Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

August 30, 2017

People believe in evolution, just not for humans

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 7:58 pm

The term “liberal Creationism” refers to the fact that on the cultural Left there is a strong belief in the concept of evolution on the whole, but in the case of human beings biological evolutionary processes are seen as marginal in comparison to culture. In other words, natural selection and adaptation explain the diversity around us in the animal and plant world, but can tell us little about human beings.

This viewpoint exhibits various degrees of sophistication, but I think it gets at a real deeply held perspective (though not universal one, in Defenders of the Truth it is recounted that Noam Chomsky held his fire during the sociobiology controversy in part because he was quite open to the idea that behavior could have some biological basis).

Looking at the General Social Survey though, I believe now that the liberal Creationist viewpoint is actually just a spin on the normal American position. That is, Americans as a whole are quite open to the idea of descent with modification and common ancestry in the context of animals, but much more squeamish when it comes to humans. Some conservative religious Creationists admit that this rather frankly. Their objection to evolution is not about science, but about human dignity.

A new GSS variable, EVOLVED2, which complements an older variable, EVOLVED, allows us to explore this question.

Here is what they ask:

EVOLVED: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (Is that true or false?)

EVOLVED2: Elephants evolved from earlier species. (Is that true or false?)

53 precent of respondents answered yes to true in the first case, but 86 percent in the second case. In other words, presenting evolution in a non-human context reduces resistance.

You can check the responses against attitudes toward the literality of the Bible:

I think this suggests to us that on a broader social scale resistance to evolution is culturally conditioned, and derives from deep intuitions about human dignity. The specific details of where that dignity comes from, whether it be Protestant Fundamentalist or Social Justice is incidental.

November 21, 2012

Obama on the age of the earth

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 5:29 am

Jump to 9:00.

November 20, 2012

Mine eyes have seen the glory; we are as gods!

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 6:52 pm

Earlier today Erick Erickson of RedState put up a long and meandering post titled “I Believe and Am Thankful”. As you might infer from the title it elaborates Erickson’s own theological position, and his stance toward the expression of faith in the public square. Because I am an atheist I disagree with many aspects of his position, and because I am not a liberal I agree with other elements of his argument. But there was one portion of which alarmed me a great deal, because I believe it displays an epistemological superificiality which is all too common. Erickson’s first paragraph is:

Marco Rubio is getting beaten up by the press for not decisively and convincingly saying he thinks the world is billions of years old. It has become the new litmus test in the media. Believing what was believed to be literally true for a few thousand years is now nutty. Christian homeschool kids, often taught that the world is not as old as some believe and who routinely kick the rear ends of the ivy prep kids in academics, are considered stupid.

There are two components to my reaction. One is rather general and abstract, while the other is specific. I will begin with the abstract. The fact is that you would be foolish to accept what people believed for “thousands of years” in many domains of natural science. When it comes to the ancients or the moderns in science always listen to the moderns. They are not always right, but overall they are surely more right, and less prone to miss the mark. In fact, you may have to be careful about paying too much attention to science which is a generation old, so fast does the “state of the art” in terms of knowledge shift. That was part of my critique of Richard Lewontin. A great evolutionary biologist of the 1960s, today Lewontin seems far behind the times, tackling issues near and dear to the 1970s, when we live in the post-genomic era.

Science is iterative. It is sloppy, but it does progress. We know so because it is through science we send men to the moon, and it is upon science that the material foundations of our civilization rest. You shall know it by its fruits, as science becomes engineering it moves from the abstract to the concrete, from the plausible and possible to the certain. It is a vast and abstruse contingent system of models, hypotheses, theories, laws, and data strewn about. But, it is arguably the greatest intellectual achievement of modern civilization. We may see through the glass darkly, but science is the bright flare in the night, illuminating a portion of existence, making it clear, precise, and crisp.

A generation ago there arose a movement within the scholarly community of anti-science obscurantists. The phenomenon was documented in works such as Higher Superstition. Though an innovation of the Post Modern cultural Left, this skepticism of scientific positivism, the progression of knowledge, has bled over to the cultural Right. In particular, through Phillip E. Johnson a critical theory inspired movement to ‘teach the controversy‘ arose. Modern Intelligent Design is clearly genetically descended from Young Earth Creationism, but has accrued to itself traits which arose in the milieu of the anti-science Left. In particular, a focus on skeptical critique, rejection of a modernist positive view of the universe, as well explicitly political attacks on science (See Alister McGrath’s Twilight of Atheism for an elaborated argument for why the death of modernism implies the revival of religion).

Science is special because there is no ancient wisdom. The ancients were fools, by and large. I mean no disrespect, but if you wish to design a rifle by Aristotelian principles, or treat an illness via the Galenic system, you are a fool, following foolishness. Science is the true ladder to heaven, anyone who has practiced it can not be help be amazed by its miraculous powers of prediction.

Non-scientific domains are not like this. A lawyer sees in the Corpus Juris Civilis a document which is different in degree, not kind. It is not obvious to me that modern ethics has progressed appreciably in substance as opposed to taste beyond Aristotle. The Iliad is still poetic greatness, in whose shadow moderns dwell. New Age reflections generally pale in comparison to the Bhagavad Gita. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations can speak still to us down the ages.

There are many domains of knowledge which are permanent things, but science is not one of those. Rather, science is defined by the permanence of its object of study, the external world all around us. History shifts as history accrues. And the truisms of one age of economic history are not those of the subsequent.

The fool hath said in his heart, science is an idol. And yet it is not! For true men do suborn science for their own ends, making it subservient to their perversions. But that is no reflection on science, it is a reflection on men. And that is the important insight that American conservatives need to internalize.

