But recent polling data suggests that gradual acceptance of the facts may not be the trend when it comes to the theory of evolution. In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans evolved, evolved under the guidance of God, or were created fully formed by God, the percentage of people adhering to the creationist view has actually gone up slightly over time, and now stands at 46 percent of the population. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of public rejection of science.
At the same time, there’s been a steady rise in people who believe that humanity evolved without any supernatural guidance, and now stands at 15 percent. What this seeming conflict suggests is that the issue is getting more polarized, as people feel they either have to pick Team Evolution or Team Creationism.
It turns out that education isn’t enough to fight ignorance, not when it comes to heavily politicized issues like evolutionary theory. As Chris Mooney argues in his book The Republican Brain, political identity generally trumps sober-minded assessment of the facts when it comes to convincing people of an argument or idea. The theory of evolution isn’t being rejected on its merits by the people who don’t buy it. It really can’t be by someone who is honestly assessing the evidence.
The Tea Party has only intensified social pressure on conservative-leaning Americans to shun anything perceived as irreligious or academic. Science has always had a political edge to it, but the culture wars ramped up by the Tea Party have taken the problem to a whole new level.
The past decade-plus have turned science from a mostly politically neutral issue into a heavily partisan one, with Republicans becoming the party of anti-science while Democrats increasingly tout their dedication to research and evidence-based policy. According to a study published in American Sociological Review, since 1974, conservative trust in science has been in a free-fall, declining 25 percent. In 1974, conservatives were the most pro-science group, higher than liberals and moderates. Now they’re the least pro-science group of all, with liberals showing the most trust in science.
People who frequently attend church were the most likely to lose their trust in science, reinforcing the cultural sense that faith precludes acceptance of religious facts.