Darwin survey shows international consensus on acceptance of evolution

01 / 07 / 2009

A British Council poll into awareness of Charles Darwin and attitudes towards evolution has found that there is a broad international consensus of acceptance towards his theory of evolution.

The British Council, the UK’s international body for cultural relations, announced the results of its global survey at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in London on Tuesday 30 June, 2009, as part of its international programme Darwin Now, to mark the publication of Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection on 24 November, 1859.

The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, surveyed over ten thousand adults across ten countries worldwide including Argentina, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Great Britain and the USA.

The results show that the majority of people polled have heard of Charles Darwin with the highest levels of awareness in Russia (93%), Mexico (91%), Great Britain (91%), and China (90%) whilst less than half of people polled in Egypt (38%) and South Africa (27%) saying they had not heard of him. Overall, the majority (70%) of people surveyed have heard of the British naturalist.

Adults in the United States (84%) showed the highest levels of awareness and understanding of evolution and Darwin’s theories followed by Great Britain (80%) saying they had a ‘good or some knowledge’ of the theory of evolution

In all countries polled more people agreed than disagreed that it is possible to believe in a God and hold the view that life evolved on Earth by means of natural selection at the same time, with those in India most likely (85%) to be of this opinion, followed by Mexico (65%), Argentina (63%), South Africa, Great Britain (54%), USA, Russia (53%), Egypt, Spain (45%), and China (39%).

In six out of ten countries the majority of people who had heard of Charles Darwin and know something about his theory of evolution agreed with the view that there is enough scientific evidence that exists to support the theory against an overall average of 54 percent.

Only Russia (48%), USA (42%), South Africa (41%) and Egypt (25%) remained sceptical about the scientific evidence that exists to support Darwin’s theory.

The results also show that a significant proportion of those people surveyed in the USA, South Africa and India (43%) believe that all life on Earth, including human life, has always existed in its current form.

In all other countries, people in China (74%), Mexico (69%), Argentina (68%), Great Britain (63%) Russia, Spain (56%), and Egypt (52%) were of the view that more people thought that life on Earth, including human life, evolved over time either by a process guided by God or as a result of natural selection in which no God played a part.

Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, Head of the British Council Darwin Now programme, said: ‘The international Darwin survey has thrown up some very interesting results, especially as it includes data from countries not previously covered before. The most encouraging aspect of the survey shows that whilst there are diverse views on Darwin’s theory of evolution, there appears to a broad acceptance that science and faith do not have to be in conflict. Whilst the results show that there is some way to go in communicating the evidence of evolutionary theory to wider audiences, it is evident that there is clear space for dialogue on this sometimes complex area of debate.’

The survey is now open to the public in each of these countries and can be completed by visiting the survey online. Over the coming months, this survey will create the largest data set ever gathered on the public’s understanding of evolutionary theory.


For more information and to request a copy of the survey, please contact, Tony Stephenson, Adam Michael, or Benjamyn Tan on +44 (0) 20 7457 2020 or send them an email.

Notes to Editors

About Darwin Now

Darwin Now is the British Council’s contribution to the international celebration of the 200 year anniversary of Darwin’s birth (on the 12th February) and the 150 year anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ (on the 24th November). Through this international programme of activity the British Council is seeking to engage new audiences, to make Darwin’s theory of evolution relevant to their lives, and to encourage involvement and debate. Darwin Now will look at the impact of Darwin’s ideas and their impact on contemporary biology, medicine and society.  It comprises a year long programme of activity including outreach work and exhibitions in schools and further education colleges, a mobile exhibition, interactive website with and supporting workshops.  The campaign is expected to run in up to 50 countries worldwide, including the regions of Europe, North Africa, East Asia, America and Latin America. 

In the UK, highlights include the British Science Association, Festival of Science in September, and a youth summit involving 60 students from around the world, which will be held at the Natural History Museum in July.  The programme culminates in three-day international Darwin’s Darwin’s Living Legacy Conference on Science on Society, which will be in partnership with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, between 14-16 November, 2009. For more information, please go to http://www.britishcouncil.org/darwin

The survey in Great Britain was conducted by Ipsos MORI between 3rd April and 9th April 2009. 973 interviews were completed amongst a nationally representative quota sample of adults aged 18 and over on an omnibus survey. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in the respondent’s home. Results have been weighted to the known population

About British Council

The British Council, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009, works in more than 100 countries worldwide to build engagement and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. During 2008, the British Council reached over 128 million people worldwide through a range of cultural programmes involving the arts, education, science, sport and governance. For more information, please go to www.britishcouncil.org

About MORI

Ipsos MORI, part of the Ipsos Group, is a leading market research company in the UK with an extensive global reach. The Ipsos network covers more than 55 countries across the globe, providing clients with the best service in five key specialisms. For more information, please visit the Ipsos MORI website at www.ipsos-mori.com.




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