About three weeks ago, I wrote a piece called "Unsurprising. Still Depressing" which talked about the results of a Gallup poll showing that there's a huge percentage of people who either think that humans have only been around for about 10,000 years or that evolution and creation are compatible. What I didn't realize at the time I wrote that piece was that Gallup's poll was actually 3 years old--I went by the date at the top of the screen which said it had been updated the day I wrote about it. Completely my fault because everything else on the page pointed toward the older date.
But I didn't feel too bad about it because I figured the chances that those numbers would have changed significantly away from the depressing situation they represent were slim. And at least as far as Texas is concerned, I was right.
Let me preface what I'm about to say about these results this way: I'm not going to bash Texas, nor am I going to suggest that Texans are any more ignorant than other parts of the country. In fact, I think Texas is a pretty decent slice of America--it has large rural areas, a vibrant immigrant population, respected public and private universities, and urban areas with, dare I say, progressive sensibilities. They have their wackos as well--as Amanda Marcotte mentioned yesterday in her piece about the Austin asshole who flew a plane into a building (I'm not naming him in keeping with our editorial policy to refuse even posthumous recognition of those who take lives in order to gain notoriety), this is the state that gave the nation both Ross Perot and Ron Paul--but every state has its extreme element. The differences tend to be a matter of flavor more than substance.
What the poll results seem to suggest to me is that people don't really know what they believe when it comes to the origins of humans and other life on this planet. Look at the different percentages you get between these three questions:
• 38 percent said human beings developed over millions of years with God guiding the process and another 12 percent said that development happened without God having any part of the process. Another 38 percent agreed with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago."Notice that one group stays pretty static--the group that leaves God out of the equation stays in the 12 to 15% range, which is about what agnostic/atheist came in at in a recent national poll measuring religious belief (this poll got 6% from the sample group). The biggest group is the "evolution guided by God" group, which says to me that they're comfortable with the idea of evolution, but they don't really get it, and adding in God allows them to avoid the potential conflict between the two ideas.
• Asked about the origin and development of life on earth without injecting humans into the discussion, and 53 percent said it evolved over time, "with a guiding hand from God." They were joined by 15 percent who agreed on the evolution part, but "with no guidance from God." About a fifth — 22 percent — said life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.
• Most of the Texans in the survey — 51 percent — disagree with the statement, "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." Thirty-five percent agreed with that statement, and 15 percent said they don't know.
As you'd expect, there's a huge correlation between how religious a respondent claimed to be and how they answered these questions, but this was the breakdown that actually made me chuckle a bit.
An overwhelming majority said their religious beliefs were extremely important (52 percent) or somewhat important (30 percent). Only 35 percent go to church once a week or more; 52 percent said they go once or twice a year (29 percent) or never (23 percent).82% said their religious beliefs were very or somewhat important, but only 35% go to church once a week or more, with a max (if I did my math correctly) of 48% saying they go to church more than once or twice a year. So that means roughly a third of the respondents say their beliefs are very or somewhat important, but not so important to cause them to head to church more than a couple times a year. "Somewhat" is a pretty flexible word, I suppose.
Which brings me back around to the point of that last post--language is important. That's why I refuse to say I believe in evolution--belief isn't part of the process here. Evolution occurs whether I believe in it or not, whether Texans believe in it or not. I continue to worry about the effects that this lack of understanding about evolution will have on our society over the short term. If we continue to allow false controversies over basic scientific understandings infect the discourse, we'll find ourselves falling further and further behind the rest of the world in terms of innovation and discovery, and given that we've already done bad things to this planet that we might not be able to resolve, we can't even afford to stand still. We have to be moving forward.