Evolution is not a matter of belief

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Do you "believe" in evolution? A new survey reveals that your answer can be predicted in large part by your political loyalties. The Pew Research Center finds that two-thirds of Democrats accept the validity of evolution, in contrast with the 43% of Republicans. The latter figure, remarkably, has shrunk by 11 percentage points since 2009, when Pew performed a similar survey.

In a time of great divides over religion and politics, it's not surprising that we treat evolution the way we do political issues. But here's the problem: As settled science, evolution is not a matter of opinion, or something one chooses to believe in or not, like a religious proposition. And by often framing the matter this way, we involved in the news media, Internet debates and everyday conversation do a disservice to science, religion and our prospects for having a scientifically literate country.

Partisan politics?

As a progressive, I'm tempted to blame willful ignorance by those on the "other side" when I see the sharp rise in Republicans rejecting evolution, and the always-high percentage of white evangelical Protestants (64% in the Pew poll) who believe that humans were created by God in their present form; i.e. no evolution.

But partisan politics isn't the end of the story. More than a quarter of Democrats reject evolution, as do half of Protestant blacks. Women are 10 percentage points more likely to reject evolution than men.

Willful ignorance plays a part in this dynamic. But so does the poor job done by the field of science in engaging the public. And the way the evolution vs. creation standoff is framed in the popular conversation, you can understand why many are led to believe we have an either-or decision to make: evolution or God?

Written By: Tom Krattenmaker
continue to source article at usatoday.com

28 COMMENTS

  1. But so does the poor job done by the field of science in engaging the public.

    This is such sloppy writing. “the poor job done by science”??? Not one specific example or explanation about HOW “science” is doing a poor job. No evidence to back up the assertion and the assertion is so vague it’s not even clear what is being claimed. This unfortunately is a standard practice in a lot of US opinion pieces.

  2. Second, despite the way it’s often discussed by creationists and anti-religion zealots, evolution says nothing about the existence of God.

    evolution says a lot about the existance of god. it says if a god exists it has no interest in individual lives, it is a result of unchanging laws of physics so requires no intention. if a conscious god started the universe calculating the precise environment for the creation that would ultimately lead to people, he could at no point intervene and change the course of creation. If he could intervene now he could end suffering, but either he doesn’t or can’t. the fact that humans have a tendency to act in a disobedient way (not asking permission to have sex with another adult, not chanting enough, not always lopping off bits of genitalia etc) shows god either designed them that way or there’s a design error.

    in short evolution has nothing to say about einstein’s god, but plenty to say about anyone elses

  3. Are there polls asking if people believe in gravity, or a spherical (more or less) earth?

    Evolution is a fact, just like gravity or a spherical earth. There is overwhelming evidence that life has changed over the last 2 billion years. There can be no doubt about this. The theory of Natural Selection is our best explanation for this fact. I could see asking if you believe in “Natural Selection”, but not a belief in evolution. And, the evidence for Natural Selection is also overwhelming.

  4. Evolution and Natural selection directly contradicts the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, and the creation of “kinds”, so it does affect religious belief. To say otherwise is pandering and double-think. You can still be a deist, but you can’t believe the bible is literally true without resorting to “Sophisticated Theology” which is not the religion most Americans hold.

    • I’d be prepared to wager that there isn’t a single American that lives to the literal words of the Bible. Do they shun clothes made from mixed fibres? Do they condemn eating shellfish as an abomination? Do they campaign for stoning to death as the punishment for adultery? Do they (openly) believe that slavery is morally ok?

      All religionists pick and choose how to “interpret” their holy books in order to best suit how they want to live their lives, and sometimes to yield to wider societal change that they can’t hold back any longer. Evolution, along with homosexuality, is one that many aren’t willing as yet to shift on, although both the Pope and the head of the Church of England have accepted evolution as compatible with their versions of god.

