Views on evolution among the public and scientists

01.30.2015

Whereas nearly all scientists say that humans and other living things have evolved over time, only two thirds of the public agrees, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. 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," 98% of scientists responding chose the former option and only 2% chose the latter option; 65% of the public responding chose the former option and 31% chose 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, 90% preferred the former option and 8% preferred the latter option; among the public, 35% preferred the former option and 24% preferred the latter option. Members of the public were also asked whether scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time; 66% said yes, 29% said no.

Demographically, acceptance of evolution was correlated with level of education: "Three-quarters (75%) of college graduates believe that humans have evolved over time, compared with 56% of those who ended their formal education with a high school diploma or less." The report adds, "Beliefs about evolution also differ strongly by religion and political group, as was also the case in past surveys," but deferred the details to a future publication. Judging from similar previous surveys, rejection of evolution was probably associated with conservative political attitudes and religiosity.

The same questions were asked in a Pew Research Center survey (PDF) in 2009, providing a basis for a longitudinal comparison. In 2009, 97% of scientists and 61% of the public accepted evolution, while 2% of scientists and 31% of the public rejected evolution. Among scientists who accepted evolution, 87% attributed it to natural processes and 8% to divine guidance; among members of the public who accepted evolution, 32% attributed it to natural processes and 22% to divine guidance. Members of the public were asked whether scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time; 60% said yes, 28% said no.

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 two surveys, one conducted by telephone among members of the general public in the United States in August 2014, and one conducted on-line among members of the AAAS in September and October 2014. The broader significance of the project's results are summarized in the Pew Research Center's report (PDF), issued on January 29, 2015.