46% of Americans are Creationists

Jerry Coyne is upset because a new Gallup poll shows:

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

Gallup has asked Americans to choose among these three explanations for the origin and development of human beings 11 times since 1982. Although the percentages choosing each view have varied from survey to survey, the 46% who today choose the creationist explanation is virtually the same as the 45% average over that period — and very similar to the 44% who chose that explanation in 1982. The 32% who choose the “theistic evolution” view that humans evolved under God’s guidance is slightly below the 30-year average of 37%, while the 15% choosing the secular evolution view is slightly higher (12%).

Now ten bucks says that if Gallup had taken this same poll in the 60s, 50s, and 40s, the same pattern would be seen.  Is there any reason to think I’m wrong?  Thought not. So that leads to an obvious question:

What’s the problem here?  Yes, I am sure these data cause Coyne and those like him some emotional distress and embarrassment when they travel overseas to science meetings.  But apart from such personal emotion distress, what’s the problem?  Data such as these tell me the incidence of creationist belief has always been 40+% in the United States.  Yet this has not stopped the USA from being a leader in science and technology.

If a country where 40+% of its population are creationists is also the first one to put a man on the moon, you can’t really make the case that there is some societal crisis going on.  It would be different if we at least had some type of negative correlation showing a rise in belief in creationism with a decline in some scientific output.  But we have none.

Look, I fully accept evolution.  What I don’t accept is the Chicken Little Dance which would have us think the sky is falling because “46% of Americans who today choose the creationist explanation.”  For has there ever been a time when 46% +/- Americans have not chosen the creationist explanation?

If you think you can make a case that we have a serious problem here, knock yourself out in the comments section.

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28 Responses to 46% of Americans are Creationists

  1. Bilbo says:

    I think a case could be made this way:

    Most Young Earth Creationists are conservative Republicans who are either against public financing of higher education or see it as a low priority. Over time this would lead to a deterioration of our higher educational institutions. This deterioration has been stalled or reversed at times when a public commitment has been made to higher education, e.g., the G.I. Bill at the end of WWII (passed despite Republican opposition); or the space race of the ’60s, inspired by Democratic president John F. Kennedy.

    But given the present polarization of Republican and Democratic attitudes toward continuing government financing of higher education, Young Earth Creationism becomes a political flag that can be waved by Republican candidates in the battle to lower or end government financing of higher education.

    So even if there is presently no major deterioration of our educational system, one could reasonably predict that there will be in the not to distant future.

  2. Bilbo says:

    If my reasoning is correct, then how could one change the attitudes of the YEC populace? I suggest a more open dialogue in science classrooms regarding alternative explanations of origins. This does not mean an endorsement of YEC or ID, but a willingness to discuss what is considered to be evidence for their claims.

    By doing so, it will be an indication that higher education is not controlled by liberals out to undermine the religious and moral traditions of conservatively religious people. This would instill confidence in YECs that higher education is not an enemy to be fought, but a place where diverse views can be discussed and investigated openly. With a more positive view of higher education, YECs would be less likely to oppose govenment financing of it.

  3. Jim says:

    I always see that poll, and I always think the same thing: The question says “Humans” not “the earth.” Just because someone might think that humans came into existence sometime around 10,000 years or so doesn’t mean that they also think the earth is the same age.

    If you really want to find out how much of the population thinks the whole world is only a few thousand years old, a better question would be “Do you believe that the Earth was created sometime around 10,000 years ago?” Or “Do you believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted?”

    Most of the public is ignorant of the evolutionary timeline, even people who do believe in evolution. The 65 million years ago extinction of the dinosaurs is probably the only date in the timeline that the public is aware of, because it’s been reinforced through children’s TV shows and movies like Jurassic Park.

    For a long time, I actually thought that humans as we are now had only been around for 30,000 years. It turns out that 30,000 years is the age of the youngest Neanderthal fossil discovered to date.

    To put it simply, you cannot accurately estimate the Young Earth Creationist portion of the population with a question about human origins.

