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Americans Weigh In on Evolution vs. Creationism in Schools

Americans Weigh In on Evolution vs. Creationism in Schools

Responses vary by religiosity, education, ideology

by Darren K. Carlson

Earlier this month, the Kansas Board of Education conducted public hearings about possible revisions to the state's science standard. The debate centered on the proposal to include the theory of "intelligent design" -- which claims the natural world is so complex and well-ordered that it must have been created by an intelligent being -- in the state's science curriculum for public schools.

Scientists and evolution advocates claim intelligent design is veiled creationism, and have urged the Kansas board to keep the current evolution-friendly curriculum in place. The board plans to consider the proposed changes by August. With conservative Republicans having captured a majority of the board seats in last year's elections, current speculation is the board will approve at least some of the proposed changes.

This controversy isn't confined to Kansas. Similar debates have been raised in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states. However, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll* reveals that many Americans wouldn't be distressed if either intelligent design or the theory of evolution were taught in their local classrooms.

In March, Gallup asked Americans whether they would be upset if public schools in their communities taught the theory of creationism -- "the idea that human beings were created by God in their present form and did not evolve from other species of animals." A majority, 76%, say they would not be upset if creationism were taught in their schools, while 22% say they would be upset.

By way of comparison, Gallup also asked respondents whether they would be upset if the theory of evolution -- "the idea that human beings evolved from other species of animals" -- were taught in their local schools. A smaller majority, 63%, would not be upset if evolution were taught in schools, while roughly a third (34%) say they would be upset.

One, but Not the Other?

Combined responses to these two questions show a plurality of Americans (45%) are permissive on the topic -- that is, it wouldn't upset them if either creation or evolution were taught in the local schools. But those with a preference for only one theory or the other are more likely to come down on the side of creationism -- 30% of Americans say they would be upset if only evolution were taught, while 18% would be upset if only creationism were taught.

Religion, Education, and Ideology

Certain groups of Americans are more likely to be upset if only evolution were taught in schools. Obviously, religiosity is an important factor. Among those who attend church weekly, half (53%) say they would be upset if only evolution were taught in schools. This compares with 32% of nearly weekly or monthly churchgoers and just 13% of those who seldom attend church.

Responses also vary by education level and political ideology. Thirty-seven percent of Americans with a high school education or less say they would be upset if their schools taught evolution but not creation, compared with only 17% of those with a postgraduate education.

Nearly twice as many self-described conservatives (45%) as moderates (22%) or liberals (20%) would be upset by an evolution-only science curriculum.

Bottom Line

The percentage of Americans who actively want creation, not evolution, to be taught in schools may seem relatively modest at 30%, but this number is significantly larger than the percentage who actively want evolution to be taught over creation.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 21-23, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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