Protestant fundamentalists still reject evolution

By Razib Khan | April 6, 2012 4:30 am

Recently over at Matt Lewis broached the issue of science, religion, and politics. Being outside of his bailiwick Lewis seemed to be under some misimpressions. First, he seemed to think that most political liberals were not theists. This is false. In the General Social Survey the GOD variable asks respondents about their confidence in the exist of God. Below are the proportions by ideology for the year 2000 and later who espouse the atheist or agnostic position on the existence of God:

Atheist or agnostic

About 1 out of 7 of liberals are an atheist or agnostic. 1 out of 25 conservatives. In contrast, 50 percent of atheists or agnostics are liberal, while only 20 percent are conservatives. Among militant atheists are the proportions are probably even more skewed.

With that out of the way, what about attitudes toward evolution? The GSS asked the EVOLVED question in the year 2006, 2008, and 2010. It asks: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The responses are coded as true or false. Below are those who accepted this proposition for various classes of individuals (all political classes are for the year 2000 and later).

Humans beings developed from animals: Yes

Bible is…
ChristiansProtestantsCatholicsWord of GodInspiredBook of Fables
Before 1946423347204891
After 1980583483306593

A word on the variables. The proportion of Christians who acceded to acceptance of evolution was queried with REIGION, while Protestants and Catholics with RELIG. In regards to the Bible I used BIBLE. Finally, I also used FUND in a follow up analysis.

What you see is that rejection of evolution is strongly conditional on religion. Roman Catholic conservatives are more liable to accept evolution than politically liberal Protestants. The main caveat on these results is that many theological conservative black Protestants identify as political liberals. Limiting the sample to non-Hispanic whites changes the picture. The proportion of Catholic conservatives who accept evolution does not change. But 65 percent of liberal non-Hispanic white Protestants now accept evolution.

The pattern in relation to age is intriguing. As I have noted before, the trend for the young to accept evolution at higher rates is not just a function of the fact that the young are more secular. But, it does seem that this is driven almost totally by Roman Catholics. Young Roman Catholics are only marginally more likely to be Creationist than young Jews or the non-religious. What’s going on with Protestants? The Biblical literalism question points to the answer: non-fundamentalist Christians have shifted toward evolution over the years. In contrast, the pattern for fundamentalists is more confused (the change from 20 to 30 is made ambiguous by noise). But, using the FUND variable and limiting to Protestants I have confirmed that there is a significant (outside 95 percent confidence intervals) trend for younger cohorts among Protestants to have a higher proportion of fundamentalists. The total number of Protestants is declining, but within Protestantism theological conservatism is getting relatively stronger.

MORE ABOUT: Creationism

Comments (8)

  1. bob sykes

    The last few Popes have said that evolution is true, which explains Catholic exceptionalism, but the Popes and hierarchy are dubious about natural selection.

    In this Catholics are more like college professors. All professors believe in evolution, but most are lamarckians not darwinians.

  2. Karl Zimmerman

    On the other hand, there has been a trend among Mormons toward creationism. I know in the last few months I had read in the 1970s a clear majority of Bringham Young students accepted evolution, and now a clear majority reject it. Apologies if I read it on this blog.

    What I think we’ve seen with evolution is it’s gone from being something rejected by fundamentalists due to exclusively religious concerns to a signifier of being part of a political/ideological “tribe.” Of course, this isn’t universal, as the two exceptions you noted show. Still, it doesn’t disprove the idea, as black Protestants or conservative Catholics don’t really socialize with their supposed brethren as much as they do they do within their own circle.

    I’m always surprised the “pro-evolution” movement doesn’t engage with African Americans more. My experience is although many are skeptics of evolution, it’s not as reflexive as among white evangelicals, more of a generally-held sentiment they never bothered to consider. If we had a black Richard Dawkins or two, I think it would make a big difference (please, no one cite statistics here on how unlikely this is – you don’t need to be on the extreme right end of the bell curve to be a popular science writer/pundit). I can only conclude the reason why it isn’t engaged more heavily is it’s frankly the opinions of black people on evolution are not seen as very important in the United States. Alternately, maybe the secular, white liberals like using evolution as a cudgel against their political enemies, but see no reason to use it to attack their “friends.”

  3. “All professors believe in evolution, but most are lamarckians not darwinians.”

    This needs a bit of clarification, surely. If you mean to include all disciplines, I’m sure you can find quite a few college professors who don’t believe in evolution. But if you’re restricting it to the relevant fields it seems highly improbable that a majority are Lamarckians. Though in general terms the comparison is fairly sound, I think.

  4. Filipe

    @ 2. Karl Zimmerman: What about Neil deGrasse Tyson?

  5. Miley Cyrax

    The left and the far right both reject evolution, albeit in different ways, and hold onto their own forms of creationism.

    The left loves to denounce the right for being anti-evolution, all the while clinging onto blank slatism like a child holds onto a teddy bear at night.

  6. scott the mediocre


    The “Book of fables” values make no sense in conjunction with the “Word of God” and “Inspired” values.

    “Word of God” + “Inspired” > 100% for liberals. I assume that’s a subtle commentary on liberals’ putative inability to make up their minds 🙂

    (yes, I’m of those contemptible left-by-american-standards types)

  7. RK

    Limiting the sample to non-Hispanic whites changes the picture. The proportion of Catholic conservatives who accept evolution does not change. But 65 percent of non-Hispanic white Protestants now accept evolution.

    Maybe third time’s the charm with posting. If I’m doing this right, limiting the sample to non-Hispanic whites — RACE(1), HISPANIC(1), yields slightly more support for evolution among Protestants, but not much more: 63.3% reject, and only 36.7% accept. How did you arrive at the 65% figure?

  8. #7, i meant political liberals. i had added that now.


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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


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