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Nearly Half of Americans are Young Earth Creationists

American Beliefs About Evolution & Human Origins


Neanderthal Gibraltar Man

Neanderthal Gibraltar Man

Photo: RDImages/Epics/Getty

Almost half of all Americans believe that humans were specially created in their present form by God at some point in the past 10,000 years or so. Over three-quarters of Americans believe that God was involved in the origin and development of humans, one way or another. Only 15% of Americans accept that humans evolved naturally, without any supernatural or divine intervention.

The number of Young Earth Creationists isn't the highest it's ever been, but it's higher than it was last year — and since the 30 year average of Gallup polls which have asked this question is 45% for Young Earth Creationism, the numbers are effectively unchanged. This is despite the great strides that have been made over the years in biology, archeology, and other scientific fields.


American Beliefs About Human Origins

In a Gallup poll conducted May 10-13, 2012, with a margin of error of +/- 4%, 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%

So acceptance of natural evolution has risen steadily over the years, and this year's figure of 15% is a little higher than the 30-year average of 12%. Nevertheless, both of these numbers are rather pathetic.

Imagine if only 15% of Americans accepted that disease had natural causes (viruses, bacteria) while the rest believed that malevolent spirits were involved somehow. What if only 15% of Americans accepted that volcanoes and earthquakes were caused by natural process while the rest insisted that gods or demons were behind the disasters?

Results like that would be absurd, even though there was a time that most people believed exactly such things about what we now know to be natural events or processes. So how are these numbers any less absurd? Well, it's probably the case that these numbers are regarded as "acceptable" because people have sincere, pious religious reasons for rejecting science...


Human Origins & Church Attendance

As one might expect, Young Earth Creationism correlates very strongly with regular church attendance while acceptance of natural evolution correlates strongly with attending church very little or not at all.

  Natural Evolution Theistic Evolution Creationism
Weekly 3% 25% 67%
Almost Weekly / Monthly 10% 31% 55%
Seldom / Never 26% 38% 25%

The differences here are pretty dramatic — there's a huge majority of weekly churchgoers who are creationists while hardly any (less than the margin of error!) accept evolution. Correlation may not be causation, but I think that there is surely a causal link between religious belief and creationism.

After all, the creationists who were interviewed for this poll aren't saying that aliens created humans a few thousand or million years ago; instead, they are saying "God" did it. In America, "God" is the deity of Christianity (sometimes Christians are generous enough to include Judaism here; Islam is almost never included, though it should be). The people polled here certainly aren't referring to random or unknown gods.

So it's Christianity, and in particular conservative Christianity, that's at least creating the conditions for creationism and evolution denial. Very often, conservative Christianity is actively promoting it — along with broader science denial as well. That means Christianity is the problem — not merely a problem but the problem.


Evolution vs. Creationism Outside Churches

It's noteworthy, though, that even people who seldom or never go to church still believe that God guided the evolution of humanity at higher rates than believe that evolution happened naturally. This is good evidence that this group has a lot of theists in it and isn't composed entirely (or even mostly) of atheists. These would be the "unchurched" in America — a group that is probably similar to, though not necessarily identical with, the "irreligious."

Usually those who identify as nonreligious in polls and surveys skew a lot more liberal and progressive than those who identify strongly with a religion. Creationism, however, is a profoundly reactionary ideology and 25% of all those who rarely or never attend church are young earth creationists. The belief that God created humanity that recently is a belief that comes straight from Old Testament. Why would someone adopt that belief yet not attend church much?

The large number of "unchurched" Americans who are theistic evolutionists, 38%, is also a little surprising. If you believe in a God which has been actively intervening in the course of human evolution, then you can't be any sort of Deist — you believe in a God that is actively pursuing particular goals with particular means. It's kind of strange for such a person to not attend a church which teaches about the goals and means.

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