About a year ago an Angus Reid poll provided some information regarding the acceptance of evolution in Canada, which was taken by some as the basis for claiming that the level of acceptance of this unifying principle of biology is roughly the same in Canada as in the United States. Although the results of the AR poll were indeed rather disappointing, they did not indicate an equivalence of views between the two nations.
Here are two relevant press releases from Angus Reid:
U.S. Majority Picks Creationism over Evolution (April 25, 2006)
Most Canadians Pick Evolution Over Creationism (June 19, 2007)
It is true that last year's poll suggested that nationally a disappointingly low majority of 59% of Canadians accept the notion of common descent. However, only 22% accept young earth creationism. In Ontario, the data are especially disheartening, with only 51% of respondents accepting evolution (but still only half as many choosing creationism). In Quebec, 71% accept evolution and only 9% align with creationist ideas. The original report can be accessed here.
The US poll referred to above (by CBS) indicates that 53% of respondents believe that life was created in its current form within the past 10,000 years by God, 23% accept a form of evolution guided by God, and 17% believe in a strictly natural evolutionary account. The questions in the Canadian poll were not broken down in this way, but this poll still indicates that only 40% of Americans accept any form of evolution and 53% believe in a young earth. Other polls give similar results (see Miller et al. 2006, Science 313: 765-766). There is, unsurprisingly, a strong relationship between religiosity, political affiliation, and opinion about evolutionary science.
A more recently conducted Gallup poll gave slightly more promising results than the earlier CBS finding, with 43% choosing young earth creationism, 38% ascribing to theistic evolution, and 14% accepting unguided evolution. This would put the total who accept some form of evolution at 52%, and when asked directly about evolution, 53% of respondents considered it to be either "definitely true" (18%) or "probably true" (35%). However, this encouraging result must be weighed against the fact that when asked directly about young earth creationism, 66% said it was either "definitely true" (39%) or "probably true" (27%). As Gallup put it,
It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.
Clearly, Canada does not rank at the level of nations like Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France, or Japan where public acceptance of evolution is very high (up to 80%), but neither does it fall in the same category as the United States. In particular, what we do not see in Canada, at least based on this single survey, is a high level of acceptance of creationism. Nevertheless, there is much work to do in educating the public in Canada. Most notably, an alarming percentage (42%) believe that humans and dinosaurs coexisted despite a majority accepting evolution. In other words, they are correct about common descent but confused about the details of life's history. In some ways this is not surprising, given the countless portrayals of "cavemen" and dinosaurs together in cartoons, movies, and other venues. I would not be surprised if a majority of people also believe that penguins and polar bears cohabitate while accepting the fact of a round Earth with two poles.
A slightly more recent (July 3, 2007) poll by Canadian Press-Decima Research provided a breakdown covering young earth creationism, theistic evolution, and naturalistic evolution in the way that American polls sometimes have. Some quotes from the report summarizing the results:
- Less than one in three Canadians (29%) believe that God had no part in the creation or development of human beings.
- Fewer still (26%) believe “that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”.
- A plurality, but still only 34%, say that “human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process”.
- Belief in creationism is lowest in Quebec (21%), Alberta (22%), and B.C. (22%). In Alberta, the plurality view is that God guided human development (39%), while in Quebec the plurality feels God played no part (40%).
- Rural residents are 12 points more likely than urban dwellers to believe that God created humans in their present form. Differences by generation are not all that large. The plurality of women (37%) believes that God guided the process, while the plurality of men (35%) believes that God played no part.
- In polls using the same question (Gallup) put to US residents, findings are different: 45% said God created humans in more or less their present form (compared to 26% in Canada), 40% said that God guided the evolutionary process (compared to 34% in Canada). Only 15% say God played no part (compared to 29% in Canada).
- According to Decima CEO Bruce Anderson “These results reflect an essential Canadian tendency: we are pretty secular, but pretty hesitant to embrace atheism. Our views on the role of science and spirituality lack consensus but these are not polarizing issues for the most part. It’s more as though for many, these feelings are unresolved, we believe in a higher being, we know what we don’t know, are comfortable not knowing, and choose not to press our views upon one another.”
Overall, Canadians seem intermediate between the USA and Europe on the question of evolution and there is much work still to do here as elsewhere in improving understanding of the subject.