Why I Believe In Evolution

Jesus on a DinosaurIn a thread about evolution, Pierre Corneille said the following:

Speaking for myself, sometimes I actually kind of get a little chip-on-shoulder-y with the pro-teaching-evolution-in-school crowd because I detect sometimes a certain arrogance that annoys.

When deciding where I want my wife and I to land, I sometimes say “I don’t want to live in a place where I am the only vote on the school board in favor of teaching evolution.” I actually stand by that comment, but it means something different to me now than it meant when I first made it. Now, more than anything, I understand it as a matter of culture. Namely, that I don’t want to live in a place that is not only highly religious, but sufficiently unified in their religiosity that they feel comfortable inserting that religion into the school curriculum. It’s not so much about the curriculum of science class per se (that can be taught at home), but rather the unified religiosity and the effects it is likely to have on culture that extend far beyond the classroom.

At some point, it dawned on me… do you know why I believe evolution? It’s because that’s what I was taught. I went to school five days a week, in an environment that taught it, and went to Sunday School only once a week in an environment that didn’t deny it. When I was a teenager, I started having serious questions about the veracity of the literal interpretation of the Bible. When I brought these concerns to my father, he basically said that I shouldn’t turn myself into a pretzel trying to verify what are often Very Important Stories and not necessarily a meticulous recording of events. And that the important parts of the Bible are not the recording of events at all.

That’s the sort of environment I was raised in. The results on my thinking of evolution are, by and large, a product of that raising. Because I am not a science-fiend. Science was easily my least favorite subject in school. I could spout off the answers to the questions, I could do the math parts really well, but I didn’t have the passion for it. At all. Unlike reading class, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t care. It was much, much easier for me to put my faith in what science people told me was true.

Now, I can list off a bunch of reasons as to why it is more practical to believe the White Coats over the White Robes, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that I was never really challenged on this front. To some extent, I believe the White Coats because that’s who I was told to believe and the White Robes were saying unrelated things that strained credibility. If I could lend credibility to the other things – the ones I went to my father about – then it would actually be a little bit tougher for me to say “Oh, yes, their views on the metaphysical being of humanity and existence are quite true, but their views on the origins of mankind and the planet are just nonsensical.” Not that it can’t be done, but it’s foolish to pretend that I came about my views objectively and intelligently while they didn’t when, for the most part, we are both just believing what we were told by the people we believe. People often reject what they are told to believe, but the same dynamics are there regardless “The White Robes were lying about this, therefore anybody and especially the White Coats are more credible on the whole creationism vs. evolution thing.”

The primary difference not necessarily being that one Cares About Science while the other Hates Science, but rather it revolves back to believing the people on your side of the line in the sand on other issues translating into belief of evolution.

Now, I speak mostly of people who are like myself in this regard. Who knows, I may be the only person in the entire universe who believes in evolution for relatively superficial reasons. But, I kind of doubt it. I’ve seen debates between creationists and evolution supporters wherein the former absolutely crushed the latter. The creationist was able to talk about micro-evolution and macro-evolution and something about the Grand Canyon that I forget and a whole host of reasons as to why they believe evolution – by which they really mean macro-evolution – is bunk. Meanwhile, the latter focuses scornfully on “That man in the sky” and “Republicans are stupid.”

Not that those arguments sway me to the creationist side. They don’t. Because, ultimately, I believe the White Coats. Mostly on faith and the reasoning of how they say they came about their views versus, ultimately, how I believe the other side came about theirs. Comparative credibility, when I am not really an objective party in any real sense.

I don’t mean to get all relativist here. I do genuinely believe in evolution and I don’t think the sides are really created equal here. What I am more leading to is this comment that I made, preceding Pierre’s:

I do want evolution taught in schools, and would vote on that basis, but a whole lot of very functional people – people in the medical profession, even – believe in creationism. It’s not the indicator of intelligence or competence that people make it out to be.

In addition to the above revelation, this is a product of being raised in the South as much as anything. Or any religious area, really. You meet and get to know a lot of really wicked-smart people that believe things that you believe completely and utterly defy common sense and credibility. And when you stop and think about it – if you stop and think about it – it really doesn’t make sense to really put people in one side or the other in the Smart Box and the Stupid Box. Republicans disproportionately believe in Creationism, and oppose AGW, but outside of that are not on average any more ignorant of SCIENCE! than are Democrats. It’s more about what I would consider to be blind spots than blindness.

It’s because of this that I am increasingly less patient with comments suggesting that creationists cannot be competent doctors, engineers, or so on. A part of my job description at an old job was to edit my boss’s religious tract. It was some 300 pages long, including quite a bit on evolution, wherein he came down pretty hard against. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever known. He was a mechanical engineer, but if he’d chosen surgery or medicine instead, I would trust him with the care of my baby daughter. And I have virtually zero affection for the guy.

I still don’t understand it, to be perfectly honest. How smart people can believe these things that just seem so unbelievable to me. But ultimately, I have to consider that they got their views from a place not all that dissimilar from where I got mine, albeit from the opposite end. And as much as I am inclined to blame that on passivity, research on global warming has indicated that education mostly serves to harden views rather than lead everyone to the “right” one.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Evolution isn’t something you “believe”. Evolution is a unifying biological theory. It’s the current and best paradigm in biology to explain biology.

    But you should no more believe in it than you do, say, solar evolution or any other physical process or relationship.

    If there’s anything to believe in, I suppose it would be the accuracy and predictive power of the scientific process. That’s metaphysical enough to maybe warrant the term ‘belief’.

    Although I do agree that ‘evolution in schools’ has come to be basically short-hand for “How likely — and how much — are the local religious folks trying to shove their particular sect into public schools”.

    • I disagree with this. Many non-scientists, including myself, treat science in a similar way that the religious treat their faith. I really do not understand a lot of science. I can comprehend the basics of physics, biology, medicine, chemistry, and mathematics but others understand these things on a deeper level than I do. They studied it more. Yet, I trust the scientists because I find them to be reliable and realize that they put much thought and work in their fields of study to reach their conclusions. In short, I have faith in them and belive in science.

      • Science, as I noted, might be something you can append “believe” to — because science is a philosophical thing. A methodology. It is an attempt to explain the universe. As such, one can “believe” in it — you believe it’s successful, or useful, or perhaps the best possible tool for explaining things.

        But even that’s weak-sauce “belief” — it’s nothing like belief in God. And your faith in scientists — do you have similar faith in your mechanic’s ability to fix your car? If so, what an insult to the faith of the religious!

        Do you really think that a Christian’s faith in God is even remotely the same thing as your faith that an expert is an expert?

        • compared to the c&e catholic? sure, why not? they’re both largely in it due to habit, upbringing, and tribal affiliations.

          is it so sad that people have a correct belief for completely unreasonable reasons?

  2. Our scientific understanding evolves and will presumably continue to. Creationism now is exactly what it was before it was named. My own preference is for ambiguity and an understanding that perhaps we cannot fully understand the world, which leaves me diametrically opposed to those who have one solution for all questions.

    • “When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

  3. In some other threads recently and on Andrew Sullivans and TNC’s sites they have been discussing IQ. There are likely multiple kinds of intelligence. Some people are absolutely gifted with mechanical ability but cannot seem to do any abstract thought, or some people are naturally talented at math while others aren’t. It is certainly possible to be a good doc or engineer without believing in evolution if you have the talents that lead to being a good doc or engineer. Believing in creationism doesn’t imply being dumb no more then every person who understands science is smart. I’ll add as a side note that i’ve always been a science geek andn hungrily devoured stephen jay gould’s book on evolution as a youngster.

