Evolution and Creationism in Public Education

Evolution: How Well Understood and Accepted?

Main Finding: Although just about all Americans have heard of Evolution, less than half say they are very familiar with it. Further, roughly one in three hold an incorrect definition of Evolution. Although most Americans want Evolution to be taught in the public schools, most are not sure that the theory, as they understand it, is fully accurate or proven. Americans who lack a college education express the least certainty about Evolution.

When it comes to Evolution, just about everyone (95%) has heard of the term, though a great deal of confusion and misinformation exists. For instance, a sizable minority (about one in three) believes Evolution means human beings evolved from apes (which, of course, is not what the theory says).

Specifically:

  • Almost all Americans (95%) have heard of the term “Evolution”.
  • Yet, less than half say they are “very familiar” with the term.
  • A third of Americans who have heard of Evolution have an incorrect definition of it.
  • Question: Have you ever heard the term Evolution?

    All Americans
    %
    Yes95
    No5
    Not Sure*

    Familiarity

    Question: How familiar are you with Evolution?

    Among those who have heard of the term (95% of the public)All Americans
    %
    Very Familiar4542
    Somewhat Familiar4341
    Not that familiar1211
    Not sure**
    Never heard ofNA5

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    Definition

    Question: Which of the following best fits your definition of Evolution with regard to human beings:

    Among those who have heard of Evolution (95% of total)
    %
    All Americans
    %
    Incorrect Definition
    “Evolution means human beings have developed from apes over the past millions of years”
    3432
    Correct Definition
    “Evolution means human beings have developed from less advanced forms of life over millions of years”
    5048
    Means something else / Not sure1615
    Never heard of EvolutionNA5

    An individual’s definition of Evolution has a significant impact on his/her opinion regarding the Kansas State Board of Education ruling to eliminate Evolution from its science standards. Those with an incorrect definition of Evolution (humans evolved from apes) show a greater likelihood to support the Kansas State ruling (though still less than a majority) than those who have a correct definition (humans evolved from lower forms of life).

    Question: “The Kansas State Board Of Education has recently voted to delete Evolution from their new state science standards. Do you support or oppose this decision?”

    Americans with an incorrect definition of Evolution
    (32% of public)
    %
    Americans who hold a correct definition of Evolution
    (48% of public)
    %
    Support3321
    Oppose5570
    Not sure129

    It appears that the more complete one’s understanding is of Evolution, the more supportive one is of keeping the theory in science classes.

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    Evolution: How Well Accepted?

    Most Americans are not convinced that the Theory of Evolution accurately accounts for how humans were created and developed. The single largest response to the issue of Evolution’s accuracy is that it “might or might not be accurate, you can never know for sure.”

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    View Of Accuracy

    Question: Which of the following bests describes your view of Evolution:

    Among those who
    have heard of evolution
    (95% of total)
    All Americans
    %
    “A completely accurate account of how humans were created and developed”65
    “Mostly accurate”2322
    (SUM: Completely/mostly accurate)(29)(27)
    “Might or might not be accurate, you can never know for sure”3836
    “Mostly NOT accurate”98
    “Completely NOT accurate”2221
    Not sure33
    Never heard of EvolutionNA5

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    Impact of the Word “Theory”

    For most Americans, Evolution is literally a “theory”, meaning it is not yet proven. In fact, roughly half of Americans believe it is far from being proven, while 4 in 10 believe it is close to being proven.

    Question: Do you agree or disagree with the following: Evolution is commonly referred to as the Theory of Evolution because it has not yet been proven scientifically?

    Among those who have heard of evolution (95% of total)
    %
    Agree74

    Disagree
    20
    Not sure6

    Question: Would you say Evolution is far from being proven scientifically, or is it close to being proven scientifically?

    Among those who have heard of evolution (95% of total)
    %
    Far from being proven49
    Close to being proven42
    Not sure10

    Education has a large impact on whether or not one believes the Theory of Evolution is “far from being proven.” Over half of Americans without a college degree say Evolution is far from being proven, while half or more of those with a college degree say it is close to being proven.

    Question: Would you say Evolution is far from being proven scientifically, or is it close to being proven scientifically?

    Educational Attainment
    High school or less
    %
    Some college
    %
    College graduate (4+ years)
    %
    %
    Far from being proven55554230
    Close to being proven35385057
    Not sure118813

    The Theory of Relativity, as a point of comparison, appears to have much more support.

    Question: What about the Theory of Relativity, which was first proposed by Albert Einstein?

    All Americans
    %
    Far from being proven9
    Close to being proven/proven68
    Not sure22

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