Physicians, evolution, and religion, Part 1

Do you believe in evolution?

It appears that most Americans don’t. A 2009 Gallup poll asked “Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in evolution, or don’t you have an opinion either way?” and found:

  • 39% “believe in evolution”
  • 25% “do not believe in evolution”
  • 36% have “no opinion either way”

While some news outlets reacted to the seemingly low percentage of Americans who believe in evolution, they missed the real shocker: the actual percentage of Americans who believe in evolution is much lower than what is reported here.

This particular Gallup poll question was worded too generally. More specific wording shows a very different result. When Gallup asked Americans (in 2012) if they believed that a) God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years, b) humans evolved, but with God’s guidance, or c) humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process, only 15% said they believed c, that humans evolved without divine intervention.

Of course, c is the only choice that reflects an actual belief in the theory of evolution. The idea that “b) humans evolved, but with God’s guidance” is commonly held, but you can’t call it the theory of evolution. The name for this belief is “Intelligent Design” and this belief has been at the center of the recent fights about teaching alternatives (non-scientific, religion-based alternatives) to evolution in public schools. It is an alternative to the theory of evolution precisely because it is NOT the theory of evolution. (I think we could also agree that the name for a is “Creationism” or more specifically “young earth creationism” – note the 10,000 year time period.)

By the way, CBS conducted an identically worded poll in 2009 and got pretty much the same result:

God created humans in present form
Humans evolved, God guided the process
Humans evolved, God did not guide process

When the question is carefully asked, about 15% of Americans believe in evolution, not 36%.

So, what does any of this have to do with physicians or religion?

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