Most Americans believe it all starts in heaven: 64 percent of us agree that “human beings were created directly by God,” according to a Harris poll released yesterday.
The belief was pronounced along partisan divides: 73 percent of Republican respondents and 75 percent of conservatives believe God is the ultimate Creator. The figure stood at 58 percent among Democrats and 48 percent among liberals.
The poll found that while college graduates, adults ages 18 to 54, Democrats, liberals and those living in the Northeast and West support “evolution in larger numbers … among these groups, majorities believe in creationism.”
Among college graduates, for example, the poll found that almost half believe in creationism, while 31 percent supported evolutionary theory.
Debates over the divide make for piquant politics in the public arena.
In recent years, school districts in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Alabama and other states have wrangled over science and religion in the classroom, the debate further compounded by the rise of a third theory — “intelligent design,” which maintains that humans are so complex that a powerful, sentient force is logically behind their creation.
Harris found that 10 percent of Americans believed in that particular idea.
Yet the nation still supports free choice in the classroom. A majority — 55 percent — felt that creationism, evolutionary and intelligent design all had a place in public schools. Just less than a quarter said creationism alone should be taught, while 12 percent favored evolution only and 4 percent intelligent design only.
Meanwhile, 54 percent of us do not think that humans developed from an earlier species, a figure which stood at 46 percent in 1994, according to Harris. Another 48 percent felt that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was not proven by fossil evidence, while 47 percent said humans and apes do not share common ancestry.
Simian heritage was a more popular theory among Democrats, however. According to the poll, 61 percent of Democrats think man and ape evolved from the same family tree, an idea shared by 30 percent of the Republicans.
The poll found that 49 percent felt that plants and animals had evolved from some other species, however.
Such things fuel spirited discourse.
Yesterday, for example, the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board in Oklahoma dropped plans to include a privately funded creationism exhibit at the Tulsa Zoo despite protests from Mayor Bill LaFortune.
The board, which had previously approved the exhibit, had received a 2,000-signature petition from a group called “Friends of Religion and Science” protesting the idea.
A vexed Mr. LaFortune, however, pointed out that while Hindu and American Indian beliefs were represented at the zoo, the “traditional Biblical creation story” had been excluded. In the name of fairness, the mayor recommended those exhibits be removed.
The Harris poll of 1,000 adults was conducted June 17-21, with a sampling error of three percentage points.
Other polls have shown similar results. A CBS News poll of 885 adults released in November found that 55 percent believe God created humans in their present form while 13 percent felt that God did not guide the process. Two-thirds felt that creationism and evolution should both be taught in public schools.