Who believes in evolution, and who doesn’t?

October 23rd, 2017 in Life. Tags: , , , , ,

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.

The survey

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.

Human consciousness

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!

Read more

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)


  1. Human beings are superior to animals because we have free will and the conscious knowledge of human beings as opposed to the sense knowledge of animals. Biologists realize that free will is not a scientific observation so it is a biological truth that human beings did not evolve from animals. However, most biologists think that humans evolved from animals. Concerning free will they either say that it is an illusion or that it is a mystery. Calling free will a mystery is dishonest unless you specify that it is a metaphysical mystery, not a scientific mystery.

  2. Hi David, I agree with you that humans have free will and consciousness, but I don’t think the rest of your comments necessarily follow:

    1. We don’t know if animals have consciousness and free will or not.
    2. Humans could have evolved biologically from animals and still have those characteristics even if animals don’t – whether by natural processes (just as other characteristics evolve) or by God’s intervention.
    3. Many, probably most, neuroscientists don’t believe we have free will, and many think consciousness is an emergent property (as if that explains it!). If the world is just physical, then free will is probably impossible.

    So I think our experience of consciousness and (apparently) free will tells us something about the world, but I don’t think it tells us that evolution didn’t occur.

  3. Your comment is so irrational and non-responsive that I can’t even begin to refute it. My guess is that you think human beings have souls which go to purgatory after death. You think people who don’t believe this have a materialistic world view. Am I right? If someone thinks they are Napoleon it means they are crazy. It does not mean their world view is they think they are Napoleon.

  4. Hi David,

    “Your comment is so irrational and non-responsive that I can’t even begin to refute it.”
    I’m sorry you feel that way.

    “My guess is that you think human beings have souls which go to purgatory after death.”
    No, I don’t think that.

    “You think people who don’t believe this have a materialistic world view. Am I right? “

    Perhaps it would be best to leave it at that?

  5. I apologize for underestimating your knowledge and intelligence. I suggest that you re-read my comment and see if you understand it. If there is something you don’t understand or agree with let me know one item at a time.

  6. Hi David, thanks for the apology. It is easy on the internet, I can say ruefully, to post a comment and then wonder if we expressed ourselves well.

    I think I understood what you were saying, mostly.

    I agreed with this: “we have free will and the conscious knowledge”, and said so.
    I disagreed with this: “it is a biological truth that human beings did not evolve from animals”.
    I agree that many (most?) scientists say free will is an illusion and consciousness is a mystery.
    But I don’t think many think that free will is a mystery, because they mostly think it is an illusion.
    And I would say any mystery that is there is both a metaphysical mystery, and a scientific mystery.

    All that is based on reading quite a few neuroscientists and philosophers, but I certainly don’t claim to have read exhaustively. I shared my view in response to yours simply to express my view, not to insult you or say you were definitely wrong.

  7. I consider the following two quotes proof that according to biologists, acting as biologists, human beings did not evolve from animals. As Stephen Jay Gould says, “science cannot touch such a subject.” The subject is free will and the conscious knowledge of human beings. These are not scientific observations.

    Niel Campbell and Jane Reece, Biology

    And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. (4th edition, p.776)

    Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, March 1997
    Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement, for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue. (13th paragraph)

  8. I cannot see that in those quotes, I’m sorry. Neither quote says that. The first hints at a naturalistic approach to the mind/brain that is entirely compatible with evolution, while the second quote (by a known evolutionist) says science cannot touch Catholic belief in the soul, which is quite different from what you infer.

    So why don’t you tell me what is behind your comments a little more?

  9. The first quote gives two of the four solutions to the mind-body problem: dualism and materialism. The other two solutions are idealism and the Catholic view, which is that the mind-body problem is an unsolvable metaphysical mystery. In any case, this textbook, which is used by 65 percent of biology majors in the U.S., is saying the mind-body problem is outside of biology. Since human beings have minds (that is why slavery is illegal), biology does not consider the evolution of human beings.

    The second quote is dishonest because the Catholic Church does not teach that God gives human beings souls. What the Catholic Church teaches is that God gives human beings free will, and that a human being is a composition of form (soul) and matter (body). The human soul is not spiritual by definition. It is spiritual because we can comprehend free will, but we can’t solve the mind-body problem. The second quote is saying free will is not a concept in biology.

  10. Hi David,

    “this textbook ….. is saying the mind-body problem is outside of biology”
    I’m sorry, but I don’t see that in that quote. It seems to me to be saying that most biologists are materialists, but some philosophers are dualists. That would agree with my inexpert assessment.

    “The second quote is saying free will is not a concept in biology.”
    Again, I don’t see that there. It seems to me he is simply saying that the Catholic view of souls cannot be addressed by science. This accords with Gould’s view of science and religion being “non-overlapping magisteria”.

    So we disagree about understanding those quotes. But beyond that, what is the overall point you wish to make?

  11. There is a conflict between us, not a disagreement, because it does not arise from different judgments about evidence. The conflict arises from integrity, intelligence, and/or knowledge.

    Concerning the first quote, you have to remember that this is a textbook on biology. The textbook is saying that whether “most biologists” or “some philosophers” are right is not a matter that the textbook is addressing.

    In the second quote, Gould is being dishonest because he is using the term “soul” instead of “free will.” What Gould is really saying is that free will is not a scientific observation. He is quite right about this. It is a metaphysical observation.

    The point I am making is that biology textbooks and the science of biology do not teach that human beings evolved from animals. It is true that most biologist think this but they are either liars (like Gould) or irrational. I’m questioning your integrity because I suspect you don’t like calling most biologists liars or idiots because it suits your purposes to show respect for them that they don’t deserve.

  12. Hi David, I don’t think I will pursue this conversation any further thanks. I was interested to understand where you were coming from, but your recourse to accusations of dishonesty, lack of integrity and lack of intelligence, directed at me and Gould, are distasteful to me, without foundation or reality as far as I can tell, and I don’t think any basis for discussion. Best wishes.

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