    But the issue seems to fall more on whether we will accept that The Enlightenment actually happened. Lots of bits of science don’t matter to people in their daily lives; the nature of Mercury’s magnetic field, the latest and longest Gamma Ray Burst, the periodic table or evolution. That’s fine. I don’t really need to know or care about the Bible in my daily life. The question though is how do we make decisions regarding scientific questions when they affect all of us regarding policy. Do we look to the scientific method to come up with answers and suggest solutions or rely on dogma. Those who tend to believe in creationism are also the ones who repeatedly told me there are no examples of gov run uni HC anywhere in the world or that gays really do try to prey on young children or that there is no evidence for AGW. Well those questions relate to public policy and have actual data regarding there veracity. Do we use data or not and do we expose that data (and the beliefs that go with it) to the scientific method or not?

    • I don’t think it exactly falls under the multiple-intelligence things. I think some of the anti-evolution people get by in part because they are so smart in their ability to assemble and process information. It’s just that they’re processessing it for what you and I would consider problematic ends.

      Full speed, wrong direction.

      • The overabundance of engineers among the anti-Evolution crowd has always been interesting to me. It was a joking rule of thumb, way back in the Usenet days, that a Creationist with a degree was almost certainly an engineer. (And so rare as to be almost mythical was there one with a degree in any of the fields of biology).

        • I have a number of creationists where I work. Coders. Absolutely *BRILLIANT* guys. I could rattle off the hobbies of various ones and you’d nod and say “I worked with that guy, I knew that guy, that guy was my boss…” and then when I told you that they were Young Earth Creationists (not even Intelligent Design Old Earth Evolution Is God’s Tool creationists), your jaw would drop.

          Mine did, anyway.

          • Which gets back to my point about multiple intelligences to some degree.People can be brilliant in one area and not in others. And of courses beliefs overwhelm other things.

          • I don’t think it is an MI thing. MI would be guys who could code brilliantly but couldn’t muster more than a stick figure when asked to do something artistic.

            My guess is that all but a few of us have never actually looked at the data, in part because much of it is beyond our comprehension. Instead, we simply have decided who we are going to trust. Are we going to trust scientists? Or are we going to trust our religious leaders and/or their texts? We might make an informed decision about who to trust, but beyond that, we’re basically saying, “Yea, I’m going with what my guy said.”

            Me? I trust the scientists. Doesn’t make me better than folks who trust someone else. I’m inclined to think it more often makes me right but, of course, if I didn’t think that, I’d be foolish to trust the side I do. What really matters is how we respond when confronted with legitimate challenges to our trust.

          • My point about MI regards people noting how some people can be great at one thing but poor at another. Many people can do great things with engines but aren’t artistic or abstract. Someone can be a great doc but be clueless on many other issues. Someone can understand a coding language but not really be able to understand the SciMethod. Although my guess would be they don’t want to get the SM or at least when it leads somewhere they don’t want to go.

          • Got it. I just don’t think it is always as easy as saying, “Well, he’s not inclined toward that set of intelligence.” If someone has demonstrated them to be otherwise proficient in scientific inquiry skills yet is also a YEC, I think someone else is at play.

          • Engineers, the thinking has always gone, are — by instinct and training — built to think in terms of design. They see a complex system? It was designed. That’s how they think and work and how they’ve been educated and trained.

            Programmers are a bit surprising — an entire field of machine learning is evolutionary programming and the idiotic statements against it (including those based on people who haven’t read and don’t understand Shannon) falter pretty quick if you’ve even bothered with the hello world levels of it.

            I’ve used it to solve problems where I barely understand the solution space, and DON’T understand the solution — only that it works. Yes, I defined the solution space — and life arose on earth (a defined solution space itself).

          • This is a really interesting subthread. I am relucant to respond here because I think it may warrant a post.

            In case I don’t get to it… the MI theory may apply to some, but I’m not sure how much of an explanation it is for the overall. I don’t think that rejection of evolution is an ignorance of the scientific method so much as a belief that it is being employed dishonestly (a desire to discount the existence of God) or foolishly (“Look at the Grand Canyon!”).

            I think we all have blindspots. I think a blindspot on evolution is just among the more conspicuous varieties.

          • I think complex systems arising through simple rules is….anti-intuitive…to some people.

            Especially if they have a laymen’s level understanding of thermodynamics.

            Add that into seeing complex, multicellular life now — it’s hard to see how that arose to chance, change, and a simple filtering mechanism. The billions of years it’s been active are an intellectual concept, not a gut understanding.

            I’ve always found ring species to be quite interesting little examples of the power of small changes over time (well, distance in this case).

          • My experience, as a mechanical engineering student, is that engineers tend to be conservative by disposition. They are strongly inclined to stick with “what works” unless forced to innovate and then, often as not, that just takes the form of a variation on “what works.” You figure out how strong a bridge needs to be and then you double or triple that for a safety margin.

            Personality-wise you’re talking about the kind of guy that reads Popular Mechanics magazine and wouldn’t know a philosopher if you slapped him upside the head with one. Even the science they use is conservative given that most of them never have to think about anything past Newtonian stuff. Only a few NASA types and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have to think about Relativity or QM.

            Somewhere I have a picture of my Pi Tau Sigma Honor Society induction–basically the top 10% of my engineering class. A whole bunch of button-down, most fraternity, types… and me. The lone long-hair hippie dude. That should have been a clue that I was on the wrong path.

        • There’s – not a law, but a theory with a name about this, that any creationist claiming training in ‘science’ will turn out to be an engineer. Probably because (1) there are a lot of engineers, (2) the have ‘training in science’, but a limited amount, and (3) they’re trained to think design.

        • “And so rare as to be almost mythical was there one with a degree in any of the fields of biology”

          There’s one guy, with a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard (one of Gould’s students). He was a Moonie instructed to conceal his beliefs, to get a Ph.D. in biology so that he could have credibility in arguing creationism.

      • Some months ago, TVD before he was banished to the wilderness, pointed me to this YEC dude who was also an astrophysicist. I have to admit the guy had an ingenuous take on the Creation story. Basically, he defined “Now” as when the light from an event gets to you. So, for all practical purposes, you can ignore the fact that light has a finite speed and just take something to have happened at the instant you see it happen. That’s not as crazy as it first appears. Photons travel at the speed of light and so, according to Special Relativity, don’t experience any time as they travel. So from the perspective of the photons, something happens billions of light years away and the light hits our telescope now and that all happens in the same instant. It’s like a photon is a one-dimensional structure connecting two disparate points across space-time.

        So anyway, he reconciled YEC with modern observations of a very old universe by postulating an “outside-in” creation sequence. Basically, the universe is a huge sphere centered at the Earth and it was all created starting from the “outside” with creation proceeding as an inwardly traveling wave-front that converged on the Earth about 6000 years ago. Everything was created fully-formed but however long ago it would take for light to reach us from wherever it was at the time.

        Of course, that plays hell with the Copernican principle but YECs want to throw that out anyway. Absolutely ingenious; absolutely wrong. As you say… Full speed, wrong direction.

  4. “At some point, it dawned on me… do you know why I believe evolution? It’s because that’s what I was taught.”

    That’s the key. You were taught this more than religion. Sadly, schools now days don’t teach critical thinking. Where was the discussion about the various theories of the creation of the planet, life on earth, etc. with pros and cons and objective evidence/faith based facts. It doesn’t exist. There are plenty of holes in the current evolution theories and religious teachings, but that’s never presented. One could understand the religious not mentioned the gaps, but the scientists shouldn’t-thems the obstensible scientific ones….

    • There isn’t a single alternative to evolution — stellar or biological — that can be taught in a science class.

      All the ones being pushed in America? Have their roots in the Bible. If your “alternatives” can’t stand on their own two feet without a Bible behind them, they’re not alternatives. They’re theology.

      And “faith based facts”? Good lord — what a fun phrase. What’s it mean? What’s a ‘faith based fact’ and how is it different than an ‘evidence based fact’?

