abio.gen.e.sis n [NL, fr. a- + bio- + L genesis] (1870): the supposed spontaneous origination of living organisms directly from lifeless matter.

Natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting all which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working. ...We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapse of ages.

--Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1859

The tension between religious and scientific knowledge in the Twentieth Century is perhaps epitomized in the contest between creationism and evolution in the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Seventy-one years later, in March of 1996, Presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan appeared on national television to argue in favor of creationism.  In 1999, the Kansas Board of Education voted to delete any mention of evolution from the state's science curriculum (though not outright preventing the teaching of the subject).  During the same year the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee required that publishers  wishing to do business with the state include in all new biology texts the disclaimer that evolution is a "controversial theory" as it is based on the "unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things."

With the rise of sociobiology has come a resurgence in the debates over the theory of evolution and the degree to which human fate is genetically (hence, animalistically) hardwired. Elsewhere, we developed how this issue is thoroughly interwoven within the continuing (and perhaps eternal) controversies involving nature versus nurture: e.g., determinism vs. free will, individuals' ability to resist the temptations of evil (archetype: Satan), sex (archetype: the song of the Sirens), materialism (archetype: perhaps the McDonaldization of society), or the allures of some despotic regime (archetype: Germans'attraction to National Socialism). Here let us examine contemporary Americans' beliefs about their biological connection with the animal kingdom.

In the 1993 and 1994 NORC General Social Survey, Americans responded to the statement "Human beings developed from earlier species of animals" (n=2,578). There were evenly split in their agreement: 15% said it was definitely true, 33% thought it probably true, 16% said it was probably false, and 36% claimed it was definitely false. Elsewhere is developed Americans' responses to this statement are related to attitudes regarding animal rights.  Below is a breakdown of how beliefs are related to religion, religiosity, and education.

FUND PROT 18% 37% 26% 27% 28% 35% 28%
MOD PROT 33 54 37 41 40 60 45
LIBR PROT 43 59 38 50 45 68 54
CATHOLIC 51 66 54 51 57 75 60
NO AFFIL 73% 56% 54% 81% 90% 47%

So what precisely do the combined interactions between religion, religiosity, and education look like in shaping Americans' beliefs in evolution? Click here to see. Observe how strongly religious fundamentalist Protestants are immune from the effects of increasing education (which, for the total population, consistently increases belief in the theory, from 38% of those failing to graduate from high school to 67% of those with four or more years of college). Also note how, for strongly religious Catholics, the percent believing humans evolved from earlier species of animals actually decreases with increasing education until graduating from college.

So what difference does it make that we share common ancestry with the rest of the animal kingdom? One line from fundamentalists occasionally heard at school board or text book hearings is: "If the children believe they are related to monkeys, they will act like monkeys."

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