The evolution of man

Religion drives skepticism about evolution, but not climate change

(RNS) While rejection of evolution is strongly associated with Americans' religiosity, the same is not true of climate change.

That's the conclusion of a new study that sought to test popular assumptions about the link between religion and anti-science attitudes, and determine whether that link holds true for people's views on both evolution and climate change.

Diane Howard Ecklund, the Hebert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University. She and her colleagues recently published a study on how religious views relate to skepticism and climate change and evolution. Credit: Rice University

Elaine Howard Ecklund is a sociologist at Rice University. She and her colleagues recently published a study on how religious views relate to skepticism and climate change and evolution. Credit: Rice University

In a recent edition of the journal Environment and Behavior, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and her colleagues write that while religious views drive Americans' rejection of evolution, skepticism about climate change is more a function of political views and lack of confidence in the work of scientists.

The exception to this finding is evangelical Protestants.

"(I)f we compare two politically conservative individuals, one of whom holds a creationist view and the other who does not, there is no reason to predict that the former would be more likely to be a climate change skeptic, unless the individual is an Evangelical Protestant," the study concludes.

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Overall, 20 percent of the U.S. population is skeptical that climate change is occurring or that humans have a role in it. That compares to the 45 percent of Americans who consider evolution probably or definitely false, according to the study.

READ: Religious environmentalists gird themselves for a Trump presidency

The researchers rely on a national survey of more than 9,500 Americans that asked about their religion, the frequency with which they attend religious services, their views of evolution and climate change, and their political and other beliefs.

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The authors conclude that to inspire more public confidence in climate change research, scientists and journalists should "de-couple" skepticism about climate change and evolution. And they advise greater attention on how an interest and confidence in science can lead to more informed views on climate change.

The authors also encourage scientists and science policy experts to enlist religious leaders in deepening the faithful's appreciation for science education.


  1. “The authors also encourage scientists and science policy experts to
    enlist religious leaders in deepening the faithful’s appreciation for
    science education.” No kidding.

  2. Gee, I wonder why?? Is it MAYBE because while some religious people have a belief in literal creation myths that contradict evolution (or, rather, contradict abiogenesis if we’re being picky), LITERALLY NO RELIGION EXISTING has a stance on whether or not the earth is warming??

    Why do I feel like half of RNS’s stories are “THIS JUST IN, Sky shown to be Blue in Color!!”??

    No DUH religion doesn’t drive skepticism on climate change, that’s because religions don’t typically have established dogma on the topic. Other than, I don’t know, maybe the Asatruar belief in Fimbulwinter, no belief in any religion goes specifically for or against the narrative of man made global warming. Fimbulwinter is literally ALL I can think of, and even then it’s stretching it to find a conflict between any religious dogma and climate change dogma.

  3. “lack of confidence in the work of scientists.”

    I think you mean statisticians.

  4. No DUH religion doesn’t drive skepticism on climate change, that’s because religions don’t typically have established dogma on the topic.

    On the other hand, what is one major prediction of climate change? Rising sea levels, more flooding. What did Elohim promise not to do after Noah’s Flood? He promised never to destroy life by water ever again. (See Gen. 9:11.) So, a literal interpretation of Genesis would also seem to militate against some of the predictions of climate change models.

  5. Because lying about ones faith and trying to browbeat others into accepting their belief isn’t part of climate change denial.

    Climate change denial is mostly ignorance, hostility to environmental issues, with a healthy dollop of intentional misinformation by the fossil fuel industry.

  6. Nobody really takes the Bible literally. They take proof texting of it literally to justify a ridiculous position to pretend it is unassailable as God’s word.

  7. Surfers have been known to take the Bible littorally.

  8. When one asks basic questions about evolution and how its supposed to work you get either ignored or you’re mocked for even asking such questions, Never any real answers except to “give us time” which explains nothing.

  9. I think Prof. Ecklund has a too rosy view of the reasons people accept/reject ideas. Now, I happen to think religion is no obstacle to science literacy, and religion & science aren’t inherently in conflict. However, the emotional investment people have in their religious commitments certainly affects their willingness to accept an idea or reject it. Same with politics. Moreover, our human tendency to seek information that affirms our basic beliefs (i.e., confirmation bias) and reject information that doesn’t, plus our capacity for compartmentalization, influences the decisions we make about the ideas we’re presented with.

