Belief that God created world is markedly declining in Australia, long-term study shows

SYDNEY — College students are much more likely to ascribe the creation of humans to evolution than to God or any kind of divine guidance, according to a 32-year study of annually-assessed student opinions on the matter.

In 1986, when the study conducted by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia began, the majority of the country’s college students believed that a divine being of one kind or another created, or at least aided in the creation of humans. In 2017, at the conclusion of the study, that view is now held by a small minority. The belief that humans evolved without any help from divine intervention skyrocketed during the study period.

The top figure shows the percentage of students who, between 1986 and 2017, choose one of four options in relation to the human evolution: (1) humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years (green); (2) humans evolved over millions of years with the whole process guided by God (blue); (3) humans evolved over millions of years but God had no part in this process (red); or (4) they are uncertain what they think (yellow). Figures include lines of best fit from linear and quadratic regressions with 95% confidence intervals (Image credit: UNSW Sydney).

Researchers involved in this unprecedented long-term experiment polled first-year biology students at the university on their leanings between creationism and evolution. In 1986, six in 10 students believed a god of one kind or another created humanity. In 2017, only three in 10 held this view. Conversely, the percentage of students who believed a god had nothing to do with the development of humans jumped from a quarter in 1986 to 62% in 2017.

The study is the longest continuous annual survey of opinions about creationism versus evolution among first-year university students.

“Given that the creationist view (that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years, rather than evolved naturally over millions of years without the involvement of God) is common among American students, we wanted to know how much of a challenge introducing the evidence for evolution to first-year students would be for us in Australia,” says lead study author and UNSW professor Michael Archer in a university release. “We also wanted to know if Australian student views about this key issue were changing over time.”

About 530 students each year participated in the study. The students were given four statements and asked to select the one they most agreed with. The statements included:

  1. God created humans as they are today sometime in the last 10,000 years.
  2. Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced species, but God guided that development.
  3. God had no part in the evolution of humans from less advanced forms of life.
  4. I have no opinion on this matter.

Professor Archer says that the pure creationist option (answer one) was always the least popular response, with an average 10.4% of responses at the beginning of the study. Today, only about 5% of respondents choose answer one.

“In the USA, belief in creationism, while slowly declining, appears to have remained in the 40% range, four times that seen in our Australian survey,” notes Archer.

The full study was published Aug. 21, 2018 in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.

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