Big Bang Doubts - Survey Finds Faith Often Trumps Science
April 22, 2014

Survey: Over Half Of All Americans Have Doubts About The Big Bang

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Scientists may be thoroughly convinced that the universe began with the Big Bang nearly 14 million years ago, but a new Associated Press/GFK poll reveals that a majority of Americans continue to have their doubts.

When asked to rate how sure they were that the statement “the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang” was correct, 51 percent of responders said they were either “not too confident” or “not at all confident,” Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic reported on Monday.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the survey also had other somewhat surprising results, such as the fact that approximately 40 percent of US residents “say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts.”

In comparison, only eight percent doubted that human cells contained a genetic code, just six percent questioned whether mental illness was a medical condition that impacts the brain, and a mere four percent were skeptical that smoking leads to cancer. Fifteen percent had doubts that childhood vaccines were safe and effective.

The survey results were enough to “depress and upset” some of the country’s preeminent scientists, according to AP correspondents Jennifer Agiesta and Seth Borenstein – including Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley (winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine), who said, “Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.”

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) chief executive Alan Leshner added that when it comes to the general public, “most often values and beliefs trump science” when there is conflict between the two. 2012 Nobel Prize winning Duke University biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz added that “when you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith… because faith is untestable.”

Prior to 2010, an annual survey of American beliefs about science produced by the National Science Board asked the following question: True or false, the universe began with a huge explosion, Madrigal said. Since 1990, the percentage of people responding ‘true’ to that question has been between 32 and 38. In 2012, they added ‘according to astronomers’ to the statement for half of the survey participants. Sixty percent of Americans said the statement was true when the three extra words were present, compared to just 39 percent of the other half.

“Before you lament the fall of the republic, consider that very little has changed in the public awareness of scientific knowledge over the past 20 years,” Madrigal reported. “But here's the good news. On a general level, Americans' understanding of science is comparable to people in other countries.”

“For example, the NSB notes that in a 22-question 2011 survey of 10 European countries and the US, the American mean was 14.3 correct answers, ranking behind Denmark (15.6), the Netherlands (15.3), Germany (14.8), and the Czech Republic (14.6) but ahead of Austria (14.2), the UK (14.1), and France (13.8),” she added.