For some reason, there were a good number of interesting polls on the interwebs this week.
The first is a survey of high school biology teachers done by PLoS Biology. They were questioned about their beliefs concerning human origins. See if you notice anything interesting about the graphs (you might need to read the actual paper to get it):
It’s not so apparent in the charts, but the article seems to lump the intelligent design creationists in with the straight-up evolution crowd. Almost as if adding the caveat that an invisible, patriarchal agent interfered with natural laws to bring about the current diaspora of life doesn’t completely betray the very spirit of evolution.
This is inaccurate. I understand that the battle for accurate science teaching is one that may require cooperation between both religious and non-religious proponents of evolution, but they so rarely agree on basic scientific tenets. It’s perfectly fine if a large portion of biology teachers wish to believe this proposition without any supporting evidence, but it would be a disservice to students to teach them that, while everything in science relies on naturalistic explanations and empirical support, we can still assume there was magic involved.
Intelligent design creationists–or anyone who believes in evolution, but asserts their god’s involvement in the process–should not be grouped with those that have an accurate idea of evolutionary theory.
Another striking fact is that a huge portion of our nation’s students are being robbed of a proper science education, as evidenced by graph number three. Such a shame.
The next poll comes to us via Jerry Coyne, and it makes me want to cry. It’s a research poll done by Angus Reid Public Opinion of a few thousand assorted Canadians, Britons and Americans. And… well, just see for yourself.
Just makes you want to double-facepalm while slowly shaking your head, doesn’t it?
This poll, I suspect, drops into the same pitfall as the previous study in grouping both superstitious and non-superstitious versions of evolution. But it’s still staggering that almost half of our countrymen are living in complete denial of a well-established scientific explanation for human origins.
Finally, this isn’t really a poll as much as an analysis of polling data, but Jason Rosenhouse poignantly points out that accommodationists’ whiny accusations that New Atheists are “damaging the cause” are turning out to be quite unjustified. In fact, ever since New Atheism has been steadily on the rise, acceptance of evolution has risen with it (though he’s careful not to confuse correlation with causation and to consider the size and inclusiveness of the samples… just like any good scientist should):
These polls are fraught with peril, since it is very difficult to capture people’s religious beliefs with simple poll questions. For example, the phrasing in the VCU question said simply that God did not guide the process. A person could well believe in God and still select that option. The Gallup phrasing (God had no part in the process) is far more stark. What if you believe God created the initial conditions in which evolution unfolds? Doesn’t that constitute having a part in the process?
So caution is always needed. But with this number growing steadily over all of these polls, to the point of doubling in ten years, it is certainly possible that there is a real trend here.
I do not know the explanation for these numbers, and I have no interest in speculating. It does seem interesting, though, that while many people are wringing their hands over the supposedly pernicious effect of the New Atheists on evolution acceptance and education, the numbers show not the slightest evidence of a backlash. To the extent that the numbers are moving at all, they seem to be going in the right direction.
So to all those who think that the in-your-face tell-it-like-it-is non-believers are harmful to the cause… put that in your pipe and suck it.