Nick Spencer cuts through the complexities of religion and law to give a clear and judicious overview of what is at stake.
Half of Britons sceptical about evolution
2nd February 2009
Only half of the UK population consistently choose evolution over creationism or Intelligent Design, according to a major report published today by Theos.
The report, entitled Rescuing Darwin, published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12), draws on extensive new research conducted by the polling agency, ComRes (see tables below).
It reveals that only 25% of British adults think that evolution is "definitely true", with another quarter thinking it is "probably true".
The remaining 50% are either strongly opposed or simply confused about the issue. Around 10% of people consistently choose (Young Earth) Creationism (the belief that God created the world some time in the last 10,000 years) over evolution, and about 12% consistently prefer Intelligent Design or “ID” (the idea that evolution alone is not enough to explain the complex structures of some living things). The remainder of the population, over 25%, are unsure and often mix evolution, ID and creationism together.
Nick Spencer, the director of studies at Theos and co-author of the report, said:
"The problem is that evolution has become mixed up with all sorts of ideas – like the belief that there is no God, or no purpose or no absolute morality in life – which people find very difficult to accept.
"The tragedy is that this was never Darwin’s position. Three years before he died he wrote 'it seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.'
"And in one of the last letters he ever wrote, to the philosopher William Graham, he said, 'my inward conviction [is] that the Universe is not the result of chance.'
"Sadly, however, Darwin's own beliefs have been ignored or misused by some of his modern disciples. Today too many people associate Darwin and his theory with a bleak and brutal vision of life, which is why so many people are sceptical about evolution.
The report comes only weeks after Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, praised Darwin as "one of the greatest human beings of all time", and said it was not true that Darwin’s theories about how life on earth evolved had created a permanent divide between science and religion.
The results in Rescuing Darwin incorporate the preliminary findings from a larger research report, which was conducted by ComRes, and will be published by Theos in early March. This report, entitled Faith in Darwin, will analyse in greater detail who are 'evolutionists', 'creationists' and 'IDers' in the UK today and what exactly they believe in.
Paul Woolley, the director of Theos, said:
"Darwin was a truly great natural scientist – not a theologian or a philosopher. Both his theory and the tragic loss of his favourite daughter played a role in his own loss of Christian faith. But, by his own admission, even in his wildest fluctuations he was never an atheist.
"Unfortunately, he is being used by certain atheists today to promote their cause. The result is that, given the false choice of evolution or God, people are rejecting evolution.
"Darwin has become caught up in the crossfire between creationists on one side and certain public atheists on the other. It’s a battle in which everybody suffers."
The 'Rescuing Darwin' project includes the launch on February 12 of a new book on Darwin's religious beliefs, Darwin and God, at Westminster Abbey, where Darwin is buried, and also a debate about evolution and religion at Westminster Abbey, which will be chaired by Edward Stourton, the presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme. The participants will include Dr Denis Alexander, Lord Robert Winston, Prof Steve Jones and Prof Nancy Rothwell.
To read the report in full, click here.
To see the research tables, click here.