Evolution and Creationism in Public Education

Creationism: How Well Understood?

Although the opinions discussed in the previous sections are quite clear, the following sections highlight how relatively ill-informed much of the public is regarding this issue. Specifically:

  • Most Americans are not familiar with Creationism.
  • Most Americans have heard of Evolution, but many do not fully understand the basics of the theory.
  • As a result, most of the public has not yet fully worked out in their own minds the specifics of how to best teach about Evolution in the classroom and, at the same time, allow religious beliefs to be discussed.

    Main Finding: Most Americans, by their own account, are not that familiar with Creationism. Further, those who are familiar with it do not agree on how to define it - there is a schism between those who hold a “strict” definition (literal interpretation of Genesis) versus those who hold a “loose” definition.

    As reported by the media, those who are opposed to teaching Evolution in public schools (or opposed to teaching it without alternatives) often cite Creationism (the Bible-based doctrine of human origins) as a viable alternative which should be taught in the public schools. This was a common theme heard in the Kansas debates.

    How familiar is the public with Creationism? This is an important question that needs to be answered, and much previous polling on this issue has not taken the time to see just how much the American public knows about Creationism. According to our study, Creationism is clearly not well understood.

  • Almost HALF of Americans say they have never previously heard of the term Creationism.
  • Of those that have heard of the term, only about 4 in 10 of them say they are very familiar with it.
    • Meaning only about 2 in 10 of the American public, by their own account, say they are very familiar with the doctrine.

    Methodology note: In the survey, respondents that had never heard of Creationism before were read the following definition, “Creationism is the belief that states God created human beings in their current form. Creationism rejects the idea that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years.” These respondents were given this definition so that they could answer questions about whether or not they wanted Creationism taught about in public schools.

    Ever heard of Creationism?

    Question: Have you ever heard the term Creationism?

    Not Sure2


    Question: How familiar are you with Creationism?

    Americans who have heard of Creationism (53% of the total)
    All Americans
    Very Familiar4122

    Somewhat Familiar
    Not that familiar2010
    Never heard of CreationismNA47

    Further, even among those who are aware of Creationism, there is no agreement on what it means. Many hold a fundamentalist definition of Creationism (a very literal reading of the Genesis story in the Bible), while others interpret it much more loosely.


    Question:Which of the following best fits your definition of Creationism:

    Americans who have heard of creationism (53% of
    All Americans
    “Strict” Definition
    “Creationism means God created humans exactly as the Bible says, starting within the past 10,000 years or so with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden”

    “Loose” Definition
    “Creationism means God created humans, but it does not necessarily mean it happened exactly as the Bible says it did”
    Not sure53
    Never heard of creationismNA47

    View of Accuracy

    Among all Americans, only 27% would classify Creationism as an accurate account of how humans developed. Among those who have heard of the term, about half would classify it as accurate.

    Question:Which of the following best describes your view of Creationism:

    Americans who have heard of creationism (53% of total)%All Americans
    “A completely accurate account of how humans were created and developed”31”16
    “Mostly accurate””21”11
    (SUM: Completely/mostly accurate)”(52)”(27)
    “Might or might not be accurate, you can never know for sure””29”16
    “Mostly NOT accurate””7”4
    “Completely NOT accurate””8”4
    Not sure”4”2Never head of Creationism”NA”47

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