ASA Origins Survey with Correction

Recently the ASA sent a poll to its members concerning origins. Roughly half responded. The ASA is a fellowship of professional scientists and technologists who are Christians. The American Geophysical Union did a similar poll concerning global warming and found a huge difference of opinion between climatologists and petroleum engineers with 97% of climatologists affirming anthropogenic global warming and only 47% of the petroleum engineers. This got me thinking. Is there a similar kind of effect in our poll?

First here is how the results came in for the membership as a whole:


With 2/3 of our members accepting evolution of humans it’s probably pretty surprising to your average church goer. Is it the evil secular universities that Expelled railed against? We can look and see how the answers differed for those who attended secular or Christian universities.

My columns correspond to:

  1. The Universe is 14 billion years old
  2. The Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
  3. Natural evolution. That is plants and animals evolved with natural causes.
  4. Generic evolution. That is plants and animals evolved through either natural or non-natural causes. This is calculated by counting up who answered yes to either the natural or non-natural question.
  5. Human evolution.

I’ve included a bar called all in all my charts so that the average response can be compared.

Views vs. College

Nope. No difference. Another thing to explore is whether there is any difference between scientists who are currently employed full time and those who are retired. Presumably the former would be more aware of the current state of the evidence since they are in the thick of it.

Views vs. Employment

So, at least in the minds of those who are currently full-time scientists, the state of the evidence is moving in the direction of natural and human evolution. The difference between the full-time scientists and the retired ones is 13-14%.

Now let’s look at the employers of the scientists. Since origins is basic and not applied research those who are in education, government, and medical should be more aware of the state of the evidence over and against industry and ministry.

Views vs. Employer

Education, government, and medical all cluster together. I haven’t talked about the age of the Earth or Universe since there is mostly agreement regardless of category. Here we have a drop in support for an old Universe by those in the medical field. Hmm. We see more profound drops in support of natural evolution: 17% for industry and 31% for ministry. Human evolution drops 16% and 29% respectively.

Finally, let’s test my hypothesis that differences in opinions stems from differences in familiarity with the evidence by looking at the specific domain experts. I will look at full-time biologists, geologists, and physicists/astronomers. I will include engineers as a group of non-experts with which to compare.

Views vs. Expertise

100% of the physicists/astronomers affirm an ancient Universe and 100% of full-time geologists affirm an ancient Earth. 80% of full-time biologists affirm natural evolution and human evolution and 88% of them affirm generic evolution. The difference from engineers is 30% for natural evolution, 18% for generic evolution, and 24% for human evolution. The degree to which there is a difference of opinions on origins is not related to whether Christian scientists went to a Christian or secular school. Rather, it is related to the degree of familiarity with the scientific evidence. The greater the familiarity, the greater the degree of acceptance of mainstream science on origins.

Other Questions

So far, I’ve limited myself to areas where there is scientific consensus. The questions above are more in the developing stage where there is some evidence but more work needs to be done. See my blog post for one example. We still see a similar pattern where the domain experts see more of the evidence, probably because it’s more obscure. Still, only the OOL evidence was sufficient to warrant a bare majority (51%) of the experts. Multiverses were the exception where the physicists/astronomers scored it lower than the non-experts.


In the comments our executive director, Randy Isaac, noted a flaw in how I did the calculation and Doug Hayworth noticed my graph format was not helpful (N.B. for those who are unfamiliar with peer review Terry’s, Randy’s, and Doug’s comments are similar to what happens in the peer review process. The difference between this and real peer review is the intensity of the review and the domain expertise of the reviewers.) Randy noted that roughly 8% did not choose to affirm any of the statements. I interpreted this as no answer and didn’t include them in the calculations. For example, a young earth creationist would presumably also not select any of the options and by treating it the way I did his response would not be counted. So, the better approach is to treat this situation as “none of the above”. Treating none of the above as a proxy for YEC and since a non-domain experts maybe hesitant to give an exact answer to the age questions, 8% is probably the upper limit of YEC in our organization.

So, I redid the calculations and here are the comparisons.
Views vs. College

There is still no real difference based on going to a Christian or secular college. This doesn’t explain any difference of views.

Views vs. Employment

There is a 14% difference on evolution based on natural causes in the original calculation and 13% with the new one. The difference for human evolution 13% and 12% respectively.

Views vs. Employer

The difference between education and ministry is 31% for the old calculation and 28% for the new for evolution with natural causes. The differences are 29% and 26% respectively for human evolution.

Views vs. Expertise

Views vs. Expertise

Expertise is the only area where the new calculation shows any substantive differences. 7% of the full-time biologists affirmed none of the statements. All the full-time geologists picked at least one of the statements and all affirmed an old earth. Engineers, physicists and geologists had a response rate than the biologists and had a higher response to the age of the Universe question.

For the old calculation, there is a 30% difference for the natural evolution statement between biologists and engineers and a 31% difference between geologists and engineers. For the new calculation this changes to 27% and 33%. Human evolution showed similar small changes between the new and old calculations.

So, my original thesis still appears to hold. Employed scientists are more likely to accept the consensus science than retired ones. Scientists employed in areas that are more likely to do basic science, likewise. Finally, the areas of expertise closest to the areas of age of the earth and evolution are also more likely to accept this than areas that are further away. Going to a Christian college versus a secular one has no bearing on whether the mainstream science is accepted.

12 comments to ASA Origins Survey with Correction

July 2010
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