A new study from Rice University and The Catholic University of America finds that putting creationism in the curricula has strong support from black and Latino Americans that they say is partially explained by religion.
The study, “Challenging Evolution in Public Schools: Race, Religion and Attitudes toward Teaching Creationism,” draws on data from a survey of 9,425 American adults. Researchers were eager to see how different racial and ethnic groups felt about the topic of teaching creationism.
The study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation’s Religious Understandings of Science project.
“Most academic research on this topic has focused on white evangelicals, because they have been the most visible in their support of teaching creationism,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, professor of sociology, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program and one of the study’s authors.
The researchers found that a higher percentage of black and Latino Americans — 58% and 57%, respectively — supported teaching creationism in the classroom instead of, but not alongside, evolution. Only 44% of whites and 42% of other races felt this way. Overall, conservative Protestants and evangelicals showed the greatest support of any religious group for teaching creationism instead of evolution, whereas Catholics were most likely to support teaching creationism alongside evolution.
Overall, 56% of the general population supports the teaching of evolution along with creationism, while 47% favor the teaching of creationism instead of evolution.
Ecklund said stronger feelings among African descent and Latino/a people about teaching creationism may have to do with their higher levels of religiosity and church attendance than people of European descent. The study revealed that black Americans had the highest levels of church attendance and religiosity of the study participants, and Latinos had the second highest.
Another reason for these groups’ feelings about teaching evolution may also stem from their general distrust of scientists, due to historical events, such as the Tuskegee syphilis trials. Science does not always feel safe for black and some Latino Americans, Ecklund said.
Black and white Americans are nearly identical in their support for teaching creationism alongside evolution. The higher religiosity of African Americans is linked to the difference between black Americans and others in their support for teaching creationism.
Latino/a people were more supportive of teaching creationism instead of evolution. After adjusting for socioeconomic, demographic and religious factors, Latino/a people still were 54% more likely than people of European descent to favor the teaching of creationism over evolution.
Brandon Vaidyanathan, a researcher at The Catholic University of America and a co-author of the study, said that something more than religion is at work in shaping Latino/a support for teaching creationism instead of evolution and more research is needed.
Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.