The US is Next to Last

By JoAnne Hewett | August 24, 2006 12:20 am

This is about a week old, but nonetheless worth promoting to the limelight over and over and over again. From the 11 August issue of Science (sorry, you gotta be registered):

In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32 European countries were asked whether to respond “true,” “false” or “not sure” to this statement: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” Here are the results:

Well, at least we beat Turkey. (Actually I would have expected Turkey to do better.)

The study also collected a bunch of other related data. Science reported from the study:

The total effect of fundamentalist religious beliefs on attitude toward evolution (using a standardized metric) was nearly twice as much in the United States as in the nine European countries, which indicates that individuals who hold a strong belief in a personal God and who pray frequently were significantly less likely to view evolution as probably or definitely true than adults with less conservative religious views.


The evolution issue has been politicized and incorporated into the current partisan division in the United States in a manner never seen in Europe or Japan. In the second half of the 20th century, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as a part of a platform designed to consolidate their support in southern and Midwestern states. In the 1990s, the state Republican platforms in seven states included explicit demands for the teaching of “creation science”.

To all people who are Republican because they are fiscally conservative (a point I can understand), can you please take back control of your party away from these religious zealots! And, if only we could have more science education in our schools….perhaps then we could aim to do better than Cyprus next year.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Society
  • Paul Valletta

    Interesting poll!

    How it would be percived if one was to ask:In the latest Dark Matter revelations, two Galactic Clusters are brought together in a collision, so is it probable that two seperate evolving civilizations can be brought together during impact, and protected by Dark Matter thus, can actually have the chance to “cross-pollinate” from Galaxy to Galaxy?

    A civilization ( galactic-A) that has evolved further than another (galactic-B), may use this to their advantage and introduce some environmental aspects to the “lesser” civilization, ensuring that they have the best possible chance to evolve/survive ?

    Of course any planetary system that, say may be at the Dinosour stage during impact time, may be wiped out by the X-Rays around the vicinity?

    Evolution on planetary scales, can be but one aspect of Galactic/Universe Evolutions ?

  • Honi soit qui mal y pense

    And in the meantime (according to this article in the NY Times) ” Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.”…. and it’s just a clerical error… Yeah right.

  • Tony Smith

    JoAnne said: “… in 2005, people in the United States and 32 European countries were asked whether to respond “true,” “false” or “not sure” to this statement:
    “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.”
    … Well, at least we [USA = 40% true] beat Turkey [25% true].
    (Actually I [JoAnne] would have expected Turkey to do better [higher true percentage].) …”.

    From a quick glance at the list, it appears to me that Turkey is the only predominantly Islamic country on the list.
    I would be interested to see a similar poll with a list including Egypt, Syria, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, and other predominantly Islamic countries.

    I would not be surprised to see their scores far below the USA value of 40% true, and perhaps far below the Turkey value of 25% true.

    I would also not be surprised to see that some fundamentalist Christians and/or Muslims might hold two views simultaneously (not something that classical logicians would like, but not inconstent with some philosophical systems or with quantum superposition):
    1 – an operational view consistent with science related to evolution, enabling them to do first-rate science;
    2 – an ideal view based on fundamental religion, governing the response to simple poll questions such as the one used in this case.

    Perhaps a more sophisticated poll (testing the two-view possibility) would be in order.

    Tony Smith

    PS – I would also be interested in seeing scores for Latin America, India, China, and other Asian countries.

  • Travis

    I think that the point was this was a survey of civilized countries. I wouldn’t doubt that Pakistanis might not know much about evolution… it’s probably illegal to teach such things there…

  • anonyma

    I was appalled at how low the percentages were even for Europe, until I realized that people includes all age range, hence also those who went to school half a century ago (or more) for a few years only. In fact, in a third world country the question wouldn’t make sense – so many people are illiterate and never go to school.
    I have a personal question for JoAnna: do you mind people walking up to you at a conference and telling you how much they enjoy your blog? Or do they creep you out?

  • fh

    Well, for Turkey it’s good not to forget that it’s not Istanbul + X. It’s a vast country with much of the population living in rural areas, in (by western standards) poverty, with little education.
    It’s GDP (PPPpC) is at the same level as Iran, Tonga or Belarus.

    Interessting countries for this comparsion would be Russia, Iran, India and China.

  • Wolverine

    Eugenie Scott discussed the findings on PRI’s The World a couple weeks ago (direct link). Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is the 21st century.

  • Rescuing Reason

    I used to be a Republican because I was fiscally conservative. However, I’m an atheist, and therefore me being in the republican party any longer is like gays being republicans — it’s silly, since they’re only going to work against me. For what it’s worth, I’ve always been registered as a libertarian.

