Debate continues over creationism’s place in Canada’s schools

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During this year’s federal campaign, religion played a minor role in shaping the perceptions of Canadians on the country’s party leaders. Most of the ink was devoted to Andrew Scheer’s views on social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. We also spent time talking about Quebec’s Bill 21, which forbids public sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work.

Education is a provincial jurisdiction, so it is rarely featured in Canadian federal campaigns. But this does not stop Canadians from engaging in discussions about the origin of life and what types of concepts should be taught in schools.

Other countries and school systems continue to struggle in an attempt to balance the religious beliefs of pupils and families with science. The United States has flirted with the concept of “intelligent design” – panned as “pseudoscientific” – and campaigns are underway in Britain to ensure that students, particularly in Wales, are introduced to evolution before they reach their teens.

Research Co. asked Canadians again about these issues. Across the country, three in five Canadians (61%) are more likely to side with the concept of evolution, saying that human beings “definitely” or “probably” evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years. This represents a five-point drop from our findings in 2018.

While in many other sociological and political issues we have seen a generational divide, the numbers are fairly stable among Canadians aged 18 to 34 (61%), those aged 35 to 54 (58%) and those aged 55 and over (60%).

Conversely, just under one in four Canadians (23%) believes God “definitely” or “probably” created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Once again, the proportions do not shift much with age: 20% for Canadians aged 18 to 34, 25% for those aged 35 to 54 and 23% for those aged 55 and over. While the numbers are slightly higher for Canadians aged 35 to 54, it does not mean that generation X is recovering the religion that was lost by listening to R.E.M. in the 1990s.

While many would expect the proportion of creationists to be significantly higher in the Prairies, the fluctuations are not extreme. We found that 26% of residents of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and 25% of those who live in Alberta side with creationism, only slightly higher than in Ontario (24%) and Atlantic Canada (23%).

British Columbia is home to the largest proportion of Canadians who claimed to have “no religion” in the 2011 census. Only one in five British Columbians (20%) is a creationist. Quebec has a smaller proportion (18%).

Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party of Canada in this year’s federal election are more likely to say creationism “definitely” or “probably” is true (30%) than those who voted for the Liberal Party of Canada (22%) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) (16%).

The sample allowed for a unique analysis of four different groups of Canadians according to religious beliefs. Atheists overwhelmingly agree with evolution (85%) and are joined by majorities of those who describe themselves as Catholics (62%), having no religion (57%) and Protestants (51%). In Canada, Protestants are more likely to believe in creationism (36%) than Catholics (25%).

While there is a sizable advantage for evolution over creationism when it comes to the origin and development of human beings on Earth, discussing “both sides” inside the classroom yields a different response.

Canadians are staunchly divided on whether creationism – the belief that the universe and life originated from specific acts of divine creation – should be part of the school curriculum in their province. Across the country, 38% think creationism has a place in the classroom, while 39% disagree and 23% are undecided. Respondents aged 55 and over are less likely to want creationism as a subject in school (34%) than those aged 35 to 54 (40%) and those aged 18 to 34 (also 40%).

The regional breakdowns echo the views on the origin of human beings. More than two in five residents of Alberta (45%) and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (43%) want creationism in schools, along with more than a third of Canadians who live in Ontario (37%), Atlantic Canada (36%), Quebec (36%) and British Columbia (35%).

While 40% of federal Conservative voters would teach creationism, the proportion drops among those who cast ballots for the Liberals (37%) and the NDP (31%) in the last election to the House of Commons.

The differences we saw earlier between Catholics and Protestants disappear when it comes to schools. Almost half of Canadians who describe themselves as following either faith (48%) want creationism in the classroom. Fewer than one in four Canadians who have no religion (22%) or are atheists (20%) concurs.

The way the country feels about these two questions continues to be diverse. While only one in four Canadians sides strongly or moderately with creationism, almost two in five believe it has a place in the country’s schools

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from November 4 to November 6, 2019, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.