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Poll: a third of Americans deny evolution

Evolution: do you believe it?
Evolution: do you believe it?

The results of a recent Pew Research Center poll about evolution has revealed what some scientifically literate people may consider a surprising find: a third of Americans reject the idea that humans (and other life forms) have evolved over time, opting for a belief in the idea that present life forms have existed as they are today since the beginning of time itself.

The last time such a poll was conducted was back in 2009 and, according to Pew, the statistics have not changed much.

Additional findings reported by Pew are as follows. First of all, there is a sharp division about belief in evolution when it comes to political leanings. The finding: far ore Democrats and Independents (67 and 65%, respectively) believe evolution as a fact than Republicans (43%). Another finding: belief has fallen among Republicans (down from 54%) since 2009. The divide also extends to religious beliefs, with evangelical Protestants being far less likely to view evolution as a scientific fact than mainstream Protestants

Other trends were also pinpointed. When it comes to belief in evolution, the young are more likely to believe in evolution than seniors and the more educated a person is, the more likely he/she is to believe in evolution. As for those who believe in evolution, Pew asked another question: was evolution purely natural or was it guided by some supreme being? Result: among most of the groups surveyed, the result here was largely a split down the middle, with only the religiously unaffiliated reporting a much stronger belief that evolution was purely natural.

The most troubling realization: results of this poll were released on the dawn of 2014 AD.

While there is no such thing as an absolute truth in science, that's not to say that there can't be mountains of evidence that, when looked at collectively, pretty much prove something is true beyond reasonable doubt. Such is the case with evolution. Ever since Darwin's 1859 theory first hit the press, evolution has been a touchy subject, with researchers all over the world wanting to study this,at the time, heretical idea for themselves. Result: over decades of study, evolution has evolved from a single man's hypothesis into a virtually unassailable theory, one that can be observed to be at work in the present.

Now, one may be asking “what does all of this have to do with astronomy and space?”

Answer: plenty.

In Ohio, the state has implemented academic content standardsfor all core school subjects, including science. The goal of these standards is to ensure that teachers are teaching the same content in every school at any given grade level. By looking at the Ohio science standards, one sees no reference to creationism/intelligent design, only evolution, to which there are over a dozen in just the high school grades alone. Besides scientific facts, the Ohio standards also emphasize the scientific method, which makes no room for including one's preconceived notions in scientific research. .

Like biology, astronomy is a subject that has had a history of conflicting with religion and, even now, can shock the sensibilities of some, particularly religious fundamentalists, who continue to cling to the belief that the world was created in a matter of days and that the age of the Earth can be determined by counting back the years as given in holy books. Just as anyone committed to the correct teaching of science would be appalled at the lack of evolution in biology, a same revulsion would occur if the Big Bangalong with solar system formation were taught side by side with the account in Genesis, or skipped altogether, in astronomy. Needless to say, omitting these two most basic of processes would do as major a disservice to any astronomy student as glossing over evolution or teaching it in tandem with a most nonscientific idea as creationism would do to anyone learning biology.

Unfrtunately, thanks to the social climate of the country we live in, being that the U.S. is an anomaly in the Western world wherein belief in creationism, depending how it is defined, far outweighs that in evolution, it is not uncommon for people to cherry-pick what scientific facts they choose to believe. Example: someone may have a purely scientific mindset except for a denial of evolution.

As a final thought, consider the following: in science, if there is any commandment, it is this: respect the facts. No matter what we want the world to be or what our preconceived notions are, the world is the way it is, inflexible to human will. If one truly wishes to assume a scientific mindset, he/she must have respect for facts, no matter how contrary to personal beliefs they are. In the case of both evolution and the Big Bang, all facts point towards the scientific theories, not the religious dogma, being the truth. Yes, there are many great things about religion, such as ethical principles, its function as a social bonding agent, influence on the arts, and many others. However, religion is not science and it should not be a substitute for science.

As always, would-be sky watchers in the Cleveland area should be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.

For more info:
The case for Evolution
The Pew Center

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