Tricky Stats

One of the letters in this weeks New Scientist reports the reassuring facts that, despite the antics of various school boards and the attempts of numerous kook religion sites, Creationism is in decline. This is good news, and personally I would like nothing more than to think it was true – in fact if you base your analysis on my personal experience, then hardly anyone believes the creationist nonsense.

Sadly, I am not (yet) fully convinced that this is the true description of the world.

Now, the letter in NS helpfully produces some figures to support its claim. This is nearly always a good thing but this time it seems to be a touch confusing. Look at this:

Since the 1980s in the US the fundamentalist opinion that Adam and Eve were created a few thousand years before the pyramids has held fairly steady at between 43 and 47 per cent, with the lowest value occurring in 2007.

OK, it seems reasonable to take from that sentence the idea that creationism fluctuates around 45%, give or take 2%. While it is reassuring to see creationism is at its lowest last year, that is not really a decline.

Interestingly the numbers are compared with:

The number believing in human evolution under the guidance of God has stayed between 35 and 40 per cent.

The number agreeing with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god has risen from 9 or 11 per cent at the end of the 20th century to a high of 14 per cent in 2007.

Sadly, this is less reassuring. I am not sure how three effectively stable sets of numbers can be used to show creationism is in decline. Equally, (admittedly ignoring the variation with the start figure of proper evolution) the numbers all show basically the same variation. Going from 11% to 14% is not a significant change when 47% – 43% is described as “fairly steady.”

As far as I can see, from the three sets of figures here, the numbers are all basically “steady.” All have about a 5% spread which seems to fluctuate. This is, in itself, not a downward trend for creationism.

Can anyone else show more positive figures?

Equally lacking in comfort to the rational is the information that, in the worlds only superpower, a nation with the ability to destroy every living person:

Remarkably, the number taking the Bible literally has steadily sunk from about 40 per cent in the 1970s – nearly matching those who then favoured the Genesis story – to between a third and a quarter.

So, at best, 25% of people still take the Bible literally. Wow. Scary wow.

6 thoughts on “Tricky Stats

  1. TW
    On the 3rd reading, I realised they were just saying “it’s not increasing”. but trying to put a more positive spin on it.
    Though, rather than being reassured, I was quite staggered to read that over 40% of the US population believed in Genesis. Argghh. I assumed it was a tiny but vocal minority, not almost half the population.

  2. I realise the letter author does seem to say that creationism isn’t increasing more than anything else, however:

    1 – the title of the letter (maybe put there by NS?) is “Creationism in decline.”
    2 – the terminology the author uses when he talks about the evolutionist figures is quite different from the mentions of creationism. The language used seems to convey the feeling the author is trying to say creationism is going down (“lowest value occurring in 2007”) and evolution is on the rise (“high of 14% in 2007”).

    Now, conversely, I had never previously thought creationism was increasing… (although it is now actually gaining an educational foothold in the UK… How can that be if it belief of it is not on the rise?)

  3. “The number agreeing with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god has risen from 9 or 11 per cent at the end of the 20th century to a high of 14 per cent in 2007.”

    Wow. Only 14% of Americans can understand a simple scientific fact without invoking sky fairy magic for it. This means 86% of Americans are uneducated hicks. This is disgraceful. I live in a country infested with idiots.

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  5. Interestingly I read the results of a study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The study polled Americans about their religious affiliations throughout their lives. It concluded that almost half of American adults left their childhood faith to change religions or abandon religious affiliation altogether. Unfortunately most of this country still claims religious affiliation, at least people are thinking and reconsidering…

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