How did life originate? The questions we ask shape the answers.

Explaining the origins of life is our theme this week on, making use of the 200th birthday of British naturalist Charles Darwin to discuss the topic.  On Monday, I shared Gallup’s findings about how divided Americans are on this issue.
The wording of Gallup’s questions about the origins of life caused consternation.  Pointing out some of the limitations of these survey items, Craig asked, “Do other polls have finer shades of meaning, that don’t force choices that may not accurately reflect underlying beliefs?”


David Crumm

shared Craig’s frustration, asking, “Who shapes the questions? Who forces what
choices in the conversation?”Craig and
David put their fingers on the pollster’s bane – that the questions we ask
shape the answers we get.


So, let’s look
at how Pew, another titan of the survey world, asks questions about the origins
of life.  Think of it as a survey
slugfest, Gallup
versus Pew.


Instead of one
question, Pew asks a chain of questions, starting with this one:  “Some people think that humans and other
living things have evolved over time. 
Others think humans and other living things have existed in their
present form since the beginning of time. Which of these comes closest to your



Almost half –
48% – say life evolved; 42% say humans and other living things have existed as
they are today from the dawn of time.


BUT – and
here’s the big difference from Gallup
– Pew asks for more information from the 48%, presenting two options:


(1) “Humans
and other living things have evolved due to processes such as natural
selection.” A little more than half of the 48% pick this option.


 (2) “A supreme being guided the evolution of
living things for the purpose of creating humans and other living things.”  About a third of the 48% say this is so.


The remainder
(about 10% of the 48%) said they didn’t know.


What do you
think of the nuances of Pew’s questions? 
Are these better than Gallup’s?

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Read Monday’s article on Darwin



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