Natural selection fighting to survive in the US

Ah, religion and politics

A mere 26 per cent of people in the US believe that life on Earth has evolved without any input from a supreme being, according to new figures from The Pew Research Center.

Unsurprisingly, secular respondents were overwhelmingly more likely to say they believed in the theory of natural selection. But even in this group, 15 per cent said life has not changed since time began, and 10 per cent agreed that change over time was likely to have been guided by a supreme being.

This does make us wonder if these people all knew what "secular" means, and indeed researchers at Pew say that an analysis of the poll suggests that there is some confusion among respondents about the meaning of the words evolution and creationism.

They point to inconsistencies in people's declared beliefs and what they think ought to be taught in schools, after 64 per cent of those surveyed said creationism ought to be taught alongside evolutionary theory.

Age, sex and race also seem to be big factors in what people are likely to believe, with women being more inclined to go with God than are men: overall, 47 per cent of women and 36 per cent of men told the Pew pollsters that they believe humans, and other lifeforms, have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Of the 48 per cent of the population who believes that life has evolved, well over a third (37.5 per cent) think that its evolution was guided by a supreme being.

White respondents were the most likely to go with Darwin (27 per cent reported a belief in natural selection), compared to 22 per cent of Hispanic respondents and 14 per cent of those who gave their ethnicity as black. More than half (53 per cent) of the black respondents said life has existed unchanged since the dawn of time.

Those under 30 were the least likely (37 per cent) to state that life has existed since T=0, unchanged. This figure rises to 50 per cent in the over 65s.

In the over 50 age group, just 15 per cent of women have faith in evolution compared to 26 per cent of men, and for the under 50s, 34 per cent of men shun the idea of a supreme being, compared to 25 per cent of women.

The survey also probed the US public's attitude to religion and politics. While most Americans are quite happy for their politicians to openly declare their religion, the number of people who are uncomfortable with how much President Bush mentions prayer and religion has doubled over the last two years, and now stands at 28 per cent.

You can read more of Pew's own analysis and check out the breakdown of the figures here. ®

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