Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Survey shows broad acceptance of evolution, with some worries

Last week, the British Council released the results of a survey it had commissioned, showing broad international acceptance for the theory of evolution.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI and part of the Council’s Darwin Now project, questioned over ten thousand adults from ten countries about their knowledge and opinions on Darwin and his theory.

The results showed that 70 per cent of participants had heard of Darwin and most knew at least a little about the theory of evolution.

The highest level of knowledge was in Great Britain and the US (71 per cent in both), followed by Mexico (68 per cent), Argentina (65 per cent), China (54 per cent) and Russia (53 per cent).

However, in Egypt, 62 per cent of adults said they had never heard of Darwin or evolution – a statistic that reached a staggering 73 per cent in South Africa.

Other results:

- Most people (56 per cent, all countries) who had heard of Charles Darwin and evolution agreed that “enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution”.

- However, less than half of those surveyed in Russia (48 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), the US (41 per cent), and Egypt (25 per cent) agreed with the statement.

- Asked if “it is possible to believe in a God and still hold the view that life on Earth, including human life, evolved over time as a result of natural selection”, people in India agreed most (85 per cent). This was followed by Mexico (65 per cent), Argentina (62 per cent), South Africa (54 per cent), Great Britain (54 per cent), Russia (54 per cent), US (53 per cent), Spain (46 per cent), Egypt (45 per cent) and China (39 per cent).

More specific results for Great Britain:

- 54 per cent of British participants believe it is possible to believe in a God and evolution.

- Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed in London believe in creationism. Twenty per cent of London participants said they had never heard of Charles Darwin or evolution (though thankfully 48 per cent agreed that there was enough scientific evidence to support evolutionary theory).

- Up North, 23 per cent said they have no understanding of evolutionary theory.

- However, in each region of Great Britain, the vast majority of people (74-87 per cent) were aware of evolution and Darwin, even though, generally, only half of the participants in each region thought they had a “good” or “fairly good” understanding of how evolution works.

I don’t have the complete data in front of me, so I can’t tell how many people were surveyed in each region (which could skew the stats). However, I do find the results generally encouraging (even if the London results are a little bit worrying).

I am wondering though, whether the ‘understanding of evolutionary theory’ result is a worrying statistic or not. Is ~50 per cent good or bad? Because really, if only half the people feel they have a "fairly good" understand the concept, it’s no wonder there are still many who dismiss it out of hand. Indeed, the press release from the British Council points out that "one-in-five British adults surveyed had not spent any time thinking about the origins of species and life on earth" (again though, I don’t have the data to work out how they came to that statistic).

The British Council is running another, larger survey, for the general public to volunteer their opinions, which they hope will create the largest data set ever gathered on the public’s understanding of evolution. To take part visit the website.

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