    Maybe they’ve gone so off their rocker that they’ll lose a bunch of votes from people like me in the coming elections? We can only hope.

  • Wolverine

    Sorry, pilot error on my first URL above… take two.

  • aron nimzo

    to be honest, I’m quite impressed that even 40% of americans believe in evolution. I wonder what the age distribution is. I reckon that here in england the majority of the god-did-it lot are elderly. But I suspect that in the US the young have similar views to the old. Anyone american care to comment?

  • Elliot

    frightening…but this is the country that elected George Bush president.

  • JoAnne

    Anonyma, flattery will get you (almost) everywhere.

  • Cynthia

    Since Iceland appears to be at the top of the heap, perhaps Pluto ought to keep its planetary status after all. In fact, living on a ice ball might be a prerequisite for intelligent life.;)

  • NoJoy

    Travis, did you really mean to say “civilized”?

    The chart above seems to be Europe, the U.S., and Japan. I doubt that the rest of the countries in the world were excluded based on whether they were “civilized”.

    And I have a hard time calling a country with nuclear weapons “uncivilized”.

  • donna

    As Gandhi said when asked about Western Civilization, “I think it would be a Good Idea.”

  • andy.s

    You know, guys, as much fun as it is to bash fundamentalists, the educational system in this country is secular, and rather aggressively so.

    Yes, they’ve been trying to sneak creationism into the classroom at every opportunity, but they’ve always been blocked by the courts.

    If creationism was taught in every biology and geology class you’d have good cause to blame it for our underperforming. But creationism/ID can’t legally be taught anywhere.

    If Americans are poorly educated, maybe the educators should look to themselves for the reasons.

    Just sayin’.

  • AndyS


    Since Iceland appears to be at the top of the heap, perhaps Pluto ought to keep its planetary status after all. In fact, living on a ice ball might be a prerequisite for intelligent life.;)

    That’s hilarious!

  • M Sachan

    I would like to comment on Mr. Travis’s lack of knowledge or exposure to world. Assuming he is right that the poll was for “civilized” nations than I would have expected more than 50% of population from these nations to agree with a scientific reason. Why? Because that makes them civilized (i.e. someone who doesn’t work on unfounded beliefs but on facts). So the poll suggests that out of all these countries, USA is the only one not civilized…hmmm…I guess you just mooted your on point. Either your assumption is wrong or, your conclusion is. I guess scientific reasoning is meant only for people from Asian countries, so I wouldn’t say it’s your fault; it’s probably just your genes didn’t develop from that of early species (if you are part of the 40%) otherwise, God forgot to mention that to you!

  • alienmist

    maybe for some reason, evolution theory just doesn’t sound right to majority of people in the world. There is nothing any scientist can do about that!

    Religous feeling are very deep and do not listen to reason or “scientific facts” because the very essence of a religious belief is a faith in the unseen and sometimes the “unproovable”.

    Americans way more religous than the European, It has got nothing to do with the education system.

  • Arun

    Frightening. I think “The Blind Watchmaker ” by Richard Dawkins must be made compulsory reading in schools around the world.

  • Uffe

    The graph measures much more than scientific awareness. Note for example that cartoons coming from the top of the list, are met with clubs at the bottom of the list.

  • Ryan Scranton

    AndyS: Creationism and ID may not be taught (officially), but the influence of creationist sympathies is not limited to just positive instruction. Just as damaging is the negative influence they’ve had on the teaching of biology, geology and astronomy. You’ve got big obvious actions like state school boards either removing information from the state science standards or insisting on “teaching the controversy”, which basically brings in a lot of what counts for creationist critiques of evolution through the backdoor. Then there are the less well publicized efforts like teachers who skip the evolution chapter in the bio book because they don’t what to deal with creationist parents who complain. And trickle down effects like when Texas demands less emphasis on the ancient age of the earth and publishers knuckle under because they can’t survive without that contract. All of this contributes to the fact that even Americans who don’t have a particular religious axe to grind against science end up with a dumbed down science background.

  • Eugene

    What I want to really know, is what’s the percentage of people living in countries where religious belief is not divided into “Those who believe in a personal God, those who do not”, believing in evolutionary science. My home country Malaysia would be one (predominantly Muslim, but plenty of Taoists, pagan beliefs, Christians, Buddhists, to go about). We were thought evolution in High School.

  • Eugene

    Gah. Thought = “taught”. I am turning into a phonetic speller. Bad.

  • andy.s

    Ryan. A few selected out-of-context quotes from your reply (hope you don’t mind).

    “…state school boards … removing … teachers who skip the evolution chapter … publishers knuckle under … ”

    We have met the enemy and he is us.