  4. Michael says:

    So even if there is presently no major deterioration of our educational system, one could reasonably predict that there will be in the not to distant future.

    In other words, it’s not a problem now,
    and it hasn’t been a problem for the last century or so,
    but just wait,
    someday it will be a problem.
    You’ll see.

    Could have made the same prediction in 2000. And in 1990. And in 1980. And in 1970. And in 1960. Etc. It’s a prediction with a long track record of failure.

  5. Bilbo says:

    Hi Michael,

    I suggest that there’s something different now. Democrats understood that FDR’s New Deal had to be paid for and raised marginal income tax rates on the wealthy that graduated to 90%. The present philosophy is that higher tax rates on the rich is morally evil. Okay, so the tax base has consequently shrunk enormously. That means government programs will need to be cut drastically somewhere. Those that are less popular will shrink the fastest. If 46% of the population see higher education as hostile to their worldview, it’s not difficult to guess whose ox will be gored.

    Of course, wealthy families from overseas will make up a lot of the difference by sending their kids to college here. Some of those young people will immigrate permanently. But probably most of them will return to their own countries, where many will become teachers in their own universities. Eventually higher education in other countries will equal or exceed American education.

  6. chunkdz says:

    Bilbo wrote: “the G.I. Bill at the end of WWII (passed despite Republican opposition)”

    Bilbo, my friend, The G.I Bill at the end of WWII was authored by republicans and was passed unanimously by congress. (Harry Colmery, former RNC chairman, wrote the first draft. Warren Atherton (R-California) authored the bill).

    There was bitter opposition to the bill, but it came from Rep. John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi), the chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee. Rankin vehemently disagreed with the unemployment provision of the bill and seemed to favor throwing the bill out altogether rather than pass it with unemployment benefits included. He held the committee in deadlock by refusing to accept the proxy vote of Rep. John Gibson (R-Georgia), which forced Gibson to fly in to break the tie. The bill passed unanimously a short time later.

    Bilbo, you should forget all this partisan flag waving. It demonstrably makes you stupid and error prone. Next time you feel the urge to latch on to this “Democrat good, Republican bad” meme I strongly urge you to simply look up the wikipedia entry for John Rankin, the Democrat who opposed the GI bill.

    Read it slowly and allow it to saturate your cognitive dissonance. It will hurt. Bad. But if you allow the truth to permeate your brow you will be better and happier for it.

  7. Michael says:

    I suggest that there’s something different now. Democrats understood that FDR’s New Deal had to be paid for and raised marginal income tax rates on the wealthy that graduated to 90%. The present philosophy is that higher tax rates on the rich is morally evil. Okay, so the tax base has consequently shrunk enormously. That means government programs will need to be cut drastically somewhere. Those that are less popular will shrink the fastest. If 46% of the population see higher education as hostile to their worldview, it’s not difficult to guess whose ox will be gored.

    That’s still a Chicken Little argument:

    In other words, it’s not a problem now,
    and it hasn’t been a problem for the last century or so,
    but just wait,
    someday it will be a problem.
    You’ll see.

    You could make the case stronger if Creationists have long lobbied to cut funding to higher education to stem the teaching of evolution, but that has not been the case.

    If higher education is most vulnerable to being cut, there is no reason to think hostility to any worldview would be a significant cause. I think it would have more to do the fact that tuition rates have risen much faster than the standard rate of inflation:

