Polling evolution in Texas

A new poll suggests that a slim majority of Texans reject evolution, according to a story in the Texas Tribune (February 17, 2010), which also noted that "[n]early a third of Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time." David Prindle, a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin, who composed the questions, quipped that the poll confirmed the comedian Lewis Black's claim that a significant proportion of the American people think that The Flintstones was a documentary.

Among the questions on the poll was the standard Gallup question — "Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?" — with the choices (1) "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process"; (2) "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and God had no part in the process"; and (3) "God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago."

In the Texas poll, 38% of respondents chose (1), 12% chose (2), 38% chose (3), and 12% chose a fourth option, "Don't know." Comparing the results with a national Gallup poll conducted in 2008, in which 36% of respondents chose (1), 14% chose (2), 44% chose (3), and 5% offered a different or no opinion, it might seem as though Texans are slightly less inclined to creationism than the nation at large — but the explicit presentation of a "Don't know" option in the Texas poll and not in the Gallup poll is probably responsible for the discrepancy. (Also, the Texas poll was only of registered voters.)

By omitting any reference to humans, a different question in the Texas poll in effect tested whether human evolution was especially problematic. Apparently so: only 22% of respondents chose "Life on earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time"; 15% chose "Life on earth has evolved over time, entirely through 'natural selection,' with no guidance from God"; 53% chose "Life on earth has evolved over time, entirely through 'natural selection,' but with a guiding hand from God"; and 10% chose "Don't know."

Respondents were also asked whether they agree or disagree with "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals": 35% agreed, 51% disagreed, 15% didn't know. In a national survey conducted in 2005, as Jon D. Miller, NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, and Shinji Okamoto reported in Science, 40% of surveyed Americans agreed, 39% disagreed, and 21% were unsure. Among thirty-two countries discussed in the Science article, the United States was second only to Turkey in its rejection of evolution.

Unsurprisingly, the views of Texans in general are not reflected in the views of Texas's scientific community. As a report of a survey of Texas biologists conducted by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund in conjunction with Raymond Eve summarized, "1. Texas scientists (97.7 percent) overwhelmingly reject 'intelligent design' as valid science. 2. Texas science faculty (95 percent) want only evolution taught in science classrooms. 3. Scientists reject teaching the so-called 'weaknesses' of evolution, with 94 percent saying that those arguments are not valid scientific objections to evolution."