Here are the choices from a Gallup poll that periodically asks people about their beliefs in religion and evolution:
Which one of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?
A) God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.
B) Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation.
C) Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process.
Over the past 25 years or so, Gallup has given a poll with this question, and the answer with the most respondents has always been A, consistently between 40-50% of the population.
First of all, I think it's strange that they use the more neutral term "human beings" in the question, and "man" in the answers, but I'm not sure how much that's skewing responses.
What I was thinking about was the extent to which responses would differ if you primed people to think about small changes over geological time periods. For example, I'd like to see one group which was first asked a question or series of questions such as:
Which one of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin of the Grand Canyon?
A) God created the Grand Canyon pretty much in its present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.
B) The Grand Canyon has formed over millions of years by the natural processes of erosion, but God guided this process.
C) The Grand Canyon has formed over millions of years by the natural processes of erosion. God had no part in this process.
You could vary it up slightly, and use other geological or astronomical entities, like Mount Everest or Mars, but I think you get the idea.
I'd hypothesize that people on the whole would be more accepting of the idea of gradual change over long spans of time without the intervention of god if presented with a less personal example than the origin of humans. I think this priming would then shift opinion when people were asked about the origins of humans.
I don't have time to do it, but it would be a fun and informative experiment. Anybody out there think that there would be no difference in the answers between such groups?