    College tuitions soar each year, advancing far in excess of the inflation rate. The overall inflation rate since 1986 increased 115.06%, which is why we pay more than double for everything we buy. On the other hand, during the same time, tuition increased a whopping 498.31%. See chart below.
    For example, if the cost of college tuition was $10,000 in 1986, it would now cost the same student over $21,500 if education had increased as much as the average inflation rate but instead education is $59,800 or over 2 ½ times the inflation rate.
    Many schools have increased tuition fees due to higher overhead costs. Fuel and labor costs continue to rise. Many older college buildings are in need of renovation or replacement. The demand for expanded libraries and new research and computer labs is at an all-time high. Some schools also need additional security measures.
    Yet, the main reason tuition continues to rise is a dramatic change that took place regarding the Federal Stafford Loan more than a decade ago. When Uncle Sam opened the floodgates to government-backed student loans without parent income restrictions in 1992, colleges welcomed the news with open arms. The sudden injection of millions of additional aid dollars only furthered tuition increases. Add to that the government’s continued promotion of the Stafford Loan as a low-cost program, and you have the formula for hyperinflationary costs.

    http://inflationdata.com/inflation/inflation_articles/Education_Inflation.asp

    Student loan debt has become a huge problem:

    The rise in student debt contrasted with a decline in overall indebtedness among American consumers. Total household debt declined $100 billion, or 0.9%, to $11.4 trillion, according to the New York Fed.
    Household debt is down $1.5 trillion since its peak in the third quarter of 2008. Student debt has risen by $293 billion in that time.
    “Student loan debt continues to grow even as consumers reduce mortgage debt and credit card balances,” said Donghoon Lee, a senior economist at the New York Fed. “It remains the only form of consumer debt to substantially increase since the peak of household debt in late 2008.”

    http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-student-debt-rise-20120531,0,543907.story

    And degrees outside of science and technology have become increasingly worthless:

    While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.
    Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor’s degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade.
    “I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

    http://news.yahoo.com/1-2-graduates-jobless-underemployed-140300522.html

    Of course, when the funding cuts do eventually come, it will be more convenient for some to peg the creationists as the bogeymen.

  8. Bilbo says:

    Hi Chunk,

    Yes, I missed by a mile on the first GI Bill. It had overwhelming bipartisan support. Southern Democrat Rankin, a co-sponsor of the bill, opposed the unemployment benefits part and was willing to kill the bill in the joint committee. He needed two other Representatives to vote with him, though. I bet they were both evil Republicans. :)

    Reading about Rankin didn’t hurt. I grew up in the 60s when the Southern Democrats opposed nearly all civil rights legislation. When Nixon used the Southern strategy to get Southern Democrats to leave the party and become Republicans I wasn’t surprised in the least. I had been wondering for years why they had remained Democrats so long. Holding a grudge from the Civil War for over a hundred years was becoming rather comical.

    Since I’m a 9/11Truther, and since Democrats have no more interest in investigating 9/11 than Republicans, it’s difficult to hold on to my “Democrat good, Republican evil” meme. Let’s just say that Democrats usually have a little bit more common sense when it comes to paying the government’s bills, and realizing that govenment spending can be a good thing, even when it’s not for buying more guns and bombs.

  9. Bilbo says:

    Michael wrote: “Of course, when the funding cuts do eventually come, it will be more convenient for some to peg the creationists as the bogeymen.”

    Probably. The point is to try to get more creationists out from under the influence of the evil Republicans and into the arms of the good Democrats, so that funding cuts to education don’t come. (You think I might be pushing that meme too much?)

  10. Bilbo says:

    According to this article the reason tuition rates are soring is that government funding is going down.

  11. Bilbo says:

    I’m finding all sorts of articles that say the same thing. I’m looking for something that tracks the trend since 1992. I’m guessing that by ’92 the federal government realized that they would either need to raise taxes or cut spending, so they increased the Stafford Loans so the burden of financing public universities would eventually shift to the students in the form of tuition loans.

  12. chunkdz says:

    Bilbo wrote: “Let’s just say that Democrats usually have a little bit more common sense when it comes to paying the government’s bills”

    Not a single budget from Democrats in four years and $5 Trillion of additional debt. You consider this common sense.

    It’s a truly funny thing, the partisan mind.

  13. chunkdz says:

    Great to hear from you, btw Bilbo. Hope you are well!

  14. Michael says:

    Is Chicken Little being vindicated?

