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Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: I Wish Gallup Would Ask More Precise Questions

Gallup has just released its most recent poll (conducted annually I believe) describing Americans’ views on the origin of humanity. This year, according to Gallup, the numbers have changed slightly:

PRINCETON, NJ — Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement.

So what question did they ask to get these results? Here it is:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your of the 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.

Since they’ve asked the question this way for years, it makes sense, for statistical accuracy, that they stick with the original wording. But the wording is still problematic, and for an obvious reason–the three options are not jointly exhaustive. Millions of people hold views that are not captured by the three options.

Options 2 and 3 are the most straightforward. Young earth creationists will choose 3, although the question bears only on the origin of human beings. It says nothing about the age or origin of life, or the age of the universe. What that means is that someone could think that life has been around 3.9 billion years, and the universe began 13 billion years ago, but that God specially created human beings only recently.
Atheists would affirm 2, but presumably many non-atheists and even some theists would affirm it as well. One could think God set things up at the beginning, at the level of cosmic initial conditions and physical constants, and did not specially create either life or human beings. This seems to be the view of some folks affiliated with the BioLogos Foundation, though I assume that some of them would want to tweak the claim that “God had no part in the process.”
Option 1 is essentially a view of God-guided or teleological evolution. Human beings evolved from other organisms over a long period of time, but God guided the process. Although Gallup describes this view as “theistic evolution,” it is an intelligent design view (though, of course, an evolutionary one). It subtly contradicts the views articulated by theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists such as Karl Giberson, Denis Lamoureux, and perhaps Francis Collins.
And where does this leave old earth creationists? Most old earth creationists accept the antiquity of earth and the universe, and various aspects of common ancestry, but think that God acted directly in cosmic history, for instance, in the creation of human beings. I would think that an old earth creationist would want to answer “none of the above” to the Gallup survey; but that’s not one of the options.
Because the three questions fail to cover all the positions that people actually hold, I’ve always been hesitant to make very much of these polls. Even with its problems, however, it’s still clear that the vast majority of Americans hold a theistic and intelligent design view when it comes to the origin of human beings.

Jay W. Richards

Senior Fellow at Discovery, Senior Research Fellow at Heritage Foundation
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the Executive Editor of The Stream. Richards is author or editor of more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Infiltrated (2013) and Indivisible (2012); The Human Advantage; Money, Greed, and God, winner of a 2010 Templeton Enterprise Award; The Hobbit Party with Jonathan Witt; and Eat, Fast, Feast. His most recent book, with Douglas Axe and William Briggs, is The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic Into a Catastrophe.