    Bottom line: In my personal experience, people rarely engage fully with ideas they fear or that seem to threaten their basic beliefs about how the world works. A religious person is unlikely to even consider the possibility that evolution is a scientifically valid theory if they perceive acceptance as reflecting some kind of disloyalty to the word of their god, or if they believe that belief in evolution is the gateway to moral decay. So, if religious leaders want to promote science & science education among their constituents (not a new idea at all, by the way), they will best serve this cause by decoupling the moral belief system they teach from the science they want to promote.

  10. I always thought the opposition to GW was from the fossil fuel people, for obvious reasons, foisted on paid politicians who spread the fear of economic ruin if the US expended the money and effort, picked up and pushed by the pundits, like at Fox news, as a plan by liberals and tree huggers (natural enemies) and believed by ignorant conservatives who hear it so often. Many religionists fall into the ignorant conservative category. Also in play is the belief of some religionists that god gave man domain over the Earth’s flora, fauna and natural resources and he won’t let the climate get out if hand.

  11. I spent too many years here in the Bible Belt to know you are wrong. Read Pew and other surveys and you will many who sincerely take it literally.

  12. I question of the validity of surveys conducted by academicians (or anyone else for that matter); surveys seem to rarely have an objective end. My doubt is reinforced by the supposition that the size of the sample is typically too small to demonstrate an accurate insight to what people believe in common on a macro level. Surveys are often skewed by the composition of the questions asked, when that happens one should arch an eyebrow, or peer over one’s eyeglasses at the author of the survey in a skeptical manner.

  13. I have been told that we have nothing to fear as God won’t allow us to destroy the earth. We can treat our planet with all the disrespect we can imagine, the planet will survive and us upon it.

    How do they know?

    Because Jesus is coming back and that means that there will be a populated world for him to return to. We skeptics are so, so stupid!

  14. They will sincerely tell me they take it literally. It is comforting to express such a belief. But in practice it isn’t true or even possible given the nature of the text.

  15. There is another interpretation: Evangelical Protestantism in the United States has become more a political ideology than a religious belief system.

  16. It has when church organizations, leaders and lay people use political organizations to advance their views and attempt to change laws collectively instead of each christian privately voting his conscience. How are they different from Islamists who want to peacefully and legally introduce Sharia law to the Democratic countries into which they have immigrated?

  17. And if they are honest and allow any dialogue, those religious leaders will find that their parishioners who possess any decent critical thinking skills will give balance to the debate between scientists who agree and disagree on climate change. There are several gradations of skepticism about this, as with any piece of religious dogma. Climate change is far from a settled science, except for those rent-seekers who depend on government money for their livelihood. Global warming is our fastest growing secular religion, whose adherents take these absolute positions on faith!

  18. “Climate change is far from a settled science, except for those
    rent-seekers who depend on government money for their livelihood.”

    That hardly sounds like an objective form of skepticism or evaluation on the subject. I hardly would call NASA a biased source on the subject.

    “Global warming is our fastest growing secular religion, whose adherents take these absolute positions on faith!”

    Funny thing is that Creationists call acceptance of evolution the same thing. Both are dead wrong have more to do with projection of their own positions than reality. Scientific consensus is not something ever built on a position of faith.

  19. “On the other hand, what is one major prediction of climate change? Rising sea levels, more flooding.”

    Yeah, but even the most gung-ho, passionate advocate of climate change doesn’t think the ENTIRE world will be flooded. Even the most doom-foreboding models think that threats to most coastal areas are at least 100 years off.

    Therefore, a belief in the flood story cannot be said to be against the dogma of climate change.

  20. Sorry, floydlee, a university science department website beats self published dishonestly titled religious website in terms of credibility.

  21. The scientific evidence that the climate is warming, that it is mostly caused by human activity (e.g., emissions of CO2), and that there is a significant risk to the planet, species, the economy, and human society is incontrovertible per statements by the national academies of all the developed countries, nearly every national and international science organization (e.g., AAAS, AMS, AGU, API, national academies worldwide). How would you guess the scientific expertise of any poster on this forum compares with that of the members of these organizations? Are you or anyone else on this forum more knowledgeable than the members of these organizations?

