Creationists: Have You Stopped Beating Your Wives?

Sometimes, it’s all in the way you phrase the question. Newish poll results from the Pewsters underscore the fact: Americans aren’t really sure what to think about creation and evolution. It all depends on how you ask.

Here’s what we know: The folks at Pew Research Center experimented with different ways to ask respondents about evolution and creationism. As they discovered,

our estimate of the share of Americans who reject evolution and express a creationist view drops considerably (from 31% to 18% of U.S. adults) when respondents are immediately given the opportunity to say God played a role in human evolution. [Emphasis in original.]

Pew evolution questionsOther pollsters have come to similar conclusions. As the National Science Board found, what people say about evolution can change wildly when the questions are worded differently. In 2012, NSB asked two different sets of questions. When they asked people if “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” a small majority (52%) said no.

But when NSB asked if “according to the theory of evolution,” humans evolved from other species, a much larger group (72%) said yes. In a way, those responses make perfect sense. Lots of people might know that mainstream scientists agree about evolution, but still not think evolution really happened.

Other poll results, though, get weirder. A decade ago, George Bishop looked at poll numbers and came up with some flatly contradictory results. For example, it seems some people—a lot of people—agree that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago (69%). However, because 40% of respondents also think that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans, there seems to be some impossible crossovers going on.

What do Americans really think about evolution and creationism? Depends on how you ask the question. By and large, people don’t care too much about it and they certainly don’t care about intellectual consistency. And that’s not a jab at creationists alone—people who say they accept evolution often can’t explain its basic ideas. (Don’t believe it? Check out this study or this one.)

One thing seems likely: Those of us who want more and better evolution education should be encouraged by the fact that the number of intentional, hard-core, consistent radical creationists is nowhere near as high as we are sometimes told.

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