      • I think the key phrase there is “science class”. There is room to explore alternate theories on the origin of man. But unless they have a basis in “science” they don’t really have place in a science curriculum.

        • Let it be known that I will actually be exploring science in the classroom soon. That’s what I was initially going to write, but I couldn’t write that until I wrote this.

          • One of the issues with exploring science — as Creationists are often proposing — in the classroom is simply the fact that any real scientific controversies are outside of the scope of an actual K-12 science class.

            And I suppose the real issue — theological issues aside — with science class is that much of K-12 is spent learning basic scientific facts and well-established concepts. There’s so much to learn that actually getting to try science — that is real hypothesizing, experimentation, testing, and whatnot — much less the thinking skills required, often take a big back burner.

            That failure mode often persists into college, wherein by the time you’ve actually understood the field well enough to do “science”, you’re well into a Master’s or Doctoral program.

            The first time I ever did anything that could truly be called “science” — well, I was working on my Master’s — after 10 years working as a software engineer. I had someone with experience aiding me, but it was both like and unlike the regular problem solving of work.

            I dunno if that’s fixable — we’re a long way from the days of gentlemen scientists — there’s so much domain knowledge to master before you can start fiddling with the bits. Now the whole critical thinking, thinking scientifically stuff? Maybe you can teach that a lot better and earlier — but honestly, a lot of that IS snuck into science classes, math classes (especially), and the better English classes.

            Unless you’re in Texas. Where our school board feels that if you’ve taught “critical thinking” in 3rd grade, there’s no need to teach it again. Ever.

          • “And I suppose the real issue — theological issues aside — with science class is that much of K-12 is spent learning basic scientific facts and well-established concepts. There’s so much to learn that actually getting to try science — that is real hypothesizing, experimentation, testing, and whatnot — much less the thinking skills required, often take a big back burner.”
            For what it’s worth, in my PreK, I take the opposite approach. Outside of a handful of facts and concepts, I think teaching inquiry skills is much, much more important in PreK. Observing, making/revisiting predictions, developing hypotheses, carrying out experiments… that is the bulk of my “science” work with the students. Conveniently, it can often be done without the need for a formal science period. As I often tell parents, we don’t have Science but we’re constantly doing science. I do set up more formal opportunities for learning, such as our recent attempts to make rainbow play dough (first attempt, which involved adding all the different food coloring to a single batch of play dough failed; we then made a second attempt built around making separate batches of different colored play dough and then blending them together which more or less worked).

            My thinking is that if the kids have the skills, they’ll be properly armed to come to much better understanding of the facts and concepts through doing. They’ll learn more about color mixing via finger painting than with me droning on and on about it.

      • Well the reaction seemed to have gone off in the wrong direction, no doubt my fault for confusing the issue by mentioned religion. The point I was trying to make was the lack of critical thinking skills being taught in school.

        Not being a person of faith, my comments weren’t to suggest that “intelligent design” isn’t anything but religion, but to simply point out that there are alternative theories of how the world / universe began and each should be presented for review, understanding, and exploration.

        You see, I too, grew up being taught evolution was the be all and end all. It was only years later I realized that that theory still has a lot of holes in it. Not enough for me to discad it, but enought for me to be aware that it’s not “solved”.

        And who said I was talking about “science class”?

        • Damon,

          I was referring to Morat, who said “science class”.

          Let me ask this… suppose a teacher discussed ID or creationism in a biology class and tore the theory to shreds… pointed out the lack of empirical evidence not only for the theories themselves, but also for the existence of an intelligent designer or a creator. What do you think the result of that would be?

        • , but to simply point out that there are alternative theories of how the world / universe began and each should be presented for review, understanding, and exploration.

          What scientific alternatives are these? I’m afraid I’m only aware of a handful, all religious (well, except Hoyle’s steady state cosmology, which was discredited 20 years ago. Should we teach ‘alternatives’ proposed by a single person in a field? If so, when would we have time to teach anything?). What class should religious creation stories be told in? Can’t be science — that’s for, you know, science.

          Comparative religion? Some schools have them. Social Studies maybe?

          • Morrat20,

            How about this as an example. Let’s take Darwin’s theory and explain it. Now let’s throw out all the holes in the theory and inconsistencies, not just present it as fact, but that people are still working on the theory and arguing out aspects of it. That certainly didn’t happy in my public school education of evolution.

            Then, in some other class we can talk about intelligent design and do the same thing.

            The point is to not present evolution or ID as settled fact, which neither are.

            Kazzy, oh, you and I both know what would happen.. 🙂

          • Now let’s throw out all the holes in the theory and inconsistencies,

            Which ones? The lack of a mechanism? Are you talking Darwin, as in 1800s Darwin? Or the New Synthesis, which is modern biology? What holes? What theories?

            Intelligent design? What’s that? What class should it be taught in? What scientific concepts does it use? What theories does it promote? How is it tested? Is it a fringe theory, mainstream alternative, how useful and how often used is it in biology? Is it in fact science?

            I’m afraid you’re gonna have to get into some specifics rather than mealy mouthed “teach the inconsistencies”. We are talking science class, right (the class wherein evolution would be taught), so what inconsistencies did you have in mind?

      • Morat20,

        These are some examples from a few years ago. Admittedly, I’m not up to speed on all current developments, so if these issues have been resolved, super plus good.

        “A fair number of people are deathly allergic to bee stings, going into anaphylactic shock and dying. In any but a protected urban setting, children are virtually certain to be stung many times before reaching puberty. Assured death before reproduction would seem a robust variety of selective pressure.
        Yet the allergic haven’t been eliminated from the population. Why is it that miniscule, unobserved mutations over vast stretches of time can produce major changes, while an extraordinarily powerful, observable selective pressure doesn’t? The same reasoning applies to a long list of genetic diseases that kill children before they reach adulthood. (Yes, I too can imagine plausible explanations. Plausibility isn’t evidence.)

        Homosexuality in males works strongly against reproduction. Why have the genetic traits predisposing to homosexuality not been eliminated long ago?

        If intelligence promotes survival, why did it appear so late? If it doesn’t promote survival, why did it appear at all?

        So much of evolution contradicts other parts. Sparrows evolved drab and brown so that predators won’t see them. Cockatoos and guacamayas are gaudy as casinos in Las Vegas so they can find each other and mate.

        Do we actually know, as distinct from hope, suspect, speculate, or pray, of what the primeval seas consisted? Do we actually know what sort of sea or seas would be necessary to engender life in the time believed available? Has the accidental creation of life been repeated in the laboratory? Can it mathematically be shown possible without making highly questionable assumptions? If the answers to the foregoing are “no,” would it not be reasonable to regard the idea of chance abiogenesis as pure speculation?”

        These questions I thought were very interesting and I’ve never heard an explanation. From http://www.fredoneverything.net

        • Ah, sorry. I thought you were serious.

          Bringing up cockatoos bright coloring as a “question” for instance, means your high school education either sucked or you didn’t pay attention. That’s not a question — the reasons for that are quite well known, and can be seen, well, practically everywhere — including the antics of teenage humans. I mean, good lord — mating behavior? Attracting mates? Sexual selection? This ringing ANY bells?

          Homosexuality? (And why just in males?) *eyeroll*. Come on — why is 99% of a beehive sterile?

          And then abiogenesis as a kicker?

          That’s not “controversies” or “wholes” or “questions” — that’s personal ignorance masquerading as skepticism.

        • Seriously — that’s a laundry list of things you don’t know, and thus feel evolution doesn’t explain.

          Here’s a hint: Just because you don’t know it — well, in this case some mysterious “Fred” — doesn’t know it, doesn’t mean it’s unexplained. It just means you don’t know it.