    Of course, you could propose a conspiracy of scientists (all scientists, no only climate scientists) worldwide.

  22. Have you noticed that those NASA folks live off the government, and owe their future promotions to fealty to the “company position?!”

    I didn’t mention evolution anywhere here. Scientific concensus is hard to build because there are just too many smart, well-read people who just can’t agree on the “facts!”

  23. Impossibility is no barrier when a person proposes an all powerful god that can cause phenomena that violate the natural laws.

  24. Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt. Better to learn what the theory of evolution actually is, and what scientists actually say about it. Cdesign proponentsists are notorious for indulging in motivated reasoning, misrepresentation, and irrelevance to score points with their audiences. And it works. As I wrote in another comment, people don’t like engaging with ideas they find uncomfortable, and far too many treat scripture as if it is meant to serve as a science textbook as well as a guide to relating to their god.

  25. “Global warming is our fastest growing secular religion, whose adherents take these absolute positions on faith!” No. First of all, science doesn’t take “absolute positions” on anything. Everything is provisional and can be either refined or revised based on new evidence. Second, science is not based on “faith”. It is based on evidence. Which is why science is not a religion. I can’t remember who said it it, but this is apt: “Religious claims debunked by science: lots. Scientific claims debunked by religion: none.”

  26. So scientists can’t make a living? There’s a very good reason the government isn’t paying various religious leaders to go in a room and pray about climate change until they come up with an answer.

  27. LOL! They ARE the government. Climate science appears to be the best use of their resources now that our space program has been outsourced to private parties and Russia.

    “I didn’t mention evolution anywhere here.”

    You are correct. You didn’t. But you employed an argument seen by Creationists all the time. Characterizing something which is established by scientific consensus as requiring faith which is not.

    ” Scientific concensus is hard to build because there are just too many
    smart, well-read people who just can’t agree on the “facts!”

    Yet it happens. There is an entire process devoted to both building or knocking it down.

  28. Many self-identified Christians have no problem with the”Big Bang” and the scientific theory of evolution. Are they the “better” Christians?

    That depends, I suggest, on whether said Christian is attempting to follow the examples and teachings of the Christ, as allegedly recounted in the Gospels, or whether they see the complete Bible as the basis for their religious belief.

    If the entire Bible is taken as the inerrant word of God it is unreasonable to accept any argument which is not supported by Biblical text, whatever the evidence exposes. This might be considered “hard Christianity” and would preclude ideas such as evolution whilst being (directly at least) silent on climate change.
    The problem for those Christians who know the whole Bible is that its contradictions and errors of fact mean that they either simply pick-and-mix the bits that fit their preferences or they downgrade the Bible to what it actually is, a collection of writings intended to encourage particular views at particular times. Such people will think discussion about Creation myths/the Flood/David and Goliath/the trip to Bethlehem and the Book of Revelation as irrelevant to the vague spiritual “truths” they proclaim. This might be referred to as “soft Christianity”.

    Either way I disagree with your view that science and Christianity are not mutually incompatible. I do this on two grounds.

    1 – in my experience the believer (not necessarily Christian) is unable to accept any conclusion which is incompatible with their belief. This, in most cases, leads to a situation in which the answer is circumscribed and the argument consists of attempts to justify a route to the preferred outcome which somehow connects with the original question. This is fundamentally at odds with the scientific method’s process of question, evidence, conclusion, test, modify if necessary.

    One seeks to go from start to finish, the other from finish to start.

    2 – Most religion is first and foremost about saving one’s imagined soul/qualifying for heaven before worrying too much about moral questions. Indeed, the requirement to evangelise is so demanding that morality is seen as a variable tool, hence the practice of “lying for jesus” is not only not immoral, it is somehow sanctified. There is a video on YouTube of WLC claiming that morality happens when someone merely does what god (presumably his god) tells that person to do. (If I recall accurately it’s WLC’s way of justifying genocide).

