Teaching Evolution

Posted on Dec 20, 2013 |

Human evolution has always been a controversial issue in America. Polls consistently show that approximately half of Americans do not believe humans evolved from other species, but were created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

Education is clearly one factor. While only 43% of Americans with a high school education (or less) believe humans evolved from other species, over 74% of Americans with a post-graduate degree believe in human evolution.[1] A separate study found 97% of scientists believe in human evolution. [2]


Evolution Education Diagrams


On a global level, the U.S. falls far behind most industrialized countries. As reported in Science (August 2006), the U.S. ranked 33rd out of 34 countries surveyed, with just 40% of Americans saying they believed in evolution. The results for the top ten European nations were well above 70%. Only Turkey ranked below the U.S. [3]

This low level of acceptance of what is the single most important concept in the biological sciences is surprising given the United States is the most technologically and scientifically advanced country in the world.


Religion in America

America differs from most developed countries in two ways. First, Americans are much more religious than their European counterparts. When a 2006 Harris Poll asked, ‘Would you say that you are a believer in any form of God or any type of supreme being?’ 73% of Americans responded affirmatively, as compared to 27% for France, 35% for Great Britain, and 41% for Germany. Other polls have put the U.S. number even higher. [4]

Second, there is no European equivalent of the American Christian fundamentalist movement. Most European Protestants read Genesis metaphorically, not literally, and do not find evolution incompatible with their religious beliefs.

Together, these two factors—wide-spread religiosity and a significant fundamentalist movement—shape American perception of evolution. In a June 2007, Gallup Poll respondents who indicated they did not believe in evolution were asked why: 72% said because of religious reasons. Only 14% said there was not enough scientific evidence to support evolution (14% gave other reasons or no reason). [5]


Education Makes a Difference

Understanding evolution is critical in the 21st century because evolutionary concepts are relevant to many of today’s most pressing issues, from environmental problems to medical breakthroughs, from agricultural productivity to endangered species.

Because only 30% of Americans graduate from college, teaching evolution must be made a priority at the elementary and high school levels (over 85% of American adults have a high school diploma). [6]

Hungry Birds is intended to supplement formal education with a game-based experience that demonstrates a key evolutionary principle in the museum and science center spaces.




1. U.S. Gallup Poll, December 10-12, 2010. See: http://www.gallup.com/poll/145286/Four-Americans-Believe-Strict-Creationism.aspx

2. Pew Research, July 9, 2009. See: http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/section-5-evolution-climate-change-and-other-issues.

3. Science Magazine, August 2006. See: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/313/5788/765.summary?sid=863f0c51-f12e-4e5b-ae9c-c03f3fd0bb50.

4. Harris Poll, 2006. See: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NEWS/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=1130.

5. U.S. Gallup Poll, June 2007. See: http://www.gallup.com/poll/27847/majority-republicans-doubt-theory-evolution.aspx.

6. U.S. Census Data. 30% of American adults over the age of 25 have a Bachelors degree. 87.5% are high school graduates. See: http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/cps/2012/tables.html.