I hate to say it, but this is an “I-told-you-so” moment for me. When it comes to understanding science, the political Left and Right in the US are not the two sides of the same coin; they are two entirely different coins. And while I have done my fair share of criticism for the Left (particularly because so many of them buy into the “Islamophobia” nonsense), it is quite clear that Republicans are more creationist than Democrats. What is more, it is getting worse.
There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.
While the fact that creationism is prevalent among Republicans has been known for some time and has even taken some toll on them already, personally, I do find a further surge of 11% over 4 years puzzling, and have no explanation for that, except perhaps the unholy marriage between the Tea Part and evangelicals. 40% of Tea Party Republicans are evangelicals, whereas in the society as a whole, they are only 17%.
Speaking of which, the role of religion in denial of evolutionary science doesn’t even raise any eyebrows any more.
A majority of white evangelical Protestants (64%) and half of black Protestants (50%) say that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. But in other large religious groups, a minority holds this view. In fact, nearly eight-in-ten white mainline Protestants (78%) say that humans and other living things have evolved over time. Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76%) and 68% of white non-Hispanic Catholics say the same. About half of Hispanic Catholics (53%) believe that humans have evolved over time, while 31% reject that idea.
Age is the other factor impacting understanding of evolution, as is higher education. Young people, and those who have graduated from college, understand evolution better than the public as a whole.
These numbers do no reflect the public scientific understanding of evolution, however. Even among those who understand the fact of evolution, very large numbers are wrong about its mechanism (as a matter of comparison, it would be like understanding that the moon revolves around Earth, but the reason for that is a giant rope woven together by aliens). As it turns out, that shade of ignorance is fueled by religion as well.
About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”
As it happens, there is only one group that, by a majority, understands evolution as a natural, unguided phenomenon-that is, the way those who actually study evolution find it to be. And who are those? Drums, please!