    For clarity, I fully accept that there are many good people who are religious, just as many non-religious are good. Being good is not the priority for most Christians, it is an expected (perhaps assumed without brooking argument by some) consequence. Many Christians (as with many non-Christians) are not good.

    Non-religious people may also be self-centred of course, but concepts such as Humanism are concerned with morality first.

    Religions tend to encourage the belief that humans are the next best thing to God and that their god made the world for us/gave it to us. Science suggests that this is silly, that the universe (including the world and all that is within it) is a rational continuum resulting from prior events.

    Religion says that humanity is the reason for the narrative, Science says we are a consequence of it.

    Just my twopennyworth.

  29. There isn’t a single article on today’s lineup of ENV articles that you are personally able to refute, either via rational argument or via science. You are hereby defeated !!

  30. See response to Spuds. By the way, I’ve “been there done that” with your Berkeley website likewise.

    It’s okay for learning the basic snake-oil sales-pitch of evolution, but they obviously leave out the fine-print and the boo-boo, lest they scare away their audience!

  31. There is not a single article there which can be taken at face value as being true. No rational or scientific arguments are being posited there in a manner which can be deemed objective or credible. The University of California-Berkeley is far more believable a source. Lacking both the incentive to lie (which Creationists have an abundance of) and a need to keep some level of academic integrity (which Creationists do not have).

    For your next trick you will ask me to refute the articles of a weekly tabloid!

  32. No you haven’t.

    Everyone here remarks how badly you describe evolution and misinterpret it.

    You fire off some silly untrue remarks about it and give us your opinion. But I have yet to see anything from you which shows and understanding or desire to learn about it.

  33. Taking it from the top…

    For what it’s worth, I try to avoid value judgments regarding how well qualified a believer must be to be considered sincere, good, or true in the context of their religion. For one thing, I’m in no position to judge whether someone is good or bad at adhering to a given religion or belief system. For another, such judgments are really only relevant to adherents. They’re the ones interested in being true to their faith, not I. Moreover, such judgments constitute a variation on the No True Scotsman fallacy, wherein the only True(TM) believer is one that does (or believes) thus and so.

    In terms of inerrancy, there is no contradiction between being an inerrantist while accepting extra-biblical teaching about how the world works (i.e., science). Yes, most people tend to associate inerrancy with literalism, and yes, they are often found together in the same believer, but really these are two separate concepts. I know believers who consider the Bible to be inerrant and infallible, but see no contradiction in regarding the creation narrative as metaphorical. To them, the creation narrative isn’t essential to their salvation, and they don’t have a problem accepting evolution, leaving no basis for further argument on that issue.

    As for your first numbered point, we mostly agree, but I do need to clarify. It has also been my experience that many average believers aren’t often willing to consider conclusions they think are incompatible with their belief system. I said as much in the second paragraph. Yes, this leads to all sorts of mental gymnastics. However, the mere holding of such beliefs does not preclude a believer from becoming a great scientist, discovering how the world works while simultaneously hanging on to some otherwise dubious ideas about why. Newton, Lemaître, Dobzhansky, Miller, and Collins are a few examples that come immediately to mind.

    Regarding your second numbered point, again, I agree with your basic sentiments. However, I want to add that morality and ethics are messy subjects at the best of times, and actually morality IS a variable tool in the hands of any human being, the only moral agents we can interact with. Furthermore, while you & I might be disgusted by WLC’s embrace of the Divine Command theory of morality, it is actually considered major theory of morality in the field of ethics (i.e., the study of morality). Our distaste for it has nothing whatsoever to do with its validity or lack thereof. More to your point, is there some intrinsic moral wrong with evangelism (no, I don’t care for it either; it’s highly intrusive and presumptuous at best)? Or with lying, for that matter (I think we can agree that, in general, sometimes it’s okay to lie, but other times it’s not)? And finally, what does any of this have to do with the rejection of science by religious believers?

    As for “being good” not being a priority for Christians, I strongly disagree. Most are intensely interested in being good in accordance with their beliefs. Most even want to do right by other people. Yes, the way they sometimes go about doing “good” leads to ugliness, but as has been said many, many times, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. At any rate, it doesn’t serve your argument to make such a sweeping generalization.

