The Triumph Of Scientific Illiteracy: 45% Of Americans Believe In Creationism

Another sign of just how pathetic science education is in this country:

Nearly half of American voters believe in the Biblical account of creation, and even more think prayer can literally help people recover from medical problems.

(…)

Some 45 percent of voters accept the Biblical account of creation as the explanation for the origin of human life on Earth, while 21 percent say the theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin and other scientists is correct. Another 27 percent say both explanations are true.

Belief in creationism, however, fails to explain Republican presidential primary preferences. Frontrunner Rick Perry is the top choice for GOP primary voters who believe in creationism as well as those who believe in evolution.

Among white evangelical Christians, 67 percent believe in creationism, 4 percent evolution, and 24 percent accept both.

By a 20-percentage point margin, conservatives (53 percent) are more likely than liberals (33 percent) to accept creationism as true. And, conversely, liberals (37 percent) are more than three times as likely as conservatives (11 percent) to believe in evolution.

It’s really no surprise when you see how pathetically bad American students perform on standardized science tests:

Results from a national exam revealed that fewer than one-third of elementary- and high-school students have a solid grasp of science, triggering anxiety about U.S. competitiveness in science and technology.

The scores from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Tuesday, come just a few weeks after an international science test showed U.S. students trailing their counterparts in many European and Asian countries. On that exam, called the Program for International Student Assessment, students in Hong Kong and Shanghai dominated their counterparts in the U.S. and most other countries.

(…)

The test requires students to apply knowledge across disciplines. It is generally considered tougher than state-administered exams. The test was updated recently to incorporate advances in science, so results can’t be fairly compared with past exams.

Scores are translated into four categories: advanced, proficient, basic and below basic. Proficient represents “solid academic performance,” NAEP said, while basic shows partial mastery of skills.

Only 31.6% of all students were proficient or better, while fewer than 3% qualified as advanced.

Thirty-four percent of fourth-graders scored at or above proficient. Describing the life cycle of an organism is an example of a skill demonstrated by fourth graders at the proficient level. Thirty percent of eighth graders met the mark, by demonstrating, for example, that they could recognize that plants produce their own food.

Only 21% of 12th-graders scored proficient. Identifying the difference between stars and planets is an example of a skill demonstrated by 12th-graders at the proficient level.

(…)

Alan Friedman, a physicist who sits on the board that oversees the federal exam, said it was “kind of scary” that so few students scored in the advanced category and far too many landed at “below basic.” On the 12th grade exam, 40% of students were at the lowest level.

“Science isn’t an isolated trade skill,” Mr. Friedman said, pointing out that farmers need basic science knowledge to understand genetically engineered crops and voters need it to assess candidates’ views on global warming.

With results like this, and polls showing that substantial pluralities of Americans reject one of the fundamental building blocks of biology, one wonders how long it will be before we’re watching the rest of the world pass us by.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Religion, Science & Technology, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    We’re Americans. We make our own facts.

  2. Dave says:

    Do you really think people in other countries are more likely to accept evolution as fact because of what happens in their classrooms? Please. This is an ideological issue. It had nothing to do with our schools.

    People are skeptical of evolution because of their religious and cultural upbringing. What happens at home has a bigger impact on your beliefs than what happens in the classroom.

  3. @Dave:

    Then the problem is that we live in a country where people’s social circles and upbringing cause them to reject science in favor of myth.

    That’s not encouraging either.

  4. legion says:

    @Dave: I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with the schools, but I would say that trying to shove creationism, etc. into schools and just generally subverting science to ideological purposes is more of a symptom than a disease. The disease, as you say, is the ideology.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    I’m honestly surprised the percentage who accept creationism is that low, and I don’t mean to be flippant. The number was higher a decade ago, so one could look on this as progress.

  6. PJ says:

    I would like to have seen if there’s a difference between blue states and red states, that is do republicans in blue states believe less in creationism than republicans in red states, and do democrats in red states believe more in creationism than democrats in blue states.
    If there is, then there is an argument to be made about schools.

    Otherwise I fail to see no other reason than republicans being ****** and democrats being less ******.

  7. Jay says:

    I don’t think Creationism has anything to do with poor test scores…I’m sure we’ve all received good grades from teachers with whom we disagreed. I think the quality of our terrible inner city schools adequately explains our awful test performance.

  8. PJ says:

    According to the poll, 28% of those with a college degree believes that evolution is the most likely explanation, only 16% of those without college believes that.

  9. Gulliver says:

    Triumph of Scientific illiteracy: 55% of Americans believe that everything came from nothing. Purely by chance, of course.

  10. george says:

    Triumph of Scientific illiteracy: 55% of Americans believe that everything came from nothing. Purely by chance, of course.

    You can’t escape that whether you believe in creationism or evolution – there’s always the question where did God come from, and was that by chance as well?

    Every theory, every religion has that that question – and it goes on in infinite regression. If A created the universe, what created A? And what created the creator of A? And what created that, etc. The human mind doesn’t deal with the infinite well, whether its the big bang or creation.

    Moreover, there are thousands of creation myths out there, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to choose one over any of the others (ie if belief in creation is based on faith rather than evidence, then they’re equally valid).

