Sunday, February 15, 2009

Darwin, Evolution, and Religious Influences on Belief

Education level influences whether you believe in Evolution; but, religious influence matters way more.

Of course in this celebration year of Darwin's birth, there will be plenty of good articles, and Nicholas Wade has written one for the New York Times. Here's an insightful quote, but there were many:
From the perspective of 2009, Darwin’s principal ideas are substantially correct. He did not get everything right. Because he didn’t know about plate tectonics, Darwin’s comments on the distribution of species are not very useful. His theory of inheritance, since he had no knowledge of genes or DNA, is beside the point. But his central concepts of natural selection and sexual selection were correct. He also presented a form of group-level selection that was long dismissed but now has leading advocates like the biologists E. O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson.[1]
I'm sure this celebration of Darwin's 200th birthday must be excruciating to people who believe that the first two humans in history walked around naked in a garden a few thousand years ago, humans whom subsequently had a bad run-in with a talking snake. A gallup survey released this month found the following:
only 39 percent of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution," and just 24 percent of those who attend church weekly believe in that explanation for the development of life on Earth. [...] and 36 percent said they don't have an opinion either way.[2]
The poll also notes that education level has much to do with the issue, since "Among those with high-school educations or less who have an opinion on Darwin's theory, more say they do not believe in evolution than say they believe in it." [2] No big surprise there. Although the numbers are markedly different when direct comparisons of education level are made -- "Just 21 percent of respondents who had up to a high school level of education believe in evolution, compared with 74 percent of those with postgraduate degrees." -- it appears that education is not the predictive factor. Instead, it's the influence of religious beliefs: "55 percent of those who seldom or never attend church expressed belief in evolution, while 11 percent do not, and 34 percent have no opinion."

One thing I find notable is the "no opinion" crowd. I wonder if it because they are really ignorant about biology, or if it's because they don't want to admit their views on the matter publicly just because the matter is (sadly) controversial.



[1] Nicholas Wade "Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential" Feb. 9, 2009 New York Times

[2] "Darwin's Birthday Poll: Fewer Than 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution" Fox News Feb. 12, 2009 (Accessed 2/15/2009)

[*] Some people think that there are still too many missing links in the fossil record, and that Evolution, as we understand it today, is therefore not established; or, maybe that evolution at the macro-level is not established, at least, in light of such missing fossil evidence. But this is just an old (religious) wives-tale. Here's a nice article from Live Science which discusses and showcases many types of linkage fossils: Robin Lloyd "Fossils Reveal Truth About Darwin's Theory" Feb. 11, 2009 Live Science (Accessed 2/15/2009)

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At 9:59 AM, Blogger The Wanderer said...

As a part of the "no opinion" crowd, for me it is not the result of fear of controversy or ignorance of biology (although I don't honestly know much about biology). I just simply don't care either way. If life is the result of naked people, gardens, and snakes, fine. If life is the result of eons of evolution and natural selection, that's okay too. Evolution does nothing to threaten my faith, and the origins of life have little (if any) practical import into my day-to-day life.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eich: I'll tell you what's a direct result of survival of the fittest, that beard Darwin is rocking. Only the finest genetics could produce something so magical.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Adam said...

I'm very glad you posted this. It still amazes me how an otherwise very Western nation such as ours can lag behind so embarrassingly in matters of the public understanding of science. How many Americans think about scripture is a primary factor in this equation, I think. Many of them use a very strange and sometimes ridiculous understanding of a very old creation narrative as the foundation for all their theology and morality.

And with regard to embarrassing statistics, I thought you might be as interested in this as I was:

I think we would fall in the same league as nations like Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia if they were included in this story.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger woofmutt said...

"One thing I find notable is the "no opinion" crowd. I wonder if it because they are really ignorant...Or...because they don't want to admit...just because the matter is (sadly) controversial."


And there have to be those who believe in "naked people, gardens, and snakes" but don't want to discuss it for fear it'll disappear in a puff of logic.

Others believe in science but won't say it out loud because God thinks they believe in the Lil Muddy Buddy story and they don't want Him to know.

And yes, some people probably really have no opinion. The Jesus Fish VS Darwin Legged Fish battle seems most popular with conservative Xians and those who enjoy arguing with conservative Xians.

The most I ever do is roll my eyes. Well, I do wonder if the Jesus Fish people realize their TRUTH fish with a Darwin legged fish in its mouth doesn't look so much like it's eating the Darwin legged fish as it's choking on it.

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Jailer said...

Brint -- You won't be surprised to find that I have an opinion on this, and that it is less than sympathetic to Darwinian evolution.

Moreover, it ought not surprise anyone that religious views play a central part here. After all, the core assumption behind Darwinian evolution is that there is no active supernatural influence upon the universe, so everything must be explicable by natural means. It is essentially an atheistic theory, meaning that a Creator plays no substantial part in it.

More on my thoughts here:


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