Which religious groups are Creationist?

By Razib Khan | February 15, 2009 1:52 pm

Pew has the numbers:
The main surprise here are Mormons. I knew that they had become much more Creationist over the past 3 generations due to their identification with conservative Protestants, but I didn’t know that it went this far. In The Creationists Ronald L Numbers states:

In 1935 only 36 percent of the students at the Mormons’ Brigham Young University denied that humans had been “created in a process of evolution from lower forms.” By 1973 the figure had risen sharply to 81 percent.

This is interesting because Mormons have no objections to evolution which are distinctively Mormon. This is why a prominent Mormon such as Mitt Romney didn’t have a problem taking a relatively strong position in favor of evolution.
The data above was from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey. I decided to see how various parameters would predict acceptance of evolution for these groups.

I removed Jehovah’s Witnesses from the political question because for religious reasons they are apolitical.
H/T Tariq

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Creationism, Evolution

Comments (38)

  1. Taylor

    The survey might be different if worded differently. Most Mormons do not believe “human origins” come from a lower life form; but a significant amount do believe that animals, plants,and other life forms evolved. It would be interesting to see how the 1935 was survey was worded.
    In any event, what I have notice from members of my church it appears that their belief in evolution v. creationism has more to do with their political persuasion than their religious conviction.

  2. Very interesting data. I’m curious about the unaffiliated though. Are they atheists or agnostics?

  3. It may not be easy to categorize religion this way. There are fundamentalist Jewish sects that vilify evolution (there were protests when Jurassic Park was shown in Israel). Every religious group has its nutbars, no matter how liberal it may seem overall.

  4. It may not be easy to categorize religion this way.
    i’m not interested in platonic ideal categories. so your objection is irrelevant.
    Very interesting data. I’m curious about the unaffiliated though. Are they atheists or agnostics?
    see the *religious landscape survey*. taking a very broad view of what “agnostic” is, 1/3 of them are atheists an agnostics. 22% say they do not believe in god.

  5. In any event, what I have notice from members of my church it appears that their belief in evolution v. creationism has more to do with their political persuasion than their religious conviction.
    i did a quick regression in the GSS limited to those who are certain god exists. politics & education had the biggest betas, in opposite directions. strength of religious affiliation didn’t bother.

  6. Leslie

    What surprises me is the low number (though still squeaking by at just over 50%) for mainline Protestants, as well as the relatively low number for the unaffiliated, though I suppose, as someone else was wondering, unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily mean non-religious, especially if it’s a self-defined category.

  7. Barbara

    It is also true that the Mormon Church has become much more “normative,” more closely resembling and self-identifying as Christian. In the 1930’s, Mormons routinely self-identified as “other” when surveyed for religious affiliation (as in hospital admittance, military records.) Now they are highly likely to describe themselves as Christian. This could explain the convergence of attitudes toward evolution between Mormons and Evangelical Christians.
    One thing that isn’t really addressed here and is almost never treated seriously in the culture/curriculum wars is the “great middle.” Roman Catholics and Mainline Protestants are most likely to say that there isn’t an inherent contradiction between belief that God created the world and evolution. I don’t know if the word “creationist” is used as a stand-in for “Biblical literalist” but it’s confusing and to my mind, inaccurate.

  8. Paul

    I’m astonished that 8% of Jehovah’s Witnesses feel that evolution is the best explanation for human life. I’ve never met any Jehovah’s Witness who thinks that – and I’ve met many.

  9. bigTom

    I did find the data on Mormons surprising. All of the Mormons I knew were scientists. But then, I guess I have only met a very self-selected portion of them. But even the “scientific” mormons I know tend to be strongly ideologically rightwing (or libertarian).
    Interesting that Buddhists and Hindus are so high on the list. The cosmos in the sutras tends towards an infinite cyclic one. I don’t see how long term secular evolution fits into this quasi time independent universe.

  10. Marilyn

    I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and if any said that they believe in evolution, they were not Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some study with J.W.’s and then count it as their religion.

  11. HiveRadical

    Has anyone considered that Hindi and Budhist representation is skewed simply because those who have made it to the US often made it here in connection with the pursuit of higher education OR because they obtained such somewhere else which then opens up job oppertunities?
    Taylor has an excellent point, I’m Mormon and I believe that all of nature with the exceptions of humans were likely created via evolution. The Church’s official stance seems to leave open the possibility that all life originated via evolution, the only stipulation with our doctrine is that Adam was the first human.

  12. Abel

    I agree with Paul, and furthermore I think the survey managed to hit people who claimed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses but really weren’t.
    I’m also VERY leary of the graph that shows less than 50% of the JWs believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God. The whole point of being a JW is a belief in, and application of, the scriptures. To me, that puts the entire survey in question, really.

