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August 08, 2005

We Don't Believe

QandO's got an interesting table on evolution beliefs by party affiliation.  Turns out 9% of Republicans believe in evolution without God, while 16% of Democrats and 14% of Independents feel similarly.  23% of Republicans are fans of intelligent design, as are 28% of Democrats and Independents.  66% of Republicans are creationists, while 51% of Democrats and Independents are.

Huh. 

So Republicans are substantially more creationist than Democrats and Independents, but the difference is between a bare majority and a large majority.  Not the most heartening of news.  QandO says the President is reflecting mainstream opinion.  True enough.  But that's no excuse.  Leaders should lead, not follow, and they should consider it important that the countries they run have some respect for science and evidence, as those two tend to fuel the global economy.  Americans can believe what they want, but with Republicans doing their damndest to discredit everything from biological science to climatological evidence to regulatory reports, the war they're waging on empiricism is probably not going to have a good ending.  I'm going to outsource further comments on this to John Rogers.  I better get used to doing that.  When a country doesn't believe in science and seems viscerally uncomfortable with intellectualism, outsourcing is a word citizens best get used to.

August 8, 2005 in Education | Permalink

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the phrase "Intelligent Design" was not actually used in the wording of the original poll... There's an interesting difference between the belief that evolution was "guided by God" and ID. [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 8, 2005 9:56:39 PM

Comments

Are Americans more inclined to believe in Creationism now than at other times in the past?

Are we more or less likely to believe in Creationism than Europeans?

Is there in fact any evidence at all that belief in creationism correlates with poor economic performance of a nation?

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 8, 2005 2:58:32 PM

Dave, creationism certainly correlates with poor economic performance. Looking at economic stagnation in the long pre-Darwin time period is the best way to see that. This doesn't answer the subsequent question of whether there's causation, though.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 8, 2005 3:09:25 PM

Here's another intersting obersvation to plug into this whole line of thought. Ever been to a science or engineering research department recently, either at a University or at an American high-tech firm? Ever notice what percentage of the scientists there are Asian immigrants?

America isn't just losing its technical edge to Asia -- much of what technical edge it retains comes from people trained by the public education systems and cultures of learning in Asia -- much of "American" scientific and high-tech output comes from people raised in systems and cultures *other* than America. Subtract their output from America's productivity and technolgical edge, and you get a true picture of how competitive America, and its culture, itself is. And it's not a pretty picture.

Posted by: Tortuga | Aug 8, 2005 3:12:13 PM

It would appear to me that the liberal non-believers are the ones that wish to quash other opinions other than their own. The believers have not lobbied to remove the theory of evolution, but to also have creationism available to the reader.
In contrast, the liberal athiests only want evolution taught...one side...thiers.

So who is the open minded group, after all??

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 8, 2005 3:27:43 PM

Because ID isn't science, Fred, it's bullshit. And it has nothing to do it with tolerance or open mindeness. Scince teaches knowlable, reproducable facts about the world, not the popular fairy tales of the day. How many times are we going to go through this? You can't teach ID in a science class, for the same reason you don't teach Elvish in English class.

Posted by: Keith | Aug 8, 2005 3:45:13 PM

In contrast, the liberal athiests only want evolution taught...one side...thiers.

Not true. I certainly think creationism (or "intelligent design," whatever) should be taught in a "Myths and the People Who Believe Them" class. Along with the legend of Momotaro, which, let's face it, is an awesome story.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 8, 2005 3:46:44 PM

I like the "Elvish" line, Keith. To reinforce that point, take a look at my favorite cartoon on the issue.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 8, 2005 3:49:47 PM

QandO says the President is reflecting mainstream opinion. True enough. But that's no excuse.
True. But then, I don't recall a President who didn't believe in some variation on creationism. Even Clinton has often said that "God created" man/nature/etc.

Ultimately, Bush says the same thing the Clinton administration said about evolution/creation/ID in the classroom: leave it to the states and local school boards. From a form-of-government point of view, I absolutely agree with that.

From a scientific point of view, I absolutely agree that creationism and Intelligent design have no place in the classroom at all. We already have a place for that kind of thing...it's called "Church".

