Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
On February 12, secular organizations will be observing “Darwin Day” around the country. Observed on or around Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12, Darwin Day celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory.
Darwin Day events will take place around the country, but there is one institution that will likely not celebrate it: the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. Last month, New Jersey congressman Rush Holt (D) introduced a House resolution in recognition of “Darwin Day,” which was sent to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, a committee that includes Georgia representative Paul Broun (R) who once infamously called evolution and the Big Bang “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
American attitudes about evolution more than 200 years after Darwin’s birth and more than 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species remain complex. Nearly 4-in-10 Americans (38%) believe that humans have existed in present form since creation, while nearly 6-in-10 (57%) believe that humans have evolved. However, even those who believe in evolution are divided between those who think humans evolved through natural selection (30%) and those who think God guided evolution (22%).
The political differences of opinion evident between Holt and Broun are reflected in the American public. Sixty-four percent of Democrats believe in evolution while 31% believe that humans have existed in present form since creation. Republicans are more divided: a plurality (48%) endorse the concept of creationism, while a similar percentage (45%) believe in evolution.
Americans are also strongly divided on this issue along religious lines. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of white evangelical Christians like Rep. Broun, who is Southern Baptist, believe that humans have existed in present form since creation, while a similar percentage of white mainline Protestants (66%) such as Rep. Holt, who is a Quaker, believe in evolution. The religiously unaffiliated are most likely to believe in evolution (77%). Fittingly, the Darwin Day resolution was first introduced in a previous Congress by California Democrat Pete Stark, who was the only openly atheist member of Congress before he was unseated in the 2012 elections. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona elected to the House in 2012, is the only openly religiously unaffiliated current member of Congress; she’s a co-signer of Holt’s Darwin Day declaration.