Study: Religion's impact outweighs education

Published on Friday, 17 January 2014 23:39 - Written by By Rebecca Hoeffner

A recent study found that Americans’ views on evolution are more affected by their religious beliefs than their education level.

Seventy-two percent of college graduates say humans have evolved over time, compared with 51 percent of high school graduates who say the same thing, according to the Pew Research Center’s study.

That’s is a 21 percentage point difference between college graduates and high school graduates who believe in evolution, while there is a 49 percentage point difference between mainline Protestants and evangelicals.

When the biology department at the University of Texas at Tyler made an evolution class mandatory for all biology majors two years ago, two students out of the more than 200 changed their major, said Dr. Srini Kambhampati, department chair.

“A lot of people learn the material and answer the questions, but they won’t necessarily adopt it as a personal belief,” he said.

Overall, the survey found that 60 percent of Americans say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while 33 percent reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

“About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is ‘due to natural processes such as natural selection’ (32 percent of the American public overall),” according to the release from the Pew Center. “But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24 percent) say that ‘a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.’”

But evolution and Christian beliefs don’t have to be at odds, Dr. Kambhampati said. Dr. Margaret Ott, life sciences professor at Tyler Junior College, agreed.

“What we teach is not ‘Who created it,’ but ‘How was it created,’” she said. “Evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of God.”

Dr. Ott, who has been teaching since the 1970s, said that she rarely has any protest when she teaches evolution, even from religious students.

“There is only an issue when you have a literal interpretation of the Bible, and literalists make up a small percentage of Christians, but they’re vocal,” she said. “Most of my students have never really considered it one way or another. When you see the breadth and clarity of the evidence to support evolution, it’s hard to argue … A few students, the ones who aren’t academically curious, roll their eyes or make snide remarks, but there isn’t usually an out-and-out argument.”