          And these aren’t YOUR questions even! They’re crap you snagged from the usual laundry list of stupid that’s populated every “Evolution is bogus!” rant since Usenet.

          Although I admit, to your credit, you totally didn’t bring up the second law of thermodynamics. Good on you.

          • So all my silly questions have been answered, can all be found in peer reviewed publications, and are currently taught to kids in public school Science classes? That’s great, because they sure didn’t address any of that when I was in High School.

            And I never said evolution is bogus. I simply stated that it is a theory and is not proven-unless you’re telling me now that it is FACT-and that the flaws or “wholes” in any theory should be presented to school kids, in addition to teaching the theory. That’s being done right? Because my post was about critical thinking skills not being taught in schools, not the validity of one specific theory.

            So thanks for pointing out with a high amount of tact that my evolution learnin’ ended in high school, something I already knew.


          • So all my silly questions have been answered, can all be found in peer reviewed publications, and are currently taught to kids in public school Science classes?

            Yes, yes, and not often enough.

            . I simply stated that it is a theory and is not proven-unless you’re telling me now that it is FACT-

            It is both fact and theory. Respectfully, theory in the scientific sense does not mean unproven– for that a better word is hypothesis, which is a claim to be tested.* Theory means a comprehensive explanation for a set of empirical findings that have been repeatedly confirmed. Theories can be falsified, if the predictions derived from them too frequently fail. But this consistent failure to confirm derived hypotheses has not happened with evolution in its modern synthesis form (the modern synthesis being the reconciliation of natural selection (Darwinian style) with population genetics (Mendelian style)–and please forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, and understand that I’m ignorant about your extent of knowledge on the subject).

            If I did not explain that clearly, here’s a better source.

            * (e,g., I hypothesize that the fossil record will not show rabbits in the same strata as stegosaurs–we can directly test that claim, and our test will either support or disconfirm it.)

            that the flaws or “wholes” in any theory should be presented to school kids, in addition to teaching the theory. That’s being done right? Because my post was about critical thinking skills not being taught in schools, not the validity of one specific theory.

        • Homosexuality? (And why just in males?) *eyeroll*. Come on — why is 99% of a beehive sterile?

          Homosexuals are haploid diploid?

          I’m on your side here, but I don’t think bees are a good response to the tired old question of homosexuality.

          • Also bonobo chimps are randy mother fishers. They have gay and straight sex as a way of settling disputes, social bonding and, one would presume, just because its fun.There are two kinds of chimps. The Common Chimp is the one we see in zoos. We don’t see Bonobo’s in zoos because nobody really wants to have to explain to their little tykes when the chimps are stroking, buggering and roundly going at it.

            Sex, of all kinds, can have more than one function.

          • Why have the genetic traits predisposing to homosexuality not been eliminated long ago

            Kin selection, same as with bees, is more than sufficient. (Although actually it appears that there are many selective pressures involved, including what amounts to a nifty bit of sibling sabotage to the natal environment).

            That’s the problem with Damon’s “questions” — they’re a list of things that are easily answered by layman, presented as if they’re puzzlers that the world of biology has never, ever, considered — much less answered. It’s an argument from personal ignorance, masquerading as a critique.

            I mean, peacocks, for god’s sake. There’s been National Geographic specials that talk about the evolutionary pressures involved in sexual selection, and how odd a result you can get.

          • Yeah there’s a lot of thought that homosexuals may not mate but their siblings are strongly advantaged in their offspring by having a homosexual around. There’s a million possible reasons why homosexuality could work out evolution wise.

          • And as I noted: Bees are an example of these pressures taken to the extreme. One fertile line, with 99% of the species infertile drones — devoted to protecting that line.

          • Morat, this is all old hat to me (particularly bonobs), so I didn’t need an explanation for homosexuality. I’m just saying bee comparisons aren’t the best because haplodiploidy is a very different thing than what underlies homosexuality, which we don’t yet even know for sure is wholly biological (not that it matters politically or morally, of course). Just saying there are probably better, more effective, responses to folks with such questions.

            things that are easily answered by layman, presented as if they’re puzzlers that the world of biology has never, ever, considered — much less answered

            This. A thousand times this with evolution naysayers.

          • Actually it is — the people bringing it up? They’d have to look up haploid and diploid. You’re making it too complex.

            It’s really “How can “passing down my genes” promote behavior where I don’t pass down my genes? Riddle me that!”

            Well, bees are an excellent example. One people get. It illustrates the concept — there are all these bees, most of them sterile, with one fertile line.

            It’s not an answer to “why does evolution apparently conserve homosexuality” (it appears it does — it’s certainly way too widespread among species to not have some boost to fitness, at least at certain rates) because that’s not the real question — the real question is “If it’s all survival of the fittest, how does non-survival/reproduction stuff work at all” — all you need is an example of it working to show that evolution isn’t quite that…simple.

          • Morat,

            Well, I’m going to disagree that the persuasiveness factor is there. But we’re not n any substantive disagreement on the underlying issue.

  5. In college, I wrote a paper on worldviews for a theology class. It is often asked, “Can you prove the existence of God empirically or via the scientific method?” My paper sought to answer a different question, “Can you prove gravity religiously?”

    By and large, we live in a world predicated on science and the scientific method. This was not always the case. But it is now. I don’t agree, and didn’t then, with the religious worldview. But I thought there was value in examining what the other perspective might be.

    So I can fully recognize why folks might think otherwise on the matter. What I struggle with is when folks take a position because of political and cultural signaling.

    My stepfather used to be a hardcore liberal. Like, the kind of guy that marched up and down Main Street banging a drum calling for the end of Gulf War I. In later years, he’s become staunchly conservative. Throughout this time, he has been a scientist, an environmental science professor to be specific. If you asked him 20 years ago his thoughts on climate change/global warning, he would have spoken eloquently on the science behind the matter. If you ask him now, he doesn’t outright deny it, but suddenly puts much more emphasis on the “lack of consensus” or “unpredictability” of the matter. Yet, I suspect, if he was called upon professionally to offer an opinion, it wouldn’t be all that much different than the one he offered years back. Still, he takes the stance he does not because he has become more educated on the matter but because AGW has become a line-in-the-sand for political signaling, and a troubling one at that.

    Mike’s post yesterday touched on this, highlighting the gap between people who were likely to have grown up actively being taught YEC and other forms of alternative theories of biological development and those who currently espouse those views. I believe the numbers were 11% for the former and 48% for the latter.

    To me, that signals at least a good amount of folks who are indulged in political posturing, not in a genuine search for the truth.

    If your faith, upbringing, educational experiences, or social/cultural context leads you to believe X about the origin of man, so be it. I may or may not agree with it, but I would assume you are coming from a genuine place with which I can engage.

    But if your belief on the matter is informed by, “Well, what do the other guys think? Fuck those guys!” or, “What am I supposed to think to demonstrate that I’m part of Tribe Y?” well… I’m going to quickly become quite frustrated with you.

    And though I think on this particular matter the phenomenon is primarily on the right, it is not exclusive and there are indeed folks who purport themselves as scientists because that’s what good little liberals do.

    • I actually almost mentioned the story of your stepfather, except that I didn’t want to get it wrong and it involved a direction that the piece didn’t ultimately go. But yeah, I think a whole lot of this is signalling rather than a firm believe. A desire not to be one of those people.

      I commented in the last thread and here previously that a whole lot of I Fishing Love Science fans on Facebook love science primarily because they perceive it to invalidate spiritual belief. There isn’t a complete overlap by any stretch (and my friends are not a statistically valuable sample set!), but it’s interesting to see.

      And likewise, I think a lot of “I doubt evolution” comes actually not from religious instruction, but rather being religious and thinking that the other side is all about evolution and so naturally you’re against them and that. (I should add that I take issue with the study that Mike cites, but I think the ultimate conclusion – that a lot of people are anti-evolution despite the fact that it is not hammered home every Sunday – is on the whole true.)

