Evolutionary And Religious Perspectives On Space Exploration

Consider first the public's perceptions of evolution in the United States. 

According to the Pew Research Center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 33 percent of Americans think that people developed via natural processes, 25% believe that humans evolved "by God's plan," and 34% believe that humans have always been in their current form. 

This is down from 42 percent in 2005 who rejected evolution, while the combined number for evolution supporters (58 percent) is up from 48 percent in the same time period. 

Those who believe humans developed via natural processes rose from 26% to 33%, while those who believe in intelligent design increased from 18% to 25%. 

Religious traditions have quite different perspectives on evolution. 

Ninety percent of people who believe in intelligent design think religion is either very or extremely significant in their lives. 

Religion is either very or extremely significant in the lives of 93 percent of those who think people have always existed in their current form. 

Meanwhile, 52% of those who believe in natural processes as the cause of evolution say religion is either somewhat or extremely significant in their lives. 

Though not asked in the 2014 study, the 2005 study found that 63 percent of those who believe humans have always existed in their current form are “very certain about how life developed” (69 percent of biblical literalists); in contrast, 39 percent of believers in intelligent design are very certain, and only 28 percent of believers in natural processes are very certain. 

Another interesting finding from the 2014 study is that the more religious activities one engages in (e.g., attending services, praying, reading or studying scripture), the more likely one is to believe that humans have always existed in their current form or that humans evolved according to God's plan. 

Individuals who strongly believe that the Bible is God's literal word follow a similar trend. 

What does this have to do with astrobiology support? It must be stated up front that one's beliefs about evolution may or may not be predictive of one's beliefs about astrobiology or alien life. 

After all, individuals are known to have contradictory belief systems. 

Nonetheless, it's possible that skepticism about evolution is linked to a lack of interest in scientific solutions to questions like how life began or if alien life exists. 

That is, people who have strong concerns about natural selection may not only be uninterested in astrobiology, but may also prefer that astrobiologists avoid studying the origin and spread of life. 

This may be demonstrated by the fact that the vast majority of creationists are "quite confident" in their beliefs, and therefore are likely uninterested in what scientists have to say about the subject. 

The validity of this hypothesis is determined by how closely evolution, astrobiology, and the search for extraterrestrial life are linked in the public's mind — an intriguing area for future research, to be sure. 

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 

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