How to Do a Survey and Get Wrong Results
New survey claims nationality and household income
are more influential than religion in rejecting evolution
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
The validity of a new survey about the influences that cause youth to accept evolution is questionable for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that the researchers began with the following incorrect assumption: The belief that evolution from molecules to man is 100 percent true. Furthermore, the surveyors seem to think that anyone who does not accept this fact must have been influenced by an ignorant pastor or priest, or by a social environment that was influenced by poorly informed religious people, churches, priests, or clergymen.
Important thinkers such as C. S. Lewis, however, rejected evolution first, and then only later accepted Christianity. Many other people, such as Professor Chance Tan, accepted Christianity first and only later rejected evolution. In her case, rejecting evolution was due to her study of science, specifically biochemistry.
Design Is Intuitively Obvious
Most people accept the evidence for design in the natural world intuitively because the world looks very much like it is designed. As Steven Stewart-Williams wrote in 2010:
“most people would agree that certain parts of the natural world look as though they were designed. Before Darwin, philosophers thought there were two possible explanations for this: either they [the parts of the world] were designed or they came about through chance alone. The idea that they came about through chance alone stretches credulity to [the] breaking point, and thus we are left with design.”
Stewart-Williams added that Darwin provided a third way, namely “a mindless natural process [today called evolution that] could create the illusion of design.”
How Secularists Lead People Away from the Intuition of Design
For these and other reasons, evolutionists find it to be a major challenge to convince people that design is an illusion, and that the true explanation for life is evolution. A fundraising letter I received from an atheist organization that promotes the teaching of evolution expresses this quandary:
Every developing mind wrestles with the mystery of how we become who we are. Before Darwin, the only sensible answer was that we were designed by a supernatural creator. Now we know we evolved from more primitive life forms. But this complicated idea is not self-evident. It is hard to understand and must be taught by teachers who have the knowledge, skills, and teaching aids to do so. A scientific understanding of our origins is fundamental to a realistic worldview. Fortunately, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) is up to the task to reach as many teachers as possible.
Their website shows how TIES works to help students reject the design inference and believe in evolution. Their materials strive to lead students away from the design intuition, preparing them to believe what Darwinism teaches: that the accumulation of mutations and natural selection can explain the illusion of design. Many of the evidences presented in the TIES promotion for this purpose, though, have long been firmly rejected by informed science. Examples include vestigial organs, Haeckel’s embryos, homology, claims of poor design in the human body, and the oft-repeated assertion that humans and chimps have “almost identical” DNA. Genomic comparisons when done properly (considering all the DNA, not just the portions that align) show that humans and chimps are actually separated by a genetic chasm of close to 450 million DNA differences. Only 84% of the complete chimpanzee genome is genetically similar to the human genome; it is not 98-99% similar.
The Battle of Worldviews in School and Culture
Because of the intuition of design, evolutionists realize they have an uphill battle to convince people that the natural world is not designed and that design is only an illusion. They attempt to abolish the design inference by indoctrination, censorship and loaded words. By calling evidence and arguments against evolution “anti-science” they rationalize eliminating it from being heard in science classrooms. Also, they prevent Darwin skeptics from entering graduate programs by labeling them “pseudo-scientists” and/or “science deniers.”
As Cambridge University Professor of Ancient Philosophy David Sedley documents, the Greek philosophers supported “one of the most potent arguments in the history of cosmology: the argument from design” as the answer to “the central cosmological question.” This central cosmological question was: “is the world, and all that it contains, the handiwork of an intelligent designer?” Plato and other great philosophers answered: unequivocally, yes.
The New Survey
The latest of many surveys of students attempting to determine their views on creation and evolution was done by Oliveira et al. and published in PLoS One in September. The researchers administered questionnaires to 5,500 Brazilian and Italian students aged 14-16. The authors report the following results:
Religion influences secondary school students’ understanding and acceptance of evolutionary theory, but social and cultural factors such as nationality, perceptions of science and household income are more influential.
Primal Myths or Intuitive Truths
My interpretation of the results is that certain factors were important in demolishing, or at least replacing, the intuitive view among these students that life was designed—the view most of us start out life as children with (i.e., the universal intuition of design). An old 1957 study of traditional creation accounts in ancient cultures showed that observing order and design everywhere in the world often results in an attempt to explain the source of that order.
One of the common attempts to explain that order is a god or some other intelligent creator. Barbara Sproul calls the source of all creation myths that assume the universe had a designer “primal myths.” This is certainly true for most young people; namely, the world around us looks designed. Consequently, the task of the evolutionist is to replace God with evolution. The survey actually indicates how successful certain societal influences have been in achieving that goal.