Ultimately, I think the widespread lack of belief in evolution is a result of the facts that:

1) it conflicts with institutionalized and almost-congenital religious beliefs, and

2) Science -- real, in-depth science -- is, in fact, hard. I certainly don't know the latest thinking on matters of physics. I don't happen to think time-travel is actually possible, but I know that many prominent scientists go back and forth on that issue. (in theory, anyway)

Most people don't keep up with, or particularly care about, that sort of thing. So, since most people are religious, they believe the only logical thing: "God" had a role in creating the universe.

I don't think this is a particularly partisan issue. Going by polling data, it doesn't seem to be.

Posted by: Jon Henke | Aug 8, 2005 3:54:08 PM

Fred: I think English should teach Lord of the Rings. I think Social Sciences should go over the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But I don't think kids should be taught that Gandalf exists or Jews run the world.

I trust I need not extend the analogy further?

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 8, 2005 4:21:02 PM

The key phrase is "evolution without God." Aren't there a number of mainstream religions (and scientists) who accept the compatibility of God and evolution? E.g. God created physics and this naturally led to evolution etc. I wonder what the poll would show if there was a fourth category "believes in both evolution and God."

Posted by: Frank Black | Aug 8, 2005 4:30:36 PM

Science -- real, in-depth science -- is, in fact, hard. I certainly don't know the latest thinking on matters of physics. I don't happen to think time-travel is actually possible, but I know that many prominent scientists go back and forth on that issue. (in theory, anyway)

This seems about right. I also wonder how much it really matters that most so many people have been bamboozled by this anti-evolution nonsense. I mean, people need to understand -- though not necessarily believe in -- the theory of evolution in order to do all sorts of higher biological research and (I think) medicine, but are there actually people being deterred from entering these fields because they believe in creationism, or were taught creationism in school?

That is, let X equal the maximum feasible number of people who could enter into the fields of biology or medicine. Are we actually at X right now, or at less than X because so many people believe in creationism? If we're at X, or close to it, then this problem doesn't seem so earth-shattering, and fears of outsourcing perhaps unfounded, although it still bothers me that people are learning hokum in public schools.

Posted by: Brad Plumer | Aug 8, 2005 4:42:33 PM

I second Frank Black. The results are disturbing enough, but I bet that the questions were poorly worded.

First off, I don't "believe in" evolution. I accept that it is the scientific theory which best explains the origin and development of life. Talking about a belief in evolution smacks too much of religious faith. A small point.

Second, as a theological matter I do believe that God created man in His image. What the precise implications of that are I can't say. I certainly don't believe that we should take the bible literally.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Aug 8, 2005 4:43:19 PM

You raise a good point, Frank. Only the atheists or hardcore Deists would argue that evolution occurred without God. Almost all Christians who accepted the reality of evolution would argue that God was involved in the process. A better poll question would be to ask how many people think it is acceptable to teach things like intelligent Design or other creationist ideas as science.
I think (hope) there are plenty of people who would say that God was involved in the evolution of manwhile also conceding that this was not a "scientific theory."

Posted by: Constantine | Aug 8, 2005 4:45:11 PM

Because ID isn't science

Yeah, I guess that's why we call it the "Fact of Evolution", isn't it?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 8, 2005 4:50:20 PM

Here's some more alarming news (via my favourite webstie, Polling Report): between 1994 and 2005, the percentage of Americans who say they believe human beings have evolved from earlier species has dropped six points, according to the Harris poll, and the percentage who believe in straight creationism has increased by 8 points (I wish I could see the numbers circa 1999 to see if there's a Bush-911 effect.)

Plus, Harris says that only 12% of people right now think evolution should be taught alone, while 55% think all three should be taught (the question doesn't specify science class.)

I wish I could say the polling suggests that people are largely just unsure and unwilling to reject divinity (as QandO points out, if you believe in God generically, you sorta have to believe he had a hand in our development). But actually it looks like wer're a pretty supersticious society.

I also wish I could find comparable polling for Canada.

