). I've also written about the relationship between politics and young earth creationism.

But what about education?


Human Origins & Education
  Natural Evolution Theistic Evolution Creationsim
Postgraduate 29 42 25
College Graduate 14 35 46
Some College 13 36 47
High school or less 11 25 52

At first glance, it probably seems natural that more education would lead to more acceptance of evolution. After all, evolution is a scientific subject you have to learn in school. Someone simply looking around the world wouldn't automatically come to the conclusion that evolution occurred — knowledge of evolution is something we've acquired through a lot of hard work and research.

Note that acceptance of evolution only reaches a majority once you reach the postgraduate level — at every other level, creationism is the plurality or majority position. Even at the level of college graduates, young earth creationism is the plurality. In fact, it's the same number as for the American population as a whole.

Not everyone who goes on to get more and more education also gets education in the sciences, never mind in biology and evolution. What reason is there to expect that a person with a college degree in accounting or a postgraduate degree in French literature would also necessarily be more likely to accept evolution and reject creationism?


Connecting Education and Evolution

If there is a direct link between increased education and increased acceptance of evolution, it's probably only for certain subjects. There may be other vague, indirect links like being around educated people, being around science education, being around scholarship, etc. That, however, would be difficult to test for.

A stronger, though indirect, link probably lies with religion: the more education a person has, the less likely they are to be religious and those who are religious are less likely to adhere to a conservative form of their faith. Religion, and especially conservative religion, correlate very strongly with rejecting evolution and adopting creationism. Indeed, there are hardly any reasons for doing that outside of conservative religious ideology.

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