Most Americans believe God created humans on the sixth day of the universe, yet they also overwhelming want science-based evolution taught in public school, according to a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.
Half of the 1,005 adults interviewed support President Bush’s suggestion that public schools should also teach intelligent design, the notion that God played a role in the evolution of humans. But only 17 percent said they believe in intelligent design when asked their opinion of humanity’s origins.
Neither side of the intelligent design debate was happy with the poll’s results.
“People don’t understand science. But they do understand the Bible and so they are comfortable with a biblical response,” said John Calvert, director of the Intelligent Design Network in Shawnee Mission, Kan. “Certainly, there is a lack of understanding about what intelligent design really is.”
Fifty-four percent said they believe “God created the universe and humans in a six-day period,” 23 percent said “humans evolved from other animal species through natural selection,” and 17 percent said “God caused humans to evolve from other species.” Six percent were undecided.
Many Americans falsely assume that evolution is at odds with religion, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, which defends science-based evolution instruction.
“Biologists are split on this point. A lot of scientists regard natural selection as one of the means through which God accomplishes his ends in the world,” Branch said. “Our objection is to views without proven scientific merit being taught in public school.”
Joseph Howard, director of the Catholic Medical Ethics Advisory Council and an exponent of intelligent design, said he is troubled that so many Americans take a literal view of the Bible. “Have they studied ancient Hebrew? For people to sit around and pretend they can understand the Book of Genesis is ludicrous,” Howard said.
Yet Americans also embrace science when asked to take a clear position on whether pure Darwinian evolution should be taught in the science classrooms.
Sixty-nine percent agreed with the notion that “evolution is what most scientists believe, so it should be taught in public science classes.” Twenty percent said they believe “scientists are wrong, so evolution should not be taught.” Eleven percent were undecided or suggested teaching both views.
In answer to another question, 50 percent said they believe Bush was right to suggest that intelligent design should be taught along with evolution in public schools, while 37 percent said he was wrong to suggest this and 13 percent were undecided.
“Intelligent design is simply a scientific disagreement with the evolutionist’s assertion that there was no design,” Calvert said. “Teachers should be allowed to discuss the controversies in the origins of life.”
The survey found education, religion and political ideology have strong influences on whether Americans believe in evolution, a literal interpretation of Genesis or something in between. Nearly two-thirds of people who failed to finish high school believe humans were created in a single day, compared to less than a third of people with post-graduate educations.
Protestants, especially people who believe they’ve been spiritually born again, are especially likely to believe the biblical story of creation literally. Catholics were less likely to believe this. People with no religious preference overwhelmingly do not believe this.
But the question was even more starkly divided according to political ideology. Seventy-four percent of people who describe themselves as “very conservative” said they believe the universe and humanity were created in six days. But among “very liberal” folk, only 22 percent believe this.
The survey was conducted by telephone Oct. 9-23 at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.