It is entirely true that secular liberal journalists will attempt to goad conservative politicians into expressing opinions which reveal themselves to be in thrall to rubes. But there is no evading the fact that there is a simple response: accept that science says what it says, and move on. Equivocation and evasion do no good, and the reality is that if you fight science, you will lose. Science at any given moment is wrong, but this is a game that the house always wins, and history will not be on your side. The tide rises with science, and you will not hold it back by force of will.

When it comes to many aspects of heredity and behavior I’m confident that the modern cultural Left which still pines for the “blank slate” will have their reckoning. You can put off reality only so long, and the long war against the world as it is is always one of strategic retreat. Evolutionary biology is not novel or new science, it is old as biology goes, having come into form in the 19th century. It predates genetics, and certainly predates molecular biology. It is like a theoretical scaffold on other disciplines, it may not impinge on a day to day scale, but it illuminates quirks of function or structural features which would otherwise seem capricious.

All political persuasions are a mix of norms and assumptions about the way the world is arranged. When you make false assertion about the nature of things, you will make worthless inferences. The cultural Left which denies non-trivial differences between the sexes engages in faulty social engineering, because the science is not robust. Similarly, the cultural Right which denies the biological nature of much homosexuality does a disservice to its ultimate project of fostering virtue. Note that any assumption of what is does not here necessarily entail what ought to be. But it is much easier to achieve an ought if you accurately characterize the is.

Erick Erickson in this post makes much of the fact that secular liberals are relativists, and inconsistent hypocrites. Without disputing these assertions I would suggest that Erickson’s attitude toward Young Earth Creationists, indulgent, even respectful, falls into the same trap. He pulls his punches as to whether they are wrong, shifting into the shades of gray. But the objective reality is that Young Earth Creationists are wrong, and this is science known to a high degree of certitude. Erickson and his fellow travelers have no problem asserting the rightness of their religion, and the falseness of the atheists, but when it comes to established science they become as slippery as a doyen of Science Studies. Truth becomes subjective, malleable, a casual instrument in the culture wars. Science, another superstition of old white men? Perhaps, but a true one!

Knowledge is hard. We, as individual humans are stupid. Science is sloppy and noisy. But science got us to the moon, and science gave is antibiotics. Erick Erickson can talk about the miracles of his God made flesh, but we live in the age of miracles. What tech savvy conservatives who do not speak truth to Creationism are doing is analogous to the behavior of affluent upper middle Marxist academics, who enjoy the accoutrements of bourgeoise life, while giving lip service to the revolution. By their actions you shall know what lurks in their hearts! Their mouths speak lies for the convenience of the moment.

Finally, I want to take a step back and also observe that this whole argument rests on a false historical premise: that modern conservative Protestant fundamentalism was the Christian orthodoxy for the past 2,000 years. It is not. It was not. True, there has always been a strain of Christianity which was naively literalist, but for most of the history of the religion the fixation on the Bible as science manual would have seemed somewhat strange, in part because science did not truly exist. Modern Protestant fundamentalism is intuitively coherent, and we see its forebears during the Reformation. Interestingly, Catholic apologists immediately pointed to the inconsistent nature of portions of the Bible as one argument against the Protestant claim for sola scriptura.* But this is a new argument, not an old one, and the battle between science and religion in this case is a clash of two moderns, not a modern an ancient.

So here we are. Modern American conservatism must bend a knee to a manifestly false model of the world, because of a manifestly false perception of the history of the Western tradition. Where can it lead us? One thing that it leads us to is that we have to have this discussion every four years, as secular liberal journalists know very well that many elite conservatives do not agree with the grassroots on matters of fact when it comes to evolution. It is a useful wedge. There is a simple way to put this to bed: be unapologetic about what the facts of science are, and do not equivocate to the base. They have nowhere else to go, and the reality is that evolution is a far less pressing matter than tax rates or abortion in any case. Many elements of the Democratic base accept without too much grumbling the social liberalism of the party’s political elite. Could it be that much more difficult for conservative grassroots to accept that the conservative elite accepts modern science?

* I do not mean to imply here that pre-modern Christians were all believers in the old earth. Rather, I mean to suggest that the modern discussion about Biblical conflicts with science makes little sense before 1800, because serious Christians thinkers did not imagine the debate in these terms at all.

November 19, 2012

Why Marco Rubio waffled on the age of rocks (in numbers)

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 8:29 pm

If you have a pulse and follow “science news” you are aware that Marco Rubio gave a very equivocal answer to a very simple question about the age of the earth. As many have noted this is basically a way to call out Republican politicians for the fact that they have to satisfy the cultural signals of a segment of the American population which has a deep hostility to science which undercuts their naive reading of the Bible. To Mitt Romney’s credit he did not evade on this question, but gave a mainstream answer among the well educated. This sort of political pandering isn’t too surprising. Remember Hillary Clinton dismissing ‘elite economists’ when it came to her silly gas tax suspension idea? It’s a democracy, and that means you can get very far appealing to the populist sentiment.

More concretely, I want to address something Rod Dreher asserted at The American Conservative:

I wish one of these liberal journalists would go into a black or Latino church supper and ask people their thoughts about how the universe began. I’d bet that 99 percent of the people there would agree with Marco Rubio, even if most of them would vote for his opponent. People just don’t care about this stuff at the national political level. You’d better believe I’d fight over this issue if it came down to a matter of what was going to be taught in my local school. But I couldn’t possibly care less what the guy who lives in the White House thinks, unless he tries to impose it on the country.

