Tonight I saw a film at my university titled Kansas vs. Darwin, with the filmmaker present, Q&A session, dinner, the works. It was very nice. While I've always maintained a certain fascination with Creationism, et al., I wasn't quite aware to how widespread beliefs in Creationism are. After watching the film, I decided to investigate what Gallup had to say:
2004 Gallup Poll on Americans beliefs: link
2007 Gallup Poll, coupled with some healthy Republican bashing, which reveals a similar trend: link
Now, I'm no social scientist, so I wouldn't say that I have the theoretical backing to interpret this data as well as it could be. But the trend is strong, in that Approximately 1/2 of Americans believe that God created man in his present form. This lies in contradistinction to the 1/3 of Americans which reject Evolution as a theory. I think this disparity is explainable in light of creationist beliefs that there is a difference between micro and macro evolution.
The percentage numbers on this are staggering, however. I'm from Kansas, and so from the filter of popular culture, news, as well as some personal experience (organically flavored with personal bias) I knew that there existed quite a few individuals who rejected the theory of evolution. From reading creationist websites, however, I gained the impression that this was a fairly fringe group of individuals due to the nature of the claims, and that I just so happened to be lucky enough to live in a blood-Red state, where bouts of insanity are viewed as acceptable (I'm more joking than serious). Clearly, however, these suppositions are wrong. The shear percentage of individuals refutes my supposition that "Creation Science" is a fringe movement, politically speaking, and the film above stated there was... somewhere around 27 other states going through similar struggles? I can't remember the exact number, but it was greater than Kansas + Texas, the two likely candidates.
From the dinner and the video viewing, it seemed that this widespread belief could be explained on the basis of what possible philosophical implications the theory of evolution entails. There is certainly a movement of persons who believe that the theory of evolution entails materialism, atheism, a loss of moral value, and/or the loss of human dignity and specialness. I am not of this group of individuals.
However, it seems that there is this perception, and it may best be explained by two notions: The notion that Animals are inferior to Humans, and the notion that God created Man in his own image.
If man is an animal, then the inference from evolution is that man is not special. This contradicts our notion that man is a special being with a special purpose above that of the animals. Therefore, evolution must be wrong, because it animalizes man. On the face, outside of arguments for evolution, this is a convincing argument -- one may look at animals in the zoo and conclude that there is a world of difference between us, and because we value ratio-emotional-linguistic expressions that happen to communicate well with us, one may conclude that man is a special sort of creature above the animals. This explains the large number, at least in part.
The second notion: If man was generated by natural processes, then he was not always in the shape that he currently is in, and this contradicts Biblical teaching. If Biblical teaching, supposedly incontrovertible, is wrong in one instance, and The Bible must be taken as a literal whole, and The Bible is the basis for moral beliefs, then the theory of evolution threatens not only the historical myths upon which moral beliefs are found, but the moral beliefs themselves.
It seems to me that, for the regular individual involved, they aren't interested in scientific truth. The individuals involved are interested in a spiritual truth. However, on top of this layer of worry about materialism and the decay of moral values in a Godless society predicated upon natural selection there seems to be a strong political current. The 2007 Gallup Poll suggests that Republicans are catering to this sort of audience. This is pretty much standard fare tactics for the Republican party (promising empty metaphysical maybes to convince rural districts to vote against their economic advantage), so I wouldn't be surprised if a large section of this percentage is explicable in terms of political clout. Something else mentioned at the film was the divisiveness of the topic of evolution, and the fact that those against evolution bond together socially over their non-belief in evolution. It would seem plausible, given the Gallup poll above, that the Republican party is cashing in politically on this movement, which would explain why it is widespread -- it would certainly explain where funding for the institutions which pump out creationist literature come from.
To ask these social bonds to be dissolved is to ask too much. But, simultaneously, to ask people to believe in the strongest scientific conclusions within a Western society isn't asking very much. This hints at another source of the problem: Science Education being horrible, and science education being horrible not just because we live in an anti-intellectual culture that values funding imperialistic ventures for its stockholders (though that doesn't help). There is a disconnect between the scientific communities expectations of scientific literacy, and their willingness to put effort into educating the public on scientific matters. This is natural, given that careers are built on publications and patents (which, coincidentally, happen to be the things which support the Market). But if the scientific community wants the public to be educated, and given that the public funds the scientific community they honestly have a right to know what's going on, they need to change their attitude towards outreach programs and the value of popular science work. If these become worthwhile career enhancers (though that shouldn't be the bottom line in choosing who popularizes and who doesn't) then we're likely to see a rise in scientific literacy.