Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe in human evolution and one-third reject the idea, according to a Pew Research Center study highlighting a battle of worldviews with implications for multiple facets of life.
Sixty percent of those surveyed said "humans and other living things have evolved over time," while 33 percent said "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," Pew reported Dec. 30.
About half of those who reported a belief in human evolution said it's "due to natural processes such as natural selection" while 24 percent said "a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today."
Pew's study contrasts with a Gallup poll from 2012 that found 46 percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. In that poll, about a third of Americans said they believe humans evolved but with God's guidance, while 15 percent said God had no part in the process.
Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture said that the Pew data could be analyzed to mean 57 percent of Americans hold a view compatible with Intelligent Design, that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.
"If you define evolution as mere 'change over time,' then sure, most Americans (about 60 percent) believe humans have 'evolved,'" Luskin said. "But if you further define evolution as 'unguided natural selection,' then apparently only about a third of Americans agree with that type of evolution.
"If we interpret the poll correctly, well over half of Americans at least 57 percent take a view that fits within Intelligent Design and don't support Darwinism," Luskin said.
Ken Ham, president and founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, which are grounded in the belief that God created the world in seven literal days and that the earth and universe are thousands not billions of years old, said that the way Pew phrased the questions determined how people answered and even he would have said living things have not existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
"I believe there have been a lot of changes in animals because there has been a lot of speciation within a kind," Ham said. But overall, he is encouraged that the study indicates that a strong number of people have not been persuaded by the human evolution theories.
"In a culture where generations of kids are being taken through a public education system where there's been legislation to protect them from even hearing about creation and to teach them evolution as fact that we still have a third of the population who would stand basically very similar to where we stand, I think that shows there's been a significant influence in this culture to teach people about [God as creator]," Ham said.
The cultural impact of creation ministries such as Answers in Genesis, Ham said, can be seen in such statistics as more than 1 million people per month visiting the AiG website, 2 million people who have visited the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, and multiple millions who have encountered literature supporting creation.
The Pew study, though, does reflect that evolution is pushed overwhelmingly in the education system, Ham said, and a significant number of people believe God used evolution to create the world.
"I think part of that reflects on the church," Ham said, noting, "The research we've done also shows the majority of our seminary professors, Christian academics, would allow for evolution and/or [creation over] millions of years, and that has influenced a lot of people."
To change Americans' views on creation and evolution going forward, Ham cited two needs: to educate children and to reach the church. Secularists, he said, have learned that the key is to capture the minds of children by teaching evolution in schools, and creationists need to be similarly involved.
Toward that end, this year the Creation Museum is offering free admission to children 12 and younger, and Answers in Genesis is producing apologetics curricula to address the origin of the earth and man.
Also, the Creation Museum is hosting a debate Feb. 4 between Ham and Bill Nye "The Science Guy," the former host of a popular science television show for youths. In an online video last year, Nye said teaching creationism was bad for children, and the video was viewed nearly 6 million times on YouTube, the Associated Press reported.
Ham continued, "We need to be reaching the church because I believe the state of the nation reflects the state of the church. Because we know that so many Christian leaders don't take a stand on Genesis as they should and are being influenced to believe in evolution millions of years and so on we have a big emphasis in this ministry to reach Christian leaders, to reach churches.
"We're finding more and more the average person in church wants to believe God's Word but hasn't been instructed how to and doesn't know how to defend their faith, and they really love our ministry and then put pressure on their pastors and other Christian leaders and colleges concerning these issues," Ham said. "There's a problem from the leadership down [in the church] and we need to address it."
How an origins view impacts life
Whether a person embraces evolution or creation has implications for all of life, Ham said, because an atheistic evolutionist rejects God as the absolute authority and determiner of right and wrong, good and bad. Morality then is relative.
"In the Book of Judges it says when they had no king, no absolute authority to tell them what to do, they all did what was right in their own eyes," Ham said.
Secularists try to portray creationists as blaming gay marriage, abortion and other social ills on the teaching of evolution, Ham said, but "we don't blame those things on evolution."
Sin is the cause of those problems, Ham said, but there is a connection with the teaching of evolution. If generations of students are taught that life is the result of natural processes, he said, then the value of life is reduced, leading to weakened views on abortion, suicide and even euthanasia.
"Marriage? Why should marriage be a man and a woman? That comes from the Bible," Ham said. "Why should it even be two? That comes from the Bible. Why shouldn't they be allowed to do whatever they want to do? We even see that. There have been articles recently about what they call polyamory where men and women get together and have whatever relationships they want. Why not polygamy?"
But if a person believes the creation account in the Bible and believes the Bible is the absolute authority, then God determines right and wrong, Ham said. Jesus, when asked about marriage, squarely referred to Genesis 1 and 2.
"It will also mean that when sperm fertilizes an egg that's when human life begins and abortion would be killing a human being," Ham said. "To go and deliberately kill a baby by abortion would be murder. So there are incredible implications and consequences for what you believe in regard to the creation/evolution issue."
One of the most important implications of people's views on evolution versus creation, Ham said, surrounds the issue of death. When tragedies happen and people wonder how a loving God could exist amid death and suffering, their origins beliefs are relevant.
"If you take God's Word as written in Genesis, death is a result of sin.... It's not God's fault, it's our fault," Ham said.
A basic battle of worldviews
The Pew study is another argument for the need for Christians to take a strong stand on the absolute authority of the Word of God, Ham said.
"Really what's going on in our culture is a battle of worldviews. It's two worldviews really. It's a worldview built on God's Word versus a worldview built on man's word," Ham said. "It's really a battle between two authorities. Who is the authority? It goes back to Genesis 3 in the Bible: 'Did God really say?'
"The first attack was on the Word of God, and it has always been a battle between who is the authority. Is it God's Word or is it man who determines truth?" Ham said. "That's the battle we're seeing before us: God's Word/man's word.
"The Bible says men love darkness rather than light and there's a broad way and a narrow way, so I'm not shocked to see that it's a minority that would take a similar stand that we do," Ham said.
Mark Coppenger, professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said while religious liberalism has "embraced Darwinism from the start and has ridden it down into spiritual feebleness," he's pleased that the Pew study shows many have refused to abandon a biblical worldview.
"It's gratifying to see so many people refusing to toss aside the prima facie Genesis account for a theory whose absurdity becomes more evident with each passing year," said Coppenger.
"Perhaps the evolution skeptics ... doubt that the math will work out, even if you grant the Darwinists the gazillions of years they claim," Coppenger said. "Maybe they're leery of a story that gives so much aid and comfort to atheists. Maybe they've read the strong work of Philip Johnson and Michael Behe or picked up on the AiG museum or [a creation-themed] Grand Canyon tour.
"Maybe they've figured that science, by its very nature, is incompetent to pontificate on utterly non-repeatable, far-distant occurrences, such as the origin of earth and man," Coppenger said. "Perhaps they find assurances that science and religion don't conflict when they read of miracles in the Bible. It could be any number of things."
Rob Phillips, an apologetics leader, said the beliefs expressed in the Pew study have implications for daily life because if evolution is true, life ultimately is meaningless.
"Your life might have some temporal significance with respect to how you impact other people's lives or alter the course of history, but death remains our common destiny," said Phillips.
"If creation is true, however, life is not only meaningful but everlasting. We are created in the image of God, for a relationship with God, and with the divine purpose of knowing our Creator and living with Him beyond the grave," Phillips said. "Death is no longer our destiny but a defeated enemy."