Evolution, Climate Change and Other Issues

Two issues on which there is widespread agreement among scientists – evolution and climate change –
divide the general public. Not only do many Americans diverge from the dominant scientific positions in
their own attitudes and beliefs, but many also believe that the scientific community itself is divided over
these issues. While education levels matter – college graduates are more likely than those with less
education to agree with the scientists – education is not the largest factor. Public views on evolution are,
not surprisingly, strongly linked to religion, while public views on climate change are strongly linked to
party and ideology.

The Origin and Development of Life

A majority of the public (61%) says that human and other living things have evolved over time, though
when probed only about a third (32%) say this evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural
selection” while 22% say “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of
creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.” Another 31% reject evolution and say that
“humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time – 87% say
evolution is due to natural processes, such as natural selection. The dominant position among scientists
– that living things have evolved due to natural processes – is shared by only about third (32%) of the
public.

Views on evolution vary substantially within the general public, particularly by religion and attendance
at religious services. A majority (57%) of white evangelical Protestants hold the view that humans have
existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Most Catholics and white mainline Protestants
say humans have evolved, though they are divided about whether this is a result of natural processes or
whether evolution was guided by a supreme being. Among the religiously unaffiliated, by contrast, 60%
say humans have evolved due to natural processes.

About half (51%) of those who say they seldom or never attend religious services say that life evolved
due to natural processes, compared with 36% of those who attend services at least yearly, and just 14%
of those who attend weekly or more frequently.

Younger respondents are more likely to say humans evolved through natural selection. Four-in-ten of
those younger than 30 (40%) say humans have evolved as a result of natural processes such as natural
selection, compared with 35% of those ages 30 to 49, 30% of those 50 to 64, and just 23% of those 65
and older. Among those 65 and older, far more (35%) say that humans and other living things have
existed in their present form since the beginning of time than hold the view that humans evolved due to
natural processes (23%).

There also are large educational differences in views of evolution. While 45% of college graduates say
humans evolved as a result of natural selection, fewer of those with some college (31%) and those with
no more than a high school education (26%) say the same. However, even college graduates are far less
likely than scientists to say that life has evolved due to natural processes.