Are we dumbing down? Do we believe more readily now than in the past? Are odd beliefs more prevalent in the US than the UK?
According to the CBS news website in 2005, a poll found that that “Most Americans do not accept the theory of evolution. Instead, 51 percent of Americans say God created humans in their present form, and another three in 10 say that while humans evolved, God guided the process. Just 15 percent say humans evolved, and that God was not involved.”
How does this compare with previous similar polls? The New Humanist gives a list of the responses (by percentage) to a question put by Gallup in 1982, in the 1990s and in 2001. The percentage of people polled in America that believes “God created people in present form within last 10,000 years” has not varied much over the years – from 44% to 47%. Those believing that “Evolution occurred with no interference by God” accounted for 9-12% of the respondents.
There are more Gallup poll results available here. The current (May 2007) figures for Creation and ‘Evolution-without-God’ are 43% and 14% respectively – this is the first time since the Gallup poll began that the percentage figure for belief in EWG has got above 12. [The percentage that believed in evolution occuring ‘with God’s guidance’ has been consistently between 35 and 40% and 4-9% have been listed over the years as ‘Other / No Opinion’]
These figures don’t appear to show a dumbing down of the American public over the last 25 years – they just don’t seem to have got much smarter.
At this point, I started googling the Gallup site for more. There is a poll here dealing with paranormal beliefs, which includes comparisons by country and by sex. 21% of Americans believe in witches, 27% of Brits believe in communication with the dead and 24-25% of respondents in Canada, Britain and the US believe in astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives. In almost all cases, women were more likely to believe in the paranormal than men. Except in the case of aliens. Men are more likely to believe that ET has (at some point) visited Earth. What does this tell us? If you want to perpetuate a UFO hoax, then maybe you should target the blokes. Fancy a career as a medium or an astrologer? The ladies could be your meal ticket. Or maybe the difference between the sexes that is seen here is due to men being unwilling to admit to their supernatural beliefs.
Yet another Gallup poll reveals that some supernatural beliefs were more common in America in 2001 than in 1990. Belief in witches, ghosts and psychic phenomena is up, and only belief in possession by the Devil is down. From 49% to 41%. Belief in the Devil is further explored here.
Unfortunately, these polls do not go back any further than Reagan, Khomenei and Thatcher. It would be interesting to see what differences there were before they came to power. Francis Wheen wrote that 1979 marked a moment when the world was “jolted by a violent reaction to the complacency of the existing order” and pinpoints 1979 as an important time in the conquering of the world by Mumbo-Jumbo.