When I hear the word “bet” I start thinking of laying down odds and stealing someone’s cash! But in this case I’ll assume Rod was being rhetorical. But let’s review the numbers, shall we?

The General Social Survey has a variable, EVOLVED, which records the response to the question “Human beings developed from animals,” with a true vs. false outcome. It was asked between 2006 and 2010. You can see the results for numerous demographics below.

Demographic Agree that human beings developed from animals
Democrat 59
Independent 53
Republican 42
White Non-Hispanic Democrat 66
White Non-Hispanic Independent 55
White Non-Hispanic Republican 41
No College Democrat 50
No College Independent 50
No College Republican 37
College Educated Democrat 78
College Educated Independent 67
College Educated Republican 52
Liberal 69
Moderate 52
Conservative 39
White non-Hispanic Liberal 77
White non-Hispanic Moderate 55
White non-Hispanic Conservative 38
No College Liberal 58
No College Moderate 49
No College Conservative 36
College Educated Liberal 86
College Educated Moderate 66
College Educated Conservative 47
White Non-Hispanic 53
Black Non-Hispanic 35
Hispanic 52
Protestant 35
Catholic 65
Jewish 79
No Religion 79
Bible is Word of God 28
Bible is Inspired Word of God 58
Bible is Book of Fables 87
Southern Baptist 27
United Method 51
Presbyterian 64
Episcopalian 91
Scandinavian 59
German 51
British 50
Irish 54
Italian 66



July 11, 2012

The stupid is the mind-killer

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 10:19 pm

In the comments below I expressed anger when I realized one of the readers who I had hoped was not stupid was really rather stupid. I don’t have a high toleration for this sort of stuff, which has supposedly become somewhat well known in the blogosphere (judging from comments about me on other weblogs). When I was younger I suspect I had more toleration for this sort of thing, and engaging with the dull is something that needs to be done, just like you need to change a baby’s diaper because you know they’ll soil themselves, and they can’t be left that way. Perhaps there’s a fixed amount of sympathy for people who shit themselves because they don’t know any better, literally or metaphorically. I’ve got to deal with the former right now, so maybe I’m not having any of the latter anymore.

Sometimes I wonder what world I’m living in, where rank stupidity can get passed along by newspapers as “letters to the editor.” For example, you have to read this whole piece from Stephen Chauvin, State Board of Education is correct on evolution:

About once every six months or so, either Bill Barnes or Karyl Paige ...

The stupid is the mind-killer

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 10:19 pm

In the comments below I expressed anger when I realized one of the readers who I had hoped was not stupid was really rather stupid. I don’t have a high toleration for this sort of stuff, which has supposedly become somewhat well known in the blogosphere (judging from comments about me on other weblogs). When I was younger I suspect I had more toleration for this sort of thing, and engaging with the dull is something that needs to be done, just like you need to change a baby’s diaper because you know they’ll soil themselves, and they can’t be left that way. Perhaps there’s a fixed amount of sympathy for people who shit themselves because they don’t know any better, literally or metaphorically. I’ve got to deal with the former right now, so maybe I’m not having any of the latter anymore.

Sometimes I wonder what world I’m living in, where rank stupidity can get passed along by newspapers as “letters to the editor.” For example, you have to read this whole piece from Stephen Chauvin, State Board of Education is correct on evolution:

About once every six months or so, either Bill Barnes or Karyl Paige ...

May 7, 2012

It all started with talk.origins (and Usenet)

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 8:32 pm

Chatting with Dan MacArthur on twitter about the old days of Usenet, and arguing with Creationists in the days of yore (MacArthur actually flipped a Creationist!). Here’s a toast to the innocence of that bygone age around the turn-of-the-century….

(separate “shout out” to those who remember me from soc.history.what-if)

April 6, 2012

Protestant fundamentalists still reject evolution

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 3:30 am

Recently over at bloggingheads.tv Matt Lewis broached the issue of science, religion, and politics. Being outside of his bailiwick Lewis seemed to be under some misimpressions. First, he seemed to think that most political liberals were not theists. This is false. In the General Social Survey the GOD variable asks respondents about their confidence in the exist of God. Below are the proportions by ideology for the year 2000 and later who espouse the atheist or agnostic position on the existence of God:

Atheist or agnostic Liberals 14 Moderates 6 Conservatives 4 Democrat 9 Independent 9 Republican 5

About 1 out of 7 of liberals are an atheist or agnostic. 1 out of 25 conservatives. In contrast, 50 percent of atheists or agnostics are liberal, while only 20 percent are conservatives. Among militant atheists are the proportions are probably even more skewed.

With that out of the way, what about attitudes toward evolution? The GSS asked the EVOLVED question in the year 2006, 2008, and 2010. It asks: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The responses are coded as true or false. Below are those who accepted this proposition for various classes of individuals (all political classes are for the year 2000 and later).

Humans beings ...

November 27, 2011

Evolution is haram!

Filed under: creationism,Evolution — Razib Khan @ 8:47 pm

Ruchira Paul points me to this peculiar article, Muslim medical students boycotting lectures on evolution… because it ‘clashes with the Koran’:

Muslim students, including trainee doctors on one of Britain’s leading medical courses, are walking out of lectures on evolution claiming it conflicts with creationist ideas established in the Koran.

Professors at University College London have expressed concern over the increasing number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theory, which form an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion.