    No, Chickie Little doesn’t get vindicated because of funding cuts to research. To vindicate the lil’ guy, you need to show that those cuts exist because 46% of the population is creationist. And don’t let chickie little cherry pick when trying to find evidence to support that preconception.

    For example, the flip side of America’s so-called problem with creationism is supposed to be our contrast with Europe, where acceptance of evolution is much higher. Think of Coyne’s favorite chart. So what’s happening to science funding over there?

    European scientists face pressure from budget cuts

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/gallery/2010/09/06/GA2010090603881.html

    Researchers plan for deeper cuts to science budget

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12021483

    Hard to make creationists the bogeyman for those cuts, eh?

    And have we forgotten that the Obama administration has been hacking away at NASA?

    Scientists say President Obama’s Mars cuts will impact research

    Read more: http://www.news.com.au/technology/sci-tech/scientists-say-president-obamas-mars-cuts-to-hit-research/story-fn5fsgyc-1226270443466#ixzz1wnOH6aWOhttp://www.news.com.au/technology/sci-tech/scientists-say-president-obamas-mars-cuts-to-hit-research/story-fn5fsgyc-1226270443466

  15. Bilbo says:

    Hi Chunk,

    Only the first two years of Obama’s admininstration had a Democratic congress. Any attempt to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for government spending has been shot down by Republican threats of filibusters the first two years or just not allowed to be discussed the second two years.

    Quick, Chunk! Don’t google it! Name the last time we had a balanced budget!

  16. Bilbo says:

    Hi Mike,

    Yes, Europe is attempting the same austerity measures in government that Republicans want us to endure here, and it’s killing their economies, just as it will kill ours.

    I don’t blame creationists for our economic woes or for cuts in funding to education. I’m saying that in order to reverse our insane economic policies we need to get more creationists to become Democrats.

  17. chunkdz says:

    Only the first two years of Obama’s admininstration had a Democratic congress.

    Why do you suppose they couldn’t make a budget then?

    Any attempt to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for government spending has been shot down by Republican threats of filibusters the first two years or just not allowed to be discussed the second two years.

    So of course the common sense thing to do is pull out the credit card, have a 5 trillion dollar spending spree and leave the bill for our children.

    Quick, Chunk! Don’t google it! Name the last time we had a balanced budget!

    During the tech bubble.

    Interesting that you tacitly admit that balancing a budget is a good thing, yet you also think spending more than you have is a good thing too. I can’t get a grip on what you consider “common sense”. I suspect neither can you.

  18. Bilbo says:

    I used to think having a balanced budget was the first priority until I started reading Paul Krugman. He’s changed my mind. According to him the important thing is stimulating the economy, which is what governments should do during a recession.

    BTW, yes the tech bubble helped, but so did Clinton’s tax hikes. With Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and huge military spending increases, tech bubble wouldn’t have helped.

  19. chunkdz says:

    Just curious…why do you suppose Clinton is advocating extending the Bush tax cuts if they won’t help?

  20. eveysolara says:

    Not for the wealthy

  21. chunkdz says:

    “However, Clinton did say that Congress would be best off agreeing, at least for the time being, to extend all the tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year, including the so-called Bush tax cuts named after Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush.”

    Jeff Cox – CNBC

  22. chunkdz says:

    Hmm, that’s not a clarification – it’s a complete reversal. Must not have polled very well.

    Nevermind, Bilbo.

  23. Bilbo says:

    Chunk, you’re asking me, a 9/11 Truther, who suspects that most of the head honchos in our government (whoever that may be) were in on a conspiracy that involved killing 3,000 of us, to explain Clinton to you. Come on.

    Meanwhile, I wonder if Paul Krugman has been reading Mike’s blog:

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/think-of-the-children-2/

  24. eveysolara says:

    Clinton has always been an advocate of the middle class. One of his campaign promises during his first run was that he would not raise taxes on the middle class. His position with regard to the bush era tax cuts is therefor quite consistent.

  25. chunkdz says:

    Actually he’s been pretty consistent lately in warning against raising taxes.

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