      • Had I told my stepfather’s story before? I hadn’t realized!

        Here’s my take: If I ask you, “What would you have to see to change your mind?” and you respond, “There is nothing that can change my mind,” you are indulging a religious belief, not a scientific one. Even if you are on the “pro-science” side of the aisle.

        • IIRC, talk.origins had/has an entire page full of “Things which would invalidate evolution”. Apparently “What would it take for you to question evolution’s validity, see there’s nothing, it’s a religion!” was common enough to warrant a page. 🙂

    • When you describe people “…who are indulged in political posturing, not in a genuine search for the truth”, it makes me question the desirability of policies they espouse. These are people for whom group identity has become more important than objective facts. Consequently, their policy recommendations are unreliable. I don’t want to be in tribes like that.

  6. How many of those stories do you have?

    Because in the poll that spawned the previous thread, 46% of the respondents were Young Earth creationists.

    Are 46% of these intelligent doctors and engineers YECs? Or is it closer to the 11% that actually belong to religions that preach YEC?

    I’m not really concerned about the folks that more or less learn the principles of evolution thoroughly enough to make a case of debunking it–They’ve learned the material, whether they believe it or not.

    I’m concerned about those who never get that education. Take my experience. I went to school in a very socially conservative part of my state. I was an honors student, but there were no Honors Biology classes offered. We covered evolution for a few days. And this in a liberal state, from a teacher who very much believed in evolution. It just wasn’t worth risking the ire of the parents to cover the topic in depth.

    • Alan, I am quite in favor of teaching evolution in large part because of the content of this post. If I believe in evolution because that’s what I was taught, then I sure want it taught. This isn’t at all an argument for not teaching evolution. Indeed, you’ve been kind of using evolution as a touchstone for a larger issue (science education in general), which I would agree matters a lot more than evolution itself. But while a failure to teach or understand evolution might be an indicator of a poor scientific education in general, I genuinely don’t believe it is a sufficient indicator that it’s a safe assumption that someone who made it all the way through medical school is actually ignorant about science.

      To answer your question, I don’t know how many stories I have because I don’t know how many of the people I’ve known over the years are actually creationists. Which is part of the point. They’re not drooling from the mouth. That I can’t very easily identify them is itself significant.

      • Or, put another way, I think an easy way to get burned is to assume that someone you meet who is intelligent, seems scientifically literate, has a job in a scientific field, of course believes in evolution. In reality, a whole lot of them are among the 46%.

        • I’m not convinced of this. I think there are sizable numbers of folk who believe both evolution and Genesis, Will. People who are good at taking religious teachings metaphorically; a guide for how to conduct their spiritual lives, even as they pursue their secular work which is seemingly in conflict with their religious beliefs.

          I have a friend, a Mennonite, who did some serious research on self-replicating enzymes; his dissertation was on the cover of both Nature and Science in the same month. He also got a slew of hate mail from religious folk, claiming he was trying to replace God. We’ve had long conversations on how this might be a window into how life begins in a stew of compounds; he typically hedged that his research is just one of many things that might have happened; but there’s no doubt in my mind this person subscribes to the theory of evolution, and one of his career goals would be adding to our understanding evolutionary process in that step from chemistry to biology. Yet this man is also deeply religious. He’s able to hold both world views without having much conflict between the two, at least that I know of.

          I imagine if I asked, he’d say the creation myths of any religion are the science of their time; they hold wisdom, but they’re also, in our time, subject to the scientific method.

          • Huh. My comment here must have gotten lost to the ether.

            The question at hand is whether the earth is younger than or older than 10,000 (I think? Some low number, anyway) years. I have a hard time believing that the earth being younger than 10,000 years is hard to reconcile with macro-evolution.

            It’s possible that the 46% don’t really mean it (see Kazzy’s comments) or believe years in a more ethereal sense rather than earth-rotations-around-the-sun (though we’re starting to get into questioning Heliocentrism with that one). But ultimately I take them at their word. I’ve known enough people that seem to really believe it (even when their specific variation of faith doesn’t specifically and entirely demand it).

      • Of course, there’s a much simpler argument: Evolution should be taught in biology classes because it represents the best thinking of biologists at the level students would get. We teach chemistry and physics the same way.

        “Teaching the controversy” is a fun little attempt to end-run this, except inside of biology there IS no controversy. Not about evolution, not on the K-12 level. Plenty of deep, passionate, back-stabbing arguments over all sorts of bits and pieces of evolution and how and what and to what extent, but evolution itself? It’s like claiming the existence of the atmosphere was a ‘controversy’ in climatology.

  7. Evolution as controversy always surprised me a little, since it’s such a huge, over-arching and incredibly important theory. It really is the basis of the science of biology, and everything that is flowing from that.
    I think some of the additional conflict has come when “science” has been used to promote or justify things that aren’t really supported yet by data or hypothesis. Just thinking about some of the assumptions made when talking about the biochemical basis for personality, or neurobiology studies in general, there’s a whole lot of conclusions being made without quite the needed data or experiments. The IQ / race (leading quickly and horribly to eugenics, etc) discussion is another. Economics in general (“the dismal science”, but, you know, not really a science….)
    “Human beings are not rational, but rationalizing animals.”
    “Science” is often used as support for rationalizing behavior that doesn’t have a rational basis.
    There’s also the huge gaps between true, unproven and false. For people searching for more stability in an uncertain world are not always satisfied with “we don’t know (yet)”

  8. “Namely, that I don’t want to live in a place that is not only highly religious, but sufficiently unified in their religiosity that they feel comfortable inserting that religion into the school curriculum. It’s not so much about the curriculum of science class per se (that can be taught at home), but rather the unified religiosity and the effects it is likely to have on culture that extend far beyond the classroom.”

    I accept that the universe didn’t spring into being from nothingness for no reason. I accept that there must be a creative force or energy which is difficult to fully comprehend. I accept that it seems reasonable to assume that there must be some sort of reasoning consciousness that channels this creative force. But beyond that, skepticism begins to kick in for me. Although I was raised in a religious household I am non-religious and have been for all of my adult life. I am untroubled by those who choose to have religious beliefs as long as they don’t try to impose their beliefs on me. I am a parent and did not raise my children in a religious environment. I tried to teach my children to think critically and to take responsibility for what ever beliefs they chose to accept. I do not accept that society cannot maintain ethical and humane behavioral standards without the influence of religion. I do not accept that we will sink into utter depravity if we refuse to be led by priests. In fact I maintain that religion encourages the abdication of ones own responsibility to seek answers to the most fundamental human questions in favor of the blind acceptance of dogmatic belief. I prefer to make my own mistakes.

  9. I remember reading about the controversy that was spawned by the mere suggestion that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Seems like some famous dude met his death over that suggestion.

    And there lies the difference. Religion seems to punish thought that is perceived to threaten its domain. Science, on the other hand, seems to push for overturning the applecart of though if there’s proof that a new idea is actually a better representation of what really happens.

    Take my own malady — migraine. The theories of migraine have been many. Just a few years ago, it was presumed to be caused by constriction of blood vessels in the brain. Now, thanks to modern imaging technology, they know it’s actually an inflammation moving through the brain. But if we were to depend on religion to solve this problem for us, I suspect migraine would be considered evidence of sin of one sort or another; punishment for bad behavior, or shirking of responsibility, etc.

    That’s not to say many, many people don’t misuse science and scientific theory. Happens all the time. But with science, there’s presumably some effort to correct the record when new understanding comes to light, supported by evidence collected through scientific process.

    On evolution in specific, I offer the Eastern Coyote:

    The second, and more widely accepted theory, is that the Eastern coyote is a relatively new species in New York. This theory suggests that western coyotes extended their range eastward, eventually forming a distinct subspecies.

