Cincinnati - Compared to other industrialized nations, Americans are more likely to believe that human life began the way the Bible says it did, according to a cross-national study by George Bishop, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. (Bishop's study will be published in the August/September 1998 issue of The Public Perspective; A Roper Center Review of Public Opinion and Polling).
"Only seven percent of the people surveyed in Great Britain take the Bible literally," said Bishop, who added that East Germany, West Germany, Norway, Russia and the Netherlands, for example, all ranked lower than the United States in biblical literalism.
Gallup polls have consistently shown that approximately 45 percent of Americans believe that God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years (creationist); 40 percent believe man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation (theistic evolution); and ten percent believe man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and God had no part in this process (Darwinist evolution).
"Despite rising levels of people with college educations in this country, views on creationism have remained steady over the last 15 years. Nearly a third of college graduates, 31 percent, in recent Gallup polls, still believe in the biblical account of creation. This is somewhat of a theoretical riddle," said Bishop.
Groups most likely to believe in the biblical account of human origins were women, older Americans, the less well-educated, southerners, African Americans and Fundamentalist Protestants.
Among those inclined to take the theistic evolution view were Americans under age 45, the college-educated, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
Support for the Darwinist view was more noticeable among men, Americans under the age of 30, white Americans, easterners, westerners, those without a political party affiliation, and those who have "no religion."
Increased political muscle exerted by Fundamentalist groups has led to what Bishop calls "a political, cultural war over the soul and values of America." He said those groups have been successful in getting some school districts and textbook publishers to water down the teaching of evolution.
Challenges to the separation of church and state occur often, ranging from debate centering on "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency to the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings, but never has the stage for those battles been so controversial as they have been in America's classrooms.
"The teaching of evolution versus the creationist account is a clash of scientific and religious worldviews. As a consequence, this controversy is not going away. It is time to put this debate out in the open," Bishop said.
The controversy over the teaching of evolution dates back to the 1925 trial of Tennessee high school biology teacher John Scopes who was charged with breaking the law by teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.
Another explanation for Americans' prevalent religious worldview stems from low levels of scientific literacy.
A recent study of American scientists showed that only five percent believed in the creationist view of human origins; a majority (55%) endorsed the Darwinian position, but a large percentage (40%) also subscribed to the theistic evolutionist perspective. Since many scientists consider the controversy surrounding evolution and creationism a political issue, they are reluctant to join in the public debate, according to Bishop.
Bishop's study also shows that Ireland and Northern Ireland were most like the United States in religious worldviews.
Professor Bishop is a political scientist specializing in public opinion research, survey methodology and the nexus of science, religion and politics.