      In reply to #5 by canadian_right:

      Evolution and Natural selection directly contradicts the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, and the creation of “kinds”, so it does affect religious belief. To say otherwise is pandering and double-think. You can still be a deist, but you can’t believe the bible is literally true without resorting to “S…

  5. Thought the author got it bang-on in the last paragraph. Evolution may be an inconvenient truth for many people, but that’s no justification for shepherding a generation away from the wonders of science. Perhaps it’s not evolution itself that disturbs these people – it’s the fear of an open mind and what it might lead to.

    • In reply to #6 by BroughtyBoy:

      Thought the author got it bang-on in the last paragraph. Evolution may be an inconvenient truth for many people, but that’s no justification for shepherding a generation away from the wonders of science. Perhaps it’s not evolution itself that disturbs these people – it’s the fear of an open mind a…

      Agreed.A symptom of a childish clinging to a ridiculous belief that life continues after death and some sort of magical being looks after a non- dying piece of you.Why can’t religious idiots simply GROW UP and face facts:We evolved from a common ancestor with apes.We all die and become worm food and yes ‘Old Yeller ‘ did go where the good doggies go: into a fuckin box in the ground!!!

  6. I don’t see this coming to an end unless those who deny evolution are forced to look at the damage that such a belief is like to have on the economy. Since most of these people appear to be on the political right they should have an interest in the prosperity of the nation. When you are experiencing problems in your life it’s fine to take advice from your local pastor etc. I accept that and, like most atheists, have no intention of taking that away. When you look at a broader politcal situation and your response is “we would be better off if we were all more Christian” then you have a much larger problem. You can’t pray your way to better economic times, for example. Europe, Japan and China (to name but three large economies) must present a real difficulty for these people as they are prosperous without god for the most part. This is what drives theocracies into a downward spiral. They want what prosperity secular nations have, yet cannot accept it might be better if the government stayed out of religious matters. I apologise if I’m misreading the US political situation in any way, but I am British and our economy is tied to that of the US more than the rest of Europe, so I do see this trend with some genuine concern. Scientific advances are critical to econmic success and we all benefit in society by producing great thinkers on a cultural level as well.

  7. FWIW, from what I was taught (13 years of parochial school = atheist/agnostic), “invincible ignorance” was the term used to describe those the “Word of God” had never reached; i.e., they did not believe because they’d never heard of Christ, not because they “rejected” him. Shrug Obviously, the Bishop’s interpretation is different. (or I’m wrong and at 68 my recollection is fuzzy. LOL)

  8. “Even among theologically conservative Christians, we see an “evolution” in the understanding of faith and science. “Divine evolution,” anyone? It’s a concept that is catching on as more evangelicals come to see evolution as God’s way of orchestrating an on-going process of creation.”

    It was always just a matter of time before the gullible and scientifically ignorant evangelicals would claim for themselves the hard-won knowledge that was acquired by generations of reasonable, honest, intellectually superior and truly moral non believers.

    • In reply to #11 by Lonard:

      “Divine evolution,” anyone? It’s a concept that is catching on as more evangelicals come to see evolution as God’s way of orchestrating an on-going process

      Perhaps this is the best we can hope for; at least it’s preferable to outright denial.

    • In reply to #11 by Lonard:

      “Even among theologically conservative Christians, we see an “evolution” in the understanding of faith and science. “Divine evolution,” anyone? It’s a concept that is catching on as more evangelicals come to see evolution as God’s way of orchestrating an on-going process of creation.”

      I think you are referring to “Theistic Evolution”!

      • Theistic evolution, theistic evolutionism or evolutionary creationism are the views that hold that religious teachings about God are compatible with modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. Theistic evolution is not a scientific theory but a range of views about how the science of evolution relates to religious beliefs.

      It was always just a matter of time before the gullible and scientifically ignorant evangelicals would claim for themselves the hard-won knowledge that was acquired by generations of reasonable, honest, intellectually superior and truly moral non believers.

      When outright denial no longer has credibility, the addition of woo and fudge to real science , plus the re-branding of the woo as science, and they will claim it was their view all along having stolen the scientists’ clothes!!!!