    A quick google search tells me there’s a lot of missinformation out there still about Eastern Coyotes; that they’re a hybrid of dog/western coyote or wolf/western coyote. But genetically, they’re a distinct species — pups from the same mother breed true, not a bunch of random dog/wolf traits. And this species did not exist, according to the biologists I’ve spoken with, as early as 1900; when there were still wolves in some numbers in the northeast. Removal of the wolf as the top predator in the food chain left a hole, and it was filled by evolution of the western coyote into a distinct subspecies adapted to better living in environments dominated by humans.

    To my mind, this is evolution in action. We can see it, measure it. Our only difficulty with truly grasping it is our inability to truly comprehend the time scales involved.

    • Edit: block quote above should only include one paragraph, the second is me speaking. If anyone can correct it, I’d be obliged.

    • “Religion seems to punish thought that is perceived to threaten its domain.”

      I see it more as people invoke religion to punish thought that they perceive to be a threat, or to assert their own power over others in other ways. I wouldn’t blame RELIGION for that. Just as I wouldn’t–or shouldn’t–blame SCIENCE for some of the horrible things done in the name of science which in their own way were more about power and punishing perceived threats.

      • Thank you for that, Pierre. You are correct. When I wrote that, my thoughts were on Galileo, but even there, he was speaking things that threatened the authority and power of specific individuals, and they acted is if the threats were to Religion broadly.

        The intriguing thing is that their religion has lasted, despite their individual actions.

        I would point out that this might only hold true in places where the right to worship as one chooses is protected.

    • I remember reading about the controversy that was spawned by the mere suggestion that the Earth was not the center of the universe.

      Don’t forget about the Tychonic system, which the Church did approve: the moon and sun orbiting the Earth, and the other planets orbiting the sun. The Tychonic system had the dual advantage that it kept the Earth at the center of things, but matched the Copernican model in terms of observational accuracy. The Tychonic model was a viable competitor with the Copernican model for most of a hundred years, until stellar aberration and Newton’s theory of gravity finally did it in.

  10. I’ve seen debates between creationists and evolution supporters wherein the former absolutely crushed the latter. The creationist was able to talk about micro-evolution and macro-evolution and something about the Grand Canyon that I forget and a whole host of reasons as to why they believe evolution – by which they really mean macro-evolution – is bunk.

    I was raised on this stuff. Since I was a Nice Young Christian at the time, I accepted it at face value, but even then I took note of how deeply important it was to the speaker that projected this carefully honed argument (of course, this was a seminar at church so no one else was arguing the other side). Whatever hair-splitting details there were regarding micro and macro evolution have long since melted away, but my impression remains; “the stakes are high!”

    This runs counter to “no big deal/doesn’t affect the professional life of so-and-so” idea here and in the comments of the other thread. What are the stakes?


    I don’t think Evolution is the reason for our growing irreligiousity, but it is the avatar of many reasons. All of the micro/macro parsing served one purpose: “We did NOT evolve from apes!”. Evolution doesn’t just change origin story of humans, it changes how we view ourselves. Even as a biology textbook dutifully list each phylum, class, order, etc. as a concrete designation, it also illustrates the seamless continuum of one life form morphing into another. This continuum is the key; it directly challenges essentialist ideas about human beings and our place in the world.

    At least it did for me, someone who hadn’t acquired a comprehensive (but still layman’s) understanding of evolution, physical science, and the scientific method until my junior college years. There are a whole host of other reasons I couldn’t simply compartmentalize Genesis into “allegorical, not literal” and keep going to church, but my view of life as it exists on this dew covered rock hurtling through space is a keystone among them. Aside from the hunker-in-the-bunker churches, there are many people both inside and outside of religious institutions are trying to find a space for some form of religiosity, or even just spirituality, that can co-exist in a world of modern revelation. To the extent that cognitive dissonance comes naturally to our kluge-ly evolved brains, people can accommodate all of this, and many do. And yet, as religious attendance and self identification polls suggest, many more of us don’t, or cease to after a time. Cognitive dissonance is prevalent, but not impermeable.

    The disadvantage Christianity (and other religions to differing degrees) has in competing with capital S “Science” is obvious in the arguments put forth by Christians that there is nothing uniquely valid in “believing” Science more than Christianity, as you’ve merely converted to another religion; another faith. “You’re no better than us”, aside from being a sad surrender, also fall flat on it’s face. “X is true, believe it or burn in hell” will never be comparable to “X is true, prove me wrong”.

    • Oh, I’m perfectly willing to believe that evolution does matter with regard to religiosity. For me, it wasn’t evolution so much as it was Noah’s Ark and dinosaurs that really got the ball rolling on my skepticism towards the literal veracity of the Bible. These are not unrelated to evolution, though evolution was never much in doubt for me as I grew up since I was not really taught to doubt (or believe) it on Sundays.

      But yeah, it is some of the greater incongruities – including evolution – that make belief in the other stuff more difficult. How much this really cuts against the churches’ own internal metric of success (number of believers, generally) is uncertain, though, because a whole lot of the loss of religiosity is coming at the expense of those that have shown more flexibility. The Episcopal Church is hurting a lot more than the Southern Baptist Church.

    • The kingdom/phylum/class/whatever model obscures as much as it reveals — I prefer cladistics — as it is much more powerful and useful, as it incorporates the actual evolutionary process. (Whereas some of the divisions in the old model are a bit arbitrary). (mind you, there are some issues with cladistics but overall it’s a lot better to recognize the evolutionary process in the division than the more arbitrary old version).

      Cladistics wise — for example — dinosaurs and birds are much closer — specifically, birds ARE dinosaurs in a fashion. They never stopped being dinosaurs — no more than you can change who your biological parents are.

      Humans aren’t monkeys. We never were monkeys. We didn’t come from monkeys. We share a common ancestor — a critical difference.

  11. The bigger losses among the more flexible denominations is exactly why this is a big, fishin’ deal. If it really were as simple as “Genesis is an allegory, carry on.”, then people would carry on, and we would see some shifting of religious populations among denominations, not a decrease. Clearly they can’t “carry on”, and the bunker churches are right to think “the stakes are high!”.

    • oops, this was meant to be a reply to Will’s #42 comment.

      • It’s all good, Jason. I caught it. I just haven’t had the opportunity to formulate my response.

        (That said, don’t use numbers, because the numbers change. Which is dumb, but that’s what happens. The comment in question is now #43. I would instead provide a linkback or, more easily, mention the time that the comment was made so that I can run a search for it.)

        • I don’t know if this is possible, but the response to 47 should be 47a, not 48. In other words, once a post is numbered, it should keep that number.

          To use Burt’s favorite road as an example, when I-195 was opened in 1968, it crossed the Turnpike between exits 7 and 8. So what did the NJTA do? They called the new exit 7A.

          As an aside, this is the exit one takes when going to Six Flags Great Adventure.

          • I can think of no reason why that wouldn’t be possible. Honestly, just having the number remain static would be useful, because then Jason could reference a post number and I could look it up and it would still be that number.

            I have no idea what the current system actually accomplishes, or is supposed to accomplish, other than confusion.

          • 47.1, since there are multiple levels of response (thus Will’s response to Jason’s response to Blaise’s response to my comment could be, but otherwise yes. And that wouldn’t be at all hard to do. The current system actually encourages people to refer to comments using a poor identifier, just as it does nothing to guard against unclosed tags. Just laziness.

          • I would prefer 47a to 47.1, then the next level could be 47.a.1. I think it is more aesthetically pleasing to alternate numbers and letters in the hierarchy, but either way is better than the current system.

    • Jason,

      Sorry for leaving this hanging. I misunderstood your original post, which I interpreted to mean that the anti-science is driving people away from religious. Your point seems to be more nuanced than that.

