Way before I started snarking on vaccine deniers and anti-GMO activists, I fought the good fight against creationism, and it’s more pseudoscientific cousin, intelligent design. Although there’s still a long way to go, more and more Americans accept evolution as a fact.
The religiously based anti-evolution forces are still alive in the USA (and some other parts of the world), but they are on the precipice of being relegated to the Moon Landing Hoax crowd. Yes, that is a thing.
Evolution denial isn’t exclusively an American issue – according to some polling, the creationist view was most popular in Saudi Arabia (75%), Turkey (60%), and Indonesia (57%), with the United States ranking 6th (40%), between Brazil (47%) and Russia (34%). Most European countries, which have long ago removed religion out of science education, have huge majorities of their citizens who accept evolution as a fact.
I have found that the ignorance of Americans towards the fact of evolution is about one of the most annoying anti-science attitudes in this country (although, vaccine denial and anti-GMO pseudoscience comes very very close).
Although progress is frustratingly slow, it’s still encouraging that things are starting to change in the USA.
More Americans accept evolution as a fact
Yes, good news, the times are a changing.
According to a new Pew Research Center polling analysis, millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and 2004) are responsible for the shift in attitudes toward evolution.
The report states that about 73% of American adults under the age of 30 accept the fact that humans and all other organisms evolved over time. This is a significant increase over the 61% who expressed that opinion in 2009.
But there’s more important data in there. Many polls combine two types of evolution in their polling – strictly secular evolution, and evolution guided by a divine power, sometimes called Old Earth Creationism, which accepts most of the science of evolution and the age of the Earth. The percentage of these millennials who embrace a purely secular evolution leaped from about 40% in 2009 to 51% in the recent poll. In other words, a majority of USA millennials reject creationism in all forms.
And science wins one. And my continued complaints about millennials will hereby end – more Americans accept evolution as a fact is driven by them.
Though more depressing, there is polling from 2014 that says that the overall percentage of Americans who accept the secular version of evolution has doubled from 9% in 1999 to 19% in 2014. Most of that increase came from the drop in the proportion of Americans who believe that evolution is guided by some supreme being.
Currently, most of the support for creationism, generally a belief that a supreme being created every living thing on earth about 10,000 years ago, come from Americans over the age of 50.
I know there’s a myth, perpetrated by both the left and right about college campuses being hosts to political correctness and blocking of free speech. However, I think that this data about evolution tells us that our education system is actually creating open-minded students who are willing to reject dogma that makes no scientific sense.
Of course, that’s over-simplifying the story. Court cases, like Kitzmiller v. Dover, where a Federal Court ordered a school district to end teaching of intelligent design, a form of creationism that attempts to wrap itself with a veil of science, but is nothing more than a pseudoscience, have kept the teaching of religious beliefs about evolution out of public schools.
Moreover, most fields of medicine and medical research, everything from immunology to biochemistry to pharmacology to epidemiology to you name it, require a fundamental acceptance of evolution. As Theodosius Dobzhansky once said, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Maybe, after nearly 150 years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, which was the first step in developing the modern Theory of Evolution, we have a generation of Americans who reject the religious dogma that gives us creationism, and accept the scientific fact of evolution.
However, it’s more than just evolution. The millennials are rejecting religion, with over one-third not affiliated with any religion, sometimes called the “nones.” Just to be clear, even though they may not be affiliated with a religion, they might not necessarily be agnostics or atheists. Nevertheless, without religion, creationism makes no sense, and evolution does.
What does this all mean?
As I’ve written on a number of occasions, science isn’t subject to debate. The scientific consensus, based on literally (and I’m using literally as it’s meant to be used) mountains of evidence, has long ago accepted evolution as a scientific fact. It is called the Theory of Evolution, because a scientific theory is the pinnacle of scientific principles.
The only debate about evolution is that it’s a political and cultural one. There is no debate amongst the vast majority of scientists regarding evolution, despite frequent lame attempts by certain creationist groups to make it appear so.
In this cultural debate, evolution is winning. Many movies, even if they get a whole bunch of science completely wrong, get the fundamental facts right. No where in the Jurassic Park movies (including the one this year, Jurassic World) do they claim that the dinosaurs are only 10,000 years old.
Furthermore, the most recent movie claimed that birds are the living relatives of dinosaurs (yes, Americans ate dinosaurs for Thanksgiving –think about that), something that wasn’t well-described when the first movies were made in the early 1990s.
If you watch the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, whose theme song starts with the words, “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started,” is all about four millennial scientists who work in the Physics Department at Cal Tech. The show really tries to get science right, and often has cameos of some of the world’s leading physicists. Typical of American TV, it’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty good.
As Rachel E. Gross wrote in a recent Slate article, the show “elevates science, including evolution, far above religion.”
Ms Gross describes one episode, entitled “The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation“, where the character of Sheldon Cooper, a string theorist, flees back to his home and his religious mother in Texas after reaching a low point in his career. His friends follow him to Texas in an attempt to bring him back to Cal Tech.
Sheldon Cooper: This is my home now. Thanks to you, my career is over and I’ll spend the rest of my life here in Texas, trying to teach evolution to creationists.
Mary: You watch your mouth, Shelly. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
Sheldon Cooper: Evolution isn’t an opinion, it’s fact.
Mary: And that is your opinion.
Sheldon Cooper: [to the others] I forgive you. Let’s go home.
A TV show about millennials, ostensibly for millennials (which I am not, by a long shot), the point is pretty clear. Evolution is a fact. And creationism is a very funny joke.
Of course, I thought that many years ago, when I was in grad school, arguing with a candidate for the local school board who dismissed evolution as “merely a theory.” He lost.