PRESS RELEASE: results of major new survey on evolution

 

NEW EVOLUTION SURVEY SHOWS THAT WHILST THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN UK AND CANADA ACCEPT EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE, NON-RELIGIOUS AND ATHEIST INDIVIDUALS SHOW SIMILAR DOUBTS ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF HUMANS AND HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS AS RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL INDIVIDUALS.

Brighton, 5th September 2017 A Newman University/YouGov survey examining public perceptions and attitudes towards evolution has found that while there is a broad consensus of acceptance towards evolutionary science in both countries, surprisingly, non-religious and specifically atheist publics show similar trends to religious and spiritual publics when it comes to expressing doubts about evolutionary science based explanations for human origins and the development of human consciousness.

As part of an international research project Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum, researchers based at Newman University, Birmingham, UK announced the results of a national survey conducted in the UK and Canada, at the British Science Festival in Brighton on Tuesday 5th September 2017. The research, conducted by YouGov, surveyed over four thousand adults across the UK and Canada in between 12th May and 12thJune 2017.

This survey on publics’ views of evolutionary science has thrown up some very interesting results, especially as it includes data from countries not previously surveyed in this way before.

The results show that the majority of people across the UK (71%) and Canada (60%) – including those who self-identify as religious or spiritual – accept evolutionary or theistic evolutionary accounts of the origin of species including humans. Only 9% of UK respondents selected “Humans and other living things were created by God and have always existed in their current form”. The number of respondents endorsing this ‘creationist’ position in Canada was also relatively low with just 15% selecting this option. The number of respondents endorsing this ‘creationist’ position in the UK was lower than previous surveys have indicated. This is significantly lower than similar surveys in the USA, which suggest that around 1 in 4 Americans support this option.

Adults in the United Kingdom showed the highest levels of ease in accepting evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs, with 64% saying they found it very easy, easy, or somewhat easy in comparison to 50% in Canada. Only a minority in both countries found it somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult to accept evolutionary science: 12% in UK and 20% in Canada.

Those who identified as religious or spiritual were also significantly more likely to find it easy rather difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs. Only around 1 in 5 UK respondents (19%) and under 1 in 3 Canadian respondents (29%) who identified as religious or spiritual found it somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult to accept evolutionary science in reference to their personal beliefs, compared to 53% in the UK and 41% in Canada who found it very easy, easy, or somewhat easy.

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker, Director of the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project, said:

“The most encouraging aspect of the survey is that there appears to be a large majority who accept evolutionary science in both countries. Both religious and non-religious people are more likely than not to find it easy to accept evolutionary science in relation to their own beliefs. However, it does throw up some startling results when it comes to public views of the origin of humans and human consciousness. We found similar trends across all religious and non-religious adults, including those atheists surveyed, that suggest a range of people are uncertain of evolutionary science based explanations for the origin of humans and human consciousness. It appears, rejection of or uncertainty about aspects of human evolution is not necessarily an issue of ‘religion versus evolutionary science’, but an issue of universal questions around what it is to be human and about the human experience that affect all of us, across those of all faiths and none. This fundamentally challenges the way we tend to think about evolution and creationism”.

Of those who identified as atheists (as a sub-set of non-religious people) we found that nearly 1 in 5 UK atheists (19%) and over 1 in 3 of Canadian atheists (38%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness”. (This compares to 34% in the UK and 37% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 54% in the UK and 55% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).

Over 1 in 10 UK atheists (12%) and nearly 1 in 3 Canadian atheists (31%), somewhat agree, agree or strongly agree with the statement: “Animals evolve over time but evolutionary science cannot explain the origins of human beings”. (This compares to 19% in the UK and 31% in Canada across the whole non-religious sample and 37% in the UK and 45% in Canada of religious or spiritual people).

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker continued to say:

“What these surprising findings highlight for the first time is that concerns about evolutionary science aren’t necessarily based solely on individuals’ religious identity. It is not just that some religious people have questions about human evolution it is that some humans have questions about human evolution!”

