Dan Kahan has an interesting post showing that when Americans are asked the, “Did humans develop from earlier species?” question, it matters how it is asked. As it’s usually asked, when people answer, they are often asserting a religious cultural identity. But if it is asked with the qualifying “according to the theory of evolution”, the affirmative response rate goes up dramatically.
I take two things from this. First, Americans are more scientifically literate than many people assume. They just don’t always agree with that science. Of course, many will insist that the lack of agreement is itself science illiteracy, but I think a person who understands the science, but still rejects it, is in a different category from someone who is clueless about that science.
My second takeaway though, is confirmation that the primary obstacle for people accepting evolution from natural selection and the big bang theory is their religious identification.
There’s a brief discussion in the post about how science teachers should address this. I’m not sure it’s productive for them to try. If someone learns about the science, but still rejects it, any attempt to “force” them to agree with evolution will probably only make them dig in deeper. Sometimes, all you can do is lead a horse to water and hope it eventually drinks.