International Opinion on Darwin

By Sean Cavanagh — July 09, 2009 1 min read
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How does public opinion in the United States about the theory of evolution compare with attitudes and beliefs in foreign countries? A recent survey by the British Council, which describes itself as an international body that promotes cultural relations, offers some insights.

The survey, which polled 10,000 adults across 10 countries, found that overall, a strong majority of respondents, 70 percent, have heard of Charles Darwin and know a little about evolution, the theory he pioneered. The United States ranked among the highest, with 71 percent of adults having that knowledge, as did Great Britain. Adults in other countries showed varying levels of knowledge: 68 percent of Mexicans knew those basic facts, while 54 percent in China did. Sixty-two percent of Egyptian adults did not know of Darwin and his theory, and 73 percent of South Africans did not.

Another survey question focused on whether it was possible to believe in God and also believe that humans and other living things have evolved through natural selection. Adults in India were the most inclined of those surveyed in any country (85 percent) to hold that view; 65 percent of Mexican adults held that view, as did 54 percent of British adults, and 53 percent of Americans, while just 39 percent of Chinese adults agreed.

On the question of whether enough scientific evidence exists to support the theory of evolution (among those who had heard of it), majorities of adults in India, China, and Britain, among other nations, agreed, while only 41 percent of U.S. residents did. The international average on that question was 56 percent, according to the council.

I originally saw the survey on the Web site of the National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in schools. The above figures are from a summary by the council, which can provide more in-depth results for those interested. How do you interpret the survey results? What cultural and religious factors in the various countries might account for them?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.