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The gap has grown January 1, 2014

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Evolution, Science.
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flat-earthImagine discovering that your neighbor, a seemingly intelligent, well-adjusted member of society, believes that the sun orbits the earth, or that diseases are caused by demons. Presumably, your first thought would not be “Let me get the relevant evidence and convince him he’s wrong about cosmology and medicine,” but rather, “How could a sane person in today’s world believe such things?” Believing ideas that were scientifically discredited long ago betrays a serious problem with one’s process for forming beliefs about the world.

There can’t be many people so out of touch with reality in our modern society, though, right?

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

As embarrassing as that is, the situation is actually even worse:

About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

— which is like believing that the earth is carried around the sun on Atlas’s back, or that diseases are caused by germs controlled by aliens. So really, only a third of Americans accept scientific, non-magic evolution.

Remember that rejecting evolution is just a symptom: the underlying malady is the rejection of scientific, evidence-based reasoning. Where is that attitude coming from?

It will be no surprise that beliefs about evolution were found to differ strongly by religious affiliation (with evangelical Protestants bringing up the rear). However, there were sizable differences by political affiliation as well:

Republicans are less inclined than either Democrats or political independents to say that humans have evolved over time. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats (67%) and independents (65%) say that humans have evolved over time, compared with less than half of Republicans (43%).

The size of the gap between partisan groups has grown since 2009. Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.

It is essential that we confront and defeat the enemies of reason — by unequivocally insisting on the value of intellectual honesty and reality-based thinking, and by showing no tolerance or respect for bad ideas. Success on that front will not only undermine disbelief in evolution; other irrational ideas will inevitably erode as well.

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Comments»

1. David - January 4, 2014

interested in the programmatic specifics you have in mind for “showing no tolerance or respect for bad ideas”.

Ezra Resnick - January 4, 2014

We should not pretend that all opinions are equally valid and deserve equal consideration. We should demand that people present good evidence and reasoned argument in support of their positions. We should expect people’s certainty in a proposition to scale with the level of evidence in its favor. And we should not show respect or make any concessions to bad ideas that fail to meet the minimal standards of reason.


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