New evolution survey

Updated on: 05/09/2017

 

New evolution survey shows that whilst the majority of people in UK and Canada accept evolutionary science, non-religious and atheist individuals show similar doubts about the origins of humans and human consciousness as religious and spiritual individuals.

Brighton, 5th September 2017
A Newman University/YouGov survey examining public perceptions and attitudes towards evolution has found that while there is a broad consensus of acceptance towards evolutionary science in both countries, surprisingly, non-religious and specifically atheist publics show similar trends to religious and spiritual publics when it comes to expressing doubts about evolutionary science based explanations for human origins and the development of human consciousness.

As part of an international research project Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum, researchers based at Newman University, Birmingham, UK announced the results of a national survey conducted in the UK and Canada, at the British Science Festival in Brighton on Tuesday 5th September 2017. The research, conducted by YouGov, surveyed over four thousand adults across the UK and Canada in between 12th May and 12th June 2017.

This survey on publics’ views of evolutionary science has thrown up some very interesting results, especially as it includes data from countries not previously surveyed in this way before.

The results show that the majority of people across the UK (71%) and Canada (60%) – including those who self-identify as religious or spiritual - accept evolutionary or theistic evolutionary accounts of the origin of species including humans. Only 9% of UK respondents selected "Humans and other living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form". The number of respondents endorsing this ‘creationist’ position in Canada was also relatively low with just 15% selecting this option. The number of respondents endorsing this ‘creationist’ position in the UK was lower than previous surveys have indicated. This is significantly lower than similar surveys in the USA, which suggest that around 1 in 4 Americans support this option.

Adults in the United Kingdom showed the highest levels of ease in accepting evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs, with 64% saying they found it very easy, easy, or somewhat easy in comparison to 50% in Canada. Only a minority in both countries found it somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult to accept evolutionary science: 12% in UK and 20% in Canada.

Those who identified as religious or spiritual were also significantly more likely to find it easy rather than difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs. Only around 1 in 5 UK respondents (19%) and under 1 in 3 Canadian respondents (29%) who identified as religious or spiritual found it somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs, compared to 53% in the UK and 41% in Canada who found it very easy, easy, or somewhat easy.

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker, Director of the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project, said:

"The most encouraging aspect of the survey is that there appears to be a large majority who accept evolutionary science in both countries. Both religious and non-religious people are more likely than not to find it easy to accept evolutionary science in relation to their own beliefs. However, it does throw up some startling results when it comes to public views of the origin of humans and human consciousness. We found similar trends across all religious and non-religious adults, including those atheists surveyed, that suggest a range of people are uncertain of evolutionary science based explanations for the origin of humans and human consciousness. It appears, rejection of or uncertainty about aspects of human evolution is not necessarily an issue of ‘religion versus evolutionary science’, but an issue of universal questions around what it is to be human and about the human experience that affect all of us, across those of all faiths and none. This fundamentally challenges the way we tend to think about evolution and creationism".

Of those who identified as atheists (as a sub-set of non-religious people) we found that nearly 1 in 5 UK atheists (19%) and over 1 in 3 of Canadian atheists (38%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: "Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness". (This compares to 34% in the UK and 37% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 54% in the UK and 55% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).

Over 1 in 10 UK atheists (12%) and nearly 1 in 3 Canadian atheists (31%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: "Animals evolve over time but evolutionary science cannot explain the origins of human beings". (This compares to 19% in the UK and 31% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 37% in the UK and 45% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker continued to say:

"What these surprising findings highlight for the first time is that concerns about evolutionary science aren’t necessarily based solely on individuals’ religious identity. It is not just that some religious people have questions about human evolution it is that some humans have questions about human evolution!"

The preliminary survey data and accompanying report are now publically available and can be accessed by visiting: https://sciencereligionspectrum.org/in-the-news/press-release-results-of-major-new-survey-on-evolution/

For more information and to request a copy of the survey, please contact, Dr Alex Hall on +44 7506 729360 or email sres@newman.ac.uk

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