As "Science Guy" Bill Nye and the founder of Kentucky's Creation Museum, Ken Ham, prepare for their much-anticipated debate Tuesday evening on evolution (Nye) versus creationism (Ham), recent polls point to Americans being largely split on the issue depending on the religious tradition to which they belong.
Most Americans fall into one of three camps, with some believing humans were created as-is by God or a supreme being, others believing humans evolved from their natural state without supernatural influence, and third group believing humans have evolved but that evolution was guided or influenced by God.
Overall, religion factors largely into how Americans view evolution. White evangelical Protestants tend to be more likely to believe in creationism, for example, while mainline Protestants are more likely to believe in evolution. Republicans are more likely to believe in creationism than to Democrats.
A Pew Research Center survey released in December showed that 33 percent of U.S. residents believe "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time." Six-in-ten adults said in the survey that “humans and other living things have evolved over time" and about half of them credited natural selection -- not God -- for that evolution. Around quarter of adults indicated that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”
According to a Gallup survey from June 2012, 46 percent of Americans believed in creationism, while 32 percent believed that God guided evolution and 15 percent said evolution happened on its own. Gallup compared responses to frequency of church attendance and found that among people who went to church weekly, two-thirds believed in creationism and a quarter believed in theistic evolution. Among churchgoers, just 3 percent believed evolution happened without divine influence.
Meanwhile, a 2011 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found similar results as Pew and Gallup. In its survey, nearly four-in-ten (38 percent) respondents told PRRI that humans have "existed in present form since creation," while almost six-in-ten (57 percent) said they believed in evolution. Among those who believed in evolution, 30 percent said it happened through natural selection, while 22 percent said it was guided by God.
Ham is a proponent of Young Earth Creationism, which is based on a literal reading of the Bible and advocates the belief that God created the universe and all life under 10,000 years ago.
In its survey, PRRI asked those who believe in creationism when life began. About 19 percent of creationists said humans have existed in their present form since creation and that this happened within the last 10,000 years, while 15 percent said humans have existed in their present form since creation but that it didn't happen within the last 10,000 years. Four percent said humans have existed in their present form since creation and were unsure about the timeframe.
Despite seemingly vast differences among Americans when it comes to religion and science, M.I.T. physicist Max Tegmark, who founded the M.I.T. Survey on Science, Religion and Origins, argues that religious and scientific beliefs are closer than most people think. See some of his team's findings in the following chart.