That Muslim students have Creationist beliefs isn’t too surprising. There’s plenty of evidence of robust Creationist belief as being the Muslim mainstream. Though a minority of Muslims accept evolution in a manner conventional among theistic evolutionists, the majority seem to reject this interpretation. I recently had an interaction over Facebook with a Bangladeshi cousin who queried me whether I accepted “Darwinism,” a theory for which he contended “there was no proof.” I responded that that was one of the most “retarded questions I’d encountered of late,” and that the only reason I continued to talk to him was that he was my relative and it seemed a minimal level of courtesy (I generally “avoid boring people”). The background here is that my cousin comes from a very affluent secular background. My uncle doesn’t pray. This was an issue for my late grandmother, but his sojourn in the Persian Gulf turned him off to organized religion. Also, my uncle’s wife does not cover her hair. Finally, my cousin is sent to a private school where all instruction is in English, and he is very fluent in the superficial aspects of American pop culture. One can extrapolate from that the potential attitude of more genuinely religious Muslims when it comes to evolution.

But the bigger concern here is the walkout. It’s one thing to disagree with a perspective, but a disturbing aspect of some corners of modern academic discourse is the acceptability of shielding oneself from offensive or contradictory opinions. Most of the kids in my high school came from conservative Protestant or Mormon backgrounds and were skeptical of evolution, but they didn’t boycott the class when my biology teacher cursorily touched upon the topic. The fact that university students would behave in such a manner strikes me as particularly disturbing, because they should be held to a higher standard. Secondary education is about learning the basics, but higher education should be about learning to think, and taking in differing perspectives is an essential aspect of that process.

All that being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that British Muslims in particular behave so bizarrely. They’re pretty out of step with the norms of the British public on some “hot button” cultural issues. A few years ago Gallup asked Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain, Germany, and France, a variety of questions. Out of 500 Muslim Britons surveyed exactly 0 accepted the proposition that homosexuality was morally acceptable. This does not mean that no Muslims in Briton accept a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality. Rather, they’re such a small minority than even an N = 500 could miss them! In that context a walkout due to the offensiveness of evolution in the nation which proudly claims Charles Darwin seems less surprising. Cultural diversity is great!

Addendum: The link is from a British publication. Therefore, I’m open to the possibility that aspects were exaggerated or fabricated. On the other hand, evolution skepticism from British Muslims has been widely reported in other sources, so I think it is plausible overall.

October 30, 2011

Evolution skeptical: not just fundamentalists

Filed under: creationism,Evolution — Razib Khan @ 10:36 am


In the comments below Christopher Mims states:

But evolution? It seems as if denial of evolution comes from a place so basic — religious fundamentalism — that I wonder whether something like this could ever have even the slightest impact.

It’s hard to deny the relationship of religious fundamentalism and evolution denial and skepticism. But, I think it’s important to remember that in the United States the large critical mass of evolution-denying religious fundamentalists has resulted in a “bleed over” of the stance to people who aren’t religious fundamentalists. I know this anecdotally from friends who were of Roman Catholic and Mormon backgrounds who presumed that their religious orientation precluded an acceptance of evolution. In fact, my own first awareness that people might actually not believe in evolution came via a conversation with an evolution skeptic friend who was a nominal Roman Catholic. Nominal in that his family actually never went to church.

What Paul Bloom’s research suggests is that humans find the Creationist narrative intuitively plausible. But, the critical issue is that those who aren’t indoctrinated against the idea of evolution can be convinced of its plausibility.

Let’s look at how this distributes across society using the General Social Survey. The variable BIBLE asks if people think that the Bible is the actually word of god, the inspired word of god, or a book of fables, etc. This seems to be a reasonable approximation of whether one is a fundamentalist, a non-fundamentalist who still accepts the revealed nature of the Bible, or someone who denies the supernatural grounding of the Bible in totality. There are two evolution related questions I can cross with BIBLE. EVOLVED, which asks if humans developed from an earlier species of animal with a true/false response, and SCITEST4, which asks the same question but has a more graded set of responses. Please note that EVOLVED was asked in the mid-to-late 2000s, while SCITEST4 was asked in the 1990s.

Bible is…. (BIBLE)
Evolution is…
(EVOLVED) Word of God Inspired Word of God Book of Fables
True 23 58 87
False 77 42 13
Definitely True 6 13 36
Probably True 21 37 44
Probably Not True 17 19 13
Definitely Not True 56 30 7
Evolution is…. (EVOLVED)
Bible is….
(BIBLE) True False
Word of God 15 54
Inspire Word 54 41
Book of Fables 31 5
Evolution is…. (SCITEST4)
(BIBLE) Definitely True Probably True Probably Not True Definitely Not True
Word of God 14 22 33 54
Inspire Word 47 57 55 43
Book of Fables 39 21 12 3

The columns above add up to 100%. So you see that of those who believe that evolution is “Definitely Not True,” 43% are people who think that the Bible is the revealed, but not literal, word of god. I highlighted in red what I think are the “low hanging fruit” when it comes to evolution acceptance. Nearly 50% of Americans doubtful of evolution are not religious fundamentalists!  Any sort of outreach is probably optimally aimed at these people. Consider for example that in the 2000s ~80% of Roman Catholics ages 18-35 accepted evolution, while only 50% of those age 65 and over did.

Now, as for the appropriate strategy to push the issue on the margins, that’s a different issue altogether….

September 5, 2011

Creationism evolves!

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 2:37 am
One of the most interesting things to me is the nature of Creationism as an idea which evolves in a rather protean fashion in reaction to the broader cultural selection pressures. For me the weirdest example of this was an interlocutor who kept bringing up Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection. This sort of argument [...]

