Evolution, too: Respondents in a Pew poll favor giving equal time to the theories of life
By Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times
In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released Tuesday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
The poll found that 42 percent of respondents hold strict creationist views, agreeing that ”living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time; but of those, 18 percent said that evolution was ”guided by a supreme being,” and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.
The poll was conducted July 7 to 17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people, and the margin of error is 2.5 percentage points.
John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said he was surprised to see that teaching both evolution and creationism was favored not only by conservative Christians, but also by majorities of secular respondents, liberal Democrats and those who accept the theory of natural selection. Green called it a reflection of ”American pragmatism.”
”It’s like they’re saying, ‘Some people see it this way, some see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out.’ It seems like a nice compromise, but it infuriates both the creationists and the scientists,” said Green, who is also a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.
Eugenie C. Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education and a prominent defender of evolution, said the findings were not surprising because ”Americans react very positively to the fairness or equal-time kind of argument.”
”In fact, it’s the strongest thing that creationists have got going for them because their science is dismal,” Scott said. ”But they do have American culture on their side.”
This year, the National Center for Science Education has tracked 70 new controversies over evolution in 26 states, some in school districts, others in the state legislatures.
President Bush joined the debate Aug. 2, telling reporters that both evolution and the theory of intelligent design should be taught in schools ”so people can understand what the debate is about.”
Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, took the same position a few weeks later.
Intelligent design, a descendant of creationism, is the belief that life is so intricate that only a supreme being could have designed it.
The poll showed 41 percent of Americans want parents to have the primary say over how evolution is taught, compared with 28 percent who say teachers and scientists should decide and 21 percent who say school boards should.
More of those who believe in creationism said they were ”very certain” of their views (63 percent), compared to those who believe in evolution (32 percent). Only 29 percent of respondents said they viewed Democrats as being ”friendly toward religion,” down from 40 percent in August of 2004. Meanwhile, 55 percent said the Republican Party was friendly toward religion.
Survey respondents agreed in nearly equal numbers that nonreligious liberals have ”too much control” over the Democratic Party (44 percent agreed), and that religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party (45 percent agreed).