      As an example the RCC has essentially come from this:-

      • On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, during the papacy of Pope Pius IX, who defined dogmatically papal infallibility during the First Vatican Council in 1869–70. The council has a section on “Faith and Reason” that includes the following on science and faith:
      • “9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)

      • “10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I)

      To this:-

      The Church has deferred to scientists on matters such as the age of the earth and the authenticity of the fossil record. Papal pronouncements, along with commentaries by cardinals, have accepted the findings of scientists on the gradual appearance of life. In fact, the International Theological Commission in a July 2004 statement endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger, then president of the Commission and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later Pope Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, includes this paragraph:

      • According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5–4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.

      The Church’s stance is that any such gradual appearance must have been guided in some way by God, but the Church has thus far declined to define in what way that may be. Commentators tend to interpret the Church’s position in the way most favorable to their own arguments.

      When the RCC says “it believes in evolution”, It does not mean Darwinian evolution, but the “Theistic Evolution” where God -did-it and continues to produce miracles fiddling with it! They will of course, resort to double-talk and references to real science when challenged, to maintain the pretence that theistic drivel is science.

      • In reply to #14 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #11 by Lonard:

        “Even among theologically conservative Christians, we see an “evolution” in the understanding of faith and science. “Divine evolution,” anyone? It’s a concept that is catching on as more evangelicals come to see evolution as God’s way of orchestrating an on-going process…

        Not my words. I was quoting from Tom Krattenmaker’s article.

        • In reply to #16 by Lonard:
          >

          Not my words. I was quoting from Tom Krattenmaker’s article.

          No problem – I always find it helpful to give specific links as in my quote @ 14 -[RC] Commentators tend to interpret the Church’s position in the way most favorable to their own arguments, as do the shifting semantics of the various other attempts at theistic fudge,

  9. Of course Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection knocked the stuffing out of Genesis and therefore Christianity. The first chapter of the Jewish and Christian holy books. Supposedly Genesis explained how life began, the only trouble was , it didn’t ! There was no first man or woman, no Adam and no Eve, no evidence of talking snakes, nor forbidden fruits. They didn’t like it, but the more clever Christian apologists had to accept the reality of evolution and both the RCC and the Anglican churches accepted it in their own weird ways.

    The Southern Baptists and others, being out of touch with mainstream Christianity, didn’t accept it, nor do they still. In a way they have the more honest approach. If something contradicts their Holy Bible, it must be wrong ! No theological wriggling with “metaphors” and “allegories”, just the plain word of God ! As to which version of the collection of stories, called the Bible, they rely on is entirely another question !

  10. Scientific theories and scientific laws, describe the material universe whether people believe in them or not! Gravity will treat those who step off cliffs exactly the same, regardless of if they believe in gravity or not, – and regardless of if they are looking for “New Physics” or not!

    Magic Marker -@ 10

    FWIW, from what I was taught (13 years of parochial school = atheist/agnostic), “invincible ignorance” was the term used to describe those the “Word of God” had never reached; i.e., they did not believe because they’d never heard of Christ, not because they “rejected” him.

    Clearly a case of Psychological projection from someone whose projected mirror-imaging of his own “invincible ignorance”, allows him to think of others like this for rejecting his god, because HE knows NOTHING beyond the preachings on this god!

  11. America is pretty much unique among nominally Christian countries in having allowed this debate to become a polarised “god or evolution” question, and only in America do nearly half the adult population believe the world is less than 10,000 years old.

    The Catholic church has no problem with evolution or the Big Bang being 14 billion years ago (they just demand acceptance of the idea that god lit the fuse). Likewise Anglicanism and most other branches of Protestantism.

    Frankly, even not very well educated people in the rest of “Christendom” regard Americans as comedy gold for these infantile beliefs, something to be ridiculed and/or pitied.

    Americans really need to ask themselves why they are so far out of step with the rest of the world on this.

    There is only one major faith which subscribes to creationism on such a heroic scale: Islam. Young earth creationists therefore breathe life into Islamism and lend it spurious credibility. Indirectly, you might say, they support terrorism.

