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Guest Thinkers

Partisan Gaps Over Evolution and Estimates on Atheism

A Gallup survey out this week reveals a wide partisan gap in perceptions of evolution. Specifically, 60% of Republicans say humans were created in their present form by God 10,000 years ago, a belief shared by only 40% of independents and 38% of Democrats.

These Gallup findings are the latest to underscore an emerging partisan divide on controversial areas of science. With many prominent Republicans continuing to dispute climate change, Democrats in recent elections making stem cell research part of their campaign strategy, GOP primary candidates openly doubting evolution, and Hillary Clinton promising to end Bush’s “war on science,” these issues have become part of America’s partisan DNA.

In other words, it’s very easy for citizens to convert climate change, stem cell research, or evolution into just one more wedge issue like abortion, taxes, or gun control that help define what it means to be a Republican or Democrat. The political packaging of science for electoral gain is the unfortunate outcome of a lot of different forces, with both Republican and Democratic leaders to blame.

Incidentally, the Gallup survey results also help indirectly shed light on how many non-religious, agnostic, or atheistic American adults might be out there. Consider the graph below, that shows that the proportion of Americans who believe that evolution has occurred with God playing no part has edged up slightly over the past 15 years to roughly 14%. This figure compares favorably to data from a recent Pew report that measures roughly 16% of Americans as saying that they are “religiously unaffiliated.”

It’s likely, however, that these figures over-estimate the number of truly non-believing Americans who might be out there. Pew reports that among the 16% saying they are unaffiliated, that a large portion (41%) say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives, seven-in-ten say they believe in God, and more than a quarter (27%) say they attend religious services at least a few times a year.

Among all adults, according to Pew, roughly seven-in-ten say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence, with slightly more than one-in-five (22%) less certain in their belief.


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