Evolution is accepted all over the world

The greatest collective international survey of the opinion on evolution draws a clear picture: Evolution is accepted all over the world in countries with completely different religions, cultures, and political systems.

A positive attitude towards evolution

In the spring of 2009, the British Council conducted a large-scale investigation of the knowledge and attitude towards evolution in 10 selected countries from all over the world: Argentina, Mexico, USA, Egypt, South Africa, India, China, Russia, Spain, and Great Britain.

The overall results of the survey revealed that people believe themselves to have a significant understanding of the theory of evolution and were generally supportive of it. In Russia, Mexico, Great Britain, and China, more than 90% of the countries’ populations consider themselves to have a substantial knowledge of the theory of evolution. In the lower end of the scale are Egypt and South Africa with 40% and 30%, respectively. The majority of the people asked know about Darwin (70% in total)

USA, South Africa, and India stand out in that 43% of their population claims that all life on earth, including man, has always existed in its present form. In the remaining countries, that number is lower starting from 25% in Mexico down to 7% in China. In all the countries combined more than half of the populations believed that life on earth has evolved over time through an evolutionary process. Once again, China stands out with a total percentage of 74%.

Cultural openness

Naturally, the global perspective is interesting. But it is not the only interesting part. Contrary to the numerous other surveys that have been conducted, this particular survey considers the fact that you can be religious while at the same time accepting evolution. An extra detail is that we are told how people, regardless of their religious beliefs, feel about being religious while simultaneously accepting evolution. The interesting conclusion is that the majority of the populations of the 10 countries do not see any conflict between science and religion. Consequently, there is a far greater openness among people who are not religious with regards to accepting the point of view of being both religious and accepting of evolution. 

This is a reassuring result. It shows that the populations in a number of countries all over the world represent a far more nuanced image of the relationship between science and religion than what is typically conveyed by the media. And that shows a far greater degree of openness and tolerance than what the very prominent advocates of the undeniable contradictions between a religious and a scientific view on life on earth stand for.

Regional diversity

The survey also shows great regional diversity in Great Britain which has become a particular point of focus. Here the survey has confronted the widespread myth that creationism has a bigger following in the countryside in small local communities. And sure enough, we see a concentration of people in the rural districts of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland who believe that all life was created by God and has not evolved since. But the highest percentage is to be found in London where 23% of the inhabitants are creationists. That is a high number and shows that today creationism is just as popular a phenomenon in the larger cities as in the provinces.

The nuanced image of regional diversity provides us with far better tools with regards to understanding why different population groups respond and interpret the discussion of evolution in so many different ways. It also means that we are better equipped to adjust the communication on evolution concerning regional, cultural, and religious differences.

I was on the panel at the press conference of the British Council at the World Conference of Science Journalists in London. The interest in the conference from journalists from all over the world was massive. Everyone agreed on the importance of portraying a more nuanced image of the perception and understanding of evolution all over the world. Let us hope it works.

Peter C. Kjærgaard

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