August 19, 2011

People don’t accept evolution just because they’re smart

Filed under: creationism,Evolution — Razib Khan @ 2:14 pm

Mike the Mad Biologist asks:

If we look at each wordsum category separately, which ones are significantly different? I ask because the trend seems to reflect the liberal-conservative split (low and high lean left; middle leans conservative). It also seems to mirror educational attainment–moderately educated people (some/completed college) are more likely to be conservative.

Hard to suss out causal factors here.

Well, here’s a logistic regression from the GSS:

Don’t take it too seriously. A lot of these are categorical variables which happen to be rank ordered (e.g., most liberal = 1 and most conservative = 7). But as you can see the WORDSUM correlation disappears when you throw in other variables. In fact, even education isn’t statistically significant anymore. That seems ludicrous, but remember that Biblical literalism is strongly correlated with lower levels of education and intelligence. Once you throw that in there as an explanatory variable it sucks up all the oxygen.

Smart people accept evolution

Filed under: creationism,Data Analysis,Evolution,GSS — Razib Khan @ 11:24 am

At Culture of Science there’s a little discussion about whether acceptance of evolution indicates intelligence. Looking at the GSS data there doesn’t seem to be a strong causal relationship when you control for other variables. But there is a correlation. That correlation can be explained by the fact that, for example, people who are Biblical literalists tend to be duller than those who are not, and Biblical literalists don’t accept evolution (in fact, I’ve seen evidence that very intelligence Biblical literalists are more Creationist than their duller co-religionists, probably because they’re more coherent in their beliefs).

With that, I’ll leave you with a screenshot of the results for WORDSUM, a 10 word vocabulary test, against acceptance or rejection of human evolution from other organisms (note that the numbers below the proportions are weighted sample sizes):

The real divergence is at the super high end of intelligence.

May 31, 2011

Amongst the believers

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 9:17 pm

I don’t post Creationist related stuff often, but Harun Yahya always brings out the funny in people. So check this out, In France, a Muslim offensive against evolution. First, some standard dullness:

Dressed in a traditional black robe decorated with rhinestones and a white veil that she wears “only” when she comes to the mosque, Maroua admits that she has always wondered about “the dinosaurs and the origin of man…but at school, it cannot be refuted: we’re taught that man descended from monkeys. At home and in the Koran, [we’re taught] that we descended from Adam and Eve, and that God created all living beings.”

Ali Sadun Engin, Yahya’s representative in the current tour of French mosques, seems to have convinced the young girl. “I find his explanations logical,” she says. The proof for creationism is demonstrated with some perfunctory presentations of fossils, including bear, crocodile, and tortoise skulls, and can be summarized in a few brief sentences: “If fish left the water to walk, if dinosaurs were transformed into birds, then we should discover fossils of these beings in transition. However this is not the case. Science thus shows one sole truth: creation as we know it from the ...

March 25, 2011

Darwin, eh?

Filed under: Canada,creationism,Evolution — Razib Khan @ 9:29 am

At The Intersection Sheril Kirshenbaum posts some rather stark data from Gallup and a Canadian outfit on the differences in attitudes toward evolution between Americans and Canadians. Those Tories are different! The answers seem very similar to those on offer for the General Social Survey’s “CREATION” question. I thought I’d compare Canadians to various American demographics. The question was asked in 2004 of over 1,400 Americans. I find it somewhat ironic in that I think there has been some question as to the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and his attitude toward evolution. Harper is a member of the Evangelical Protestant Christian and Missionary Alliance (and apparently has appointed known Creationists to various government positions, something controversial or notable in Canada). In contrast, Barack Hussein Obama is famously more grounded in evolution than angels.

Humans… Were created by God in the last 10,000 years Evolved through natural selection Evolved over time through divine guidance DK/NR Canada, 2011 14 58 19 8 USA, 2010 40 16 38 6 God created man Man has evolved Man has evolved, but god guided Other USA, 2004 43 12 42 4 Demographics Male 38 14 44 4 Female 47 11 40 3 Age 18-34 38 11 48 3 Age 35-64 43 13 40 4 Age 64- 49 13 37 2 No diploma 47 13 36 4 HS diploma 49 10 38 3 College degree 32 15 50 4 Graduate degree 21 26 49 4 Protestant 55 6 37 3 Catholic 37 8 52 3 No Religion 20 32 43 6 Democrat 37 17 44 2 Independent 44 11 41 5 Republican 48 7 40 5 White 41 14 42 3 Black 57 6 34 4 New England 25 15 51 10 Mid-Atlantic 32 15 50 3 E. North Central 42 10 46 2 W. North Central 37 15 46 2 South Atlantic 55 12 28 5 E. South Central 52 6 41 2 W. South Central 53 6 38 3 Mountain 43 13 42 2 Pacific 30 18 46 6

Image Credit: Yosemite

March 24, 2011

Islam, creationism, and anti-modernism

Filed under: creationism,Culture,Religion — Razib Khan @ 11:19 pm

The other day I was listening to NPR and they were discussing at length the upheavals in the Arab world. Offhand I noted how the discussants would occasionally shift between “the Arab world” and “the Muslim world,” and naturally they all took for granted the central role that Islam would play in the Egyptian polity (and likely the Libyan one). There was nothing shocking about any of this, but imagine you engaged in some substitution. Switching from “Western world” to “Christian world” would sound old-fashioned and anachronistic. The European Union famously omitted mention of Christianity in its constitution several years back, from which erupted a controversy between its more religious and secular member nations (e.g., Poland vs. France). Western societies may still have Christianity as the dominant religion, but in most cultures it does not have the same relationship to the broader culture that it once did.

