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Beyond the data dump featured below, you can find a summary of the results in the section entitled “Interpreting the Results.”

It’s Looking Good for Science (if the sample is representative)

The following is a summary of the findings from a survey completed by the Public Religion Research Institute.

EVOLUTION

A majority (57%) of Americans believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time, compared to 38% who say that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since creation.

  • More than 6-in-10 political independents (61%) and Democrats (64%) affirm a belief in evolution, compared to 45% of Republicans and 43% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party (Religious bias? I think so).
  • Nearly two-thirds (66%) of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, and 77% of the unaffiliated believe humans and other living things evolved over time, compared to only about one-third (32%) of white evangelicals. African American Protestants are evenly divided on the question, with 47% affirming a belief in evolution and 46% affirming a belief in creationism.

Americans hold complex beliefs about the process of evolution.

  • Among those affirming a belief in evolution, a majority (53%) say evolution is due to natural processes, compared to 38% who say a supreme being guided the process.
  • Among those affirming creationism, fully half (50%) say humans and other living thing were created within the last 10,000 years, compared to 39% who disagree.
  • White evangelical Protestants (33%) and Americans who identify with the Tea Party (31%) were significantly more likely than other religious or political groups to believe that humans were created within the last 10,000 years.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Americans say that there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, compared to only 26% who disagree.

  • There are large, asymmetrical political divisions over belief about climate change. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 7-in-10 independents believe the earth is getting warmer, compared to less than half (49%) of Republicans and only about 4-in-10 (41%) Americans who identify as members of the Tea Party.
  • Strong majorities of every religious group say that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer, including 7-in-10 Catholics and the unaffiliated, 63% of white mainline Protestants, and 57% of white evangelicals.

Americans are divided along partisan and religious lines about the underlying causes of climate change.

  • Among those who believe the earth is getting warmer, nearly two-thirds (64%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, compared to 32% who say it is caused by natural environmental patterns.
  • Less than 1-in-5 Republicans (18%) and Tea Party members (18%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, compared to 60% of Democrats.
  • White evangelicals are significantly less likely to believe that the earth is getting warmer and that changes are caused by human activity (31%) than white mainline Protestants (43%), Catholics (50%), or the unaffiliated (52%).

Scientific Consensus on Evolution, Climate Change

Americans are more likely to believe the science is settled on evolution than to say the science is settled on climate change.

A slim majority (51%) of Americans believe that scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time. About one-quarter (26%) say they are divided, and 15% say scientists generally disagree that humans evolve over time.

  • On the question of scientific consensus, the modest political differences between Republicans (47%) and Democrats (52%) are not significant. Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement, however, are much less likely than Republicans or the public to believe there is scientific consensus on the issue of evolution (36%).
  • Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants (37%) are significantly less likely than other religious groups to believe that scientists generally agree that humans evolved over time.

Only 4-in-10 Americans believe that scientists generally agree that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity. Nearly as many (37%) say the scientific community is divided, and 15% believe scientists generally disagree that humans are causing temperatures on earth to rise

  • Democrats (53%) and independents (42%) are much more likely to believe that scientific consensus has been reached on the issue of climate change than Republicans (21%) or members of the Tea Party (22%).
  • White evangelicals (27%) and white mainline Protestants (32%) are much less likely to agree that there is scientific consensus on the causes of climate change than black Protestants (47%), Catholics (48%) or the unaffiliated (43%).

Interpreting the Results

We can divide the results in a number of ways.

First: Is the public right about science?

Thankfully, it seems that a majority of those surveyed got the science right. Concerning evolution a majority of those surveyed both agreed with the theory and correctly identified that it was driven by natural processes, 57% and 53% respectively. Concerning climate change, again a majority of respondents identified that climate change is happening and is due to a human cause, at 69% and 64% respectively.

Lastly, the public unfortunately seems confused about what the scientific consensus is regarding both topics. While only 51% and 40% of respondents think that scientists agree on evolution and climate change respectively, in reality relevant scientists agree almost 100% percent on evolution and 98% on climate change.

Second: How do political or religious affiliation effect results?

Take a look at the chart below:

As the results summarize, those with more conservative ideologies are more likely to have the wrong views of science. As these conservative views are also highly related to religious affiliation, it could be speculated that religious views are also preventing the proper understanding of scientific issues. This speculation is borne out by the fact that white evangelical respondents consistently had lower percentages regarding science issues, with only 27% and 37% agreeing with climate and evolution consensuses, and only 31% and 32% acknowledging human-caused climate change and evolutionary theory. They are also significantly more likely to accept the creationist viewpoint of a “young-Earth.”

Conclusions

Although we can clearly see that political and religious affiliations obviously skew views of science, with only 18% of Republicans agreeing that climate change is human caused compared to 60% of Democrats, for example, the message overall is a positive one. Despite this skew, the majority of the general public (represented by those surveyed) accepts both climate change and evolution (69% and 57% respectively).

But let’s not lose perspective here, in terms of acceptance of scientific ideas, we lag way behind:

Despite this, the argument in the US seems to have shifted from “does it happen” to “how does it happen.” And that’s still progress in my book.



Sources:

Here is the questionnaire that they utilized.

Reproduced from:Public Religion Research Institute