Evolutionism, between science and religion

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The latest report from the Osservatorio Scienza e Società di Observa – Science in Society, in collaboration with Tuttoscienzetecnologia of La Stampa, Superquark and Quark.

Between Darwin and creationism, the “intelligent design” position is seen by Italians as a sort of “compromise”. Yet, Italian public opinion appears more ‘evolutionist’ compared to the US.

Are we a lay Country or are we living in a culture deeply influenced by religion, in particular the catholic one? And, consequently, does our social context have a positive or negative attitude towards scientific culture
These questions continue to emerge in many occasions of public debate: from the referendum on assisted reproduction to civil marriages (PACS), from the biological will to the school system reorganization.
When school teaching programs were reviewed, a strong debate ensued involving the darwinian perspective, creationism and the so-called “intelligent design” has been started. If we look at how interviewed people choose these three options, it results difficult to depict Italy as a country victim of anti-scientific resurgences. On one hand it could be noticed that evolutionism is supported by only 31% of the population, but on the other hand, creationism supporters are a modest 17%. This result is further strenghtened by the comparison with the USA situation. From a survey carried out by Gallup on September of the last year on behalf of CNN, for instance, it appeared that 53% of USA population think that “God created human beings with their present form, as it is described in the Bible”, whereas only 12% share the evolutionist perspective. In addition, the “intelligent design” hypothesis – to which four Italians out of ten suscribe – does not seem to be necessarily connected to anti-scientific positions, at least from the layman point of view. Even in the light of answers given to following questions, this attitude seems to be taken with a kind of pragmatic mediation that, while crediting Darwinian theory, it leaves open the possibility of a transcendental reference, without clashing with science.
Certainly the belief that the long and difficult evolutionary process by means of which man took shape would have been someway driven by a divine project is not consistent with the orthodox scientific view; however, it should not be necessarily interpreted as a clear rejection of the evolutionism. God’s role seems to be restricted to a marginal function: i.e., to arrange the conditions so that events’ course could gradually bring to man. It is a distant God, so distant from human matters that he is not inconsitent, in many opinions, with their scientific explanations.
Finally, we should consider that evolutionist positions are more common among young and more educated people, exactly the opposite of what happens with creationism; in short, evolutionism, even in the soft form of the “intelligent design”, belongs to the future, whereas creationism takes root in the past.
Finall, the 14% of non-answers should not be neglected – characterising mostly older people having difficulties to grasp the issue and therefore more inclined to fall back on more conservative positions.

When the attention shifts to how to address the issue of the man’s origin at school , the perspective of the “intelligent design” collects even more extensive agreements. In fact, if 65% of interviewees think that some space should be recognized to the theory of evolution as well as to the christian view of the creation, the hypothesis of a concurrence on a compromise position between science and religion seems to be still further strenghtened. On the other hand, only one Italian out of ten declares to be in favour of imposing creationism at school, exactly as it happens for the opposite front.
Again, younger and more educated people are more inclined to choose the first answer, whereas older and less educated people opt for the second one. The mediation hypothesis – both the theory of evolution and the christian view of the creation – in a quite homogenous way among age ranges and different levels of education, except for older and less educated people.
Of particular interest result motivations behind above mentioned evaluations.

If we focus on the part sample that would prefer to give space only to the theory of evolution, we can notice, for instance, that the great majority raise a legitimacy issue, recognizing the judgment competence of the science instead of religion (36%) or excluding the christian view because it is not scientifically provable (36%).
Conversely, the main reason for giving space only to the christian point of view especially depends on the incapacity of the science for answering to existential questions, more than on the opposition to science tout court.
The same thing applies to nearly a third of those who think it worth to propose both the theory of evolution and the christian interpretation of the creation. In this case, however, the majority refers to a kind of “educational pluralism principle” that seems in line with the idea of a likely coexistence, despite only 8% openly admits being in this perspective. It is nevertheless clear that these are different scopes: the christian view does not clash with the theory of evolution because it places itself outside the scientific evaluation criterions and then it is not considered as an actual rival.

This article was published by La Stampa’s TuttoScienzeTecnologia on the 8h of february, 2006.

The survey was conducted by means of CATI-method telephone interviews with a sample of 1410 subjects, stratified by gender, age, and geographical area of residence, and representing the Italian population aged 15 and over.