  13. if someone says they are jehovah’s witness, then they are. who cares what you think? being religion X is not like being 6 feet 6, it’s all about subjective self-perception.
    Has anyone considered that Hindi and Budhist representation is skewed simply because those who have made it to the US often made it here in connection with the pursuit of higher education OR because they obtained such somewhere else which then opens up job oppertunities?
    you should read the survey. you would then know that
    1) most buddhists are not immigrants (24% are foreign born)
    2) and that over half are white
    yes, both groups are educated. but surveys of MDs also show that buddhists & hindus & jews are way more pro-evolution, even among MDs….

  14. John

    Why are the political Jehovah’s Witnesses, “subjective self-perception”, the ones who are less than 6′ 6″, not included in conservative chart?

  15. john, READ THE POST! i say:
    I removed Jehovah’s Witnesses from the political question because for religious reasons they are apolitical.

  16. BGC

    I find it worrying that Mormons and Evangelicals – the most devout, well behaved and fertile Christians – answer negatively to the question on evolution; because it probably indicates that these groups are in conflict with biology and therefore modernity.
    It may be that devout people are answering about the ultimate nature of human knowledge concerning human life – and (obviously) stating that religious sources are ultimate.
    My impression is that publicly-expressed ‘belief’ answers are often encapsulated – that ‘belief’ of this kind is walled-off from inter-relation with behaviour.
    This applies both to the religious and atheist/ agnostics.
    Evangelical Christians – and even more so Mormons – generally live in the modern world just as if they believed in human naural selection. The USA is both the most Christian and the most advanced scientific society in the world.
    Atheists/ agnostics profess belief in natural selection, and often belief in the ultimate validity of science above other sources of knwoledge. But the strength of political correctness, especially when it comes into contact with evolution as it applies to humans (eg. The Larry Summers and James Watson Affairs – or the stance of Nature editorialists in general – see current issue on IQ and race, noting the identity and stance of the invited ‘debators’), shows that these ‘believers’ in natural selection as applied to humans are not in practice willing to follow the arguments through to their conclusion – but instead privilege (covert) moral beliefs over science.
    In actual practice, they live as if their ‘religion’ is more important than science – eg. Nature editorialists treat liberalism as more important than truth:
    But the question and answer is surely telling us something interesting and important. The apparent need to express scepticism about natural selection is a major weakness of the evangelical Christians, and an obstacle to their ability to take leadership postions in modern states. I am sorry to discover that the same may apply to Mormons.
    So this is a profound conflict, with vast consequences. Ultimately the solution to this will need to be theological, I suspect; or (for Mormons) a matter for revelation.

  17. the most devout, well behaved and fertile Christians
    where do you find evangelicals are the most well behaved? ironic thought that the most fertile are most skeptical of evolution.

  18. BGC

    Razib said : “where do you find evangelicals are the most well behaved?”
    I was thinking of Mormons when I said ‘most’; but also I think there are several studies (sorry, I can’t remember where I saw them) that showed evangelical Christians gave a lot in charitable donations, blood donations, did a lot of voluntary work, and displayed other measures of altruism.

  19. Interesting graphs and pretty much as I would have predicted although I’m surprised at Islam coming out as well as it did and, like you, at the poor showing for the Mormons. It leaves the most important question unanswered though – what about the Scientologists??? 🙂

  20. Tom Bri

    For a Christian that is a bit of a trick question. The ‘origins’ of human life. Hmm. A lot of different ways to look at that. I am a Christian (Presbyterian) and I believe in Evolution. But when you start to talk about origins it gets dicey.
    Recently, from the pulpit, one of our elders stated that he believes in evolution. I expect that he also believes God created the universe and life. I will have to ask him.

  21. Ivy

    Two points:
    1) As BGC alluded to, none of these individuals actually accept evolution (well at least those that lean towards the liberal end of the spectrum). They exhibit almost identical behavioral characteristics as religious creationists: rejecting scientific data on race/intelligence solely on the basis of it conflicting with their worldview. Liberal egalitarians accept evolution because they see it as the dignified position to have. Yet, their knowledge of the subject is usually suspect and their full acceptance is often nonexistent. For them, the Gouldians, evolution stopped prior to leaving Africa and had no substantial impact on human qualities, the most polemical being intelligence. They dismiss psychometric data and recent genetic studies (such as Rosenberg’s 2005 paper on Clines, Clusters, etc…) offhand.
    2) On an atheist blog, someone noted the percentage of atheists who accept evolution as around 85%. I find this unbelievable. If not by means of evolution, how exactly would an atheist suppose humans arose? I imagine in this study atheism includes not only the rational dissenters, but the New Age, hippie, Christian-hating, but “spiritual”, morons.

