Evolution in the News - February 2017
by Do-While Jones

Evolutionary Acceptance

Do most scientists still believe in the theory of evolution?

This month’s Web Site of the Month describes a pro-evolution website that advocates defending evolutionism by attacking religion, twisting the definition of science, and philosophizing about Intelligent Design. It doesn’t present a scientific defense for the theory of evolution, and is largely fact-free (unless you count fake facts).

For example, one recommendation presented on that website is to,

Impress that there is, in fact, near total consensus in the scientific community. Evolution is accepted by 99% of biologists.

There is a footnote for that alleged fact, so we followed it to find out details about how the survey was conducted, and how the question was phrased. The footnote just went to a page of alleged misconceptions about evolution posted by some guy from Berkeley, none of which had anything to do with the percentage of biologists who believe in evolution. The footnote just gave the illusion of credibility.

So, we searched for real data on the Internet. We found this passage on the website of a radical pro-evolution political action group ironically called the National Center for Science Education [NCSE]. (In reality, they try to prevent science education by censoring the science curriculum.)

In the article, Brian Alters—a professor of science education then at McGill University, now at Chapman University, and then a member, now president, of NCSE’s board of directors—is quoted as saying, “While 99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution, 40 to 50 percent of college students do not accept evolution and believe it to be ‘just’ a theory.”

So I asked Alters about the quotation attributed to him. Seven years later, he doesn’t remember saying it, but he agrees that there was no “study” with that finding; the 99.9% figure, if he offered it, was just a rhetorical flourish, a colorful way of expressing the undoubted platitude that the vast majority of scientists accept evolution.

And it is indeed a platitude; Prothero wasn’t wrong. But he would have done better to find a better source. In 2009, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that “[n]early all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time.” There. Was that so hard? 1

Of course, living things evolve. We all agree with that! The question they didn’t ask scientists was, “Do you believe one species can give birth to another species?” That’s entirely different than the question they asked.

Wikipedia said,

As reported by Newsweek: "By one count there are some 700 scientists with respectable academic credentials (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists) who give credence to creation-science, the general theory that complex life forms did not evolve but appeared 'abruptly'."Martz & McDaniel 1987, p. 23 2

1987 was 30 years ago! That was nine years before we started publishing this newsletter. Hardly anybody had even heard of creation science back then. Just because scientists believed in evolution 30 years ago doesn’t mean they still believe it.

The closest thing we could find to a recent survey of scientists’ opinions about evolution in a peer-reviewed publication was a 2011 poll of science teachers. Granted, science teachers aren’t the same as professional biologists; but it is all we could find. Here is the result:


To be eligible for selection, teachers needed to be in a public school that included grades 9 and 10 and had to include “biology,” “life sciences,” or “AP biology” among their 1–6 job descriptors in the database. 3

The top line of the table tells it all. 13% say creation should be advocated, 28% say evolution should be advocated, and 60% say neither creation nor evolution should be advocated. If 99% of biologists believe evolution is true, why did 72% of science teachers say in 2011 that evolutionary biology should not be advocated in public schools?

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Footnotes:

1 https://ncse.com/blog/2013/08/how-many-creationists-science-0014996
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution
2 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/suppl/ 2011/01/24/331.6016.404.DC1/Berkman.SOM.pdf