Cross-cultural variation in creationism
There is substantial cultural variation in the prevalence of creationism, i.e., the view that the Bible (or other religious writings) provides a historically accurate account of how living things came into being. In some countries, like Iceland or Japan, the view that species arose through a gradual process that is characterized by random variation, selective retention and modification through descent, is almost universally accepted. By contrast, and to the chagrin of scientists and philosophers of science in the USA, only 40 – 50 % of US citizens accept evolutionary theory. In this respect, the USA only does slightly better than Turkey, which ranks lowest on the list of Miller et al.'s study in Science (2006, vol. 313). Where does this variability come from?
Evolutionary theory is incompatible with literal biblical or other explicit creationist ideas, but it is not altogether incompatible with theism (the view that God intervenes through his actions in the world). For example, theistic evolution is a widely accepted position by devout evolutionary biologists like Kenneth Miller. Some churches, such as the Church of England, endorse theistic evolution and openly reject both creationism and intelligent design. So the intuitively compelling view that religiosity – as for example measured in attendance of church, temple or mosque – is predictive of the acceptance of evolution does not seem that compelling to me (this view, for example, would account for the fact that Iceland is at the top of the list and it has one of the lowest church attence figures in the world, whereas the US is at the bottom).
Another problem with the view that religiosity predicts the public acceptance of evolution is that it cannot specify a mechanism why this would be so. Consider the graph from data gathered from a recent poll by the pew forum. In this graph, one can see that judaism has one of the highest percentages of people accepting evolutionary theory. Islam does significantly worse, yet there is no creation myth in the Qu'ran, whereas Judaism, of course, has two accounts of creation, just like christianity. Therefore, one should expect that muslims, given that their religion does not give any explicit account of creation, would be less creationist than jews and christians, whereas the opposite pattern is true. Perhaps there is some more indirect way in which religious conviction influences acceptance of evolutionary theory?