Creationism and the New Right Agenda: An Opinion Survey

Creation Evolution Journal
Title: 
Creationism and the New Right Agenda: An Opinion Survey
Author(s): 
John R. Cole
Volume: 
8
Number: 
1
Quarter: 
Winter
Page(s): 
6–12
Year: 
1988

In 1983, while teaching anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, I conducted a survey of student opinions on specific aspects of "scientific creationist" claims and other New Right issues. Though public interest in the creation-evolution controversy seemed to be higher then than it is now, my recent tabulation of this data produced intriguing results which suggest that public opinion in favor of "scientific creationism" was and is much weaker than usually advertised (even if higher than most scientists and educators would like).

In the survey, I asked students to respond to specific elements of the "scientific creationist" dogma. I avoided asking questions related to the general concept of "fairness for all sides of an argument," the approach so frequently used in surveys conducted by creationists and popular periodicals, because I felt that it gives misleading results. People find it easy to support "fairness," just as they do "mom" and "apple pie," but do they as easily believe that the universe is only ten thousand years old? It turns out that they do not.

I found that the respondents were rather poorly informed about science, despite at least some college-level exposure to it in half of the sample. It should be noted that 50 percent of the students had not enrolled in a single life-science related course. I did not ask about enrollment in humanities courses or other science courses. Respondents' lack of knowledge about theology was striking. In particular, the results for item 29 of the survey indicated that they could not clearly decide whether or not they were fundamentalists. Nor did the students relate to the creationists' beloved entropy argument (item 4) or the "secular humanism" bogey (item
14) or even the argument that evolution education is to blame for most human woes (items 6 and 7). These latter responses indicate a lack of acceptance of the standard religious right arguments. Other, more subtle theological and ideological inconsistencies are evident in the fluctuating nature of responses to the first sixteen questions.

- page 7 -

Similarly, and contrary to widespread claims and public perceptions, the link between creationist views and the New Right social agenda appears to be weak, although this has not been explored statistically. That is, one can be a six-day creationist who is nonetheless opposed to Flood geology and favors gun control. Scientifically, theologically, and politically, people seem to be much more confused or heterogeneous than narrow-issue partisans claim. Agreement with a specific creationist or religious right assertion does not guarantee agreement with an entire agenda—contrary to claims made by various self-professed movement leaders. In fact, though it is not evident in the tabulated figures, I found that hardly any individuals surveyed strongly supported the entire "scientific creationist" agenda; most of them got one or more of the elements of the Institute for Creation Research or Creation Research Society membership oaths wrong.

These results, from what can probably be characterized accurately as a moderately conservative, middle-class, midwestern university population dominated by business and education majors, should be compared with the well-publicized results of polls which have indicated that 76 percent or more of the American public support "equal time for creationism" in the science classroom. Clearly, past poll results are open to interpretation.

A 5 percent sample (equaling 424 people) was drawn by computer from all University of Northern Iowa students. The mail survey resulted in a 57 percent response rate, with the number of respondents thereby totaling 242 (approximately a dozen responses arrived after the due date and are not included in these figures). Postpaid envelopes were provided to noncampus residents; dorm residents were supplied a campus mail envelope. Questionnaires were numbered to allow check-off of responses. There was attempted one follow-up phone call (by a student assistant) to students who had not responded within two weeks. Phone calls did not elicit any evidence of structural problems, such as nonreceipt of the questionnaire, inability to understand the instructions, or unfamiliarity with campus mail procedures. Confidentiality was promised and maintained by a blind check-off procedure. The return rate compares favorably with other surveys of this type, although a more intensive follow-through would have improved the rate considerably. The sample is quite large, considering the sampling universe. Neutral or uninterested respondents are probably underrepresented as an artifact of the research methodology.

The following questionnaire, along with reply instructions, was sent to the sample. The survey results are added here following each question.

- page 8 -

The Survey Instrument

The following statements concern various social and scientific issues. Some people have strong opinions about each of these, and other people have intermediate opinions. Please read each statement carefully and choose a number, from I to 5, which best represents your opinion. A 1 means that you strongly agree with the statement, 5 means that you strongly disagree with the statement, and 2, 3, or 4 means that you have an intermediate opinion between 1 and 5. Your responses will be kept strictly confidential and will be very useful to a research project exploring student views.

       
    (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

1.

The world was created in six 24-hour days. Percentage of those agreeing is 29 percent; disagreeing, 50 percent (percentages are rounded and exclude neutral category 3).

No.   44 26 51 46 74
%   18 11 21 19 31
2.   Various kinds of plants and animals have changed slightly, but basic "kinds" have remained the same since their origins (for example, reptiles did not evolve into mammals or birds).
48 percent agree; 34 percent disagree
 
No.   45 69 44 48 33
% 19 29 18 20 14
3. A worldwide flood accounts for much of the geological record of fossils, strata, mountains, etc.
52 percent agree; 25 percent disagree
No. 59 66 56 33 27
% 25 27 23 14 11
4. Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics, which says that disorganization in the universe increases with time.
19 percent agree; 32 percent disagree
No. 20 23 115 47 28
% 9 10 49 20 12
5. There is good evidence that the world is young, about six thousand to twenty thousand years old.
18 percent agree; 57 percent disagree
No. 9 34 61 41 96
% 4 14 25 17 40
6. The theory of evolution is an important cause of major social and political problems such as war, family instability, communism, fascism, etc.
14 percent agree; 66 percent disagree
No. 16 17 49 72 86
% 7 7 20 30 36
7. One must choose between accepting evolution or creation.
29 percent agree; 59 percent disagree
No. 36 33 29 64 80
% 15 14 12 26 33

- page 9 -
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

8.