  22. Sylvia Horn

    Jehovah’s Witnesses DO NOT believe in evolution in any way, shape nor form. Their entire premise is that Jehovah God, through his Son, Jesus Christ CREATED the heavens and the earth.

  23. Jason

    I am Mormon and we have always believed that Jesus Christ, under the direction of His Father, CREATED all things both in heaven and in earth; it is clearly stated so in the Book of Mormon. We also believe that God CREATED Adam and that Adam was the first human on earth. We believe that the whole human family came through Adam and Eve. Adam learned directly from God and was a very intelligent being.
    Personally, I believe that plants and animals have evolved somewhat from the first creation, but all things were CREATED by God in the beginning. Throughout history, humans have progressed at times as well as digressed at times depending on the degree to which they were obedient to God’s commandments. There is a direct correlation between a man’s intelligence and his obedience to God.
    Mormons, therefore are creationists and always have been. I belive this article is a little misleading.

  24. just a heads up, no more weirdo religious comments after jason’s go through moderation.

  25. Conservativeme

    Interesting. I am a mormon and yes, the vast majority of Mormons believe that evolution is a possible explanation for the various plants and animals in the world. We even accept that it probably took hundreds of millions of years for the earth to become what it is today. But when it comes to humans, there is no doubt that Mormons are strict creationists.
    This has direct reference to Mormon belief that Mankind and God are the same species, and that through a system of trial, testing, time, and grace man can become a god. Adam was not created, he was literally born of celestial parentage.

  26. catgirl

    I’m surprised to see such low numbers for Catholics and Mainline Protestants, because the official stance of the Catholic church and many Protestant churches is that they accept evolution and it does not contradict their faith. I’m surprised to see such a large percentage going against their own church.

  27. I think this is one of those questions which is very ambiguous to a Mormon but not so much for others. That’s not to say there aren’t more Mormon evolution doubters than I’d like. But I do think the actual LDS positions are much more complex than this lets on.
    Interestingly BYU is the central intellectual hub for Mormons and has had over the years quite a few prominent evolutionists. (One even blogs) BYU, presumably with the understanding of LDS leadership, actually gives a packet to students on evolution.

  28. One addition. There are two comments from Mormons that Mormons are strict creationists with respect to humans. I think even that is a tad more complex. As Bill Evenson wrote in the officially chartered Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on Evolution, “the scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how.” As others noted though for Mormons there is a deeper theological issue over the relationship of humanity and God which isn’t obvious to non-Mormons. I personally don’t think that poses any problems for the acceptance of evolution although clearly some do. But I also think this question by not being aware of those issues tends to bias the results quite a bit. I’m a strong believer in evolution, think ID is bunk, but I’m not sure how I’d honestly answer the question.

  29. James F

    To the creationists on this thread:
    I really would like to ask the following: do you believe that all scientists are lying and/or engaged in a global conspiracy to suppress any evidence against evolution? Why is there not a single piece of data in peer-reviewed scientific research papers that refutes evolution or supports creationism? That’s about seventeen million peer-reviewed papers over many decades.
    As a scientist, I’d like to know if you think I’m a liar (one of the worst things you can say about a scientist) or part of some super-powerful cabal.

  30. Peter Henderson

    Here in Northern Ireland all the main evangelical denominations are YEC now. This includes Baptist, Brethren, Elim Penticostal, the Indipendant and Evangelical Methodist churches, the Free, Reformed, and Evangelical Presbyterians, the Congregational church along with the Congregational Reformed Church etc. etc. The largest Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian church in Ireland is not offically YEC, but it does appear to have a growing number of YEC ministers and adherants. On the Protestent side of things only the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland (Anglican) appear to be imune (i.e. AiG/CMI have not yet infiltrated these denominations) although that is not to say there are large numbers of YECs here too. I’d say that within evangelical Protestantism the numbers of YECs would be very high in the province, probably between 70-80%. The Catholic church here is generally accepting of evolutionary science.
    The ROI is largely Catholic and probably pro-science. However, AiG and CMI are targeting here with an ever increasing number of talks down south when their speakers visit NI.
    Still, Ham’s visit to Belfast in May 2008 was a complete flop (very poor attendace) for reasons I can’t explain.

  31. Raymond

    The statement that Mormons did not want to be considered christians in the 1930’s is not true. The army categorized soldiers into religions such as Jew, Catholic, Protestant… At the time it was considered that if you were a Christian you were either a Catholic or some religion that at one time or another broke off from the Catholic church, or in there words, protestant. Mormons felt like they did not fit into either of these categorizes and so they choose “other”. Had the option been available to choose “Christian-other” They would have choosen this. Since the church’s foundation the offical name has always been called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.

  32. I guess it depends on the sample size. If you were to poll all the citizens of the United States the statistics might end up being vastly removed from this small sample survey.

