A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that just one in five Americans are confident the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang. Scientists were despondent, blaming religion and politics for a lagging adoption of what they believe to be a settled debate.
But, the poll also revealed a dynamic that has larger implications for political debates: Democrats, Republicans and independents are each more confident that "the universe is so complex, there must be a supreme being guiding its creation." Among Democrats -- who are more apt to trust scientists in general -- 45 percent were very confident in a supreme being's role, compared with 27 percent who expressed confidence in the Big Bang, an 18-percentage-point gap. The gaps were larger among independents (25 points) and Republicans (62 points).
The widespread belief in a divine evolutionary role is nothing new, and it should not be terribly surprising given that the vast majority of Americans profess some religious faith and that even more believe in God. But the AP poll showcases in stark terms why politicians of all parties walk on eggshells when talking about the intersection of science and faith. Taking a hard line on creationism or evolution risks either being labeled a science denier or alienating the majority of Americans who believe God (or a "supreme being") played some major role in the Earth's creation.
This dynamic doesn't appear likely to change anytime soon. While the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans is rising, the number of self-identified atheists remains quite small. For most Americans, greater confidence in scientific theories of creation may come only once they fit into the context of their long-held religious views.