Few in Brazil accept scientific view of human evolution

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[RIO DE JANEIRO] The theory that humans have evolved over millions of years independent of any ‘divine’ influence is not widely accepted in Brazil, according a survey by the country’s main public opinion analyst, IBOPE.

Scientists believe modern humans are the result of an evolutionary process that involves random mutations in our genetic material, some of which confer advantages and are therefore perpetuated down generations.

Only nine per cent of the Brazilians interviewed said they accept that scientific consensus. More than half (54 per cent) said humans developed over millions of years, but that a God planned and controlled the process. And almost one-third (31 per cent) of interviewees believe a God created humans 10,000 years ago, and that we have not changed since then.

The survey was commissioned by Época magazine, one of Brazil’s top three general magazines, to stimulate debate about a controversial decision made last year by the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Rosinha Mateus, to introduce teaching of creationism in schools.

Creationists believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation of the universe and life on earth.

A significant number (89 per cent) of those interviewed by IBOPE said creationism should be taught in schools, with 75 per cent of the interviewees going further, saying creationism should replace evolutionary theory. Many of these respondents were those who stated that humans have changed over time, but that a God controls the process rather than it being random, as scientists contend.

Ildeu de Castro Moreira, head of science communication at Brazil’s Ministry of Science and Technology, claims that some of the survey’s questions were confusing, leading to a bias in the answers.

For example, one question asked whether respondents thought humans had been developing over millions of years, but did not explain clearly what ‘developing’ meant.

Moreira also says that complexity of the issue means that the results of the survey cannot be simply explained as a “war between religious and scientific beliefs”. One factor at play, he says, is the poor quality of science teaching in Brazil.

He says the government and civil society organisations should focus education efforts on young people, who have open minds.

Ennio Candotti, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, agrees that the survey highlights the poor quality of science education, adding that a widespread creationist viewpoint is not limited to Brazil, but is also a feature of other countries including the United States.

“It is task of the schools to distinguish different fields, keeping areas such as physics, mathematics and biology separate from moral principles and cultural values, yet teaching them together in a harmonic way”, he says.

Candotti suggests creationism could be taught within the framework of theories that seek to explain the formation and the evolution of the universe and the world.

The survey showed education level had only a slight influence on people’s beliefs. Only ten per cent of those with a university degree believed in evolution unguided by a God, whereas among those without a university education, the figure was six per cent.

The article published by Época provoked protests from creationists, who said the survey’s results were reported in a way that was biased in favour of evolution. The Brazilian Creationist Society collected on its website comments made in response to the Época article by representatives of the main creationist organisations.

According to one of the comments, by Christiano P. da Silva Neto, president of the Brazilian Association for Research on Creation, teaching creationism in schools does not exclude evolutionary theory: “Considering that neither theory of the origin of life can be proved scientifically, both should be taught in schools to allow students to consider the arguments for each and decide what makes sense for them and which they will consider as the true explanation of our origins.”

The IBOPE survey, held on 9-15 December, included 2,002 people, in a representative sample of the entire Brazilian population over 16 years old. According to IBOPE, the error of margin in the survey’s results in plus or minus 2.2 per cent.

E no princípio era o que mesmo? (Story published by Época, in Portuguese)

Rosinha contra Darwin (In Portuguese)