Americans Disagree on Beginnings of Human Existence
Even as technology and science have advanced in the past 30 years, the percentage of Americans who believe solely in the Divine creation of humankind has remained unchanged. In 1982, the first year the Gallup poll asked this question, 44% of Americans answered that humans were created solely by God.
A recently published poll from Gallup indicates that 46% of Americans today believe that humans, in our present form, were created by God. This number is only one percentage point below the previous high of 47%, polled in 1993 and 1999. Also in 2012, 35% of Americans say they believe that humans evolved with God’s guidance and 15% of Americans polled indicated that they believe humans evolved with no guidance from God. These numbers offer a slight change from 2010 (the last time the survey was taken), when 38% answered that they believed God played a guiding role and 16% chose “secular evolution,” which involves no belief in guidance from a Divine source.
Public schools have long been the battleground for the evolution and creationist movements. While the First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to believe in creation, it also protects students in public schools from being taught that the story of creation is the absolute truth. Public schools have been barred from teaching creation as a viable theory of human existence since 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared Arkansas’ ban on the teaching of evolution unconstitutional in Epperson v. Arkansas. But that hasn’t kept school officials, teachers and parents from continuing a crusade to include creationism in science curricula. In 1987, the Supreme Court handed down another decision that declared unconstitutional Louisiana’s balanced treatment law, which required schools to present evolution and creationism side-by-side or to teach neither subject.
The most recent high-profile case in this debate was Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first direct challenge brought in U.S. federal courts against a public school district over the teaching of “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution (“intelligent design” suggests that life on earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection alone and therefore must have been “guided” by a “supernatural” or “intelligent” force). The court agreed with the plaintiffs and barred the teaching of “intelligent design” in public school science classrooms. There was no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the ruling still stands today. The Reform Movement firmly believes in the separation of church and state and has been outspoken on protecting public schools from the unconstitutional influence of religion.
The unchanging numbers in this Gallup poll prove that faith and religion are deeply woven into the fabric of America, but also speak to a larger truth that religious beliefs have no place in public schools, especially in the realm of science curricula. It will be interesting to see what the next few years have in store on this issue as science advances further each day. What will remain constant, however, is the Reform Movement’s commitment to both religious liberty and the separation of church and state.