    Basically, we don’t know anything for sure in science. Even quantum mechanics and general relativity (two of our best founded theories) are mutually exclusive. There’s no more reason to believe in the existence of electrons than in evolution. The Onion spoof “Intelligent Falling” as an alternative to gravity was funny, but it was actually right on the money – you can postulate anything by faith. Atoms might just be tiny gremlins.

  11. @george:

    You can’t escape that whether you believe in creationism or evolution – there’s always the question where did God come from, and was that by chance as well?

    Not necessarily. Time and space are intrinsic to the universe itself. If there was something that existed independetly of the universe, it wouldn’t necessarily have to come from anywhere because without time there would be no before or after and no causality.

  12. george says:

    Not necessarily. Time and space are intrinsic to the universe itself. If there was something that existed independetly of the universe, it wouldn’t necessarily have to come from anywhere because without time there would be no before or after and no causality.

    But that’s just as true of the big bang. The universe isn’t expanding into empty space, its space-time itself that is expanding (this is clear from the equations of General Relativity, even if it sounds strange in English). So if you’re going to speak of strict causality, there is no causality to start the big bang, because there was no time (or space before it either). Its only if you think of the big bang as an explosion of matter into empty space at a given time that it makes sense to ask what came before the big bang, and what caused it. But since its space-time itself that’s expanding, there is no ‘before the big bang’. Time comes with the universe, there is no ‘before’ because there is no time without it. So strictly speaking its meaningless to ask what came before the universe – its asking for what happened before time existed.

    Either way the same conditions apply to the big bang/evolution model and any of the theistic models – strictly speaking time and causality mean nothing outside of the universe (again, the universe isn’t expanding into space in time, its the fabric of space time that’s expanding). But if people speak loosely (ie asking what the universe came from, implying something was there before it), then that loose language of what came before applies equally to the universe and to deities. We can agree to speak strictly of time-space and causality or loosely, but it has to be for both approaches.

  13. Murray says:

    @PJ:
    “28% of those with a college degree believes that evolution is the most likely explanation, only 16% of those without college believes that. ”

    Your phrasing makes it sound as not to bad but the 28% is disastrous and the 16% is appalling.

    To think that more than 70% of the supposedly most educated people do NOT believe that evolution is the most likely explanation gives me shivers.

  14. PJ says:

    @Murray:

    Your phrasing makes it sound as not to bad but the 28% is disastrous and the 16% is appalling.

    That wasn’t my intention. The educated are ****** but less ****** than the uneducated…

  15. Vast Variety says:

    When you have religious nuts trying to force creationism (Intelligent Design) into our classrooms what do you expect?

  16. Franklin says:

    @Gulliver: Actually that’s never been the actual theory. But keep it up, you’re proving the rest of us right.

  17. Socrates says:

    “Triumph of Scientific illiteracy: 55% of Americans believe that everything came from nothing. Purely by chance, of course.”

    What does evolution say about the origin of the universe?

    Absolutely nothing.

    Your comment is irrelevant. It isn’t even a nice try.

  18. skeptic says:

    @Doug

    Thanks for the provocative article Doug … I feel our public school systems need to do more to attract better teachers, but that’s my opinion.

    In the meantime, could you fix the broken link to your quote for the standardized test results, i’d like to take a look at it.

    Thanks-

  19. Jay Tea says:

    I’m still trying to figure what the F-All this has to do with running for president. Presuming that a Biblical literalist were to get elected, what could they do about it? And how would that have the least amount of anything to do with actually being president?

    It’s been my experience that the people who make the biggest deal out of this are smug, arrogant intellectual wannabes who feel the need to assert their “intellectual superiority” over the stupid, ignorant, superstitious rubes with their invisible friend who tells them what to do. Oh, they wrap it in “respect for science” and whatnot, but that’s what it almost always boils down to.

    And yeah, I’m an agnostic who dabbles in cosmology (very casually), tends to prefer the oscillating universe theory for its tidiness and symmetry, and thinks Darwin pretty much got it right. None of which has the slightest bearing on my political beliefs.

    J.

  20. Socrates says:

    “I’m still trying to figure what the F-All this has to do with running for president.”

    Does this person reject a basic, simple fact that is supported by mountains of evidence, in order to promote their religious ideology? Is this person stupid? Delusional? A fanatic?

    In my opinion, fundamentalist religious ideology, of all stripes, is very dangerous.

    So yeah, I want to know if someone “believes” in evolution. It answers some very basic questions I have about anyone. And I don’t want this type of person in office.

  21. Socrates says:

    Ms. Bachmann is the perfect example.

    I don’t want someone who claims that God is talking to her, telling her what to do, to be anywhere near the nuclear launch codes.

    Simple as that.

  22. Socrates says:

    Or maybe it’s as simple as Doug’s headline: do we want a person who chooses religious mythology over scientific fact to be setting education policy for the country?

    Nope.