-ENDS-

For more information and to request a copy of the survey, please contact, Dr Alex Hall on +44 7506 729360 or email sres@newman.ac.uk 

The below Summary Report contains all of the relevant preliminary data and graphics of the statistics presented in this press release. The data tables that this press release and the summary report are based upon can be found here – UK and here – Canada. For further information about the organisation’s involved in this project, please scroll down. 
EDIT – 18/09/2017: The additional data used in yesterday’s Observer piece can be found here – UK and here – Canada

Download (PDF, 1.71MB)

 

Notes to Editors

About Survey  

This study was conducted for Newman University by YouGov. The purpose of this research was to build a better understanding of public levels of acceptance or rejection of evolutionary science, how members of the general public view the relationship between evolution and religion, and by extension science and religion. The study was conducted in two countries: the United Kingdom and Canada. 

    • A survey of 2,129 UK adults was undertaken online between 12th May and 6th June, 2017. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+) by age, gender, region, social grade and ethnicity.
    • A survey of 2,009 Canadian adults was undertaken online between 17th May and 12th June, 2017. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Canadian adults (aged 18+) by age, gender, region, education level and ethnicity. Surveys were conducted with respondents in English or French respectively for respondents in Anglophone and Francophone Canada.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. 

The research was designed by researchers based at Newman University, Birmingham, UK and the University of Kent, UK. The Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project is funded by the Templeton Religion Trust. 

About Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project

The Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project (SRES) is a large-scale, multi-disciplinary and international research project lead by Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker (Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society at Newman University, Birmingham UK), in collaboration with Professor Bernard Lightman (York University Canada), Dr Carola Leicht (University of Kent, UK) and Dr Rebecca Catto (Kent State University, USA). The research project aims to explore the full spectrum of attitudes towards science, evolutionary science and religion from the perspective of all faiths, and none, in the United Kingdom and Canada. The multi-disciplinary research team have backgrounds and expertise in: history and philosophy of science, science communication, psychology, sociology and media studies. This innovative and unique research project employs four intersecting approaches: social science field research; oral history, historical and media analysis; experimental social psychology; and a large-scale survey of public perceptions, attitudes and identity formation in the UK and Canada. ​

About Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker

Fern Elsdon-Baker holds the position of Professor and is the Director of the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society at Newman University, UK. She is the Project Director on the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project and the Co-Investigator on the Science in Muslim Societies project. Her undergraduate degree was in environmental sciences and her PhD was in the history and philosophy of evolutionary science. One of her previous roles was working for the British Council as Head of the Darwin Now project, which ran over two years in 50 countries worldwide as part of the international celebration of the Darwin anniversaries in 2009. She currently serves as a member of the General Committee for the British Science Association. Given the sometimes controversial nature of her research into evolutionary science and religion, she publicly acknowledges that she has been and continues to be a lifelong atheist, who grew up in a non-religious household of scientists.

About Newman University, Birmingham 

Newman University, located in Birmingham, UK was founded as a teacher training college in 1968, based on the principles of a university set out by its Patron, Blessed John Henry Newman. In 2013, Newman University proudly achieved full university status and since then the university has expanded its offer with Foundation, Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees. Although the university has expanded, the ethos and values remain clear; with a student-centred approach Newman is an inclusive and diverse university with an aim of widening participation within the local community. Newman University has a research culture which focuses on promoting innovative and multi-disciplinary research, which makes a difference to the world and contributes to the common good.

About the British Science Association 

The British Science Association (BSA) believes that science should be part of – rather than set apart from – society and culture, and is owned by the wider community. Our programmes encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with science, become ambassadors for science, and ultimately to be empowered to challenge and influence British science – whether they work in science or not.

Established in 1831, the BSA is a registered charity that organises major initiatives across the UK, including British Science Week, the annual British Science Festival, regional and local events, the CREST Awards and other programmes for young people in schools and colleges. The BSA also organises specific activities for professional science communicators, including a specialist conference and training. For more information, please visit www.britishscienceassociation.org

About the British Science Festival  

The British Science Festival is one of Europe’s largest science festivals and regularly attracts hundreds of the UK’s top scientists and speakers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. Over 10,000 visitors attend the talks, discussions and workshops. Registration is free for journalists, and gets you access to hundreds of events. The Festival takes place at a different location each year and was last held in Brighton in 1983. The 2017 Festival will take place from 5 – 9 September, co-hosted by the Universities of Brighton and Sussex. For further information, visit www.britishsciencefestival.org, @BritishSciFest, #BSF17.

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