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POLICYFORUM
SCIENCE COMMUNICATION

Public Acceptance of Evolution
Jon D. Miller,1* Eugenie C. Scott,2 Shinji Okamoto3

The acceptance of evolution is lower in the United States than in Japan or Europe, largely because of widespread fundamentalism and the politicization of science in the United States.

he concept of the evolution of humans from earlier forms of life is unacceptable tobiblical literalists and causes concern even among some holders of less conservative religious views. Catholics and mainstream Protestants generally accept variations of a theological view known as theistic evolution, which views evolution as the means by which God brought about humans, as well as other organisms. Evolution is nonetheless problematic to some of these nonliteralist Christians, becauseit implies a more distant or less personal God (1–3). Efforts to insert “intelligent design” into school science curricula seek to retain the divine design of humans while remaining agnostic on earlier creationist beliefs in a young Earth and the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs (2, 4). Beginning in 1985, national samples of U.S. adults have been asked whether the statement, “Human beings, aswe know them, developed from earlier species of animals,” is true or false, or whether the respondent is not sure or does not know. We compared the results of these surveys with survey data from nine European countries in 2002, surveys in 32 European countries in 2005, and a national survey in Japan in 2001 (5). Over the past 20 years, the percentage of U.S. adults accepting the idea of evolutionhas declined from 45% to 40% and the percentage of adults overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48% to 39%. The percentage of adults who were not sure about evolution increased from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005. After 20 years of public debate, the public appears to be divided evenly in terms of accepting or rejecting evolution, with about one in five adults still undecided or unaware of theissue. This pattern is consistent with a number of sporadic national newspaper surveys reported in recent years (6–10). A dichotomous true-false question format tends to exaggerate the strength of both positions. In 1993 and 2003, national samples of American adults were asked about the same statement but were offered the choice of saying that the statement was “definitely true, probably true,probably false, definitely

T

1Michigan

State University, East Lansing, MI 48824–1115, USA. 2National Center for Science Education, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. 3Kobe University, Rokkaido, Hyogo, Japan. *Author for correspondence. E-mail: jdmiller@msu.edu

false,” or that they did not know or were uncer- United States and Europe. The biblical literaltain. About a third of American adults firmly istfocus of fundamentalism in the United rejected evolution, and only 14% of adults States sees Genesis as a true and accurate thought that evolution is “definitely true.” account of the creation of human life that Treating the “probably” and “not sure” cate- supersedes any scientific finding or interpregories as varying degrees of uncertainty, tation. In contrast, mainstream Protestant ~55% ofAmerican adults have held a tentative faiths in Europe (and their U.S. counterparts) view about evolution for the last decade. have viewed Genesis as metaphorical and— This pattern is different from that seen in like the Catholic Church—have not seen a Europe and Japan. Looking first at the simpler major contradiction between their faith and true-false question, our analysis found that the work ofDarwin and other scientists. significantly (at the 0.01 to 0.05 level by difTo test this hypothesis empirically, a twoference of proportions) (11) more adults in group structural equation model (SEM) (12, Japan and 32 European countries accepted the 13) was constructed using data from the concept of evolution than did American adults United States and nine European countries (see figure, right)....
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