One must choose between accepting evolution or God.
21 percent agree; 65 percent disagree

No. 33 17 31 46 115
% 14 7 13 19 46
9. Evolution is as much a religious belief as creation is.
28 percent agree; 51 percent disagree
No. 29 38 50 58 66
% 12 16 21 24 27
10. The Bible is true in every historical detail.
33 percent agree; 43 percent disagree
No. 38 42 59 45 58
% 16 17 24 19 24
11. The Bible is true in every scientific detail.
22 percent agree; 53 percent disagree
No. 29 24 61 63 65
% 12 10 25 26 27
12. Religion is a significant part of my life.
67 percent agree; 15 percent disagree
No. 101 61 43 19 17
% 42 25 18 8 7
13. A good diet is important for good health.
95 percent agree; 3 percent disagree
No. 180 51 3 3 5
% 74 21 1 1 2

[This question was asked to estimate roughly the degree to which respondents answer sincerely rather than routinely responding with all 3s, Is, or whatever.]

14.

Secular humanism represents a danger to this country.
26 percent agree; 24 percent disagree

No. 19 42 114 38 23
% 8 18 48 16 8
15. I believe that this country has been departing from biblical principles and needs to return to them.
47 percent agree; 24 percent disagree
No. 33 80 70 37 21
% 14 33 29 5 9
16. I approve of abortion-on-demand when the life of the mother is not in danger.
34 percent agree; 47 percent disagree
No. 36 46 46 40 71
% 15 19 19 17 30
17. I favor stricter laws relating to the sale of pornography.
48 percent agree; 26 percent disagree
No. 55 59 64 36 27
% 23 25 27 15 11

- page 10 -
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

18.

I favor legalizing prostitution.
20 percent agree; 67 percent disagree

No. 17 30 46 58 89
% 7 13 19 24 37
19. I favor laws that would increase homosexual rights.
26 percent agree; 47 percent disagree
No. 24 38 67 48 64
% 10 16 28 20 27
20. I favor permitting homosexuals to teach school.
41 percent agree; 34 percent disagree
No. 38 61 58 42 42
% 16 25 24 17 17
21. I favor a law outlawing busing school children out of their neighborhoods to achieve racial integration.
43 percent agree; 36 percent disagree
No. 44 60 50 54 33
% 18 25 21 22 14
22. I favor capital punishment for capital offenses.
62 percent agree; 27 percent disagree
No. 73 78 32 37 30
% 30 32 13 15 12
23. I favor removal of the tax-exempt status of churches.
24 percent agree; 51 percent disagree
No. 21 36 62 70 53
% 9 15 26 29 22
24. I favor teaching sex education in the public schools.
90 percent agree; 4 percent disagree
No. 155 64 10 5 6
% 64 26 4 2 2
25. I favor providing contraceptives to minors without parental consent being required.
66 percent agree; 23 percent disagree
No. 99 60 28 31 24
% 41 25 12 13 10
26. I favor abortions for minors without parental consent.
17 percent agree; 63 percent disagree
No. 22 19 45 51 101
% 9 8 19 21 42
27. Except in wartime or dire emergency, I would not vote for government spending that exceeds revenues.
55 percent agree; 20 percent disagree
No. 60 72 62 33 14
% 25 30 26 14 6

- page 11 -
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

28.

I favor a reduction in government.
42 percent agree; 19 percent disagree

No. 37 66 89 34 11
% 15 27 37 14 5
29. I consider myself a "fundamentalist."
22 percent agree; 26 percent disagree
No. 14 39 118 29 33
% 6 16 49 12 14
30. I have attended a religious service within the past three months.
79 percent agree; 18 percent disagree
No. 178 12 6 9 35
% 74 5 2 4 14

31.

Sex:
103 male (43 percent);138 female (57 percent).

32. Age:
Age of respondent No. Percentage
16-21 135 56
22-26 62 26
27-31 21 9
32-40 20 8
41-50 3 1
51+
1

33.

Estimated parents' or family income for 1983 in dollars

under $8,000 13 5
$8,000-$14,000 19 8
$14,000-$18,000 19 8 21 percent $8000-below
$18,000-$25,000 43 18
$25,000-$30,000 47 19
$30,000-$40,000 47 19
$40,000
+ 43 18 37 percent $3000+

34.

My religion is:

None 14 6
Roman Catholicism 74 31
Judaism 0 0
Protestant or other 151 62

34a.

If "Protestant or other," please specify

- page 12 -

35.

Have you ever taken or are you now enrolled in any of the following courses or their equivalent?

Subject

No.

Activity-based Science II

13

Life: Environment and Relationships

43

Life: Adaptation and Survival

28

Life: Form and Function

16

Life: The Cell

17

Biosphere

43

Earth History

14

Human Origins (or Origins of Man and Culture)

19



193

[Individuals ranged from zero to seven courses, so the above total is skewed. Any one of these courses could be used to meet a general education requirement for at least one course in life sciences. The range of individual responses was:

No. of courses

No. of students

0

106

1

101

2

20

3

6

4

1

5

5

6

0

7

3

These data do not justify conclusions about national trends because they are derived from a rather small sampling universe. Nevertheless, they are tantalizing. Compared with a national profile, the University of Northern Iowa in 1983 was probably rather conservative politically and socially and overly Protestant in religious orientation—all factors which could have been expected to disproportionately favor scientific creationist and religious right social and political views. The extent to which students did not consistently conform to such stereotypes is quite notable.]

Acknowledgement

The research for this survey was supported in part by a grant from the University of Northern Iowa, which is gratefully acknowledged.

About the Author(s): 
Dr. John R. Cole is an associate editor of Creation/Evolution and is currently with the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
© 1988 by John R. Cole
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.