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Gen X's attitude toward evolution has changed over time

Does the battle over evolution ever truly end? With the 100th anniversary of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial looming, a new study dives into how Generation X (Gen X), the kids who grew up in the trial’s shadow, feel about evolution as they’ve gotten older. The results might surprise you.

Gen X’s opinions on evolution

Gen X refers to the generation born approximately between 1965 and 1980. This group follows the Baby Boomers and precedes the Millennials, often known for their adaptability to technology and value on work-life balance.

Did you know that, as middle and high schoolers, Gen Xers weren’t so sure about evolution? The researchers found that a big chunk of them were undecided. But as this generation went through school, built careers, and became adults, their opinions became a lot more certain.

The study was led by Jon D. Miller, a research scientist emeritus in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan,

“Some may challenge whether the evolution issue is still of relevance and consider it to be a harmless curiosity,” said Miller.

“However, we believe that there are numerous examples of public policy over recent decades when an understanding of basic biological constructs would have helped inform public and political debate on those issues.”

What shaped Gen X’s evolution views?

The study, which tracked 5,000 Gen X-ers for a whopping 33 years, revealed some key factors that affected whether someone ended up accepting or rejecting evolution:


College-level science courses immerse students in the principles of evolution, providing in-depth explanations, evidence, and discussions. This comprehensive knowledge strengthens understanding and makes acceptance more likely.

Furthermore, higher education, particularly in the sciences, cultivates critical thinking skills. Students learn to assess information, weigh evidence, and form reasoned conclusions. This makes them less susceptible to arguments that contradict established scientific theories like evolution.

Completing advanced degrees signifies a level of scientific literacy. This means understanding how scientific knowledge develops, the testing and refinement of theories, and the importance of peer review processes – elements that give evolution a solid foundation of validity.


Many fundamentalist religious beliefs are centered on creationism – the idea that the universe and living beings were created by a divine being. This directly clashes with the scientific theory of evolution, which explains the development of life through gradual changes over long periods of time.

Fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts often place faith as the primary source of knowledge and truth. This can contrast with evolution’s reliance on empirical evidence, leading to a rejection of the concept by those who prioritize faith-based explanations.

For some with strong religious beliefs, accepting evolution might feel like it challenges the core tenets of their faith. This perceived threat can cause a strong internal conflict, frequently leading to the outright rejection of evolution to preserve those belief systems.

It is crucial to note that the relationship between religion and evolution is complex. Many people reconcile religious faith with their acceptance of evolution. This study specifically highlights the connection between fundamentalism and evolution rejection.

Evolution views of Gen X evolved over their lifetime

As people from Gen X got older, they started to feel more sure about evolution. The following may explain their journey:

The teen years: Why the Gen X evolution uncertainty?

During middle and high school, evolution might be covered briefly or superficially in science classes. Students may not receive a thorough enough explanation for full understanding or firm belief.

Teenagers often get information from various sources – family, religious communities, social circles, and media. These might present conflicting viewpoints on evolution, creating confusion.

Adolescence is a time of identity and belief formation. Teenagers are sorting through complex ideas about the world, making it natural to feel unsure about topics like evolution.

Young adulthood: Influences that shape opinions

College experiences often solidify beliefs. Science courses offer in-depth knowledge, exposure to diverse viewpoints challenges preconceptions, and this can lead to a firmer stance on evolution – whether accepting or rejecting.

As discussed, early careers can influence how people think about science. Working in scientific fields promotes evolution acceptance, whereas working in environments rooted in certain religious beliefs might strengthen its rejection.

The U.S. has become increasingly divided on political and social issues, including evolution. Affiliation with certain political groups can reinforce pre-existing beliefs about evolution, even if they contradict scientific understanding.

Midlife: Mostly settled beliefs

By the 30s and 40s, people typically have more settled worldviews, families, and communities. These factors can reinforce existing beliefs, leading to only minor shifts in attitudes about evolution.

While some individuals remain open to changing their minds throughout life, research suggests that after a certain age, our core beliefs become less likely to shift dramatically.

It’s still a controversial topic

Clearly, the U.S. is still a nation sharply divided on evolution. The study on Gen X’s opinions underscores the fact that the United States remains a nation with a significant split of opinion on the topic of evolution.

This means that a large portion of the population accepts the scientific explanation for the development of life on Earth, while another sizeable group disagrees with the theory of evolution through natural selection.

Miller argues that even in a time of great scientific advancement, “U.S. science and technology continue to prosper, although a substantial minority of American adults reject the idea that humans developed from earlier species of animals.”

Study significance

The study shows us a few important things:

Beliefs aren’t set in stone

How we feel about big scientific concepts can evolve over our lifetimes. We’re constantly exposed to new information, research, and ideas. Intellectual curiosity means a willingness to reassess our understanding of the world as we learn more. This can lead to evolution (pun intended!) in our thinking on scientific topics.

As we mature, we may gain enough perspective to question beliefs held since childhood. Introspection and critical thinking encourage us to consider alternative viewpoints, potentially revising our own views on complex topics like evolution.

Experience matters

We can’t overstate the impact of education. In-depth study of scientific subjects offers the most comprehensive way to understand, appreciate, and form informed opinions.

Careers can shape our worldviews. Working in science reinforces the validity of scientific theories, while jobs in some faith-based communities might strengthen beliefs that contradict established science.

Engaging with people from diverse backgrounds exposes us to different ideas and perspectives. Respectful discussions can help us see the world in new ways, and potentially soften deeply held beliefs over time.

Science literacy is crucial

Understanding ideas like evolution can be incredibly important for making informed decisions as a society. Many challenges we face – from healthcare to climate change – have a basis in science. Scientific literacy means we better understand the problems and can evaluate proposed solutions.

The study is published in the journal Public Understanding of Science.


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