Evolution has probably been the main area of discord between christians and science in the past two centuries. There have always been christians who accepted the science of evolution, but until the last few decades they were probably in the minority.
But a new study suggests that this is changing, and that christians aren’t the only ones who have difficulties with at least some aspects of evolution – some atheists do too.
A survey was conducted this year in Canada and UK, and results compared to similar surveys in the US. The survey asked questions about acceptance of evolutionary science.
Most people accept that evolution happened
When asked whether they believed in creationism or evolution, only 9% of Canadians and 15% of Britons were creationist, compared to 25% in the US. In both Canada and UK, the vast majority accepted evolution, most believing that God played no part in the process (49% in UK and 36% in Canada), but a significant number believe God guided the evolutionary process (almost a quarter in both countries).
The majority of those who identify as religious or spiritual accept evolution, but 19% in UK and 29% in Canada find this difficult, compared to 53% in UK and 41% in Canada who find it easy to reconcile their beliefs with evolution.
The origin of human beings
But people are less sure about whether evolution can explain the origin of human beings. 37% of religious and spiritual people in the UK and 45% in Canada don’t believe evolution can explain human life. Many non religious (19% in UK, 31% in Canada), and even many atheists (12% in UK, 31% in Canada), also cannot accept that evolution explains human life.
This suggests that many people see human beings as somehow different to animals.
And people are even less sure about whether evolution can explain human consciousness. In both countries, about half of religious people and more than a third of non-religious think evolution cannot explain human consciousness, and even 19% of UK atheists and 38% of Canadian atheists agree.
This may not be surprising, as even evolutionary scientists, neuroscientists and philosophers struggle with explanations for consciousness.
The study authors are encouraged by the results, showing high levels of acceptance of evolutionary science, and the fact that religious people are not, on average, opposed to evolution. Their press release ends:
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!
You can read the press release and download the data at PRESS RELEASE: results of major new survey on evolution
Graphic: Halobacteria, one of the earliest forms of single celled life on earth (Wikipedia)