‘Science Ignorance Is Pervasive In Our Society': Poll Finds Majority Of Americans Question Big Bang Theory

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This image, showing the first all-sky microwave image of the universe soon after the Big Bang, was released by a team of astronomers from NASA and Princeton University on Feb. 10, 2003 in Washington, D.C. (credit: NASA/MAPs Team/Getty Images)

This image, showing the first all-sky microwave image of the universe soon after the Big Bang, was released by a team of astronomers from NASA and Princeton University on Feb. 10, 2003 in Washington, D.C. (credit: NASA/MAPs Team/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Scientists are disturbed from a new poll that reveals that a majority of Americans question the Big Bang theory.

An Associated Press-GfK poll found that 51 percent of Americans are not confident that the universe began nearly 14 billion years ago. The poll also showed that 42 percent of American adults don’t believe in evolution and 36 percent don’t think that Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

“It is enormously distressing that science, which is our most powerful means for gaining insight into the world, insight into truth, is so mistrusted by so many people,” Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, told CBS News.

One Nobel Prize winner called it “science ignorance” that people refuse to believe in facts.

“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts,” 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley told the AP.

Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said that people are cautious of accepting facts that they don’t understand.

“They believe them for social reasons — you have been maintaining your relationships with people; holding certain beliefs is part of that,” Willingham told CBS News. “When you’re arguing with someone, no one ever says ‘No, I just won’t believe that because it’s too damn frightening to believe’ — they’re going to give you rational reasons … [It’s] very difficult to persuade someone when that’s their motivation.”

Political and religious values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change.

Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith.

“When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can’t argue against faith,” said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. “It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable.”

“Many people get hung up on buzzwords like ‘evolution,’ ‘cloning,’ ‘stem cell,’ or ‘climate change,’ which they do not necessarily understand, but have formed opinions about nonetheless,” Andrew Shtulman, professor of psychology at Occidental College, told CBS News.

Shtulman indicated that the sensationalizing of scientific findings needs to be avoided.

“These opinions effectively block the reception of new information, even when that information is not itself controversial,” he told CBS News. “The more scientists (and the media) can avoid sensationalizing scientific findings, the better.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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