    Wrapping up, no, science does not say religious belief is silly. You do. I do. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett and many more besides did and do say the same. Yes, science is the best tool we have for uncovering how the world works, and it’s been remarkably successful. And yes, it is relevant when a scripture or religious believer asserts something that doesn’t match with evidence. In fact, I go with Hitch on this: that which can be asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence. But, and this is a big caveat, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the reason(s) religious believers accept/reject a given theory.

    There’s a lot more I could add, but who wants to read more of my nuttery anyway? To re-phrase the point I was originally trying to make: People are irrational. We believe all sorts of crazy things out of our need for emotional security. Religious leaders can work to help their constituents by addressing their concerns about science directly in terms of how they relate to people’s faith commitments.

  34. Well, floyd, I’ll wager you can’t personally refute any article published by the Weekly World News either, so there!

    Good grief…

  35. “How are they different from Islamists who want to peacefully and legally
    introduce Sharia law to the Democratic countries into which they have

    There is far more evidence of the actions of the Evangelical Protestants than the Islamicists.

    There are a lot of very unreliable sources on the subject. At best I have seen efforts in the US and UK at using Sharia as a voluntary form of arbitration forum for civil disputes. Not any different from how Rabbinical courts are used here.

    In countries with far less democratic governments, Sharia Law becomes an alternative avenue for mayhem, corruption and oppression from the government ones. [Not much different from secular courts in such countries]

  36. Like the surveys, your reasoning is an overly broad generalization of “evangelicals” as a “class.” Your concept of evangelicals and other religious people as having a “lack of necessary imagination” is a no more objective observation than my own with regard to the validity of surveys as a means of accurately determining what people really think. My skepticism is directed towards a methodology, yours is directed towards a class of people you disdain. There’s a substantive difference.

  37. In other words, if evangelical leaders do the same thing that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the black churches did, that’s the same as Islamists seeking to introduce Sharia Law into the United States.


  38. Oh please, Spuddie. At this point you’re just out of gas, especially if your science background isn’t even sufficient to handle popular-level Evolution News and Views articles.

  39. “I know believers who consider the Bible to be inerrant and infallible, but see no contradiction in regarding the creation narrative as metaphorical.”

    But dollars to doughnuts you strictly avoid asking them to explain specifically how they can rationally justify holding both claims at the same time. Otherwise you might cause stress and not get an explanation.

    (Of course, “cognitive dissonance” is a reasonable explanation, but I bet none of your acquaintances are offering THAT one!)

  40. Out of gas? you brought a spork to a sabre duel and wonder why people are laughing.

    “Popular level” meaning written by people with no expertise to speak of. Pandering to an audience which is not known for honesty.

  41. I don’t “strictly avoid” asking them to explain anything. I’m simply not interested unless they want to say Genesis is scientifically sound. I’m quite sure you take issue with their views, but that’s your business. I don’t care one way or another which of you thinks who the “better” believer in the context of your belief system.

  42. Thank you for your considered and thought-provoking response.

    You noted that I put my initial use of the word better in quotation marks – I was trying to indicate that I’ve frequently encountered Christians who think themselves superior to others who claim the label, even, as I’m sure you’re aware, to the point of denying the validity of the description to those who disagree with them. Better in their own eyes, not in mine.

    Your experience of Christians is clearly different, and perhaps more broadly-based than mine.

    Within the areas I’ve encountered, 1950s CofE Evangelistic, 1960s Baptist (UK style), Happy-clappy CofE and American “Baptist” (all they would admit to!) relatives of today there seems to be a lack of concern about doing what is “good”. The primary concern is with the salvation of their soul; there seems to be an unquestionable understanding that once the sinner’s prayer has been said one becomes (through the infusion of the Holy Ghost) both a heaven-bound Christian and a “good” person. My mother died convinced that we will meet in heaven, albeit I shall be the short-trousered, Dumbo-eared eight year old I was when I uttered the magic phrases.

    The second concern of the Baptists appears to be the need aggressively to fail to save me! It’s fascinating actually, they know that people who claim to speak in tongues are faking it because the ability died with the Apostles! And they send me 1960s Moody tracts and expect that reading “Mere Christianity” will lead to my conversion (I’ve bought them a copy of “The God Delusion” and will suggest they read that in the same spirit as they expected me to read CSL). It won’t change their beliefs but it might stop the bombardment (?)