  33. paco

    Mormonism is rapidly evolving into mainstream Christian religion, moving from the far right to the center, as any political candidate will often due in order to win votes in an election. This is easily done due the church’s doctrine that a true prophet can receive revelation directly from God at any time, and any rules or doctrines in the church can then be changed. One must surmise that the purpose of ever-changing doctrine is in order to garner larger numbers of converts, and that within a generation, many of the controversial Mormon doctrines of the past (such as its treatment of blacks, polygamy, etc)will be completely ignored by the Mormon church and its members, and they perhaps will even deny that these controversial beliefs ever even existed as we now understand them.

  34. The last time the prophet recieved a revelation to change doctrine was in 1978 (Spencer W. Kimball). So talking of ever-changing doctrine is nonsense.

  35. JonH

    For paco,
    Mormons “rapidly evolving into mainstream Christian religion” isn’t so rapid. The polygamy practice officially ended 120 years ago. Blacks holding the M. priesthood was doctrinally an eventuallity-it had to be because of other related doctrines. Neither one was actually a doctrinal change when one gets into the real meat of it. Having more than one wife sealed to a man forever has always been allowed, just not all at once in this life. The purpose of polygamy is stated in the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:26-30 and is for a purpose stated there. Otherwise, polygamy is not allowed. The majority of the LDS faithful were not practicing polygamy and weren’t allowed to.
    Question for paco…can you give some more examples as suggested in your “ETC.”? The LDS faith has other detractors who complain that they haven’t changed doctrines since the outset.
    The truth is that the faith is still undergoing it’s roll out of the “restoration” of all things…Acts 3:20-21. So, in the LDS Articles of Faith #9. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that [H]e does now reveal, and we believe that [H]e will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the [K]ingdom of God”. So, there is still more to come and at this point there have not been any reversals of doctrine and none anticipated. If you want to check early doctrine with current doctrine, there are hundreds of sources to examine in bookstores and amongst book collectors. You just compare visually old against recent = they’re the same. Btw, the Article of Faith were written in 1842 and they’ve remained solidly intact and without change as well.
    The only indication of rumor of change comes from non-member “experts” usually of some form of evangelical protestants who trust one anothers words and research with out question (or research).
    There are thousands of LDS scientists in many fields. LDS believe “all truth is circumscribed into one great whole”. In other words, all truth scientific or otherwise is part of Mormon beliefs without contradictions. Sounds pretty out there. But that has always been the stance. Does any other christian faith stand a similar ground? LDS PHD’s unlike their conterparts have an increase of faith upon achieving their PHD’s–unlike by 180 degrees other Christian new PHD’ers. (That came from a PEW report).

  36. Tony

    The most basic teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that “All scripture is inspired of God”. That means that the ALL of the Bible is the word of God. Therefore, the fact that the study shows that less than half of those questioned who claimed to be Jehovah Witnesses believe that “Scriptures Word of God” (from the graph), indicates to me that a large percentage of them weren’t truly Jehovah’s Witnesses. I think it’s wonderful that they want to be known as Jehovah’s witnesses since that means there must be something about it they admire. But just because they say they are a witness, doesn’t make it true. It’s likely though that these ones are studying, or associating with Jehovah’s witnesses and haven’t yet learned the basics teachings of the Bible.
    To be fair, I’m sure the same could be said of all the religions mentioned above. Likely not all who claimed to be Buddhist where truly Buddhist? In any event, the study does contain some interesting data.

  37. Conrad

    Clarification on last chart:
    I admit, as a former Jehovah’s Witness I was EXTREMELY confused that JW’s were plotted at less than 50% beleiving scriptures are the word of God but looking at the source I think the X axis is just worded poorly.
    The PEW portrait ( http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits# ) shows that 48% believe it to be word for word, BUT an additional 45% believe it the word of god just not literally word for word. ONLY 1% believe it was written by man.
    JW’s are extremely loyal to their core ideology (if they’re not they get kicked out) and statitics will almost always show this.

  38. Steve

    The question on evolution was worded, “tell me if you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, or completely disagree. ‘Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on the earth.’”
    In other questions, Mormons showed that they, more than any other group, believe solidly in a personal God, in heaven and hell, in the Bible as the word of God, in miracles, and in life after death.
    Believing in such things, how can Mormons possibly agree with the statement that “evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life”?
    I think most Mormons believe that evolution is part of the explanation for life (and human life) on the planet, but evolution is not, by itself, the best explanation. Mormons believe in truth, wherever it is found. To them, truth likely includes evolution, and truth certainly includes God.
    Shame on the Pew Forum for poorly wording this question. It is the only question they asked about evolution. From this poorly-worded question, they dared to suggest that Mormons (and other Christians) have rejected evolution. I think perhaps nothing could be further from the truth.
    Ask a better question next time, and you will see that devout believers in God can also be quite intelligent.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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