Acceptance of evolution in Canada.

There seems to be some confusion regarding the level of acceptance of evolution in Canada based on the Angus Reid poll in June 2007. In particular, several people have made the claim that the level of acceptance of this unifying principle of biology is roughly the same in Canada as in the United States. Although the results of the AR poll are disappointing, they do not indicate an equivalence of views between the two nations.

Here are two relevant press releases from Angus Reid:

U.S. Majority Picks Creationism over Evolution (April 25, 2006)

Most Canadians Pick Evolution Over Creationism (June 19, 2007)

It is true that the recent poll suggests that nationally, a disappointingly low majority of 59% of Canadians accept the notion of common descent. However, only 22% accept young earth creationism. In Ontario, the data are especially disheartening, with only 51% of respondents accepting evolution (but still only half as many choosing creationism). In Quebec, 71% accept evolution and only 9% align with creationist ideas. The original report can be accessed here.

The US poll referred to above (by CBS) indicates that 53% of respondents believe that life was created in its current form within the past 10,000 years by God, 23% accept a form of evolution guided by God, and 17% believe in a strictly natural evolutionary account. The questions in the Canadian poll were not broken down in this way, but this poll still indicates that only 40% of Americans accept any form of evolution and 53% believe in a young earth. Other polls give similar results (see Miller et al. 2006, Science 313: 765-766). There is, unsurprisingly, a strong relationship between religiosity, political affiliation, and opinion about evolutionary science.

A more recently conducted Gallup poll gave slightly more promising results than the earlier CBS finding, with 43% choosing young earth creationism, 38% ascribing to theistic evolution, and 14% accepting unguided evolution. This would put the total who accept some form of evolution at 52%, and when asked directly about evolution, 53% of respondents considered it to be either “definitely true” (18%) or “probably true” (35%). However, this encouraging result must be weighed against the fact that when asked directly about young earth creationism, 66% said it was either “definitely true” (39%) or “probably true” (27%). As Gallup put it,

It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.

Clearly, Canada does not rank at the level of nations like Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France, or Japan where public acceptance of evolution is very high (up to 80%), but neither do they fall in the same category as the United States. In particular, what we do not see in Canada, at least based on this single survey, is a high level of acceptance of creationism. Nevertheless, there is much work to do in educating the public in Canada. Most notably, an alarming percentage (42%) believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted despite a majority accepting evolution. In other words, they are right about evolution but rather confused about the details of life’s history. In some ways, this is not surprising, given the countless portrayals of “cavemen” and dinosaurs together in cartoons, movies, and other venues. I would not be surprised if a majority of people also believe that penguins and polar bears cohabitate while accepting the fact of a round Earth with two poles.


Update: see here for the results of a more recent poll.