Evolution (God optional)

The new survey suggests the evolution-religion debate may not be black and white

The new survey suggests the evolution-religion debate may not be black and white

Egypt has just two per cent, the United States 13 per cent and India 20 per cent but China overshadows them all with an impressive 67 per cent. Can you guess what it is yet? It’s the percentage of people who believe in Darwinian evolution.

These varied findings are the preliminary conclusions of a survey of more than 11,000 people and their attitudes to evolution and religion in ten countries across the globe, presented today at the World Conference of Science Journalists in London.

So why the big differences? Why do 42 per cent of Mexicans toe the evolution line when just six per cent of South Africans do? The researchers wouldn’t be drawn in during the short time they had on the podium but Fern Elsdon-Baker, head of the Darwin Now Project which was behind the survey, told me there’s still a lot of data to go through before conclusions can be drawn.

The most important thing about the survey, she and her colleague, Peter C. Kjærgaard of Cambridge University’s Leverhulme Centre, told the assembled press is that unlike previous surveys, theirs gave the respondents a chance to agree with evolution as a process but with the involvement of God – on this basis, the proportion of Egyptians who accept evolution jumps to 50 per cent.

This showed them that the debate isn’t black and white, an encouraging point considering how evolution and religion are so often pitted against each other. Allowing for this level of complexity means new insights for the research – but also a lot of data processing.

Elsdon-Baker says the team might analyse the data to see if there are any trends, for example whether there are major differences between views in developed and developing nations. But whatever they find, she’s not convinced that attitudes to evolution reflect the level of public understanding of science in a country.

“In some countries where there is low understanding of evolution or Darwinism, science actually holds a high status,” she said. “There are so many different factors, it’s clearly an area where a lot more research needs to be done.”

I don’t think we disagree with that.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

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