This is in part due to some radicals on this continent. As outlined in The Godless Constitution the United States of America was founded with a federal government which did not operate under the explicit umbrella of a religious institution. Nor did that federal government engage in any subsidy toward religion. This was ...

March 2, 2011

Barbarians inside the British gates

Filed under: creationism — Razib Khan @ 10:43 pm

Thanks to thabet, another instance of Creationism rearing its Islamic head in the birthplace of Charles Darwin. It’s even more insidious than the norm:

But then Darwin’s anniversary came (in 2009), and it brought troubles to Dr. Hasan, after he penned an article in the Guardian, titled “Knowledge regained” but more interestingly subtitled “In contrast to their forebears, modern Muslims have a childlike view of science, especially evolution. This needs to change.” (I know, these titles and subtitles are rarely chosen by the authors, the editors always find “better” ones…) In the article, Dr. Hasan was not only arguing that Muslims’ knowledge and view of the theory of evolution was woefully poor – hence the widespread opposition to it – but that the illustrious scholars of our civilization’s golden age were so far ahead of today’s Muslims in their knowledge of nature and their evolutionary conception of the living world. And that’s when all hell broke loose. Google “Usama Hasan” and Evolution together and you get 3,370 pages, including Adam Deen’s “Responding to Usama Hasan’s Muslim apes” and “”Sheikh” Usama Hasan on Evolution”

First he was hit by a fatwa. As documented by Usama Hasan, “Sheikh Salih al-Sadlan of Riyadh gave a fatwa on not praying behind anyone who accepts Darwinism. This fatwa was given at the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham, HQ of Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, during their annual conference 24-28 Dec 2010.” Dr. Hasan describes Sheikh al-Sadlan as “a respected Professor of Law, especially Hanbali Law”… Upon hearing about it, Dr. Hasan called the Sheikh on the phone and politely tried to explain his views to him, but to no avail…

Then he was hit by a petition for his removal from the mosque. He tried arguing back, by posting long rebuttals and excerpts from illustrious Muslim scholars’ views on Evolution and by giving, or at least trying to give, a lecture on Evolution (on the 22nd of January 2011). The lecture was shouted out, and things have gone from bad to worse, as one person – as reported by Dr. Hasan – called for his killing.

October 20, 2010

Glenn Beck, Evolution, Global Warming & Tea Parties

Glenn Beck said some dumb, but unsurprising, things about evolution:

How many people believe in evolution in this country? I’d like to see. I mean, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable to say this. I’m not God so I don’t know how God creates. I don’t think we came from monkeys. I think that’s ridiculous. I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet. Did evolution just stop? Did we all of sudden — there’s no other species that’s developing into half-human?

It’s like global warming. So I don’t know why it is so problematic for people to just so, I don’t know how God creates. I don’t know how we got here. If I get to the other side and God’s like, “You know what, you were a monkey once,” I’ll be shocked, but I’ll be like, “Whatever.”

First, Glenn Beck is an adult convert to the Mormon religion. Therefore if he is exalted to godhood he could create a universe of half-monkeys/half-men for kicks. Second, note the details of Beck’s background. He was raised Roman Catholic, and secular for most of his adulthood, before coming to the Mormon church. None of these affinities entails a rejection of evolution. You are probably well aware that the Roman Catholic church has made its peace, broadly speaking, with evolution. And there’s nothing about secularism which necessitates a rejection of evolution. But what about Mormonism? This is the peculiarity. Mormons are broadly sympathetic to Creationism, but there’s nothing in the religion’s teachings which imply this as being the orthodox position. This is why Mitt Romney can robustly support the teaching of evolution. So what’s going in?

In The Creationists Ronald L. Numbers reports survey data from BYU students which shows a radical drop in acceptance of evolution over 50 years. I think what you are seeing is the mainstreaming of Mormons culturally, and, their identification with conservative Protestants for whom rejection of evolution is a significant aspect of their rejection of modernism. Still, I don’t think that this cultural dynamic can explain all of this shift among Mormons, or Glenn Beck’s specific view. Nor do I think it can explain the robust resistance which conservative Protestants exhibit toward integration of the fact of evolution into their model of reality .

As a younger man I encountered individuals who expressed nearly the exact same views as Glenn Beck. When I was a thirteen my closest friend at the time expressed skepticism of evolution couched in Beckian terms; i.e., it was ridiculous on the face of it that man derived from monkeys. My friend was from a moderately liberal family politically who were nominal Roman Catholics (his stepmother was a self-identified feminist). He was above grade level in math, though not exceedingly so (there were three levels, he was in the second-tier). When my friend expressed his skepticism I was totally shocked, as I’d never considered that anyone would reject evolution. I was familiar with the idea from my early elementary years because of my fascination with dinosaurs, and I took it as a given as a background fact of the universe. This being in the pre-internet age I looked up the survey data in The World Almanac and was surprised to find that the public was split down the middle when it came to acceptance of evolution!

I think the root of my friend’s skepticism, and that of Glenn Beck, has to do with our psychology and the intuitions which we bring to the table. This thesis is articulated well in Paul Bloom’s argument that we’re wired for Creationism. Humans have an intuition about essences, and the idea of evolution contravenes our expectation of invariant essences. The image of the grotesque chimera which Beck brandishes is a pointer to this reality, and Beck isn’t alone in his incredulity.

So how does it come to be that half the American public accepts evolution then? (as well as say 80% of the population in Japan) I think the two classes of variables of note are individual dispositions (intelligence, aversion to conformity, level of education) and group wisdom. Here’s a quick & dirty from the GSS using the EVOVLED variable in a logistic regression.

