White evangelical Christians are often spotlighted for their support of teaching creationism in public schools, but a new study from Rice University and The Catholic University of America finds that putting creationism in the curricula finds even stronger support from black and Latino Americans that is partially explained by religion.
“Challenging Evolution in Public Schools: Race, Religion and Attitudes toward Teaching Creationism” draws on data from a nationally representative survey of 9,425 American adults.
“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. “This is why we were interested in discovering how different racial and ethnic groups felt about the topic.”
Study participants were asked two questions: “Would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools?” and “Would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism instead of evolution in public schools?” Individuals responded on a five-point scale, registering opinions ranging from strongly opposed to strongly in favor.
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.
Ecklund said stronger feelings among blacks and Latinos about teaching creationism may have to do with their higher levels of religiosity and church attendance than whites. 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.
She said these groups’ feelings about teaching evolution may also stem from their general distrust of scientists, as demonstrated in previous studies. “Because of historic 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. Latinos were more supportive of teaching creationism instead of evolution. After adjusting for socioeconomic, demographic and religious factors, Latinos still were 54% more likely than whites to favor the teaching of creationism over evolution.
“The higher religiosity of African Americans is able to statistically explain the difference between black Americans and others in their support for teaching creationism.
However, religious factors are surprisingly insufficient to account for the statistical difference of Latinos from others,” said Brandon Vaidyanathan, a researcher at The Catholic University of America and a co-author of the study. “Something more than religion is at work in shaping their support for teaching creationism instead of evolution. And we need more research to understand what else is shaping these differences.”
Overall, 56% of the general population supports the teaching of evolution along with creationism, while 47% favor the teaching of creationism instead of evolution.
“The high levels of support for teaching creationism either instead of or alongside evolution suggests a kind of pluralism among the American population that favors presenting both views to students and letting them decide, which we think is interesting,” said Rice’s Esmeralda Sánchez Salazar, the study’s lead author. “Although this conclusion is only speculative, it is a finding that merits further exploration.”
Ecklund hopes the research will provide better understanding as to why certain groups oppose teaching evolution. She also hopes it will help policymakers in considering religious organizations as important areas for understanding and addressing debates on the teaching of human origins.
“As the next generations of black and Latino American youth enter and complete their K-12 education, it is important to understand how their parents view teaching evolution,” Ecklund said.
The study was funded by the John Templeton Foundation’s Religious Understandings of Science project (grant No. 38817). Ecklund is the principal investigator for the grant.
Other co-authors include Adriana Garcia, a former graduate student at Rice.
To schedule an interview or request a copy of the study, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.