  • Ryan Scranton

    There have been a relatively small number of cases where science teachers have been removed or reassigned if they either weren’t teaching evolution at all or (usually) if they were teaching creationism or ID. The vast majority of the time, however, it’s the case that, if a teacher is feeling pressure from parents about teaching evolution, there’s bound to be a not insignificant fraction of the local school board who’d just as soon they skipped evolution altogether. Blaming teachers for not wanting to risk become pariahs in their local communities seems like a bad way to address the problem.

    Instead, I’d put the onus on the scientific community. We don’t spend a large enough fraction of our time on educating the public and tend not to give enough recognition to those of us who do.

  • Quasar9

    Well at the risk of blowing my chances of a ‘hot’ date:

    HuMan was fashioned from mud, would be consistent with the sciences and evolution
    Life was breathed into HuMan, would further be consistent with all the sciences, since without air or very sophisticated means to produce air life can be short
    HuMan was endowed with intellect to differentiate from other animate beings, is again consistent with Science, at least in most cases. exceptions to the rule apply

    Things (massless particles? or essence?) exist in other dimensions which we have not yet revealed in our 3D + T, (or 6D aeronautical referencing) seems to be a consistent theory in both Physics & Religion.

    So JoAnne, in a vain attempt at flattery, may I suggest the question should be rephrased: “Do people regardless of religious inclination, political belief, sexual bent, education or philosophical orientation, believe there are things which we have not yet revealed in our spacetime dimensions – which are flux like energy states, or life forces even” and maybe you’d get 100% agreement.

    Except for the ‘exception to the rule’ who will argue against nothing just to prove the exception (the rule).

  • Joe

    Actually, I’m amazed Ireland didn’t do better. I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone there expressing a counter-evolution opinion.

    I suppose thats an effect of taking a spread of ages, as mentioned by an earlier poster. It would be very interesting to see this broken down by age.

    In particular the I’d be interested to see what this chart looks like for the 18-35 age group.

  • The one intelligently designed

    To Travis,
    Whats the point of guessing about things you certainly have no knowledge. In Pakistan evolution is taught in grade 9 and 10, and as part of a compulsary course. Then if you opt for biology, you have to put up with this crap, for the remaining 2 more years of high school

  • The one intelligently designed

    And sorry I forgot to remark on your remark of civilized countries. When asked “what do you think of the western civilization?” Gandhi replied, ” I think it would be a great idea”. Just wanted to let you know there are other human beings on this planet with quite different views than yours.

  • Quasar9

    Is memory the same as conscious?

    I know springs have ‘memory’ and can (or may) return to some previous state, and there are many new materials which have this property …

    but I’ve yet to see a guitar string consciously get up of its own volition and play (or humm) a tune –
    it usually requires some outside (external) force to make it vibrate (oscillate) or the hand of a Maestro to strum a virtuoso tune or melody!

    So who is pulling your strings??? or yanking your chain?

  • Alice

    Thanks for publishing this–I am a (very) senior citizen and i now have time to pursue my reading of Zimmer, Dennett, Gould, etc. (and Loren Eiseley–love the way he wrote). I try to share this with everyone I come across, including my doctor, dentist, and they all look at me as if I should be stepped on!
    Even my kids (now 50 and 60) say “Ohh-Mo-th-er! I guess the trouble is there is no money ion it. We need a really cute poster or blog that shows Grandfather Darwin blessing the toddlers.

  • Alice

    New thought! You know that Sistine Chapel of Michaelangelo’s? How about we have Darwin touching the finger of Adam? Would that bring everyone into the fold? Well, maybe not George, but he’s a bit ‘tetched’ you know–but it might get Behe? You think?

  • P. Edward Murray

    I’m an American and Roman Catholic. Most of these folks are not Catholic. Most of America has been and still is very much Protestant. These fundamentalist types are Protestant. So don’t blame me.

    Catholics generally believe that Evolution is the term for how God creates life on Earth.

    Most of these Fundamentalists like to forget the very first sentence in Genesis:

    “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth”

    Well, doesn’t that include everything even the scientific laws that we have discovered?

    I think so.

  • http://na mr. norris

    This poll is very frightening to me, being an American. To the other countries, I’m sorry, I really am. I did not vote for Bush. American ignorance has long scared me, and lo and behold, we now see it with all its glory. To the “smart people” out there, “America” by Jon Stewa and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins are great books. they should be mandatory in the U.S.

    P.S. I’m sorry, really sorry. Our country expunges idiots like no other.

  • http://na mr. norris

    Stewart- sorry.

  • mr. norris

    Noticed another little mistake- “expunges idiots” should be “expunges rationality” . And I do mean that.

  • JoAnne

    Mr. Norris,

    It is frightening, but there is no need to be so apologetic. Just do whatever you can during your life to help others and to affect change.


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