Variable B P-value
POLVIEWS 0.25 0.000
BIBLE(Literal vs. Non-literal) -1.34 0.000
WORDSUM -0.05 0.144
GOD 0.64 0.000
SEX 0.40 0.001
DEGREE -0.16 0.003
AGE 0.02 0.000
Pseudo R-squared = 0.260

Don’t take the values above too seriously. Please. But it does show you the determinative power of Biblical literalism in predicting whether you are likely to be a Creationist or not. Intelligence in terms of vocabulary actually tends to go away in this treatment when you control for other factors which are correlated with intelligence (Biblical literalists are less intelligent). GOD spans the range from atheist to those who know that God exists. Interestingly sex has a stronger effect than education (women are more likely to be Creationist). Political ideology has an impact, but once you control for religion it is far weaker (conservatism is correlated with Creationism). In the same range as education. These data would tend to support the contention that group identity markers are now more important than individual variables like education (or the two are confounded together in such a way that there’s no juice to be gained at looking at individual variables separate from group identity).

I decided to post on this topic because of a conversation I recently had with Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas. We were talking about the correlation of Creationism and anti-Global Warming with politics; specifically the right-wing association of both. I made the argument that there were deep qualitative differences between the two. Creationism is a shallow but broad belief, rooted in intuitions and imbued with symbolic valence. Is man a monkey or an angel? The stance toward Global Warming is different, and more explicitly a function of proximate politics and tribal identity (whether you’re an “expert” on either side of the scientific question, please admit that most people haven’t dug into the scientific details and simply go along with the cultural and political authorities whom they trust). Unlike Creationism Global Warming has concrete near-term implications. I am aware of the contention that rejection of the science of evolution kicks the legs out from under practical fields such as medicine, or, that the inferences that necessarily lead to evolutionary theory are entailed by the same axioms which lead to other practically relevant domains. Nevertheless, for most people medicine, pharmaceuticals, and science in general, are “black box” affairs. If they work, they work, and the philosophical issues are not particularly relevant to them. Anthropogenic Global Warming, and the specific public policy responses which people believe would be prudent to make in response to the validity of the hypothesis, are much more concrete and immediate. Thirty years from now we will not be discussing Global Warming, thirty years from now we will probably be discussing evolution.

But back to Josh.  He decided to do some structural equation modeling with the beliefs of the Tea Party segment of the electorate as predicted by demographic variables. Controlling for background variables he did not find that Tea Party identified Americans were any more, or less, Creationist than they should have been (they’re disproportionately religious conservatives, but they’re not more Creationist than you’d expect from that). On the other hand, they do tend to reject anthropogenic Global Warming to a greater extent even when Josh controlled for background variables. I think this tends to support my contention that the evolution controversy will be with us for a while, and to some extent is sui generis. Both because it as at some remove from immediate policy implications outside of the domain of education, and, because of the deep cultural and psychological soil which Creationism can take root in. It is more than just politics, and so not an necessarily epiphenomenon.

September 26, 2010

Is Christine O’Donnell a kook because she’s a Creationist?

Filed under: Christine O'Donnell,creationism,Data Analysis,Evolution,GSS,Poll — Razib Khan @ 11:01 am

Christine O’Donnell has said a lot of kooky things. Right now people are focusing on her Creationism. Though I’m obviously not a Creationist I think mocking someone for this belief in a political context is somewhat strange: the survey literature is pretty robust that Americans are split down the middle on opinions about evolution. More specifically most of the polling shows that around ~50% of Americans tend to reject the validity of evolutionary theory when asked. This is what I like to call a broad but shallow belief; for the vast majority of Americans attitudes about evolution are really just cultural markers, not stances of deep feeling or impact. One point of evidence for this conjecture is that polling on evolution is easy to massage through framing. Another is that Republican candidates for the presidency do not invariably hew to a Creationist line despite the likelihood that the majority of primary voters are Creationist. Politicians react to incentives, and my own hunch is that there isn’t a strong push from the Christian Right on evolution as there is on abortion or gay marriage.

I’ve posted plenty on how Creationists are more female, less intelligent, more conservative, more likely to be ethnic minorities, less educated, etc. Here I want to put the spotlight parameters which might shed some light on the O’Donnell race. Is her kooky opinion on evolution a particular liability in Mid-Atlantic Delaware? Are Creationists less likely to vote? And what are the regional breakdowns which might explain the bi-coastal shock and amusement at O’Donnell’s opinions?

First, to gauge a sense of Delaware’s religious culture I looked at the Religious Landscape Survey. Because of the small sample size the margin of errors were large, but going through the data I think it is safe to say that Delaware is near the “middle of the road” in reference to the national sample, perhaps just a bit on the more secular and/or religiously liberal end of the spectrum. In the South it seems that Delaware would be very religiously liberal, while in the Northeast it is probably a touch on the more conservative side.

Next, I used the GSS data set. There are four variables which address evolution:


1. God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years

2. Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process.

3. Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man’s creation

EVOLVED: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. Is that true or false?

SCITESTY and SCITEST4: Both also ask if human beings developed from earlier species of animals. Answers though are definitely true, probably true, probably not true, and definitely not true.

I looked to see who voted in the year 2000, variable VOTE00. Note that the questions were asked between 2000-2008, so the “Not Eligible” category simply points to the individuals in the samples in the mid-to-late 2000s who were not yet 18 and could not vote in the 2000 election.

