The teaching of evolution is a big issue in the USA – the PollingReport.com archive has whole pages of opinion polls on evolution.
Polls in the UK don’t ask about evolution, after all, we don’t need to. Apart from the controversy over Emmanuel College Gateshead a couple of years ago it simply isn’t an issue here – we don’t have the same brand of vocal Christianity here, we don’t have a written constitution that can be used for court challenges over the issue and we don’t have a long history of battles over the teaching of evolution. Charles Darwin is such an establishment figure he is on the ten pound note.
A BBC Horizon programme last week covering the recent court case over the teaching of intelligent design in US schools commissioned a MORI poll asking what people in Britain thought. 48% of people in Britain thought the theory of evolution best described their view, 17% thought intelligent design best described their view and, startlingly, 22% of British people thought creationism best described their view.
The wording of the question seems fair enough – a potential problem is that people can understand creationism to simply mean believing that God created the universe, perhaps using evolution as a tool, MORI though specifically described it as “God created human kind pretty much in his/her present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”. MORI’s description of evolution could, perhaps, be seen to imply that belief in evolution was incompatible with belief in God, but even so, the percentage saying they believed in creationism seems to be straightforward.
Asked which of the theories should be taught in “science classes”, 69% thought that evolution should, with 15% thinking it shouldn’t. 44% of people think that creationism should be taught in science classes, 39% think it shouldn’t. 41% think that “intelligent design” should be taught in science classes, 40% that it shouldn’t.
There is still, however, a huge gap between British and American beliefs on evolution. A US poll with comparable questions by CBS News in October 2005 found 48% of Americans believed in creationism, 29% thought that evolution had been guided by God and only 15% believed man had evolved from less developed life forms but God had no role in the process.