From the Guardian
Science vs superstition, not science vs religion
We are not going to understand the growth of creationism in modern England so long as we think of it as a primarily Christian phenomenon, or even a religious one. Take a look at the most recent surveys of creationist belief among teachers and among the general public. One was conducted by Theos, the Christian thinktank, and has been attacked by the BHA – more of this later – and the other measured attitudes towards creationism among school teachers.
That found that nearly a third of teachers with science as a specialism saw nothing wrong with teaching creationism in class. Now, I have only come across one school where an open attempt was made to do this – the notorious Emmanuel Academy in Gateshead. But the headmaster there told me, and I have no reason to doubt this, that although he was himself an evangelical Christian, the impulse towards creationism in science classes had come from Muslim parents.
So, does this prove that the problem is simply one of religion versus science? Not if the BHA is right about the decline of religious observance. Their most recent press release claims that less than 10% of the British population is religiously observant. But the figures for the rejection of evolution produced in the latest Theos survey completely dwarf the most generous estimates for religious observance.
A third of the population think that God created the world some time in the last 10,000 years; this is more than 10 times the number of Muslims in Britain, assuming they are all creationists, which of course they aren't. It is also more than 10 times the most generous estimate for the the fundamentalist Christian population here. The figure only make sense on the basis that much of the population has abandoned both science and organised religion, and plunged back onto a swamp of superstition.
There are huge differences between organised religions and disorganised credulity and if we care about truth we should recognise them. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are much clearer about the truth of evolution than the general public.
However, it is in the small print of the Theos survey that the real news is found. This is upsetting to any believers in the spread of scientific knowledge, whether they are religious or not. When the answers are broken down by age, it turns out that anyone who went to school in the 30 years since The Selfish Gene was published is less likely to believe in evolution than those who emerged from school earlier. The older you are, the more likely you are to be scientifically literate.
Take the question of the age of the earth: 28% of respondents between the ages of 55 and 64 think it is less than 10,000 years old. This is a jaw-dropping figure, but when you look at people who have more recently emerged from school, 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds think that it is probably or definitely true that the earth is so young.
When the question of intelligent design is raised – and this is one thing which evolutionary biology completely rules out – it turns out that 60% of the young adults believe in it to a greater or lesser extent, as opposed to 50% of those between 55 and 64.
The most obvious thing about these figures – if you have spent time with the statistics of church attendance – is that the age groups where belief in science is weakest are also those where religious observance is almost unknown. In middle age, and later, when church attendance resumes, there is an uptick in belief in evolution. I don't know if there is a causation here or simply a correlation. What there clearly isn't is a pattern where increasing religious belief diminishes scientific understanding.
In any case, these statistics would be good if they could promote thought as well as anxiety. Perhaps there are science teachers reading this who could cast light on the question.