Bad News for Everyone

Have you seen it yet?  The new Gallup poll on creationism and evolution is out.  The numbers are about the same as they have been for the past thirty years.  But beyond those numbers, the backgrounds of Gallup’s respondents has some bad news for creationists.  It also has bad news for evolution-lovers.

Stable Numbers Since the 1980s

Stable Numbers Since the 1980s

Since the 1980s, Gallup’s pollsters have been offering respondents three options about the origins of humanity.  This time, 42% chose the young-earth creationist option: “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”  In contrast, 31% chose “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.”  A whopping 19% selected “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process.”

Those numbers have remained fairly stable for the past generation.  But another result of the recent poll numbers needs some examination.  The young-earth position is much more common among less educated adults.  For those with less than a high-school diploma, 57% selected the young-earth option.  A far smaller proportion, only 27%, of Americans with a college degree chose the young-earth explanation.

"Organized Ignorance?"

“Organized Ignorance?”

This is bad news for everyone.

For creationists, these numbers suggest that more education means less creationism.  Throughout the lifespan of American creationism, creationist intellectuals have fought a rearguard action against accusations of ignorance.  In 1927, for example, Minneapolis fundamentalist leader William Bell Riley told a reporter,

Every time I hear the argument that this is a controversy between experts on the one hand, and, as someone has said, ‘organized ignorance,’ on the other, I smile.  This is not a debate between the educated and the uneducated.

Riley’s smile grew more and more strained as the 1920s wore on.  And later generations of creationists found it even more difficult to take the intellectual high ground.  These numbers mean bad news for them.

But the numbers mean bad news for evolution mavens, too.

Though more college grads embrace a non-young-earth understanding of the origins of humanity, 27% is still a significant number.  It means that over a quarter of adults who have been to college—educated adults, that is—select a young earth as the best explanation.  Over a quarter!  Some of those, to be sure, may attend what young-earth creationists embrace as “Creation Colleges.”  Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis, for example, publishes a list (and a map!) of schools that he views as faithful to the Bible’s obvious meaning.

But many of those college-educated young-earth creationists likely attend non-creationist colleges as well.  As anthropologist David Long demonstrated in his study of creationists at a large public university, studying biology at a secular university does not tend to shake the faith of creationist students.  Of his interview subjects, only one abandoned her creation faith as she majored in biology.  And it wasn’t the science that convinced her.  She had already begun to move away from her faith in high school, due to an early pregnancy and the sour reaction of her church community.

As I argued a while back in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, anti-creationists are too fond of calling all creationists “ignoramuses.”  Certainly, some folks must embrace creationism because they just don’t know better.  But many educated adults DO know about evolution.  They simply choose young-earth creationism instead.  That is a troubling fact that anti-creationists have always had a hard time dealing with.








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  1. A nitpick: “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” is a creationist, not just a young-earth creationist, response. Plenty of old-earth creationists accept that human beings were created in their present form recently — if not within the last 10,000 years, then within the last 50,000 to 150,000 years (per Hugh Ross) — and probably will accept that response in preference to the other two offered by Gallup.

    • More than a nitpick–an important reminder. We must remember, too, that this sort of question offers respondents three options and forces them to pick the option that matches their beliefs most closely. Respondents can’t describe their own beliefs; they have to pick one of the three. There will certainly be more blending and “other” beliefs out there than this sort of response implies. And, as Glenn points out, it does not give us a sense of respondents’ attitudes toward the age of the universe. Nor does it offer respondents any chance to say, “Yes, but…” or “No, because…”

  2. It’s also worth noting that these polls lack a “don’t know” response. Whilst no poll on this scale has been conducted with such an option, smaller ones which include it note that the number of people who attest young earth creationism drop off in favour of “I don’t know.”


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