Of Polls and Opinions
Billboard for Ken Ham's Creation Museum in northern Kentucky
The latest Gallup Poll has been released on what Americans think about creation and evolution. This poll has been taken every 3 years for approximately 30 years. The result? No substantive change!
The wording of the poll is as follows: Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings? 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.
The responses this time were 32%, 15%, and 46% respectively, statistically the same as in all previous polls going back to 1982, except for a slight decrease in the response for #1 and a slight increase in that for #2. As always, each poll gives rise to opinions of all types.
One typical response is to blame the poll itself. Granted, the wording of the question will not meet everyone’s preference. To preserve a valid comparison with past years, the wording has not changed. However, many people find themselves uncomfortable with all of the options and wonder what is really meant by terms such as “guided” or “created” or “pretty much.” One problem is that the age of the earth is conflated with the evolutionary process. Many Christians recognize that the earth is billions of years old but still hold to a scenario of periodic creation rather than evolutionary development. They are disenfranchised in this poll. Others wish to distinguish between the evolution of plants and animals from the development of human beings. Again, this distinction is lost. Indeed, the process is not perfect but that doesn’t mean we can’t draw at least some insight from the responses.
It is of note that the classic position that human beings were created in approximately their current form about 10,000 years ago has not dropped in percentage of support. This despite the incredible mountain of evidence from paleontology and genetics, particularly the human genome project, that has been amassed since the beginning of the poll.
This testifies, in my opinion, to the incredible effectiveness of the pastors and apologists who proclaim in passionate rhetoric that God’s authority, as expressed in their interpretation of the Bible, overrules any and all scientific evidence. For most Americans who have no stake in science or science-related to origins, there is little apparent risk to rejecting science and choosing a faith position that overrides that science. On the other hand, the risk of being alienated from one’s chosen circle of fellow believers for the sin of siding with a remote set of scientists, thought to be motivated by atheism, is high indeed. These pastors need provide no evidence or, more accurately, can provide whatever rationale they wish, as few of their audience will challenge them.
Viewed from another perspective, it is also of note that the percentage adhering to a recent creation of humankind has not increased, despite the surge of powerful preaching to that effect. Not everyone is convinced. The vast majority of Americans are not scientists and have too little scientific literacy to be able to assess the data for themselves. Where are they getting their perspective? Why aren’t more people convinced by the recent-creation proclamations? Perhaps the message isn’t as compelling as it sounds.
A third perspective deals with the apparently slow growth in support for the secular non-guided development of humans over the ages. Decades ago, many books began to appear that proclaimed the twilight of evolution. The theory of evolution was on shaky grounds and would crumble at any moment. The evidence was just not there and the theory was propped up solely by atheistic motivations. Yet, it hasn’t happened. Instead, the commitment to evolution continues stronger than ever. Perhaps these naysayers haven’t been looking at the right data.
For us as scientists, the poll is mainly discouraging. We have the utopian vision that as scientists we vigorously debate scientific conclusions but ultimately converge to a consensus and move on to the next challenge, building on the past. But here we encounter a population that isn’t willing to go along with the consensus. They aren’t persuaded by normal logical arguments and detailed graphs of data. Their decision is based on sociology and connection with their fellow believers. That fellowship is all important and no scientific details are allowed to disrupt it.
Yet, the long-term costs of building fellowship on a house of cards should not be underestimated. Those who venture beyond the circle of believers find a world of data and methodology that cannot support cherished opinions. At some point, one must choose between long-held perceptions and the data-driven insights that are now available. When those perceptions have been used to undergird one’s faith, one must also choose between faith and secularism. It is our aim to show that choosing faith is not in contradiction to the data but consistent with a robust and vibrant belief in the doctrine of creation.