Posted by: tlaura | Aug 8, 2005 4:51:32 PM

You raise a good point, Frank. Only the atheists or hardcore Deists would argue that evolution occurred without God. Almost all Christians who accepted the reality of evolution would argue that God was involved in the process. A better poll question would be to ask how many people think it is acceptable to teach things like intelligent Design or other creationist ideas as science.
I think (hope) there are plenty of people who would say that God was involved in the evolution of manwhile also conceding that this was not a "scientific theory."

Posted by: Constantine | Aug 8, 2005 4:52:12 PM

Fred, there's also atomic theory, the theory of relativity, and the germ theory of disease. These are pretty much established in chemistry, physics, and biology.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 8, 2005 5:05:46 PM

Oh dear, Fred. Until you show me the person who actually witnessed the fishies walk up on land and say "swimming is for chumps!" lo those many years ago, evolution is destined to be a theory, for the word "theory" is so defined. However, it's a theory with every single available fact in the history of science at its service. Still, no one begrudges you the opportunity to take Pascal's Wager. Just don't make book on it in science class, because science is where we talk about facts.

Posted by: diddy | Aug 8, 2005 5:09:21 PM

Fred,

evolution is a fact. The theory part is natural selection, though it seems pretty generally accepted.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Aug 8, 2005 5:26:40 PM

Personally, I have accepted evolution as God's method of creation for all of my life. Until recently, I never had a name for it.
That being said, I am not so pompus and arrogant to think that others' opinions do not count and that I should snub the creationists at every turn and at all costs.
However, it appears that you are.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 8, 2005 6:10:16 PM

The obvious correlation is between party affiliation and educational level.

That being said, I am not so pompus and arrogant to think that others' opinions do not count...

To re-coin a phrase, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own fact-deprived, unfalsifiable theoretical models. Especially not one that was first substantially refuted when the American colonies were still under the control of King George.

Yeah, I guess that's why we call it the "Fact of Evolution", isn't it?

I've not seen a demand for 'Warning: Falling Rocks' signs by roads to carry stickers saying that 'gravity is only a theory', Fred. Perhaps you might like to test it from a second-floor window?

Posted by: ahem | Aug 9, 2005 2:49:40 AM

I assert that the cosmic religious experience is the strongest and the noblest driving force behind scientific research.
---Albert Einstein

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 9, 2005 3:43:06 AM

Good Einstein quote, Fred. I think the 'the world is carried on the back of a cosmic turtle' theory needs to be taught in physics classes, alongside Copernicusism.

Posted by: NBarnes | Aug 9, 2005 7:34:00 AM

Fred's "Yeah, I guess that's why we call it the Fact of Evolution" and Bostoniangirl’s "evolution is a fact. The theory part is natural selection" both show the same lack of understanding about the concept of a theory and the basis of science.

You can never "prove" a theory into becoming a fact. Science doesn’t believe in facts. Scientific knowledge is made up of theories that, by definition, cannot be proven. A scientist will devise an experiment to attempt to disprove some part of the theory. If it can be disproved, the theory is adjusted to match the findings. If that part of the theory cannot be disproved, it doesn’t become a fact, only a more accepted theory.

Evolution and natural selection are both well accepted theories, which still have points of debate, and will continue to have points of debate as long as there are scientists.

Faith, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of science. By definition, faith is about accepting something as fact without proof. Science cannot have faith, and faith should not need science.

The problem with Fred and the other proponents of intelligent design is that they envy the legitimacy of science. Science has an aura of being “fact”. People hear a scientist discuss some theory, and believe it to be some great truth of the universe. They see people listening to scientists the way they used to listen to priests.

Those who have faith know God is still out there, and do not need science to prove him, but those who tend to “use” religion miss the control they used to have, and now want to work their way into the group they think has control.

Basically, creationism and intelligent design are not about science or faith. They are just another tool of the faithless who would corrupt God’s word for their own gain.

Posted by: William Bollinger | Aug 9, 2005 8:43:41 AM

William Bollinger,

It seems that Bostoniangirl's comment indicated that evolution is observed. As much as philosophers tell us that we can't be trusted, reproducible observations are the closest things we have to facts (aside from deductions from axioms, I suppose).

The theories, on the other hand, remain as you say- more accepted and/or less accepted- of course.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 9, 2005 11:20:39 AM

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