    Chew on that.

    • In reply to #18 by Stevehill:

      America is pretty much unique among nominally Christian countries in having allowed this debate to become a polarised “god or evolution” question, and only in America do nearly half the adult population believe the world is less than 10,000 years old.

      The Catholic church has no problem with evoluti…

      Perhaps it’s due to a philosophy of pragmatism, which originated among intellectual Americans during the Victorian age? The idea that different beliefs just work for different people, rather than there being a single objective fact everyone should conform to? Like this:

      Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870.[1] Pragmatism is a rejection of the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Instead, pragmatists develop their philosophy around the idea that the function of thought is as an instrument or tool for prediction, action, and problem solving. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes rather than in terms of representative accuracy.

      It differs from cultural relativism, which simply says that truth differs from person to person, in that it focuses on the practical success of beliefs rather than on their simply being part of a culture. It would go some way towards explaining why things like religious beliefs and evolution get tied into American identity politics (like arguments that religion works for some people, and so on), but I can’t prove it without comments from commentators on either side of the debate saying things that fall into pragmatism.

      Then again, it could be straight up relativism at work, not wanting to offend people by calling them wrong.

  12. This is one of the areas where in philosophical concepts may be of benefit. I think that we have a “meta”, domain or level explanation problem here! It concerns the philosophical conflict between methodological and philosophical naturalism. The religious person can accept evolution in the context of their religion under two circumstances, maybe three.
    They can be a deist and say god set up the rules and then let those rules run the show without his or her interference while he or her just sat back and enjoyed the show. A variant of god of the gaps of course. Of course then they have no justification for the authority of Jesus, the Torah or the Koran.
    Second they can accept methodological naturalism on a pragmatic basis and ignore the philosophical or logical conclusions. This of course entails them “leaving their brains at the door” of theological discourse, thus valuing their emotional attachments to religion over the logical and evidence based conclusion that methodological naturalism is philosophically based on philosophical naturalism. No gods need be applied.
    Lastly they can accept the concept that all religion is now metaphor and it’s natural explanatory powers have been sapped by science. It can accept a split between social or cultural truths and natural truths thus get on with the practice of caring for and about people plus supporting its cultural traditions. Of course in doing so religion looses most of its persuasive power.

  13. While I agree with the content of this article as a whole, I disagree with the statement “Willful ignorance plays a part in this dynamic. But so does the poor job done by the field of science in engaging the public.” Many schools and educational institutions teach religion, and often neglect science. Parents may scream for religion to be taught, and evolution isn’t represented. In some states one can not be elected to public office unless of a religious faith. In certain parts of the country, judges are giving custody to the parent who is religious simply because they are religious. When judges can make these decisions, no amount of “engaging the public” (who has already made up it’s mind) will change things. Our judges must be made to perform their jobs with NO bias towards religion, and to put aside their own religious beliefs and do the jobs that they were elected or appointed to do.

    • In reply to #21 by totalcolour:

      While I agree with the content of this article as a whole, I disagree with the statement “Willful ignorance plays a part in this dynamic. But so does the poor job done by the field of science in engaging the public.” Many schools and educational institutions teach religion, and often neglect science…

      I agree, I said the same thing earlier. If you think about it no one complains about “the poor job done by the field of science in engaging the public.” when explaining Netwonian physics, or relativity, or carbon dating or any of countless other theories that people accept as established science. Is there something really so different about the way evolution is communicated by scientists? No of course not. While better science writing is always something we should be looking to create the idea that a big part of the problem here is science is just BS. The problem is (as with climate change) there are people with a commercial interest in spreading lies and half truths.

  14. I think this is still just analysis of one example of a greater issue.

    Religion exists for people to offer an explanation for things that have not (yet) been given credible/acceptable explanation (in the minds of the religious).

