Are Creationists Gaining More Sway?

Archeopteryx
A recent survey by Research Co. and Glacier Media shows a deeply disturbing trend in Canadians: we seem to be getting increasingly stupid. While this survey didn’t get the media coverage that other current events received (and hasn’t even been hinted at in local media, but no surprises there), I think it is one of the most troubling surveys of the last decade. The survey showed that,

… more than half of Canadians (57%) believe that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years, while 26% think that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

That’s an appallingly low figure for belief in established science. Fifty-seven percent is a full nine points lower than a similar survey that was done in 2018 and four points less than one done in 2019. Is something causing Canadians to become less educated and less aware of science? Or just more stupid? Is our educational system failing Canadians? 

What’s even scarier is the parallel upswing in the number of Canadians who think creationism should be taught in schools:

…44% of Canadians think creationism – the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation – should be part of the school curriculum in their province, while 34% disagree and 23% are undecided.

That would be like teaching astrology as a signifier of human behaviour alongside psychology; reflexology* alongside medicine, or numerology in math classes. And yet a gobsmacking number of Canadians think creationism belongs in a science class. That should be headline news and a wake-up call for anyone involved in education. Are the Talibangelists winning a greater foothold on public policy? 

Facepalm
The rise of creationism in Canada and the argument to teach it alongside evolution in the classroom is truly a facepalm moment… maybe worth many facepalm moments…

To my surprise, it wasn’t merely among the Conservatives that this nonsense has taken hold:

…49% of Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party of Canada in 2019 are in favour of teaching creationism in schools. The numbers are slightly lower among those who cast ballots for the Liberal Party of Canada (47%) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) (44%) in the last federal election.

It seems that this madness has spread fairly equally across party lines. But how? And why? Is it just mere opportunism, with parties trying to cater to that rightwing segment that promotes this claptrap? Or are our political parties becoming collectively stupid (or perhaps I might write “collectively MORE stupid”…)?

Creationism has no validity, no basis in fact, and no support from any actual research. It’s a specific form of blind faith among a very narrow band of Christians (and among some fundamentalist Jews and Muslims, who have their own form of creationism, but in Canada they have little sway on public opinion). And, confusingly, the survey itself shows that believers in creationism are themselves a minority:

Most Canadians (57%, -4) believe human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years. Just over one-in-four Canadians (26%, +3) think God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.
Belief in creationism reaches 36% in Alberta and is lower in all other regions of the country: Atlantic Canada (33%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (26%), Quebec (25%), Ontario (24%) and British Columbia (22%).

Why do more people want to see this codswallop taught in schools than actually believe in it? And despite the religious connotations of teaching creationism in a secular environment, the survey also showed only a thin majority of Christians want to see it taught in schools:

A majority of Canadians who identify as Christians (55%) are in
favour of the teaching of creationism in Canada’s schools,” says
Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “The proportion drops
dramatically among those who have no religion (22%), agnostics
(15%) and atheists (12%).

The actual question asked was, “Do you think creationism—the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation—should be part of the school curriculum in your province?” It doesn’t make sense that anyone without religion would want to see a religious doctrine taught in schools as an alternative to science. Yet their numbers show 3% of atheists say it “definitely” should be taught, 5% of agnostics, and 7% with no identified religion.

Actually, few of the results make sense to me. They seem contradictory.**

I am also curious and a tad suspicious as to why the pollsters did not ask about other faiths. While others may be minorities in Canada, the survey lists answers from only Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, and No Religion. I see no category for Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Sikh, Taoist, Jain, or Hindu. Canada has many non-Christians — a full 11% of Canadians follow other faiths — but they seem to have been ignored. To me, that’s not what I expect in a survey done in a multicultural, mutli-faith Canada.

Christianity itself is fragmented into various, and generally competitive faiths. The last survey of religious beliefs in Canada was done in 2011, and showed that the majority of Canadian Christians are Catholics: about 39% of the population. Protestants are 29%, “…further divided into a variety of branches including Adventists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Baptists, Calvinists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Pentecostals.” Surely there are some notable doctrinal differences among all these faiths about the validity or presentation of creationism!

