While scientists believe the universe began with a Big Bang, most Americans put a big question mark on the concept, a poll as found.
Yet when it comes to smoking causing cancer or that a genetic code determines who we are, the doubts disappear.
When considering concepts scientists consider truths, Americans have more scepticism than confidence in those that are farther away from our bodies in scope and time: global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and especially the Big Bang from 13.8 billion years ago.
Rather than quizzing scientific knowledge, the Associated Press-GfK survey asked people to rate their confidence in several statements about science and medicine.
On some, there’s broad acceptance.
Just four per cent doubt that smoking causes cancer, six per cent question whether mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain and eight per cent are sceptical there’s a genetic code inside our cells.
More – 15 per cent – have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines.
About four in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts.
But a narrow majority – 51 per cent – questions the Big Bang theory.
Those results depress and upset some of America’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, who vouched for the science in the statements tested, calling them settled scientific facts.
“Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts,” said 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley.
The poll highlights “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
And scientists know they’ve got the shakiest leg in the triangle.
To the public “most often values and beliefs trump science” when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the US population.
It involved online interviews with 1012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.