Religion and politics play prominently when it comes to people's views on evolution, a new poll shows.
Six of 10 Americans believe human beings have evolved over time, while just 33 percent believe humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
And among those who believe in human evolution, nearly one-fourth (24 percent) said the process is controlled by a supreme being while 32 percent said it was a natural process.
Writing for USA Today, columnist Eli Federman said the survey shows that for many belief in God can be compatible with evolution.
"Nothing about evolution disproves God or religion," he wrote. "It is simply a sound scientific understanding of our origins. It doesn't prove nor disprove a God claim."
But even among the religious, the differing views about evolution are stark.
About two-thirds (64 percent) of white Evangelical Protestants reject the idea of evolution, as do half of black Protestants, Pew found. By comparison, only 15 percent of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.
"Three-quarters of the religiously unaffiliated (76 percent) and 68 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics" say they believe in evolution, the survey stated.
Among the religious people who do believe in evolution, there were differences of opinion about how the evolutionary process works. Pew notes that the white mainline Protestants who claim humans have evolved are evenly split on the question of whether evolution is a natural process or it's guided by a supreme being (36 percent each). The split on the same question is 33 percent each among white Catholics.
The survey also showed that education is a factor is differing views on evolution. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of college graduates believe in human evolution compared with roughly half (51 percent) of those with a high school education or less.
Interestingly, Pew found that factors such as religiosity or racial and ethnic backgrounds of respondents don't entirely explain why Democrats and Republicans have increasingly opposing views on evolution.
More than two-thirds of Democrats (67 percent) and independents (65 percent) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43 percent), the survey stated.
"The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009," Pew researchers noted. "Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43 percent today vs. 54 percent in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same."
While Pew doesn't venture to explain the partisan divide on views of evolution, David Graham of The Atlantic offered this assessment:
"Maybe the gap represents an emotional response by Republicans to being out of power," Graham wrote. "Among others, Chris Mooney has argued that beliefs on politically contentious topics are often more rooted in opposition to perceived attacks than anything else — an instance of 'motivated reasoning' though it will be hard to tell until Republicans control Washington again."