SAYit Blog
Creation or evolution?

Easter seems like a good time to put out the results of a poll exploring an issue with clear religious connotations - namely, to what extent do New Zealanders believe in creationism versus evolution.  I realise that believing in evolution doesn't necessarily mean you're not religious, and that believing in a God-created universe doesn't necessarily mean that you subscribe to any of the estabilished religions, but religion and creationism are clearly linked.  The poll is from June 2012, and compares New Zealand results with those from an equivalent study in the United States (Gallup, May 2012).

We asked New Zealanders which of the following statements came closest to their views on the origin and development of human beings: 

  • A) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process 
  • B) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process 
  • C) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last ten thousand years or so

To keep the write-up clear, I'll refer to Statement A as 'intelligent design', Statement B​ as 'pure evolution' and Statement C as 'creationism'.  I'm not terribly familiar with the finer details of the 'intelligent design' debate, so I'm not sure if Statement A is exactly what advocates of that theory believe in, but it seems like a reasonable way of summing it up.

EDIT: As I thought, I'm not an expert in this topic :).  Blog reader Chris Banks wrote to me to let me know that the term I should have been using for Statement A is 'theistic evolution'.  He says that "Intelligent Design is a school of thought which, in regards to evolution, holds that the appearance of complexity in nature cannot be explained through natural causes, instead requiring the intervention of a designer."  I really appreciate that contribution, and agree that that definition of Intelligent Design is clearly different from the literal interpretation of Statement A.  On the other hand, a number of the comments on the blog suggest that people were interpreting Statement A pretty much in line with the definition of Intelligent Design Chris gave me - it seems to me that some people chose Statement A because they believed the general principle of Intelligent Design even if, as Chris said, it's "not generally considered to be compatible with evolutionary theory.  Katrin Schwartz makes the same point in the comments - thank you Katrin too.  I checked Chris and Katrin's feedback on theistic evolution, and it does look like they're right.  Check, for example, these articles: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/te2-cr.htm and http://ncse.com/creationism/general/creationevolution-continuum.  I think it's important to keep the original text intact however as it shows the context of the comments - I'll therefore just add 'theistic evolution' after most of the earlier references to 'intelligent design'.    

The numbers show that, amongst New Zealanders:

  • 26% believe in 'intelligent design' (edit: 'theistic evolution')
  • 45% believe in 'pure evolution'
  • 23% believe in 'creationism'
  • 6% are unsure.

As you might expect, the American numbers are quite different:

  • 32% of Americans believe in 'intelligent design' (edit: 'theistic evolution')
  • 15% believe in 'pure evolution'
  • 46% believe in 'creationism'
  • 7% are unsure.

So three times as many New Zealanders believe in 'pure evolution', and twice as many Americans believe in 'creationism'.  

49% of New Zealanders believe in some level of involvement by God (either 'intelligent design' (edit: 'theistic evolution') or 'creation'), compared with 78% of Americans.  That's almost certainly related to the fact that 61% of New Zealanders believe in God (UMR SAYit poll, Sept 2011), compared with 92% of Americans (Gallup poll, May 2011).

In both countries, a belief in 'pure evolution' is related to education, although it makes less of a difference in New Zealand than it does in the US:

  • 49% of New Zealanders with a university qualification believe in 'pure evolution', as do 29% of Americans with a university qualification.
  • 41% of New Zealanders whose highest qualification is from high school believe in 'pure evolution', as do 11% of Americans whose highest qualification is from high school.

It's also interesting to note that, in New Zealand, belief in 'pure evolution' is highest amongst 30-44 year olds, with under 30 year olds being the most likely to believe in creationism. 

  • 18-29 year olds: 28% 'intelligent design', 39% 'pure evolution' and 28% 'creationism'
  • 30-44 year olds: 25% 'intelligent design', 51% 'pure evolution' and 19% 'creationism'
  • 45-59 year olds: 28% 'intelligent design', 46% 'pure evolution' and 21% 'creationism'
  • Over 60 year olds: 23% 'intelligent design', 43% 'pure evolution' and 24% 'creationism'

EDIT: Again, feel free to replace 'intelligent design' above with 'theistic evolution'.  

All results in this blog are based on a survey of a representative sample of n=750 New Zealanders aged 18 years or older, conducted by UMR Research in June 2012.