  23. Jay Tea says:

    OK, I think I got it. It’s not so much of a creationism vs. evolution matter in and of itself, but that serves as a litmus test. If a person holds more than a casual, watered-down, generalized religious belief, then they should not be entrusted with political power. Anyone who actually has a deep, profound, meaningful level of faith to the point where they sincerely believe the tenets of their faith — even if they have not the slightest intention of putting the force of law behind their faith, and would not have the ability to do so even if they did — is somehow unfit to hold elected office.

    This is a perfectly valid stance to hold. The Constitution does specify that there shall be no religious tests for public office, but that only refers to legal barriers. Individuals are completely free to hold whatever prejudices they like, and vote accordingly.

    And I must confess I hold similar prejudices. For example, Communism (and its milktoast cousin, Socialism) have failed catastrophically every single time they’ve been tried, usually with a massive body count. In fact, by some’s reckoning, Communism has killed well over 100 million people in its attempts. I consider anyone who still promotes such beliefs as utterly unfit to hold public office, and vote accordingly.

    But here’s a difference: there are very few Constitutional restrictions on advocating and acting to bring about Communism or Socialism by elected officials. So my vote is directly connected to a very real danger. On the other hand, the Constitution has some exceptionally strong provisions against theocracy, and further the government could do very little to push Creationism even if a significant number of Creationists somehow gained power.

    The attitude presented above seems to be “if you want to be religious, that’s fine — just don’t actually believe too strongly, don’t talk about it much, and don’t let it actually influence how you live your life.” Here you folks are saying that you won’t judge people on the basis of their actions, but purely their beliefs. You simply can’t tolerate those who believe differently. You can’t respect their rights to believe differently. You can’t believe that they could hold those beliefs and not feel the irresistible urge to force all others to comply with them.

    Which comes across, quite frankly, as a severe case of projection, because that is exactly the message you are sending — you will force others to accept your beliefs, or be ostracized and isolated and rendered powerless.

    It’s becoming clearer and clearer why so much of the Left is seen as not just irreligious, but actively anti-religious.

    And that’s where I, a born-again agnostic and believer in evolution, get off the trolley.

    J.

  24. Jay Tea says:

    @Socrates: Or maybe it’s as simple as Doug’s headline: do we want a person who chooses religious mythology over scientific fact to be setting education policy for the country?

    Nope.

    Then why not get the federal government out of the education biz entirely, and leave it up to the state and local level?

    J.

  25. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Then why not get the federal government out of the education biz entirely, and leave it up to the state and local level?

    Because that would actually increase the chance of the nuts taking over?

  26. Jay Tea says:

    @Ebenezer Arvigenius: So, instead of having a principled position, citing the Constitution or laws or something, your argument boils down to “my side might lose?”

    Gotcha.

    J.

  27. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Jay please don’t try gotchas. It’s painful to watch.

    1) I don’t even need a principled position since I did not advance a viewpoint but merely criticised one.

    Let me elaborate: If the worry is that a creationist president might adversely affect public education, then delegating education to the state or local level where it is demonstrable that creationists wield even more influence is not a remedy for that worry. That is true regardless or whether you consider the worry to be valid or not.

    2) If one wanted to make a stand on principles, a recourse to “the constitution” or other laws would not be a principled position but rather a declaration that one is unwilling to think through the matter. Laws are not principles but merely informed by them (if one is lucky).

    3) If I decided to advance the viewpoint that “my side should win”, I think “in science class below the advanced high-school level they should teach actual established science instead of crackpot theories” is a principled enough stand, even without recourse to outside authorities.

  28. Jay Tea says:

    @Ebenezer Arvigenius: First up, sorry about the “Gotcha.” It was intended as a cynical “OK, I understand you” and not a celebratory “I caught you!” I’d cuss out the word, but what use is a word that only means one thing?

    Another apology: I kinda used this as a chance for my own personal opinion that the federal government has no business in running education.

    Now, on to the substance.

    I try to judge people not on their beliefs, but their deeds. And I respect people’s freedom of religion and to believe whatever they will. I have absolutely no problem with “Creationists” holding public office while holding their beliefs, and freely discussing them. Should they try to push their beliefs through their office, then I’ll oppose them.

    As far as people having absurd beliefs… hell, a lot of people still think that Obama is competent, and I don’t think they should be barred from public office.

    J.

  29. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Fair enough and thanks for the acknowledgement :).

    Although I would say that if candidates receive votes simply due to their beliefs they should also lose them accordingly. This may not be ideal for the public discourse but it beats making any position a default win position (if they gain votes from one side for agreement and do not lose them from the other for disagreement). Either both sides decide on the merits or none. Everything else is a suckers game.

    But that’s admittedly rather cynical ;).

  30. steve says:

    For me the problem becomes when a elected official is given factual data, whatever the issue (science, terrorism, economics, etc.) do they have the ability to us logical judgement and critical thinking to determine what is true and what is false.
    So either the candidates that don’t believe in evolution don’t look at the information (so how do I know they will look at all the info on other issues), don’t believe the data (then how will they believe or discredit other info as true or false), or are politically posturing themselves for appeal to voters (which then brings to question if the will succumb to party ideals despite data saying they should do otherwise).
    This doesn’t need to be a liberal vs conservative issue, it is an issue of examining what we know, and choosing the answer that fits that.