The Politics of Evolution

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Evolution


Byline: The Register-Guard

Evolution is a concept with clear scientific outlines, as described by the theory of natural selection - a concept that provides the underpinning for modern biology and a dozen related fields. The outlines become blurred in a social and political context, with evolution becoming a code word or surrogate for other ideas and beliefs. The Pew Research Center's latest poll results showing a widening partisan divide over evolution must be understood in that context.

The Pew researchers found that 33 percent of Americans believe human beings have existed in their current form since the beginning, while 60 percent said humans have evolved over time - about the same percentages revealed in the last survey of its kind conducted in 2009. But only 43 percent of Republicans chose the evolved-over-time response, down from 54 percent four years earlier. Among Democrats, 67 percent said humans have evolved, up slightly from 64 percent in 2009. Independents' responses changed little, with acceptance of evolution declining to 65 percent from 67 percent.

The gap is startling: In 2009, Democrats were 10 percent more likely than Republicans to express support for the idea of human evolution. By last year the difference had grown to 24 percent. A plurality of Republicans, 48 percent, now say humans have always existed in their current from.

But these results don't necessarily mean many Republicans have changed their minds about biology or Darwin. …

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