Voted in 2000 Election Did not vote in the 2000 Not eligible to vote 2000
God Created Man 43 44 32
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided 41 42 45
Man Has Evolved 13 10 16
Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)
True 50 46 59
False 50 54 41
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)
Definitely True 16 12 21
Probably True 28 31 38
Probably Not True 15 15 15
Definitely Not True 41 41 27

It does not seem to me that the electorate is much less Creationist than the non-voters. The bias toward evolution in the not eligible to vote category is because these are younger age cohorts, who are more secular and less Creationist.

censdivNext I wanted to do some regional analysis of attitudes toward evolution. The GSS has a variable REGION which is broken down into nine categories. The map to the left shows the divisions, as they’re from the Census definitions. 1 = New England, 2 = Mid-Atlantic, 3 = Great Lakes, 4 = Upper Midwest and Plains, 5 = Atlantic South, 6 = Central South, 7 = South Southwest, 8 = Mountain West, and finally, 9 = Pacific West. To increase sample sizes I aggregated some of these together, so 1 + 2 = Northeast, 3 + 4 = Midwest, 5 + 6 + 7 = South, and 8 + 9 = West. Unfortunately the divisions don’t always quite map onto real social and geographical divisions. Missouri is in the same class as North Dakota. The Mid-Atlantic border states of Maryland and Delaware are thrown together into the same category as Florida. In contrast, the Mountain, Great Lakes, New England and Pacific regions are coherent. New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do form a tight unit in the Mid-Atlantic (though I think today Maryland and Delaware should be included in the same class).

In any case, I took REGION and recombined it like so: REGION(r:1-2 “Northeast”;3-4 “Midwest”;5-7 “South”;8-9 “West”). Delaware might be in the South in this system, but the Northeast is probably more representative of its values and attitudes. All of the results are for the year 2000 and later.

Northeast Midwest South West
God Created Man 31 41 54 34
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided 50 46 33 45
Man Has Evolved 15 11 9 16
Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)
True 64 52 40 57
False 37 48 60 43
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)
Definitely True 22 13 11 21
Probably True 40 34 23 30
Probably Not True 11 13 15 20
Definitely Not True 27 40 51 30
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITEST4)
Definitely True 22 9 12 21
Probably True 39 34 26 30
Probably Not True 16 20 19 15
Definitely Not True 23 38 43 34

Let’s limit the sample to non-Hispanic whites:

Non-Hispanic Whites Only
Northeast Midwest South West
God Created Man 29 40 53 35
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided 42 46 34 40
Man Has Evolved 15 12 10 19
Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)
True 70 54 41 55
False 30 46 59 45
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)
Definitely True 24 13 12 24
Probably True 42 35 23 25
Probably Not True 11 14 16 20
Definitely Not True 24 39 49 32
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITEST4)
Definitely True 22 10 13 25
Probably True 46 32 25 32
Probably Not True 16 22 20 12
Definitely Not True 16 37 43 32

Observations? First, both the Northeast and West tend to be much more accepting of evolution than other regions of the nation. But the West is more polarized, with a larger Creationist minority. This makes sense, as the American West tends to be more secular than the Northeast, but the religious institutions which do exist are generally more fundamentalist in orientation. In the Northeast Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism are much more influential than evangelical Protestantism. In the West the situation is more balanced between Catholics and evangelicals, and includes Mormons who tend to have skeptical attitudes toward evolution. The South is more Creationist than the Midwest, though the Midwest tends toward more fundamentalism in belief than the Northeast and West. This I think aligns with our intuitions, the Midwest tends to be the “swing-vote” in culture and politics, though part of this is because there are more “Southern” regions of the Midwest. The “Butternut” areas of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were settled from the South, while Missouri is also split between Southern and Midwest leaning areas. In contrast, northern Ohio and Illinois, Michigan, and the Upper Midwest states were part of “Greater New England,” and later settled by Scandinavians and Germans who were not congenial toward American Protestant fundamentalism (with the exception of Missouri Synod Lutherans).

As for as Christine O’Donnell and her Creationism, I think she would have benefited from running in Alabama or Mississippi. In some ways the coastal elites are out of touch with how common and pervasive Creationism is, but though Delaware may not quite be part of BosNyWash megalopolis, it’s on the margin of its sphere of influence.

July 14, 2010

The girls are all right, they accept human evolution

Filed under: creationism,data,Data Analysis,GSS — Razib Khan @ 12:00 am

One of the trends that makes me less pessimistic about the inevitability of an idiocratic end-point to technological civilization is that it seems young Americans are more likely to accept evolution than earlier age cohorts.  The EVOLVED variable asks whether one believes that “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animal.” It was asked in 2004 and 2008, and its response is dichotomous between true and false. The favorable age trend I was aware of, but almost randomly I decided to control for some demographic variables, and I stumbled onto something which surprised me a bit, but in hindsight shouldn’t have: much of the greater acceptance of evolution among the youth has to do with a closing of the sex gap between men and women. Traditionally women have been more religious and Creationist in their inclinations, but far less so in Gen Y. Chart below of EVOLVED.


The convergence between men and women here seems to mirror what is occurring with religion more generally. Young men aren’t getting that much more secular, but women are, resulting in an aggregate of serious secularization.

Here are the percentages for 2004 and later in relation to attitudes toward the bible.


So some, but not all, of the closing of the “evolution gap” across sexes can be attributed to decreased belief in the core precepts of organized religion (e.g., the revealed nature of scripture). Rather, if you constrain the beliefs about evolution to those who believe that that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, you see that women are converging with men in the proportion who are theistic evolutionists, and turning away from Creationism. Among these believers, for those who were 61 or older 42% of women accepted evolution vs. 56% of men. For those in the age bracket 18-30 the proportion was 65% for both sexes.

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