Select Page

Chris Mooney argues at the Intersection that the range of options in the BBC’s survey on creationism may have skewed the results away from a pro-evolution stance. This reminds me of another survey I was going to write about which I found on What the Nation Thinks? The question is simple:

This dates from July 2003 and given that there wasn’t a liberal government in the USA, I’m not sure what it was that the liberals were going too far with. Anyhow it’s probably not difficult to guess the political leanings of the author, nor what result they wanted. The options make it even easier to see how this is skewed.

  • Yes, Way Too Far
  • Somewhat, They need to calm themselves down
  • No, they are fine

The result? The winner is No, they are fine on 48%. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that means 52% were anti-liberal, but by offering two options to the anti-liberals the vote was split. A simple Yes/No would have consolidated the conservative majority. So what about this evolution poll?

Creationism 22%
Intelligent Design 17%
Evolution 48%
Don’t Know 13%

Two anti-science options and one pro-science. I think if the Creationist and ID results had been combined (as Chris says ID is creationism), then the result is 48% vs. 39% which is perhaps more alarming. I do wonder about the large Don’t Know group. Creationism and Intelligent Design are not commonly debated topics in the UK beyond a “look at those wacky Americans” kind of way. Many people may have chosen Don’t Know because they don’t accept evolution but don’t know what the interviewer means by Creationism or Intelligent Design. Creationism flourishes in ignorance in a way that evolution does not.

A better question would be “Do you think God should be taught as having a major rôle in the origin of species?” Yes / No. I think that question is in language the average Briton can relate to. It also tackles the central problem that creationism poses to science, the insistence on accepting the supernatural, unobservable and untestable as a serious scientific answer.

As for the teaching of creationism in British schools I think there’s a misunderstanding of culture in some of the American blogs. I grew up in a village where there was a Church of England school and a Catholic school. I went to the school in the next village which was a secular school. This meant that the local vicar only came in to preach at us a couple of times a week rather than on a daily basis. In the UK there is no separation of church and state. Furthermore state schools have to provide an act of worship on a daily basis by law. I’ve got to admit I can’t recall that happening at secondary school, but at primary school there were daily prayers.

This is generally tolerated, at least in England, because of the attitude of the English to the Church of England, which is a church for people who want the ceremony and pomp of religion but don’t want to have to go to the effort of believing in God. There are people who attend on a weekly basis, but if they’re not the vicar then they’re considered a bit odd. So the vicar is welcome to preach to kids at school about the importance of being kind to old ladies and washing behind the ears, so long as he doesn’t get too carried away with the whole belief thing. It would be considered bad form if the vicar were particularly earnest in trying to convert children to Christianity. This might sound peculiar, but there is a stigma in being seen to take religion (or anything) too seriously. Hence the perfectly consistent view of the former Bishop of Durham that the whole “second coming” thing isn’t really true.

When people say they’d like creationism taught in school it is far from clear they would like it taught as science, nor that they would like it taught in detail. It could just be a case of giving nod towards God as thanks for creating the flowers or the nice bits of nature. I imagine considerably fewer people would like to see God dragged into something like a cow’s anus.