    I feel I ought to comment on your “People are irrational”. We certainly appear to be so, but I wonder if that is due to the complexity of the influences (both nature and nurture) which assault us constantly. Is it possible that, as perhaps with weather, if we could build a system which collected every scrap of the relevant data and could analyse it in real time we could know why things happen the way they do? I can’t see how it could ever happen, but I do wonder if, despite wanting to see ourselves as actors upon the world stage we are, in reality, merely reactors.

  43. Individuals with religious views are in situation that can’t deny evolution especially due the role of antibiotic resistance which occur due the evolution ,however they don’t mind to accept Micro-evolution “evolution for short scale” like changes in gene frequency in a population and they reject the macro-evolution which means the rose of new species from common ancestor , really cant believe why they can be bias and accept half the truth . For the climate change , they think CO2 of the green house gas will not be able to change the climate ,and the rest are propaganda from Al Gore .

  44. or from people who look at the data and draw a different conclusion than you. since factually “global warming” isn’t man made. please keep your green religion to yourself thank you….

  45. OR…people look at the data and draw a different conclusion than those of you in the GREEN RELIGION….the green is the old red

  46. obviously you never read the Bible…sure you give off a cocky aroma of being one of the literati of the land, but you truly demonstrate a lack of knowledge of what you are trying to say

  47. Based on reading comments, RNS isn’t a “religion” news service, rather an agnostic news service.

  48. Spoken like someone who doesn’t read the Bible. Just proof texts it for the parts they can use. You sound like someone who has conceded the argument on its merits and decided to make a personal attack rather than a rebuttal.

  49. There is no such thing as an Evolutionist.

    Evolution is not believed. It is accepted based on the evidence and scientific methodologies it employed. If a better theory comes along with stronger evidence, it will be supplanted.

    Creationism on the other hand is not really a belief either. It is merely an argument mode used to pretend a certain sectarian Fundamentalist Protestant religious belief must be accepted as something objective. There is far too much dishonesty in Creationist arguments to make the claim that it is a sincere belief as much as it is a tactic to be used.

    Creationism requires its proponents to lie about the nature of their own religious faith and cough up any kind of spurious arguments to support their position. It is never about establishing objective methods or arguments but employing whatever means gets one to a foregone conclusion. The nexus of dishonesty and religion. Creationism cheapens religion as it attacks science.

  50. Spoken like someone unfamiliar with scientific methods and how experts come to conclusions based on the evidence. Calling something you don’t agree with a religion doesn’t make it so.

    The people you are claiming who are looking at the data to draw a different conclusion have a nasty habit of demonstrating clear incentives not to be entirely forthcoming or accurate in their support. Consensus in a scientific community requires looking at the entirety of opinions and evidentiary support of a subject. Something you do not appear to understand.

    “the green is the old red”

    The old, lets pretend amateurs, liars and shills are experts. Climate change deniers use the same tactics as Creationists. Go figure.

  51. “you must be a lib

    You must be an 1diot. Scientific consensus is not a matter of political alignment. Its a matter of evidence.

  52. Evangelical Protestantism of the 21 Century has been compared to the Amish movement of the 1800s, when those conservative Christians rejected the advances of the Industrial Revolution. Replacing horses with steam engines was a bridge too far. Now for Evangelical Protestants, getting rid of their deep-set social prejudices is the bridge too far. They want us all back in the 1950s when minorities were under foot and LGBT were all in jail or getting their brains scrambled.

  53. Perhaps that is why some people refer to Evangelicals as “Tali-Baptists” and “Jesus Jihadists.” That comparison does not serve Evangelicals well. And not all Muslims are intrusive bad neighbors. In my California community, we have one large mosque, two Sikh temples, one Hindu temple, two Mormon churches, one Roman Catholic church, one each of the mainstream Protestant churches, and dozens of Evangelical Churches. Guess which religion is the most intrusive in everyone else’s lives in my neck of the woods. If you picked the Muslims, you would be wrong.

  54. Blindness consists of being unable to see what is. Being unable to see what isn’t is called rationality.

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