LONDON (RNS) — The Bible says God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. But less than 10 percent of people in the U.K., including those with religious beliefs, now accept the biblical account of Creation.
According to a new survey published this week, the majority of Britons, including adherents of the major faiths, now accept evolutionary theory.
Even so, 19 percent of religious people in Briton (and 29 percent in Canada) found it somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult to accept evolutionary science.
Yet at the same time that a broad consensus has developed in the U.K. about evolutionary science, significant numbers of British people without religious beliefs and even atheists do not find that evolution provides a satisfactory explanation for the development of human consciousness and the origins of what can be called spiritual aspects of human nature.
The results of the survey by the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society, based at Newman University in Birmingham, and the survey organization YouGov were revealed at the British Science Festival in Brighton, West Sussex, on Tuesday (Sept. 5). It was part of a wider international research project called Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum funded by the Templeton Religion Trust.
Over 4,000 adults in the U.K. and Canada were interviewed for the study, which found:
- 71 percent of U.K. respondents and 60 percent of Canadian respondents accept evolutionary theory regarding the origin of species. These figures include those with religious beliefs.
- Only 9 percent of Britons and 15 percent of Canadians accept the biblical Creation story. This is in stark contrast to a 2015 Pew Research survey that found 34 percent of Americans say humans have always existed in their present form.
- Around 64 percent of adults in the U.K. found it easy to accept evolutionary science as compatible with their personal beliefs; it was lower for Canadian adults at 50 percent.
- Somewhat fewer people with religious beliefs found evolution easy to square with their faith: 53 percent in the U.K. and 41 percent in Canada.
- 1 in 5 U.K. atheists and more than 1 in 3 Canadian atheists were not satisfied with evolutionary theory. Specifically, they agreed that “evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.”
- A larger group – 10 percent of U.K. atheists and 31 percent of Canadian ones – also felt that evolution cannot explain the origins of human beings.
“What these surprising findings highlight for the first time is that concerns about evolutionary science aren’t necessarily based solely on individuals’ religious identity,” said Fern Elsdon-Baker, the study’s principal investigator and the director of the Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project.
“We found a range of people are uncertain of evolutionary science-based explanations for the origin of humans and human consciousness. It appears rejection of or uncertainty about aspects of human evolution is not necessarily an issue of ‘religion versus evolutionary science,’ but an issue of universal questions around what it is to be human and about the human experience that affect all of us, across those of all faiths and none. This fundamentally challenges the way we tend to think about evolution and creationism.”
The survey also showed that individuals struggling to accept evolutionary science as an explanation for the origins of life do not have similar doubts about other fields of science. They overwhelmingly accept science as a reliable source of knowledge.
Those surveyed included Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.
A previous survey of Britons, in 2014, indicated that 19 percent of people believed in the Creation story, suggesting a sizable drop of 10 percentage points in the past three years, although this could be due to different sampling methods.
Elsdon-Baker’s team also reported that the survey revealed many nonbelievers make assumptions about believers and tend to regard them as likely to be creationists.