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August 11, 2006

Devolved

Just because America came 33rd out of 34 on the evolutionary scale, it doesn’t mean we’re dumb. Does it?

A comparison of peoples’ views in 34 countries finds that the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution. Only Turkey ranked lower.
Among the factors contributing to America’s low score are poor understanding of biology, especially genetics, the politicization of science and the literal interpretation of the Bible by a small but vocal group of American Christians, the researchers say.
“American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalist, which is why Turkey and we are so close,” said study co-author Jon Miller of Michigan State University.
The researchers combined data from public surveys on evolution collected from 32 European countries, the United States and Japan between 1985 and 2005. Adults in each country were asked whether they thought the statement “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals,” was true, false, or if they were unsure.
The study found that over the past 20 years:
  • The percentage of U.S. adults who accept evolution declined from 45 to 40 percent.
  • The percentage overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48 to 39 percent, however.
  • And the percentage of adults who were unsure increased, from 7 to 21 percent.
Of the other countries surveyed, only Turkey ranked lower, with about 25 percent of the population accepting evolution and 75 percent rejecting it. In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.
… The researchers also […] found that Americans with fundamentalist religious beliefs—defined as belief in substantial divine control and frequent prayer—were more likely to reject evolution than Europeans with similar beliefs. The researchers attribute the discrepancy to differences in how American Christian fundamentalist and other forms of Christianity interpret the Bible.
While American fundamentalists tend to interpret the Bible literally and to view Genesis as a true and accurate account of creation, mainstream Protestants in both the United States and Europe instead treat Genesis as metaphorical, the researchers say.
… Politics is also contributing to America’s widespread confusion about evolution, the researchers say. Major political parties in the United States are more willing to make opposition to evolution a prominent part of their campaigns to garner conservative votes—something that does not happen in Europe or Japan.
Miller says that it makes about as much sense for politicians to oppose evolution in their campaigns as it is for them to advocate that the Earth is flat and promise to pass legislation saying so if elected to office.
“You can pass any law you want but it won’t change the shape of the Earth,” Miller told LiveScience.
… The researchers also single out the poor grasp of biological concepts, especially genetics, by American adults as an important contributor to the country’s low confidence in evolution.
The current study also analyzed the results from a 10-country survey in which adults were tested with 10 true or false statements about basic concepts from genetics. One of the statements was “All plants and animals have DNA.” Americans had a median score of 4. (The correct answer is “yes.”)

Unsurprisingly, Bruce Chapman, IDiot-in-chief at Seattle’s academically challenged Discovery Institute, sees it differently:

“A better explanation for the high percentage of doubters of Darwinism in America may be that this country’s citizens are famously independent and are not given to being rolled by an ideological elite in any field,” Chapman said. “In particular, the growing doubts about Darwinism undoubtedly reflect growing doubts among scientists about Darwinian theory. Over 640 have now signed a public dissent and the number keeps growing.”

Never mind that the majority of those “scientists” don’t actually work on evolution.

The research is being published in the August 11th issue of Science.

Posted by Stephen at 12:07 PM in Evolution | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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