Just a longstanding feeling of mine, but I think most people react to polls the same way they did to pop quizzes back in school. Their brains freeze. Whatever they know on the subject goes right out of their heads or it sounds...wrong. They can't believe they know the answer. So they reach for something that sounds more...um…not wrong.
I also think people don't always hear the questions the way the pollsters who ask them intend. What's your favorite color? is translated by some mad babel fish in their ears as What color do you think ought to be your favorite color, keeping in mind that responding with your actual favorite color would mark you as a moron or a communist?
So, ask most people if they believe the story of Creation in the book of Genesis is literally true, and they will answer yes, because a.) They've suddenly forgotten most of the details and possibly even what the book of Genesis is and b.) They've heard the question as Do you believe in God?
The flip side is that if you ask them if they believe in evolution they hear, Do you think life on earth is one big meaningless accident?
Some version of that, at any rate.
As I say, this is just my feeling. But it’s why I don’t put much stock in a recent poll that shows that nearly half of all Americans believe that the earth was created in a week 10,000 years ago.
I'm sure plenty of people do. I just don’t know anybody who does. Even the most religious people I know think of the story of Adam and Eve as a fable. But I live in New York and I’m Catholic. I was taught the theory of evolution by nuns in science class and I was taught in religion class that the Bible isn’t literally true. So you can't go by me.
But that's my story and I’m sticking to it. I think most people answered that poll as if the question was Do you believe God created human beings or do you think we're the result of a genetic malfunction that just happened to be advantageous to the survival of the monster it produced?
Are we special and loved or are we meaningless accidents without worth or purpose?
And I think a lot of people answered the former because they do believe in God and don’t want to believe we don’t matter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are biblical literalists or actually anti-Darwinians. They just didn’t hear the question as offering the possibility of believing in God and accepting the theory of evolution.
One or the other but not both.
(I expect that some of those who say we evolved but God had no part in it heard it as an either/or question too. But you can see in the graph that about a third of the people polled didn’t hear the question as an either/or. They see evolution as the way God did it.)
Kevin Drum apparently accepts that the people polled heard the question for what it was and answered with what they truly believe. But his response to their response is, so what?
What does it matter, he wonders. Who's hurt by it?
The fact is that belief in evolution has virtually no real-life impact on anything. That's why 46% of the country can safely choose not to believe it: their lack of belief has precisely zero effect on their lives. Sure, it's a handy way of saying that they're God-fearing Christians — a "cultural signifier," as Andrew [Sullivan] puts it — but our lives are jam-packed with cultural signifiers. This is just one of thousands, one whose importance probably barely cracks America's top 100 list.
And the reason it doesn't is that even creationists don't take their own views seriously. How do I know this? Well, creationists like to fight over whether we should teach evolution in high school, but they never go much beyond that. Nobody wants to remove it from university biology departments. Nobody wants to shut down actual medical research that depends on the workings of evolution. In short, almost nobody wants to fight evolution except at the purely symbolic level of high school curricula, the one place where it barely matters in the first place. The dirty truth is that a 10th grade knowledge of evolution adds only slightly to a 10th grade understanding of biology.
(Read the whole post, The Fight Over Evolution Isn’t Actually All That Important.)
I'd be inclined to agree with Kevin, if I believed that creationists didn’t take their own views seriously and if their anti-evolution activism stopped with their not letting evolution be taught in their kids' tenth grade biology classes. But they don’t want it taught in my kids’ science classes either. It’s just until recently they didn’t have the power to do anything about it.
Even though I’m skeptical about the percentage of Americans the poll shows to be creationists, there are a lot---as in millions---of Americans who in fact are and they have political clout that they have been using and intend to use more.
They don’t just want the teaching of evolution stopped. They want the teaching of religion started. Well, re- started. Their religion too.
They want all children to believe not in God but in their angry, capricious, vindictive Father God who plays favorites among his children, plays them off one another, and in the name of love tortures and abuses people at whim and excuses Himself by claiming it's all part of a plan for our eternal happiness. It’s a religion that divides people into those who have this insane and malicious God's favor and those who don't and declares those who don’t should not be worried about, cared for, or taken into consideration.
It's the religion of this guy, who says people land on Welfare because they don't read the Bible, which, given how integral Bible thumping is to the practice of their religion, is a way of saying people who are on welfare are bad Christians. Sinners. Losers of God's favor not to be worried about, cared for, or taken into consideration.
In a post on his wonderful blog, Roger Ebert starts of seemingly on the same page as me:
Intelligent Design is the disguise by which Creationists are attempting to infiltrate American schoolrooms and textbooks with their theology. I have no problem at all that they believe God created the heavens, earth and Man, and on the seventh day, he rested. They can even believe that this happened around 10,000 years ago, as about 46% of Americans do.
What I object to is the fraudulent "science" by which they attempt to smuggle this religious belief into classrooms. A Biblical explanation for creation no more belongs in a textbook than any other creation myth…
But it turns out he has other fish to fry. He’s writing about the movie Prometheus. Read his whole post, Promethian panspermia.