Josh Rosenau, evolutionary biologist and Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education downloaded the 2007 version of Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey and mapped the correlation between attitudes on the environment and attitudes on evolution. The result is the graph above. His blog post on this graph is here.
In the original survey, people had been asked which of these statements they most agreed with:
Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; or
Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.
The second question asked people to agree or disagree with the statement:
Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth.
The sizes of the circles are are in proportion to the relative population sizes in the original Pew survey.
As you’ll see, Buddhists strongly agree that evolution is the best way of explaining the origins of human life. This perhaps isn’t very surprising. There’s no Buddhist creation myth to defend, and in fact that things are subject to change is a key teaching of Buddhism. While the Buddha’s emphasis was on the way our experience changes, he often referred to cosmological change as well. Had the Buddha known about how species change over time he wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
Additionally, most Buddhists I know are relatively well-educated and liberal. They respect science, for the most part.
Buddhists are also among the most pro-environmental of all religious groups, in that they support environmental regulation. That the environment needs protection against the greed and delusion of humanity is so obvious to me as a Buddhist that I can’t believe that I have would have to explain why I, and other Buddhists, see things this way.
I suppose one could argue a case that the traditional Buddhist belief in rebirth would promote a respect for the environment. Who wants to be reborn in an environmental wasteland that they themselves have helped create in a previous life? Contrast that to the view of some evangelical Christians that the world is about to end soon. Why bother preserving the environment when God is about to end his experiment?
I’m not convinced that’s actually much of a factor, although I can’t rule it out.
I that people who are attracted to Buddhism in the US tend to be liberal and pro-environmental in the first place. However, I suspect that Buddhist practices such as a mindfulness of the consequences of our actions and the cultivation of lovingkindness and compassion do nudge Buddhists toward a pro-environmental stance that they generally tended toward anyway.