14 August 2006
America: In Evolution We Don't Trust
by Kate Melville
Given that more than half of all American adults aren't aware that the Earth goes around the Sun once a year, it's hardly surprising that the concept of evolution doesn't sit well with Americans. What is surprising, however, is the large number - around one-third - that believe evolution is wrong.
"One in three American adults firmly rejects the concept of evolution, a significantly higher proportion than found in any western European country," said Jon D. Miller, a researcher from Michigan State University who conducted the evolution survey.
Reporting his findings in the journal Science, Miller said that only adults in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, were less likely to accept the concept of evolution than American adults. In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted the concept of evolution, as did 78 percent of Japanese adults.
Miller used Knowledge Networks, an online national sample of households, for his data. Miller emphasized that all of the interview and online data in the 34 countries were weighted to reflect actual population distributions and are comparable across countries.
Miller posited that fundamentalist religions in the U.S. were behind the high figures. "The total effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution was nearly twice as much in the United States," he said, "which indicates that individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God - and who pray frequently - were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views."
Additionally, Miller cited how evolution has become highly politicized in the United States, with the Republican Party in particular often using it as a litmus test for possible candidates for office. "There is no major political party in Europe and Japan that uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political platform," Miller explained. "In the United States, there are people who think it is a political advantage to discount evolution."
Unsurprisingly, Miller found that persons with strong pro-life beliefs were significantly more likely to reject evolution than those with pro-choice views. "The total effect of pro-life attitudes on the acceptance of evolution was much greater in the United States than in the nine European countries surveyed," he said.
"These results should be troubling for science educators at all levels," Miller warned. "The growing number of adults who are uncertain about these ideas suggests that current science instruction is not effective."
Source: Michigan State University