There’s been a long-standing divide between Americans who believe in evolution, and those who think God created humans just as they are. But a recent poll has shown that 51 percent of American adults under the age of 30 now claim to believe purely in secular evolution, which means evolution independent of any divine power – a jump from 40 percent back in 2009, when the research began.
The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Centre back in July, and overall, the results were incredibly positive. Even though just over half the young people said that they believed solely in evolution as a result of natural selection, 73 percent said they expressed some sort of belief in evolution – which is 12 percent more than six years ago – as Rachel E. Gross reports for Slate.
The research showed that around 65 percent of all adults in the US believed that humans have evolved, which sounds like incredible news, but only 35 percent thought it was due to causes independent of a higher power. And another 31 percent said they believed that humans have always existed in their current form since the beginning of time.
Still, the increase in Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believing in secular evolution is incredibly promising, and it shows that some of the legal battles to get evolution represented in textbooks around the country have made a difference.
Up until 2005, 'intelligent design' – a form of creationism – was taught in classrooms across the country. And it was only in September this year that teachers in Alabamba public schools were required to teach their students evolution. Even now, their science textbooks have to have a sticker on the font saying that evolution is a "controversial theory".
It’s not only evolution that has been attacked either – the stickers in Alabama refer to climate change as controversial too, and recent research has shown that many 6th-grade science textbooks in California represent climate change as debatable, giving equal weight to climate deniers' arguments.
But with the rise of social media and Internet connectivity, people have more access to the facts and information than ever before, and popular shows and films like the Big Bang Theory and Jurassic Park are also helping to popularise evolution.
"Young people are growing up with a less ideological closed mind," Evan Wolfson, an attorney and gay rights advocate told Gross. "Which is what a lot of the anti-evolution, anti-climate evolution, anti-climate change thinking is: it’s an ideology. It’s a refusal to engage with reality. Hopefully what we’re seeing here is that younger people are less prone to that."
"They’re growing up in the midst of the conversation, growing up in the midst of reality, being open to reality, and not simply refusing to see what’s in front of you," he added.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go before the rest of the 65 percent of the adult population get on board with secular evolution. And there's also the 52 percent of the population that doesn't believe there's consensus among the scientific community when it comes to climate change.
The real challenge will be to get all of America's teachers talking about climate change and evolution as fact, regardless of their own religious beliefs and the state they're in.
"We won’t have won until evolution gets taught as casually as we teach photosynthesis," said Eugenie Scott, co-founder of the National Centre for Science Education. "And we’re a long way from that."
But it’s a start, and every victory is worth celebrating. Now we’ve just got to keep going.
Update 23/11/2015: We've change the original teaser of this story, which contained the term 'war'. In hindsight it was inflammatory and we apologise.