Untangling Key Factors in the Results
The survey results claimed that factors other than religion were more important in influencing the acceptance of evolution. Why is that? Consider the researchers’ finding that acceptance of evolution was higher among Italian Catholics than Brazilian Catholics. The fact that the Catholic Church openly accepts evolution as the means God used to create humans explains part of it. However, many individual Catholics and Catholic priests reject evolution, and this also would have an effect on individual beliefs. Notwithstanding these considerations, the finding does initially appear to support the conclusion that other factors were more important than religion in influencing the acceptance of evolution. But there are subtleties to consider, such as bias in the survey questions.
Problems with the Survey Questions
One question asked participants if the following statement is true or false: “The formation of our planet occurred some 4.5 billion years ago.” How many 14-to-16-year-olds have carefully studied both sides of this topic? Their answer would depend strongly on what they had heard in school or what they had watched on television programs like NOVA. If a survey participant had heard the 4.5 billion-year number in the recent past, and had no information otherwise, the student would likely select what evolutionists accept as the “right” answer because of their presumed authority. The wording of the question, therefore, does not measure the student’s knowledge about the age of the earth (and especially not how it is arrived at, or knowledge about problems with dating methods). It only measures whether the student can recite a piece of trivia from memory. Conversely, for Catholic teens who have carefully studied the problems with the 4.5 billion-year date on their own and attend church regularly, their rejection would be tallied as due to their Catholicism instead of their acquaintance with the science.
Secularism explains the survey results
The fact that a larger number of Italian Catholics accepted evolution, and also understood it better than Brazilian Catholics, is likely due to the much greater secularism in Europe as a whole, including in Italy, compared to Brazil. Religion influences society, and society influences individuals. Higher secularism in Europe explains the main results of this study very well. Another factor is that few denominations and churches focus on the origins issue, leaving students unequipped to deal with evolutionary claims. Only a few denominations actively offer instruction in support of creation and against evolution. A Catholic could attend mass regularly and never hear the scientific evidence against deep time in church. This failure to instruct students about flaws in Darwinism is true especially in mainline denominations and, sadly, in a fair number of evangelical churches as well.
Consequently, the attitudes of church members may be more influenced by their culture than by formal church teaching. Churches that spend a significant amount of time on an individual level giving support for creation and opposition to evolution, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (shown as most likely to reject evolution in the chart below), lend support for the idea that the influence of religion can promote the rejection of evolution. The chart from 2010 shows that only eight percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the view that humans have evolved and were not created ex nihilo by God, likely because that organization specifically trains its youth on the origins issue. The chart also contrasts mainline Protestant denominations, which tend to be politically liberal, as more likely to accept evolution than evangelical Protestant denominations that accept Genesis.
The second chart below shows the official teaching of the major religious denominations. These focused studies, whose results are reproduced here, are much more meaningful than the large sample of young people used in the Oliveira et al. survey.
As society becomes more secular, the trend toward rejecting God as Creator and accepting evolution as the explanation for all life can be expected to increase, because indoctrination into Darwinian evolution and censorship of creation evidences are the stated and historically observed practices of secular scientific and educational organizations. This will undoubtedly result in evolution overturning students’ intuitive sense of design, and being led to accept Darwinism as the default “scientific” explanation for the “illusion” of design.
These trends illustrate the importance of the origins issue and thus the importance of websites like Creation-Evolution Headlines and creation organizations in providing answers to Darwinian teaching materials, many of which continue to repeat known frauds and fallacies.
 Oliveira, Graciela da Silva. Acceptance of evolution by high school students: Is religion the key factor? PLoS One 17(9):e0273929, 22 September 2022.
 Bergman, Jerry. 2016. C. S. Lewis: Anti-Darwinist: A Careful Examination of the Development of His Views on Darwinism. Eugene Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
 Stewart-Williams, Steve. Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, p. 50, 2010.
 Stewart-Williams, 2010, p. 50; emphasis mine.
 Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, https://tieseducation.org, 2022. Emphasis added
 https://cdn.centerforinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2020/03/12153057/TIES-HS-Guided-Lesson-Evolutionary-Biology-1.pdf, 31 March 2020.
 Kenrick, Douglas, et al. The science of anti-science thinking. In Scientific American Truth vs. Lies, pp. 101-105, 2022.
 Quoted in Leroi, Armand. One long argument. Revisiting ancient Greek debates about the natural world should broaden biologists’ horizons. Nature 452(7184):153, 13 March 2008.
 Ziegler, Maria. Religion is not the factor that most influences rejection of evolutionary theory in schools, study says, https://phys.org/news/2022-12-religion-factor-evolutionary-theory-schools.html, 2022.
 Rooth, A.B. The creation myths of the North American Indians. Anthropos 52(3/4):497-508, 1957.
 Sproul, B. Primal Myths: Creation Myths Around the World. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York, 1991.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.