Is the nation experiencing a cultural shift?
There’s a controversial divide within the American population between those who believe in the theory of evolution and those who believe in creationism, or the belief that God created the universe and all of its counterparts. But a recent poll shows that the belief in evolution is slowly but surely on the rise — though it only surpasses the belief in creationism by a small margin.
That’s right — the poll by Pew Research Center shows that 51 percent of American adults under the age of 30 now report that they believe purely in evolution without any divine power involved. Although this number doesn’t sound groundbreaking, it’s a jump from 40 percent back in 2009.
Plus, 73 percent of young American adults expressed some sort of belief in evolution, a 12 percent increase from 2009. Now, as Slate’s Rachel Gross puts it, “if you ask a younger American how humans arose, you’re likely to get an answer that has nothing to do with God.”
Interestingly, the research also showed that about 65 percent of all adults in the US believe in the evolution of humans, but only 35 percent said this evolution was independent of a higher power. Another 31 percent believe that humans have existed the way we are today since the beginning of time.
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Nonetheless, the increase in American adults who believe in evolution points to a larger cultural shift. In the past few years, there have been a number of legal efforts to force school textbooks to include the theory of evolution, and it seems the young people of America are benefitting from these regulations.
However, some textbooks label evolution as a “controversial theory” and certain states still don’t even require teachers to teach evolution, so there’s a long way to go. Similarly, recent research has shown that some textbooks teach kids that climate change is a matter of opinion.
With the rise of the internet and social media, young people have a much greater access to information than ever before. Perhaps the popularization of TV shows like the Big Bang Theory and influential celebrities like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are also contributing to the cultural shift.
“Young people are growing up with a less ideological closed mind,” Evan Wolfson, a pioneer behind the gay rights movement, told Slate. “Which is what a lot of the anti-evolution, anti–climate evolution, anti–climate change thinking is: It’s an ideology. It’s a refusal to engage with reality.”
“They’re growing up in the midst of the conversation, growing up in the midst of reality, being open to reality, and not simply refusing to see what’s in front of you,” he continued.
Clearly, the United States still has a long way to go when it comes to getting its population on board with evolution. But it will require a lot of time and effort from teachers, legislators, and evolution-supporters alike.
“This isn’t just some given that will drift along on its own. It’s something to be nurtured and defended,” Wolfson says. “We didn’t win the freedom to marry only because we had the momentum; we built that momentum. And we worked hard to harness it to the work of winning.