      I still don’t think I agree, though. “Believe or burn” continues to work. The losses are occurring at those that – in addition to accepting Genesis as allegory – equivocate on the nature of hell. or so it seems to me.

  12. The part of evolution that gets objected to is that man isn’t all that special; we’re closely related to the other animals, and there’s no bright line where we stopped being animals. The part of the old universe that gets objected to is that it was here long before we were, and it’ll be here long after we’re gone. Also that it implies an unimaginably huge universe of which we are an inconceivably minute part. Creationism is a belief for those who cannot accept their own insignificance. Which is, by the way, why it’s championed by the same people who insist on American exceptionalism and reject same-sex marriage. They insist that the universe was created for people exactly like them.

    • An important point here is that “Long” is as compared to humans’ overall span of existence. And that’s capital-L Long, like capital-L Large, i.e. approaching arbitrarily Long/Large numbers.

      I.e., say humans last 10 million years (probably optimistic); then if the Earth and the universe had come into existence, say, 10 or even 100 million years before humans evolved, and say there were reason to believe the Earth would be baked another 10 or 100 million years after human went extinct, overall it doesn’t look that absurd to think all of that could have happened just so that humans could strut and fret upon the stage.

      That’s still a long time with no humans by any conventional scale, but if we’re talking about an unknown number of billions years of terrestrial existence, and fourteen trillion years of over all existence – stretching, it looks like, maybe to infinity – with an infinitesimal fraction of that time involving humans, the idea that all of that happened just for that fleeting moment of humanity becomes a completely different sort of proposition.

  13. 1) The first link is dead.

    2) I don’t think evolution ever came up in school once. I was surprised when this became an issue.

    3) Only proles literally believe religious texts. They are teaching tools, not reference books.

    • 1) Well you could just show some initiative and just read through all 430 comments. (Or not, as I fixed it.)

      2) They didn’t teach you about evolution in school?

      3) In Jersey, maybe. My boss was a millionaire with advanced degrees.

      • Karen Armstrong in, The History of God, i think, discusses literalism in religion. She suggested the literalism we see now is a modern phenomon as a reaction to moderenism. She says for most of history people were content with seeing books like the Bible as allegorical.

        • Somewhere I have a half-written post talking about the relationship between the simultaneous dechristianing and hyperchristianing of our country. How religious diversification made religious identification matter in ways it did not before. It was easier for Howard Taft to be elected in a more Christian America than it is in this one.

          I could never quite put the words together the way I wanted them, which is why it’s a half-written post somewhere that I forget where.

          • Quitters never win……………but they have a lot more time on their hands.

      • 2) I don’t specifically remember the topic coming up. But freshman bio was a long time ago. Also, NJ still has a strong Catholic education system, so any parent who wants to opt out of public schooling has a plethora of options.

        3) Considering who I stole the term prole from, it tends to apply more to the NYC DMA. Having said that, one can be prole and still make a lot of money. An adjunct professor is much more respected than a plumber, even though the plumber makes a better living.

        • 2) They didn’t teach you about fossil dating? None of it? I don’t remember most of it, but I remember being taught it.

          3) Hence my also mentioning the advanced degrees. If you-know-who wants to argue that mechanical engineers and inventors are prole because they believe in creationism… well, that’s sort of what I was addressing in the post itself.

          • I don’t think “fossil dating” is an actual thing per se. If you mean carbon dating then yes I was taught that. It wasn’t tied to evolution though, we just learned that’s how archaeologoists were able to date artifacts.

            As for evidence that people and dinosaurs lived together, I once saw a documentary called The Flintstones in which they did, so that is one point in their favor.

          • I don’t think “fossil dating” is an actual thing per se.

            Just because I remember being taught it doesn’t mean that I remember what I was taught…

  14. Will,

    I appreciate this reflection. You make your point really well. I definitely accept that people who don’t accept these various propositions that seem to be well-supported in the research as far as anyone wants to look at it with a balanced eye can be and often are nevertheless still very intelligent, and certainly capable of being very competent at challenging technical work that requires scientific literacy (in at least a significant number of areas).

    I can’t speak for others, and on the internet there’s no doubt that you’ve run across plenty of people making dumb blanket statements about these peoples’ intelligence and/or competence. But for the most part, I have to say I’m not sure where you’re picking up a failure to acknowledge these truths around here. I think you put it well when you describe these as blind spot but not blindness (by which I understand you to mean total scientific illiteracy and an unlearning perspective about nature and the world).

    I haven’t gotten the sense that charges of blindness about the kind of educated people you talk about who are nonetheless Creationists or who deny major parts of the consensus accounts of evolution on Earth are really going around these parts too extensively. I don’t think people around here have been saying that a person who doesn’t believe in some aspect of a consensus account of evolution in order to make space for the possibility that what she was taught in religious school about the natural history of the Earth could be true couldn’t be a very good doctor or engineer. Am I mistaken in that? What I think people have said is more to the effect that belief in those ideas will to some extent bring down an assessment of a person’s overall intelligence and learning at some margin – that a person of the same accomplishment and ability will be judged to be somewhat less intelligent if they believe these things than if they don’t.

    Do you resist even that view? For example, are you sure that, as intelligent as you found your boss to be, if everything else stayed the same about him, but he just didn’t hold any anti-evolution views and didn’t publish religious tracts to that effect, your assessment of his intellect wouldn’t have been even a bit higher than it was anyway?

    I would submit that if not, that’s more reflective of a way of seeing these questions that you happen to be committed to, not of a way that it’s unreasonable for anyone else not to have. I think it’s reasonable to allow traits like this that are otherwise inconsistent with a person’s overall demonstrated intelligence to affect our assessment the overall quality of his intellect at the margin – but not to allow it to swamp all other evidence of an abundant intelligence and dismiss any possibility that this is a serious person. If your view is that one major outlying area like that ought to simply be dismissed and have no effect, though, I fell like, while not completely unreasonable, that view is the more extreme of two I just described, and it’s also not unreasonable to reject it.

    Just my 2 bits.

    • Michael, I appreciate your response. I have to get to bed and will be on the road for a good portion of tomorrow for a checkup in Umatilla. I hope to be able to deliver a response to this tomorrow night.

    • Michael,

      I think there are more than two variations, and that it’s more a spectrum. It’s not always easy to determine what exactly is being said when we talk about creationism-believers generally. I am pretty sure I have heard people say that creationism is incompatable with a scientific job, and it does feel like their general competence is being challenged.

      Maybe in some cases I am imagining things. I do think Stillman is pretty clear below, and here is Roger when it came up with Ben Carson:

      I think it speaks to a neurosurgeons credibility. Any neurosurgeon that does not believe in evolution and believes god made the earth 6000 years ago in 6 days is projecting some serious stupidity.

      Several years ago, there was some news about a Texas Tech University dean who refused to write a letter of recommendation for creationist students applying for medical school. There was a fair amount of pushback on this from the left, but it also had its fair share of defenders. Which is a pretty strong indication of a belief that a doctor cannot be a competent medical professional.

      But like I said, it is a spectrum. Somewhere below that you have people questioning a rejection of the scientific method. The competence of creationist engineers here is explained by suggesting that engineers simply don’t need to be smart in specific ways, which it seems to be brings to question whether they should be considered competent for other things.

      Now, down at the bottom is what you’re talking about. To answer your question, when I find out that someone is a creationist, my opinion of them… does change. I can’t quite articulate how. I don’t think it is (anymore) that I think of them as less competent, though. But… different. So I can’t easily say that we should not let a belief in creationism have no bearing on how we think of them. I do think, even in the bottom case, it’s not right to assess intelligence – even on the margins – based on their decision to reject that thing. I primarily mean “not right” as in “prone to lead you to error” (it’s murkier if you’re talking about morality or fairness).

