In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."
In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.
The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.
President Bush joined the debate on Aug. 2, telling reporters that both evolution and the theory of intelligent design should be taught in schools "so people can understand what the debate is about."
The poll showed 41 percent of respondents wanted parents to have the primary say over how evolution is taught, compared with 28 percent who said teachers and scientists should decide and 21 percent who said school boards should. Asked whether they believed creationism should be taught instead of evolution, 38 percent were in favor, and 49 percent were opposed.
More of those who believe in creationism said they were "very certain" of their views (63 percent), compared with those who believe in evolution (32 percent).
Fully 70% of white evangelical Protestants say that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.
College graduates are twice as likely as people who did not attend college to accept the natural selection theory of evolution (40%-18%). Nearly two-thirds (63%) of those who take a creationist point of view say they are very certain about how life developed. By contrast, those who believe in evolution are less certain of their views just 32% say they are very certain.
White evangelicals and black Protestants are the only religious groups expressing majority support for teaching creationism instead of evolution in public schools. Majorities of mainline Protestants, Catholics and seculars oppose this idea. Politically, a majority of conservative Republicans favor replacing evolution with creationism in the classroom, but support for this proposal falls below 40% for all other political groups, including moderate and liberal Republicans. Regionally, only among Southerners does a plurality (45%) support replacing evolution with creationism in the schools.