Not a year goes by without a U.S. state becoming embroiled in a discussion about creationism and evolution.
In 2023, the turn belongs to West Virginia, where the state senate has approved a bill that seeks to allow “teachers in public schools that include any one or more of grades kindergarten through 12 to teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and-or humanity came to exist.”
As expected, the scientific community in the U.S. is not thrilled with this development. Some jurisdictions have relied on “intelligent design” to suggest that evolution and creationism can coexist. In short, the concept does not deny that species evolved, but speculates that a larger being “guided the process.” This debate, along with the never-ending ones about gun control, is not something that Canadians have experienced with the same fervour of Americans.
Research Co. and Glacier Media ask Canadians about their views on creationism and evolution on a regular basis. This year, we continue to see a three-to-one margin on the origin and development of human beings on earth: 63 per cent think human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, while 21 per cent believe God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.
In the eight times I have asked this question to Canadians, starting in 2007, the divergence between evolution and creationism has always been large. Belief in creationism hit its highest point in 2021 (26 per cent) but dropped to 18 per cent last year and gained three points in 2023. We have always seen a majority of Canadians siding with evolution, with a high of 66 per cent in 2018 and a low of 57 per cent in 2021.
This year, more men (68 per cent) than women (60 per cent) say evolution is closest to their own point of view. Canadians aged 18 to 34 are also more likely to side with evolution (71 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (63 per cent) and aged 55 and over (61 per cent).
On a regional basis, more than two-thirds of British Columbians (71 per cent) and Quebecers (68 per cent) believe in evolution. The proportions are lower, yet still account for a majority of residents, in Alberta (64 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (61 per cent), Ontario (60 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (57 per cent).
While just over three in five Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party in 2021 (62 per cent) acknowledge that evolution is closest to their view, the proportions rise among those who supported the Liberal party (71 per cent) and the New Democratic Party (74 per cent) in the last federal ballot.
We could assume that, given the high level of agreement with evolution, the concept of creationism would not be welcome in the country’s classrooms. Our data once again shows that the views of Canadians on this second matter are more nuanced.
In 2018, almost half of Canadians (46 per cent) disagreed with the notion of schools teaching creationism. Support for this purported ban fell to 39 per cent in 2019 and to 34 per cent in 2021.
In 2022, 42 per cent of Canadians disagreed with creationism in the classroom, while 38 per cent endorsed it. This year, the percentages have flipped: 43 per cent of Canadians see a place for creationism in the school curriculum, while 38 per cent do not.
There is no gender gap in 2023, with 43 per cent of male and female respondents welcoming the idea of young students learning about creationism. The fascinating shift is generational: Half of Canadians aged 18 to 34 (50 per cent) are in favour of teaching creationism in school, while support among their counterparts aged 35 to 54 and aged 55 and over is lower (42 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively).
Ontario and Atlantic Canada – the regions where endorsement of evolution is lowest – are ahead of the pack when it comes to discussing creationism in the classroom (47 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively). The numbers are lower in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (41 per cent), Alberta (40 per cent) and the two provinces that are most pro-evolution: Quebec and British Columbia (each at 39 per cent).
Our annual look at evolution and creationism in Canada shows that our perceptions on the origin and development of human beings on this planet are not budging: A sizable majority of Canadians believe that we evolved. The subtlety is on just how much we want children exposed to creationism. The country’s youngest adults – who have been out of school for the shortest period – are more likely to believe that there is a place for it inside the classroom.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from April 7 to April 9, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.