Millennials turn away from Creationism

When I was younger dealing with Creationists was something I had to do as a matter of course. Like many members of “Generation X” I haunted Usenet groups in the 1990s where the “evolution-creation” debate raged, always defending the consensus science from detractors. Even in the early years of this weblog, we tackled Creationists now and then. It was something you had to do.

But over the past decade or so there has been a change in the air. American society has become more secular, and religious conservatives do not wield as much power. Acceptance of evolution has been increasing, simply due to secularization. Books like The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, seem to be artifacts of the 20th century, dealing with the concerns of a bygone age.

This is on my mind because recently I happened to read a positive review of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. I haven’t read a piece of apologia for Intelligent design since the 2000s, and it’s rather strange because we have so much data now due to genomics. Many of the old arguments that Intelligent Design advocates deploy ring hollow and theoretical because the data refute them. People like David Klinghoffer are beneath notice.

It is true that a minority of the population rejects evolution on cultural grounds. But as with the rejection of gay marriage, the broader society has moved on to other concerns. “Darwin’s enemies on the Left” are far more vocal and powerful than those on the Right. I can’t imagine an organ of mainstream secular conservatism such as The Weekly Standard publishing something like Evolutionary Psychology and Its True Believers today. At the time it struck me as a coalitional sop to evangelicals.

To explore the demographics of this situation more closely, I took the General Social Survey, looked at the EVOLVED variable from the year 2010 and later. This question asks respondents if they think “humans developed from animals.” It’s true or false, so I’m presenting the results for “true.”

What is immediately clear is that a move away from the special creation of human beings, as opposed to common descent, is occurring among most demographics among Millennials. Even self-described “fundamentalists” show a shift from older generations to Millennials!

General Social Survey Responds who believe that “Humans Developed From Animals” 2010 and later
SilentBoomersGen XMillennials
Full sample46525563
Non-Hispanic Whites47555865
“Know God Exists”31343742
“No Religion”71828082
Bible = Word of God27263038
Bible = Inspired Word of God50575763
Religious Fundamentalist20202542

22 thoughts on “Millennials turn away from Creationism

  1. Dad’s a creationist convert (boomer), so’s one of my cousins (gen-x). They used to be quite vocal and argumentative, but not anymore even though their views haven’t changed. They haven’t said so, but I think it’s because it’s not a publicly acceptable position to hold in Toronto anymore.
    It’s like admitting you’re a global warming denier, anti-trans, pro-life, or anti-immigration. A good way to get your car keyed.
    Outside Toronto it’s a different culture though.

  2. I’m a Catholic and a “creationist,” but perhaps Mr. Khan’s definition of creationism is narrower than mine. Some might call my view “theistic evolutionism.”

  3. twinkie, i’m using ‘creationist’ as someone who rejects common descent and ‘macroevolution.’

    since r. a. fisher was anglican presumably he was a ‘theistic evolutionist’

  4. @Jason — I remember back in 2009 it seemed like a good idea for Charles McVety and his crowd to picket the ROM’s Charles Darwin bicentennial exhibit (the ROM is one of Canada’s flagship museums). His argument was that there was a direct line between Darwin and the atrocities of the mid-20th century.

    It’s hard to imagine that happening now.

  5. I’ve noticed a paradox on the right. The alt-right is largely rooted in the notion that there are differences in cognitive and executive function performances between races. Yet many of them would identify as “creationists”. It seems to me you can’t have HBD without evolution.

  6. Encouraging, although hearts and minds change their beliefs in the face of credible information painfully slowly, about 1/4 of a percentage point per year of change in birthdate.

    It is surprising that the numbers are so low in the West relative to the Northeast, as generally, those regions tend to be comparable in secularism. Is this a function of the West having a lot of Mormons?

  7. Is this a function of the West having a lot of Mormons?

    inland west is diff. also, west coast is polarized. way more secular than northeast. but . often often more evangelicals too.

  8. Abelard: I don’t think the AR believes in creationism that much. Prob less than standard conservatives do but more than the population as a whole. There are Christian reactionaries who strongly believe in creation, but not too many.

    Nor does HBD require evolution. The same genome will cause differences in cognitive behavior regardless of how it got that way.

    Lastly, although the AR strongly believes in HBD, the real core belief is group identity regardless of average genetic differences. “Identity politics for all or none”.

  9. Well, the Alt Right is stupider than average, as are the religious, so they are constantly losing arguments – as in, losing more arguments than they win – and consequently, losing supporters.

    This is why I believe liberalism will triumph completely in the end, unless espousing liberalism becomes too evolutionarily detrimental. That’s actually happening, to some extent, with nationalists and esp. the religious reproducing more successfully, but evidently not doing so fast enough to keep up with higher IQ liberals winning the arguments. (Israel might be an exception).

    In times of yore, a barbarian nudist horde would have ransacked San Francisco, put it to the sword and fire, stormed the wine bars that once hosted tasteful banter. But they’re no longer around to put exercise an evolutionary check on runaway liberalism either.

  10. the Alt Right is stupider than average, as are the religious

    The difference between the two, though, is that the latter have more social cohesion than the former, by far, and more so than liberals as well. That cohesion also allows the religious to leverage its smart fraction better in a fight.

