Atheist Creationists

Why do people believe that the world was created in pretty much its present form within the past 10,000 years or so?  Because the Bible tells them so?

Not necessarily.

A new YouGov poll reports that significant percentages of non-Bible-believing religious folks adhere to creationist beliefs, too.  Even more puzzling, many non-religious folks agree.

As reported by the National Center for Science Education, the new poll offers some minor changes to the traditional “sticky” number of around 45% of American adults who choose a young-earth creationist explanation of the origins of humanity.  In this poll, conducted earlier this month, only 37% of respondents agreed that “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years.”

But more interesting than the minor fluctuations in the total number were the breakouts by religious belief.  A whopping 59% of Protestant respondents chose the creationist answer.  30% of Catholics; 17% of Jewish respondents.

But here’s the kicker: 2% of atheist respondents also thought creationism offered the best explanation of humanity’s origin.  That’s a small percentage, of course, but a stumper nonetheless.  Did they not understand the question?

Even more puzzling, just under a quarter of “nones” chose a creationist answer, too.  That is, of those who identified their religion as “nothing in particular,” 24% selected a creationist explanation of humanity.  24%!

These numbers baffle me.  If a small but significant number of atheists can be creationists, and a large percentage of nones can be, then our notion of creationism as the province of a diehard subculture of “fundamentalist” Protestants doesn’t make sense.

We could add, of course, that in this survey the largest percentage of creationist respondents did not come from Christianity at all.  64% of Muslim respondents selected the creationist explanation.  Significant numbers of other non-Christians agreed: 35% of Hindus opted for creationism.

Who are America’s creationists?  Perhaps our image of a Bible-wielding tent evangelist needs to be updated.

 

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5 Comments

  1. This just shows the limits of a purely quantitative approach to surveying, really. Wouldn’t you kill for some interview data from some of the people who gave surprising answers?

    Reply
  2. A lot depends on how the question is asked. I did a short study on the demographics of young-earth creationists several years ago and learned that many Muslims accept the science of an old earth and evolution for plants and animals, but bracket humanity as being the subject of special creation. Also, Muslims in majority Muslim countries are less likely to be young-earth creationists than are those who have immigrated to predominantly Christian countries. Here’s the link to my report, for those who are interested: http://singingwithcrows.blogspot.com/2011/03/young-earth.html

    I’m going to speculate that, because quite a few of the “nones” are walkaways from some Christian sect or another, they have taken with them some fairly rudimentary teachings that they have set aside and never examined. When asked a direct question, they then reach back into old memories and come up with what they learned in grade four Sunday School.

    As for the atheists, besides the ones who didn’t understand the question, I suspect that there are at least a few who were deliberately messing with the pollster.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing that 2011 essay. It reminds me of an essay a while back about the ways the “New Atheism” pushed British Muslims to adopt creationism as part of an oppositional cultural identity.
      And we really can’t know much from this survey about the perplexing creationist atheism. As Jonny pointed out, what we really want are some hearty ethnographic data. Even more frustrating, with 1000 respondents, we don’t have an idea of how many self-identified atheists made up this sample. If fifty people called themselves atheists, two percent would be one person. It is not at all beyond belief that one person could say s/he was an atheist creationist just to mess with the pollster. Hilarious.

      Reply
  3. …when I read that 24% of “nones” supported creationism, my first thought was this old joke:

    “My father was a nun.”
    “He was totally not!”
    “Yes, he was. When he stood in front of the court, and the judge asked him his occupation, he replied, “none.””

    Reply
  4. If you look at the report from the YouGov poll, you’ll see that there were 48 atheists in the sample, so Adam’s estimate was right on the mark: only one person claimed to be a creationist atheist — whether confusedly or mischievously I couldn’t say!

    Reply

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