The Evolution of Pew Research Center’s Survey Questions About the Origins and Development of Life on Earth

Globe Showing Asia, True Colour Satellite Image

True colour satellite image of the Earth showing Asia, half in shadow, and the sun. This image in orthographic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5

Source: Pew Research Center

Have living things always existed in their present form, or did they evolve? And if evolution occurred, was a divine hand at play?

Measuring public opinion on evolution has never been an easy task for survey researchers. With Americans’ views on the topic tapping into the highly charged realms of religious conviction and scientific knowledge, question wording becomes extremely important. For this reason, in recent years, Pew Research Center has experimented with different ways of asking about evolution and studied whether these variations affect the public’s responses. And because they do, the Center is moving toward a revised wording.

First, a bit of survey history: For a decade and a half, the Center asked Americans what they believe about the origins of humankind, most often in a two-step process. An initial question asked respondents whether they think humans and other living things have evolved over time – in line with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution – or whether they believe humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, as in the Book of Genesis’ creation story. Those who said they accept the idea of evolution then have been asked a second question: whether they think evolution has occurred due to natural processes such as natural selection, or due to processes that were guided or allowed by God.

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Categories: Earth, Evolution, Life

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