THE EVOLUTION DEBATE
|Theory of evolution: The theory that all species of plants and animals descended from a common ancestor. It also asserts that the process of natural selection plays a large role in the diversification of life over time.
|Intelligent design: A new and developing theory that says certain features of living systems are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected mechanism. While ID does not reject evolution as change over time, or common ancestry, it does challenge the idea that life arose by undirected processes of natural selection.
|Creationism: The religious concept that a supernatural creator produced the universe and life directly. It's often based upon the Bible's Book of Genesis.
|Source: Webster's New World College Dictionary, John Angus Campbell, Stephen C. Meyer, Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch.
WASHINGTON - Majorities of Americans in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll say evolution and creationism are both likely explanations for life on Earth - underscoring the complexities of an issue that has put Republican presidential candidates on the spot in recent weeks.
Two-thirds in the poll said creationism, the idea that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years, is definitely or probably true. More than half, 53%, said evolution, the idea that humans evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, is definitely or probably true. All told, 25% say that both creationism and evolution are definitely or probably true.
Geoffrey Layman, a politics and religion expert at the University of Maryland, says people are trying to reconcile science and religion. "They might believe the science, or they might see the science as hard to dismiss, and they don't necessarily take Genesis to be literal," he says. "But they do think that God played some role in directing this evolutionary process."
At a May 3 debate of GOP candidates, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee indicated they did not believe in evolution. The subject has arisen repeatedly since then.
Brownback wrote last week in The New York Times that "man was not an accident" and that he accepts parts of evolution consistent with that belief. Huckabee told reporters Wednesday that "for me it's as simple as 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.'"
Nearly three in 10 in the new poll said they'd be less likely to vote for a candidate who rejects evolution; 15% said they'd be more likely, and 53% said it would make no difference. Huckabee says the issue is not relevant to a White House race and seven in 10 in the poll agreed with him.
Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and astronomer at Case Western Reserve University, said evolution is an important campaign issue. "Evolution happened whether or not a candidate believes in it," he said, and presidents shouldn't let "religious or ideological beliefs trump reality."