Major

Political Science

Advisor

Krueger, Brian S.

Advisor Department

Political Science

Date

5-2011

Keywords

Evolution, Creationism, religion, GSS

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Abstract

As a scientific theory, evolution has as much empirical support for its core assertions as the heliocentric universe theory or the belief that the Earth is round. Despite a unanimous consensus in the scientific community about evolution’s validity, the General Social Survey (GSS) consistently reports that 85 percent of Americans are either undecided or do not believe in evolution.

This divide between evolutionists, led by scientists, and creationists, led by religious leaders, has enormous scientific and political implications, which include funding for basic scientific research, acting to stop global warming, and what schools should be teaching our children.

The most important people in this debate are the 49 percent of respondents who are Undecided about their beliefs, answering that evolution is “probably true” or “probably not true.” However, in previous studies, these respondents have been largely overlooked or grouped with other respondents.

Therefore, my original research will focus on these Undecideds. I seek to understand how people’s uncertainty about evolution potentially influences attitudes toward other issues involving science. To answer this question, I will use probability sample survey data to compare respondents’ views on evolution (belief, uncertainty, disbelief) with their views on other scientific issues. I further disaggregated “other scientific issues” into two categories, those which are particularly God-loaded, such as using stem cells to grow human organs, and those which are not, such as global warming.

Only considering the scientific evidence, the core of the theory of evolution should be accepted with reasonable certainty. Yet a powerful force, U.S. religion, offers an alternative explanation for human existence that is based on faith. In fact, because of this religious connection, views about evolution form much earlier in the life cycle compared to other attitudes toward science. Because it forms before adulthood, evolutionary beliefs, then, could shape individuals general outlook on other types of scientific research. Since religiosity is the strongest predictor of evolutionary beliefs, I hypothesize that Undecideds would be more aligned with creationists on God-loaded scientific questions and they would be more aligned with evolutionists on non-God-loaded scientific questions.

My findings partially support my hypothesis. Although there was a strong correlation between high religiosity and support for creationism, there was little evidence of any correlation between Undecideds and support for God-loaded or non-God-loaded scientific questions. However, I found evidence that Undecideds theoretically want to support science and protect the environment, but are not willing to make any sacrifices for it.