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Survey Artificially Inflates the Percentage of Americans who “Accept Evolution”

Charles Darwin
Photo: Charles Darwin in 1855, by Maull and Polyblank, Literary and Scientific Portrait Club, via Wikimedia Commons.

A headline at Science Daily celebrates: “Evolution now accepted by majority of Americans.” It refers to a study just published by longtime Darwin lobbyists with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) — Eugenie Scott, Glenn Branch — as well as Jon Miller, a widely published pro-Darwin academic researcher at the University of Michigan. According to their study, 54 percent of Americans now “accept evolution.”

Before even reading the report I suspected exactly what the flaw in the study would be: it didn’t actually query people about whether they accepted something like what basically all evolutionary biologists believe in — a form of (apparently) blind and unguided Darwinian evolution, responsible for essentially all the major innovations in the history of life. Instead, it measured support for a much weaker definition of “evolution” akin to common descent or mere change over time. 

Sure enough, the survey asked respondents if they agree with the following statement: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The authors claim in their paper that this “simple question asking whether humans evolved over a long period is a useful and clearer indicator of respondent acceptance or rejection of evolution.” Well, that all depends on how you define “evolution.” I know many proponents of intelligent design (ID), who are ardent skeptics of the neo-Darwinian and other mainstream models of evolution, but who might well answer that question with a solid yes.

NCSE: “Behe Is a Creationist”

Take Michael Behe, for example. Behe accepts common ancestry, and so by the survey’s standards he accepts evolution. Yet Behe gets repeatedly labeled a “creationist” by the NCSE. Don’t believe me? For one example of many see this article which says, quite pejoratively, that “Behe is a creationist…” 

Do you see the disconnect? If not, here’s what’s wrong.

When attacking ID these pro-Darwin activists are very happy to use the “creationist” label in an apparent attempt to marginalize or sideline ID. But when measuring the degree of support for evolution in the culture, they’re happy to count ID proponents as not as “creationists” but as “scientifically literate” supporters of “evolution” — especially if that means the support-statistics go higher. 

A Matter of Definition

Yet answering yes to the survey’s question doesn’t make one a supporter of the kind of evolution that the NCSE really wants people to accept. One could think that humanity “developed from earlier species of animals” and yet believe that human origins included specific and repeated interventions of design, or even included, if you wish, the miraculous special creation of Adam and Eve by God. You might even believe that the whole process of “evolution” was intimately guided by God such that Darwinian and other blind evolutionary mechanisms had little to do with it. All of the above could still be compatible with your being a supporter of “evolution” for the purposes of the survey. Yet I’m pretty sure that such non-materialistic versions of human origins aren’t what Eugenie Scott et al. want you to believe. 

So what percentage of Americans accept the kind of evolution that will stop the NCSE from lumping you and Mike Behe together as “creationists”? I’m not sure, but I know it is far below 54 percent. The question their survey asks doesn’t assess whether a person is aligned with standard evolutionary biology. Whether their question was chosen intentionally to inflate the degree of support for “evolution,” I cannot say. But the end result is that the survey’s stated statistic is definitely inflated.