Examining Tegmark’s “Belief Gap”: 47% of US Population Believes in Creation But Only 11% Belong To A Religion Which Openly Rejects Evolution


Examining Tegmark’s “Belief Gap”: 47% of US Population Believes in Creation But Only 11% Belong To A Religion Which Openly Rejects Evolution

MIT physicist Max Tegmark reported on a survey he conduced with Eugena Lee and Meia Chita-Tegmark, The MIT Survey on Science, Religion, and Origins: the Belief Gap. Although almost half of Americans, 46 percent according to Gallup, believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago, only 11 percent belong to a religion that openly rejects evolution.

Of course, Tegmark didn’t bother to define evolution for those he surveyed and this may have skewed the results.

Another problem, concerning Christianity: False minister John Shuck and other liberal clergymen certainly affirm purely naturalistic evolution, but I would wager that most of the people in the pews believe in either creation [old or young] or theistic evolution of some sort, because traditional and authentic Christianity necessarily includes a supernatural Creator God.

At the end of his report, Tegmark concludes “This means that the main divide in the origins debate is not between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.”

But when we take a closer look at his survey method, we start to realize that he has a major problem: Not all denominations and faith groups have an official statement regarding evolution, creation, the age of the earth or how one ought to interpret the Bible. For example, if we take only the Christian denominations [less Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness cults] from his survey, which accounts for 75.9% of the data [Catholic 23.9, Mainline Protestant 18.1, Evangelical Protestant 26.3, Traditionally African American Churches 6.9 and Orthodox 0.5]], Tegmark lists 10.5% [all Evangelical Protestant traditions] as being in Conflict with evolution and 49.7% [Mostly Catholic and Mainline] as having No Conflict between evolution/Big Bang cosmology and religion. But there is another 27.7% for which he has insufficiant data [no statement]. If we concentrate on just those Christian numbers, 49.7% have belief statements that are not in conflict with evolution and Big Bang cosmology, 13.8% have belief statements affirming traditional Biblical views on creation and Scriptural authority, and 36.5% are black boxes. In other words, he doesn’t have enough data to go on to make ANY conclusion. For all he knows, most if not all of those denominations with no definite faith statement are in support of Biblical Creationism: a very real possibility in light of his 35% “belief gap” between these figures.

Tegmark opines that “The fact that the gap between personal and official beliefs is so large suggests that part of the controversy might be defused by people learning more about their own religious doctrine and the science it endorses, thereby bridging this belief gap.” It seems more likely that his belief gap is due to a flawed methodology [going off official church statements rather than individual survey numbers] and making conclusions off insufficient data. At face value, his suggestion [for fixing the belief gap] is insulting to the thinking man, supposing that folks only need to follow the herd rather than think for themselves. Of course, NOTHING in his data supports his suggestion and other survey data actually contradicts his belief.

The 2008 Mainline Protestant Clergy Voices Survey noted that 44% of Mainline Clergy believe evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life on earth, while a similar numer [43%] do not. Despite an official denominational statement embracing evolution, 53% of Methodist clergy do not believe evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life on Earth. Similarly, 70% of American Baptist clergy do not believe evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life on Earth, despite having an official denominational stance that embraces a diversity of theological beliefs. My point is that official, often politically motivated boiler plate, does not always reflect the opinion of the guy in the pulpit, much less the pew.

src: http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/2008-Mainline-Protestant-Clergy-Voices-Survey-Report.pdf

Tegmark’s survey is interesting, but he should have done more research and cross-examined his conclusions in light of other research before publishing such poor [but obviously heartfelt] conclusions.

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4 thoughts on “Examining Tegmark’s “Belief Gap”: 47% of US Population Believes in Creation But Only 11% Belong To A Religion Which Openly Rejects Evolution

  1. Thanks Tony for your interest in our survey! Please note that this was merely a survey of public positions of faith groups, not a survey of the opinions congregation members or individual members of the clergy; if you can compile links to such surveys here, that will be great. Also, it’s important not to confuse the survey itself (http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/survey/survey.pdf) with my personal views expressed in that short Huffington Post blog.
    I think it’s helpful to all when faith groups clearly state their opinions, as you do.

  2. I’ve read Genesis many times, and it seems clearly that it is a metaphor. Jews have never considered it to be literal – and it’s a Jewish text.

    What is superior in any aspect of life on this earth is how to behave. That is what Christ and all other religious reformers were interested in – Shakyamuni Buddha, Mohammud. To take the Bible literally is as accurate and likely – and important – as asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. None of that comes close to understanding the relationship between the causes we make in our life and the effects – whether you believe in heaven or the here-and-now. That’s the superior probing.

    • The problem with your opinion in this case, Patricia, is that it fails to take into account that our worldview consists of what we believe about where we came from, who we are, where we’re going and how we ought to live in light of the three previous factors. How we decide to live is decided in large part on who we think we are, where we think we came from and where we believe we are going. Reducing Christianity to a fuzzy morality in competition with other fuzzy ethical codes lessons only shows one’s disdain for religion.

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