    Consider what we knew technologically 200 years ago. Many things we have in every day society today would have been considered magic or miraculous 200 years ago: cell phones, video phones, air travel, microwave ovens, movies, etc, etc. Each time we humans create something new, and it is accepted into general society (i.e. a new product shows up on the kitchen counter), it is obviously something that cannot be denied by the religious as something man made. Therefore it is accepted for what it is. In effect it becomes yet another item crossed off the list of what was once unexplainable…..but their still remains those ‘ultimate’ explanations because to the ordinary religious person there is no seeing-is-believing evidence, and so they convince themselves they are righteous in maintaining their beliefs.

    Now turn that around for a sec, and what do we really have at stake for the religious ? For someone who has lived their entire life based on the fundamental acceptance of a belief, and they actively defend that belief, now you’re taking on what I consider one of the most powerful forces of human nature: humility.

    Perhaps best summed up by Daniel Denett (from the RDFRS facebook page):
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151531568995155&set=pb.8798180154.-2207520000.1388330682.&type=1&theater

    Given the ‘evolution’ (pardon the pun) of recent societal norms and acceptances, most of us posting here likely grew up in an environment that involved the presumption that we too would fall in line with the established belief system of our local communities……I suspect most of us here found ourselves through the vantage of pure open minded objectivity and curiosity began questioning these belief systems in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary of what we were taught when we were young and impressionable.
    Unfortunately there are still an awful lot of people that embrace the indoctrination and once it calibrates the brain, your sense of humility automatically protects itself from your credibility, vanity, reputation, etc. being exposed to any threat.

    I believe in many cases stubbornness to accept any objective re-thinking is actually driven by one’s humility as a defence mechanism. This group of individuals represents the masses……the sheeople.

    There is another class of people who defend their religion because without, they lose influence and power. These people are the most dangerous because they exploit the first group to perpetuate the myths to serve their own ends. These people have the most to lose. This has been going on for over a thousand years. Slowly the proportion of numbers of sheeople is migrating to secularism. The dividing line is shifting. This is a wonderful thing, but don’t kid yourself that this is going to take a very long time if we keep going the way we’re going. Don’t underestimate the power of a group that can convince someone else to kill themselves in defence of an imaginary being. We keep getting drawn into the weeds on issues like this rather that address the root issue.

    Consequently – in order to understand the argument by religious people against evolution, you need to accept the motives for the argument in the first place…..otherwise you will just go in circles picking flies out of horse shit !

  15. I don’t see Science as having a roll in this. Doing a poor job of what? Trying to convince people that there is no God. That isn’t the job of science. The job of science is to try to help us understand what why how who where and when, not waste their time trying to show the misguided and deluded that evolution is a fact. It would be like trying to convince someone with a mental illness that they actually have a mental illness when they should be finding a solution or cure for the poor bugger. Do we have to convince the faithful that coal burns or that their doctor is giving them scientifically made and tested pills for their illness. No, they choose to belief what suits them because it makes their life easier. Most religious people have had their faith taught to them from an early age. It has been forced, thumped and beaten into them until they are so confused it is easier to accept than to question. Science does not provide solace, it provides answers which lead to more questions. Evolution is a fact and I would bet there are many religious people who know it to be a fact but can’t admit it because it would make them outcasts from their group/political party/friends/family. The reason science does not recruit the public is because unlike religion we offer them the truth and they can accept it or not. We don’t browbeat them or offer them salvation if they believe or an eternity of hell if they don’t. Do we need scientists offering God as an answer to the questions about the Universe that haven’t been answered yet? No, so how can we expect the faithful to even contemplate any scientific explanation of anything if in their heart of heart they are convinced that every single thing has been carefully planned and worked out by God?

  16. The problem is not a matter of theory, the problem is the way of thinking , the people are afraid from Criticism the sacred. Human needs or creates a force like the god to throw the unknown things to him instead of rational analysis.

  17. I was raised as an atheist and find it impossible to cram my thinking into the tiny space of faith. It is difficult for me to understand the existence of such belief systems as christianity, and muhammadanism unless they are placed into the context of the believers’ upbringings. Maybe it is just as difficult for believers to subject their views to reason as it is for me to subject mine to faith.

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