Aravind Vijayaraghavan is a British Science Association Media Fellow, funded by University of Manchester


While the debate between evolution and creationism rages on either side of the Atlantic, a new study unveiled at British Science Festival reveals that doubts regarding evolution is not just confined to religious people.

The research carried out by Newman University, Birmingham examined public perceptions and attitudes towards evolution in the UK and Canada. It shows similar trends in both countries; a significant fraction of non-religious people, even those who explicitly identify as atheists, harbour doubts over the power of evolution to fully explain who we are, and how we came to be.

Results of a YouGov survey showed 1 in 20 non-religious or non-spiritual people in the UK said that they had difficulty in accepting evolutionary science, and the number increases to 1 in 10 in Canada. The number is expectedly higher amongst religious people, but still, a majority of religious or spiritual respondents in the UK said that it was easy for them to accept evolutionary science.

Detailed analysis of the responses reveals that the majority of scepticism over the explanatory power of evolution pertains to its ability to explain the development of human consciousness, both amongst religious and non-religious people. This is followed by doubts over whether human beings evolved in the same was as other animals, or whether humans are unique in their origins.

Less than a fifth of religious or spiritual respondents in the UK found evolutionary science difficult to accept, pointing to a relatively widespread acceptance of evolution in UK and Canada irrespective of religiousness or spirituality, which is in stark contrast to the USA where some studies have revealed that nearly half of all people believe in creationism over evolution.

Surprisingly, when asked about their perceptions of the reliability of experts in various science subjects, the survey revealed that significantly fewer people considered experts in evolutionary science to be reliable compared to experts in genetics and genomics, despite the fact that genetics and genomics forms a key evidence base for under current understanding of evolution. This gap is particularly large amongst religious respondents who found it difficult to accept evolutionary science, where confidence in genetics experts is twice as high as confidence in evolutionary experts.

The survey raises a number of interesting questions. For example, that some people hold doubts over the ability of evolution to explain human origins and consciousness, especially if they are not religious, does not necessarily imply that they believe in creationism as the answer. The definition and origin of consciousness is a subject of heated scientific debate, so it is therefore unsurprising that this has also emerged as the biggest area of public concern over the powers of evolutionary principles to fully answer questions about our origins, our identity and our place on this planet and in this cosmos.