      But even though I disagree with it from top to bottom, for the most part, I do agree that there is a substantial difference between out-and-out stating that a creationist is inherently too stupid to be a doctor. I choose the more extreme example to single out because (a) I do see it said and (b) I do wonder the extent to which it is believed and unstated.

      For my own part, I am not sure I ever believed that that creationists can’t be doctors. I think I did, without even realize it, assign a lot more importance to the belief or non-belief in evolution than was warranted. Both in terms of intelligence-estimation and some of the tangential things I think others have alluded to here (“They must be closed-minded, if they’re an engineer it’s because that’s straightforward…”). The more I’ve thought about it, the more that none of it really holds up to much scrutiny. Even if, as you point out, some are more defensible than others.

      • Thanks, Will. My view is probably toward the accepting and of all of this – I certainly think a Creationist can be a fine doctor, and I think I always have. My estimation of their overall intelligence just falls a little bit when I find that out, is all. It doesn’t affect my sense of their competence as a doctor, though. But I certainly acknowledge the range of views you mention in the wider world, and here to some extent as well.

  15. I’ve seen debates between creationists and evolution supporters wherein the former absolutely crushed the latter. The creationist was able to talk about micro-evolution and macro-evolution and something about the Grand Canyon that I forget and a whole host of reasons as to why they believe evolution – by which they really mean macro-evolution – is bunk.

    Having all your talking points neatly lined up doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at the truth. In fact, in areas like this, where the truth is arrived at by inferences and induction over a huge set of data, it’s a pretty clear sign that you’ve made up your mind and do not wish to be bothered by inconvenient facts.

    • Creationists have quite a bit of advantage in debates. For one, they can be scattershot — I’ve seen debates “on evolution” that ranged over geology, physics, carbon-dating, stellar formation, plate tectonics, theromodynamics, biochemistry, information theory, and finally actual biology.

      And it’s easy to distort, to take out of context, to lie. Take radiometric dating — there’s a half-dozen bog standard Creationist objections to it (half or more are on C-14 dating alone, which is only used on organic materials going back less than what, 100k years?) that take a good two or three hours to explain how they are completely and utterly stupid.

      Like the one about “How do you know radioactive decay wasn’t faster in the past?” [insert bible quote here to say the Bible predicts it was. Seriously]. Well, the answer to that is complicated — and scientists, in general, aren’t fond of saying “Because the universe wouldn’t work. At all. Stars wouldn’t have formed, the earth would have turned into molten lava, the seas would have boiled away, and basically we wouldn’t be around to notice because we’d never have existed because the decay rate is tied to fundamental physics” and leaving it at that. And that’s the SHORT answer. The “take my word for it” answer, which Creationists, you know, don’t.

      And the long answer? Most biologists don’t know it. But physicists would giggle like a loon at the idea — much like if you’d suggested a brick was a good shape for a glider.

      • I once saw a web page that explained that, even though the universe is only 6000 years old, the stars appear to be billions of light-years away because the red shift makes the light look old.

        • Sounds like a variation of “God created the universe 6000 years ago and just made it look old”. Which is, you know, okay. If we postulate an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator, he totally could do that.

          But it sorta runs aground on “He could have created the universe last thursday and just made you think it’s been around your whole life. So we should stop teaching history, right?”

          • No, it was way more scientific than that 🙂

  16. It would be a great mistake to assume that someone who exhibits a high degree of religiosity is uneducated, unintelligent, or unable to do mentally-intensive things like practicing medicine. While it seems strange and incongruous to me that someone could disclaim evolution and still prescribe antibiotics, practical experience demonstrates that this is exactly the case.

    I would also resist the idea that the very religious are incapable of critical thought. Our own Kyle Cupp, for instance, brings a great deal of critical thought to his Catholicism. And it beggars belief that most readers don’t know of at least one very intelligent, very religious person, who may say some things from time to time that seem out of step with science in order to conform to religion.

    While I might not go so far as to explain this away with multiple intelligences, I do think that religious faith and scientific knowledge must reside in different parts of the mind. Religiosity is its own axis, and has little to do with other kinds of personal characteristics like intelligence, memory, or even critical thinking. Will got it right in the OP — we all have blind spots in our thought, and this may simply be one of the more common ones as a result of pervasive socialization.

    • As I suggest above, this seems to suggest that people think of intelligence as a binary choice – either you’r eintelligent or you’re not. As I said, I don’t see a lot of people around here saying that if you’re a Creationist of some stripe or other, you are ipso facto not intelligent, or not capable of being a very good professional in a profession that requires great intelligence and scientific understanding. The view is something closer to a belief that if in all other ways you have the same intelligence and knowledge as another person or member of the same profession of the same accomplishment and skill, but you are a Creationist, that might tend to make people think you’re just not quite as intelligent as the person who believes in evolution but who in all other respects is not any more intelligent than you. Moreover, that certainly doesn’t mean you’re not very smart, and by all means more intelligent than any number of people who do believe in evolution.

      That view can be reasonably rejected too, but to say that it’s wrong to think that a person is simply not intelligent if they believe in Creationism (or are very religious, either of which would be unreasonable, but especially in the case of a just a “very” religious person, which is an ambiguous designation, as your mention of Kyle as an example amply demonstrates) …is to fail to even address it (the certeris paribus approach to assessing this question). And, again, I believe it is the much more common and reasonable view, even if the “Creationists are not intelligent at all” is frequent enough on the internet at large that it can’t be called a straw man. You can either address the more common and reasonable claim or choose not to, but to address just the less common and less reasonable claim leaves a question I think worth addressing unaddressed. In any case, I’d like to know if people think I ought not to look at the question this way.

      • My default assumption with a Creationist — even of the YEC variety — is simply this: They take the word of the Bible, generally quite literally, above anything else.

        They are often — but not always — not terribly education in biology (which is different than being unintelligent. I am not terribly educated in musical theory, for instance).

        But mostly, well, they believe religious authorities over secular ones. So if the Bible and science contradict, the science is wrong. Some might be motivated to explain how the science is wrong, but that root assumption (“The science is wrong unless it agrees with the Bible, in which case it might be right or wrong even though it’s come to the correct conclusion”) is unchanged and unchangeable.

        Creationists of the old-earth type tend to have a more hands off view, with Catholics having a pretty reconciled view of science and bibilical creation. IIRC, they tend to view Genesis as allegory — a simplified tale — and other than some metaphysical bits about souls and guiding influences that are, well, untestable and not really of concern to biologists, they’re down with whatever the science is.

  17. The creationism/evolution debate sucks me in every time– I guess it’s because if you believe strongly one way, it’s so damn seductive to try to convince opposite-thinkers to see what seems so obvious to you based on the fundamental concepts you were raised with.

    On the subject of creationist medical doctors, this is troubling to me because the discipline is so much based on the scientific method. I suppose there are some good physicians who are creationists, but I don’t know if I would be comfortable with one treating me. He/she might be okay for relatively minor medical problems, but as I edge into old age, I worry about our differences on the ultimate existential questions. With the impersonal nature of managed medical care today, it’s hard to imagine having an in-depth heart-to-heart with each primary care doctor, surgeon, cardiologist, oncologist, and anesthesiologist I might encounter.

    • You never really know what people believe, though. I think one or two of the other three FP’s at the hospital may be a creationist. But I’m guessing. And I’m honestly probably basing my guesses on questionable stereotypes.

      It’s important that people be comfortable with their doctor, and so to the extent that it makes you uncomfortable, it’s a reasonably bad fit for that reason. I think it’s problematic to put creationist doctors in a particular box when appraising their competence. People are truly amazing at compartmentalizing.

  18. I’ve been remiss in dispensing a deserved compliment.

    Will, this was a SPACE AWESOME picture you chose for this post.

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