A much-needed tipping point in the social atmosphere of America has been achieved. A study backed with a substantially generous amount of data showed that more than half of adult Americans accept evolution. The study, first published online by Sage Publishing on August 16, 2021, stated that the public's level of acceptance of evolution had increased dramatically over the past two decades.
The study entitled Public acceptance of evolution in the United States, 1985–2020 is authored by Jon Miller, Mark Ackerman, Jordan Huffaker from the University of Michigan; Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch from the National Center for Science Education; and Belen Laspra and Carmelo Polino from the University of Oviedo in Spain.
After collecting data from a series of national surveys for the past 35 years, the study claims that the first two decades of the 21st century have seen a notable increase in the public's level of acceptance of evolution. The noteworthy increase is based on comparing the previous 15 years, from 1985 to 2000, where public acceptance of evolution was equally divided.
The data used in this study is a combination of data from biennial surveys conducted by the National Science Board, surveys funded by the National Science Foundation, and the civic scientific literacy time series funded by NASA. Although the data collection was administered differently in each study, the authors declared that there is "no correlation between the modes of data collection and acceptance of evolution," thereby preserving the integrity of the combined data set.
The surveys conducted separately used a consistent and neutral item paired with a forced-choice format. For example, the statement "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," forces participants to respond between a Yes or a No. The framing of the question also increased its reliability by allowing a single idea to be presented to the participants.
The authors' examination reveals that Americans who accepted evolution and those who don't were evenly divided from 1985 until 2007. Lead researcher, John Miller, described the trend as a "statistical dead heat between acceptance and rejection of evolution." The difference between acceptance and non-acceptance continued to increase from 2007 until 2012, but with no sides breaching 50% or more than half of the entire respondents. By 2015, the number of those who accept evolution finally reached more than 50% and has continued to increase towards 2020.
Another notable trend the authors identified with their data analysis is the narrowing of the difference in the level of acceptance between genders. According to the authors, this change directly corresponds to the increase in women earning college degrees, jumping from 17% to 35% over the last 30 years. Co-author Mark Ackerman explained that "almost twice as many Americans held a college degree in 2018 as in 1988." Acherman also added that the increase of college-educated Americans corresponded to the rise in the acceptance of evolution because "It's hard to earn a college degree without acquiring at least a little respect for the success of science."
The study also identified factors that lead to the non-acceptance of evolution. The strongest contender is religious fundamentalism, adding more to its swaying effect is the politicization of religion in America. As of 2019, only 34% of Republicans accept evolution compared to 83% of Democrats. Miller, explaining the increasing gap between Republicans' and Democrats' acceptance of evolution, stated that "beliefs are not only tenacious but also, increasingly, politicized."