A group of researchers in the USA and Japan performed research on the attitude toward the concept of evolution in USA, Japan and 32 European countries. Their results are published in 2006 in the scientific journal Science. The article can be downloaded here (see bottom of this post).
‘Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals’ was asked to the people, and they rated this question as ‘true’, ‘not sure’ or ‘false’. Of all the USA citizens 60% said that that statement was not true or false. Except for Turkey, where approximately 70% said that is was not true or false, all European countries scored better with respect to acceptance of evolution. Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France and Japan scored the highest acceptance of evolution.
The authors see 3 main raisons why Americans have more reservations on the concept of evolution in the context of a broad acceptance in Europe and Japan.
1. In the USA, fundamentalism in belief is historically different from that in Europe. The biblical literalist focus of fundamentalism in the USA sees Genesis as a true and accurate account of the creation of human life that supersedes any scientific finding or interpretation. In Europe, that has more mainstream Protestant faith, Genesis is seen more as metaphorical, leaving no much of contradiction between their faith and the work of Darwin and other scientists.
2. Evolution has been politicized in the USA in a manner never seen in Europe. The Republican Party is using the issue of evolution as part of a platform to consolidate their support in southern and Midwerstern States. Teaching of ‘creation science’ has been explicitly asked by this party. In Europe, there is no major party that overtly uses opposition to evolution to gain votes.
3. The knowledge of genetics (knowledge of DNA and concept of heredity; the authors call it ‘genetic literacy’) is positively correlated with acceptance of evolution. Lack of this knowledge correlates with reservations on the concept of evolution. Genetic literacy in the USA is not so good as in Europe.
The authors also investigated nine factors that could have an influence on your attitude on the acceptance of evolution. Were investigated in USA and nine European countries:
Age (young or old), Gender (female or not), Education (high or low level of college-level science courses), Genetic literacy (high or low, people were ranked after answering 10 questions about how heredity and DNA works), Religious belief (high or low, people were ranked in 4 categories according to their current religious belief), Attitude toward life (ranking in three categories according to their ideas about beginning of life and the moral and legal status of embryos), Belief in promise of science and technology (high or low, after scaling five items about how science can improve people’s life), Reservation about science and technology (high or low, after scaling 10 questions on the impact of science on life), Political ideology (scaling by means of 10 questions into ‘very liberal’ vs ‘very conservative’).
How to interprete this map?
All nine items are displayed. If there is an arrow between two variables, then there’s a significant correlation between them. This correlation can be negative or positive, it can be small or big. This is done for the USA and for nine European countries.
For example: in the USA, the education level, defined by the scaling (see above) correlates with genetic literacy. The correlation is positive, meaning if education is high, the genetic literacy is high. It is more correlated in Europe (0.43) than in USA (0.35).
The relationship between genetic literacy, defined by scaling (see above) is significantly correlated with religion, but only in the USA, not in Europe (because there is no arrow between the two items in the map of Europe). The correlation is negative, meaning that the higher the genetic literacy is, the less religious people are.
Note that there is no significant correlation (arrow is absent) between political ideology and the attitude towards evolution in Europe, while there is one in USA.
It is important to see that every item is itself related to (several) other items (with the exception of gender and age of course). Your acceptance of evolution is therefore dependent on many parameters in your life. For instance in the USA religion has a direct correlation with your attitude toward evolution, but the degree of your religious belief depends itself on your gender, age, education, genetic literacy (same as in Europe with the exception of genetic literacy).
The authors performed now a summary to see the TOTAL effect of the nine independent variables to predict your attitude toward evolution.
You can see that in the USA religion (-0,42), pro-life beliefs (-0,31) and political ideology (-0,15) (three things that have in fact nothing to see with the established scientific method that reveals the existence of evolution – evolution is a fact, just like the fact that the world is not flat and the bible is not a book of science) all negatively controls your attitude on the acceptance of evolution. In the USA the acceptance of evolution is twice as much negatively determined by belief, compared with nine European countries.
In conclusion: many people have a look in their bible first, before they can answer you the question if ‘Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals’. Just like the authors conclude: science teachers, there’s a lot of work ahead!
This work was performed in a scientific way (please refer to Miller et al. Science. 2006 Aug 11;313(5788):765-6). You can read the article and the methods in these pdf files:
For those with access to Science: www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/313/5788/765/DC1.