The numbers are mostly steady over the last 30 years, which also has some significance in my opinion.
Of particular note, are the evolution numbers. 46% of Americans believe that God created the world within the last 10,000 years. 15% believe that humans evolved and God played no role in the process. 32% believe that Humans evolved and God guided the process.
Here’s the thing. Science has basically accepted that evolution exists. The 46% that basically deny evolution completely are doing so in direct opposition to logical, rational, evidence-based, thinking.
I am NOT referring to the group that believes that evolution is a mechanism used by God. Those people are reconciling their beliefs with science. Whether it “works” or not is a separate discussion. I am only referring to the 46% who flat out disagree with science on the question of evolution.
How does this happen?
An article in the New Yorker explains some of the science behind the rejection of science. Turns out that we are deeply embedded beliefs based on what we might call common sense. When science contradicts common sense, even when we know that the science is correct, our brains try to push us in the direction of common sense. It takes effort for our brains to choose what we know to be true when it contradicts our perception of what “makes sense”.
Evolution is not something that our brains are comfortable with. It is a difficult thing for us to accept. Common sense does not favor evolution. It is only though research and advanced scientific tools that evolution becomes the reasonable choice.
Even ideas that have 99% acceptance rates work this way. For example, almost everyone agrees that the earth goes around the sun. But common sense says that the sun goes around the earth. The ancients believed that the sun went around the earth and only recently has science proved this to be false. Now we all know that the earth goes around the sun. Yet, when measuring specific brain activity levels, it can be demonstrated that we have a hard time convincing our brains that this is the truth.
This explains the discomfort we feel due to cognitive dissonance. Your brain literally wants to use common sense and it takes effort to follow logic and reason.
What does this all mean? It means that we are preprogrammed to favor common sense. It takes work to override that default position. Sometimes common sense is right but other times it is not right. The greatest tool we have in overriding our default settings is education. The more we know and the more we process new information, the more our brains accept changes to their programming.
When it comes to religious beliefs, even within those who believe in God and are religious there are some more common sense or folksy beliefs that come natural to people. Many of these beliefs are not essential and may even be wrong. But people cling to their folk beliefs despite evidence to the contrary – even within their own religious texts and writings.
This is why Maimonidean Rationalism failed. It takes too much work to deprogram the common sense beliefs in mysticism for it to work for the masses. It’s been 900 years already and it still isn’t catching on. Perhaps with new evidence and more information, it will catch on. I sure hope it does.