The survey question was vague, but 58 percent of Americans said "yes" to "teaching creationism in public schools."
Thirty-six percent were opposed and 6 percent had no opinion, according to a new Gallup Poll.
Behind the simple question lurks a complex range of possible meanings, especially after decades of controversy among school boards, textbook publishers and the courts.
As it stands, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that states may not require teaching of "creation science" alongside evolution. But it upheld voluntary discussion of any ideas about the origin of life, divine or secular.
Edward J. Larson, author of "Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution," said the new Gallup Poll is striking for how high the affirmative response is.
The issue - "teaching creationism in public schools" - could easily have sounded to the 1,011 adult respondents in the telephone poll like "teaching religion in the science class," he said.
Apparently, Mr. Larson said, creationism is being viewed as a matter of educational fairness, exposing students to all views about the origins of life.
"When the public is asked if they believe in equal time and balanced treatment, then the vast majority support it," he said.
Polls with the word "fairness" have drawn the support of 70 percent or more of respondents.
A more revealing poll would ask citizens if they support teaching creationism - that God created the universe, species and human consciousness - in science class or in social studies.
Moreover, would the school present "young earth" creationism, which evokes Genesis, or "old earth" creationism and "theistic evolution," which accept large parts of evolution?
While many citizens may not know these distinctions, Mr. Larson suspects that most are persuaded that teaching "about" religion is good. The more values in school, they believe, the better.
"Creationism" sends up a red flag when it is viewed as a foisting of sectarian religion onto a science class - a view of 36 percent in the Gallup Poll. …