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Views on evolution among the public and scientists

"Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time," while only 61% of the public agrees, according to a new report (PDF, p. 37) from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Asked which comes closer to their view, "Humans and other living things have evolved over time" or "Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," 97% of scientists responding chose the former option, as opposed to only 2% choosing the latter option; 61% of the public responding chose the former option, as opposed to 31% choosing the latter option.

Those who chose the former option were also asked whether they preferred "Humans and other living things have evolved due to natural processes such as natural selection" or "A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today." Among scientists, 87% preferred the former option and 8% preferred the latter option; among the public, 32% preferred the former option and 22% preferred the latter option. Members of the public were also asked whether scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time; 60% said yes, 28% said no.

"Views on evolution vary substantially within the general public," the report observed (p. 38), "particularly by religion and attendance at religious services." For example, among white evangelical Protestants responding, a majority, 57%, agreed that humans existed in their present form since the beginning of time, and among those respondents attending religious services weekly or more often, a near-majority, 49%, agreed. In contrast, among the religiously unaffiliated responding, 60% agreed that humans evolved due to natural processes. Also correlated with acceptance of evolution were youth and education.

The questions about evolution were part of a larger project, conducted by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, investigating the public's attitude toward science and comparing it to the attitude of scientists. The report relied on three surveys, two conducted by telephone among members of the general public in the United States in April, May, and June 2009, and one conducted on-line among members of the AAAS in May and June 2009. The broader significance of the project's results are summarized in the Pew Research Center's overview report, issued on July 9, 2009.