By Rachel E. Gross
Few issues have divided the American public as bitterly as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Since On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, it has driven a wedge between those who accept that humans and this planet’s other inhabitants have evolved over time, and those who believe that our species was created in its current form with no alterations. While the majority of people in Europe and in many other parts of the world accept evolution, the United States lags behind. Today, 4 in 10 adults in America believe that humans have existed in our present form since the beginning of time, and in many religious groups, that number is even higher. This is woeful.
Now, at long last, there seems to be hope: National polls show that creationism is beginning to falter, and Americans are finally starting to move in favor of evolution. After decades of legal battles, resistance to science education, and a deeply rooted cultural divide, evolution may be poised to win out once and for all.
The people responsible for this shift are the young. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 73 percent of American adults younger than 30 expressed some sort of belief in evolution, a jump from 61 percent in 2009, the first year in which the question was asked. The number who believed in purely secular evolution (that is, not directed by any divine power) jumped from 40 percent to a majority of 51 percent. In other words, if you ask a younger American how humans arose, you’re likely to get an answer that has nothing to do with God.
The increase in younger people embracing evolution is “quite striking,” says Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University and an expert witness the landmark court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, which kicked “intelligent design” out of public school classrooms in 2005. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
It’s not just the young who are moving in favor of secular evolution. The overall proportion of Americans who believe in secular evolution has doubled since 1999, from 9 percent to 19 percent, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. But it’s important to note that the jump in secular evolution does not necessarily correspond to an increase in the total number who believe in evolution. Instead, most of that increase has been drawn from the pool of Americans who previously reported that they believed in evolution guided by God, which simultaneously dropped from 40 percent to 31 percent.
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