    High IQ is nice, but high cohesion often beats high IQ when the shooting starts. If there is some sort of a mass social disturbance/disruption near where I live, I wouldn’t be worried about the high IQ liberals, but the local Hispanic gangs.

  11. Yet many of them would identify as “creationists”.

    On the contrary, it’s civic nationalists (including I) who tend to be more religious (Christian). Alt-right strikes me as atheistic or pagan (Odinism and such).

  12. Joe,

    I think quite the opposite. The existence of group differences (e.g. HBD) does, in fact, require evolution because it is the process of evolution (adaptation to specific environmental conditions over many generations) that creates such group differences in the first place.


    I think the determining issue is not IQ, but laziness. For example, I consider the reality test for the AR is their ability to create new platforms. The hardware and software tools today should make the creation of new platforms relatively simple compared to, say, 1995. Will they rise to the challenge? or are they too lazy to do so?

    The AR rising to this challenge IS the real world test of whether they are for real or not.

  13. It seems to me to that in the recent past, like the 90’s, lots of people who one might say were more interested in atheism rather than evolution spread the idea that if evolution was true, then atheism. This notion is really, really, wrong, but I’d say it was in the air far more so then than it is now.

    So for a lot of people, both atheists and theists, ‘accepting evolution’, meant atheism, or not going to church anymore, even though that’s wrong.

    That doesn’t seem to be as much the case anymore, and it seems to me this change in the conversation as it occurs is why the numbers moved the way they have. If you look at the chart, ‘fundamentalists’ seem to have moved the most, and they would seem to be most likely to be affected by the shift of the sort that has happened.

    Lastly, if you polled the editors of the New York Times, they’d all say that they believe in evolution. Do they?

  14. Abelard,
    Yes, the process of evolution actually is responsible for HBD, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing that could have led to it. Different races being created with different average IQ’s is possible, although odd. I can tell you that some people genuinely believe that creationism is true and so is HBD.

    re: platforms. Our side has actually created a lot of new platforms to replace ones that ban us. However upstream platforms, like banks and data hosting companies, then de-platform them. Some have made it work though.

  15. twinkie, i’m using ‘creationist’ as someone who rejects common descent and ‘macroevolution.’

    I thought that was the case. Crazy these days to be Biblical literalists and insist on young earth or something when reading a few books should disabuse one of it. Heh, I guess that’s why the old saying is, “Protestants read nothing but the Bible and Catholics read everything but the Bible.”

    since r. a. fisher was anglican presumably he was a ‘theistic evolutionist’

    Ken Miller, a biologist at Brown University, who has crossed swords publicly with creationists and ID-types is a fellow Roman Catholic. I think he is a theistic evolutionist though I think he is more Deistic than I am.

    I suspect there are lots of scientists like that (though obviously a minority fraction) who don’t “advertise” their religious views.

  16. RE: Stupidity of the Alt-Right,

    A while back, I decided to check out some of the more “influential” podcasts and sites….and was not impressed. For example, I recall listening to a “TDS” podcast where someone called “Mike Enoch” was explaining that the German language is not gendered…..

  17. Hmm…. I’d conjecture with low confidence the Alt Right are maybe smarter “than average” (speaking from experience with average people), following the general tendency of the politically engaged, but not as smart as many of the people they self select to debate against. (Certainly not as skilled as rhetors and sophists).

    There’s also not much extension of the Alt Right into the think tanks or the academy and they have small numbers even within their generation, so it’s tougher for them. They’re making more up as they go along, and it shows, and they can’t just RT some authority figure (himself regurgitating an evidence free yet time tested dogma) and then have a tribal mob show up to provide support through buzzword bingo and snark of varying quality.

    It’s not like in any absolute sense the pop left’s heady brew of half remembered Marxism, ramblings about “neoliberal capital”, postcolonialist historical fantasy, sophomore cynicism, anthropological ignorance, biological unreality, pomo and intersectional hierarchy is some tough intellectual timber.

  18. I used to believe in Creationism in elementary and middle school, because I attended a private, Evangelical school. I fondly recall regularly debating the issue with a classmate of mine in 8th grade. I did not find the arguments presented to me then very convincing. For example, the similarity in bone structure between bats’ wings and human hands equally implied to me a common Creator as easily as common ancestry.

    The evidence that swayed me in high school had to do with the evolution of the cardiovascular system. Fish have a double chambered heart. Reptiles have a tripled chambered heart. This is better, but it is still not as efficient as a four chambered heart, the kind you find in birds and mammals. The clincher for me was the sequential appearance of these different types of animals in the fossil record: fish first appear, then reptiles, and finally birds and mammals. The genetic evidence now is so overwhelming that my earlier position looks silly to me. I still think it was healthy though, since it was a good exercise in changing my mind.

    Sometimes I feel like I know too much now. Frankly, the evolution of different human populations and the various implications that has does not make my life happier. I do think I have a closer picture of reality though.

  19. Frankly, the evolution of different human populations and the various implications that has does not make my life happier.

    Just as wisdom and intelligence (or knowledge) are not the same, neither are truth and happiness.


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