(A recent Pew Research survey of religious affiliations in Canada shows slightly different numbers: 39% Catholic, 27% Protestant, 11% other, and 24% none)

I would have thought it more statistically relevant — at the very least — to divide Christians into Catholics and Protestants. After all, Pope Francis made a statement in 2014 that “evolutionary theory does not contradict biblical teaching.” We really should see the divide between Catholics and Protestants on this question to understand how Canada slipped into this morass.

(That 2011 survey also showed that 24% of Canadians are “currently atheist or agnostic, and these do not follow any religion at all,” by the way.)

And the political spectrum is equally limited to Liberal, Conservative, and NDP (i.e. the orthodox parties). Not even the Green Party is mentioned. Again it seems to have limited the field to the establishment,

Because of these oversights and narrow focus, the survey strikes me as less-than-credible, at least as a broad Canadian overview.  However, the rise of creationism anywhere remains (and should always be) disturbing, and not lightly dismissed. Even as an outlier survey, it suggests a trend that should not be ignored.

Let’s be clear: creationism is not science. It is religious dogma drawn from a belief in the literal truth of scripture. That does not belong in secular education or politics. As Jerry Coyne wrote in Why Evolution is True:

You can find religions without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion.

Religion must stay out of the publicly-funded classroom. Period. There is no validity in the “teach all sides” argument when creationism in any form is raised. Religious dogma is not a “side” to compare with scientific fact, especially when it’s a very particular view not even shared by all members of that same religion or even every sect within it. As Coyne also wrote, we should take pride in our understanding of evolution, not run in fear from it:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

~~~~~

* Or teaching iridology, ayurveda, reiki, phrenology, magic crystals, homeopathy, faith healing, or any of a number of pseudo-medicine practices alongside actual medicine. Once creationism is allowed into the classroom alongside biology, we will also see fundamentalist “flood geology” taught as a counter to actual geology, because biblical literalists accept every biblical myth, allegory, legend, and tall tale as truth, and cannot separate them from fact.

** I have a problem with the way the survey questions were formulated, as well. The survey poses this question first:

Which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view regarding the origin and development of human beings on earth?

It then offers five options:

  • God definitely created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years
  • God probably created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years
  • Human beings probably evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years
  • Human beings probably evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years
  • Not sure

It may seem picayune, but before I could answer that myself, I’d want to know which god the survey meant. I don’t want to assume anything. After all, there are many hundreds of deities in use on the planet among the estimated 4,200 current religious groups (Hindus alone have 309 deities, although some writers claim millions). Even the monotheistic religions differ in how they see their own deity (some see a triplet, others just one, and I would argue saints, angels, and demons are also deities in their own right). They often differ even more between the various sects within them. So which one of these deities does the survey mean? Thor? Ganesh? Ahura Mazda? Hera? Avalokiteshvara? Manitou?

“Within the last 10,000 years” is from the “young-earth” view of creationism, and only a part of the spectrum of creationist views. There is also a competing “old-earth creationism” which includes science in its attempt to reconcile the biblical stories with facts. Plus there’s “intelligent” design (aka ID) which is merely creationism in a suit and tie (aka lipstick on a pig). It isn’t just one simplistic viewpoint as the survey question suggests.

I also take umbrage over the term “less advanced” because it suggests inferior (and that somehow we are superior today). That plays into the creationist’s political narrative: they might also argue their god would not create an “inferior” being. But what does “less advanced” mean? Didn’t spend hours staring at a mobile phone? Couldn’t drive a car and sit in traffic jams? Didn’t laugh at mindless sitcoms? Are we more advanced today because we cannot make flint arrowheads, drive mammoths into a pit, or spear fish from a stream? A squirrel is more “advanced” than any human at climbing trees and burying nuts. A bat is more advanced than any human at echolocation and flight. Advanced is a subjective view. 

I would have used a more neutral and factually correct term such as “earlier” or “previous” because it does not make a value judgement or force comparisons that play into ideologies.

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