What does it tell you when someone says "I don't believe in evolution"?


The U.S. is an astonishingly pro-science society. If you think otherwise, you just don’t know very much about this area.
Apparently I don't know much about this area. I would have guessed having large numbers of people reject well-established scientific findings like evolution, politicians defund and muzzle researchers, and even seeing candidates try to earn points by mocking basic research into things like fruit flies would be enough to make it not astonishingly pro-science.

So here we find that 40% of adults say they don’t believe humans have changed over time, but the article points out that has less to do with them being scientifically illiterate and more to do with cultural identity like religion. Ok, I could have guessed that. That then means it’s not actually an anti-science position?

Maybe I just don’t understand what the terms pro- and anti-science are supposed to mean. It’s not explained, but it sure doesn’t sound like much.


Concern Troll FTL.

Paul Krugman’s reaction is typical & typically devoid of reflection: “Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe — and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists.”

Stupid Paul Krugman being all stupid!

What it is is a measure of cultural identity. People who say “yes” are expressing one sort of cultural affiliation & associated outlooks; those who say “no” are expressing another.

Oh, uh, okay.


Well, at least we’re not Canada, eh?

Really good article and echos many things I pointed out in the discussion of the original article.

Like I said, the issue has been politicized and people’s beliefs often mirror what “side” they are on. To say it’s “more evidence of Republicans being driven to anti-science extremism!” ignores democrats who are anti-GMO, anti-vaccinators, believe in crystals or homeopathy.

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This article really fails to provide a definition of what “pro-science” and “anti-science” mean, and I suspect that the people he’s complaining about are just using a different definition. Can you really call someone pro-science just because they said they love science when answering a survey question? I think that if you reject well established science because you don’t like the answers it provides, then you don’t really get to call yourself “pro-science”.


I think it’s fairly safe to say that of the New Age Crystal Worshippers and people who believe in “Magick” who vote, most of them probably vote Democrat (or Independent, as long as there’s a Crystal Magick Candidate running).

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I don’t think I quite get what the article wants to say, beyond that both political sides dismiss widely accepted scientific theories with tons of evidence about equally. Over here in Europe one can only look at this in disbelief…
This poll shows a similar question being asked in Europe.

I would maybe more agree with the argument if the question was about some recent findings in, say, genomics (“does gene X cause cancer?”) where the evidence is not as clear yet and later studies might find otherwise. But questioning a theory that survived the last 100 years of scrutiny and neatly explains biology, archeology, can be seen “live” in lab experiments, etc. without providing a better theory that is more supported by evidence than evolution and makes better predictions is for me the very definition of anti-scientific… Of course many people who say they believe in evolution do not know all the facts, but are probably more supportive of the scientific method and its findings than someone who supports the various crackpot alternative “hypotheses” that ignore all we know about biology, physics, astronomy, archeology, etc. Saying that answering the question is more about politics than science still implies a great deal of ignorance.

Or, to quote/paraphrase Tim Minchin:
“They say evolution is ‘just a theory’. Hey, maybe they will feel the same way about the theory of gravity, and just float the f**k away…”


What is tells me is I don’t need to listen to anything else they have to say on anything.


Saying that you “believe” in evolution tells us nothing of whether or not you actually understand the theory of evolution. On this, I agree with Kahan completely. But I’m puzzled that he didn’t once criticize Pew’s word choice: believe. Biologists do not “believe” in the theory of evolution, but rather use it to make sense of empirical observations and form hypotheses that can be disproven, knowing that sufficient evidence may require changes to the theory itself or even another theory altogether. This cyclical process is the same in every branch of science (albeit in evolutionary biology, some of that evidence is forensic).

In short, Pew’s word choice implies that evolution is seen as just another idea to support, deny, or disregard as a way for individuals to culturally identify themselves— which was Kahan’s point. I just don’t understand why he didn’t criticize a word choice that seems to perpetuate this very phenomenon.


That’s extremely interesting, and made me take back a number of assumptions (and I say this as someone who’s wife is a HS Biology teacher, and who writes educational software on evolution).

The two most important points:

What [one’s answer] is is a measure of cultural identity. People who say “yes” are expressing one sort of cultural affiliation & associated outlooks; those who say “no” are expressing another.


Only 37% of Democrats say they believe that humans have evolved as a result of “natural selection.” 54% believe either in God-directed evolution or in creationism.

I like your point. As a scientist myself, it is obvious to me that any useful theory has some utility in making predictions and understanding the world. It’s not really anything to pick sides on - either it works and is useful, or it is not. We know Newtonian physics is “wrong” but still very useful for many things.
What I maybe didn’t realise so far is that to people who don’t need science to do their daily business, the utility of evolution is irrelevant, and you don’t care how well you can breed better crops or cure disease with the “theory” of creationism…

Belief never enters into any meaningful discussion of science.

There are no “beliefs” in science.
The word “belief” belongs to religion.
One does not choose to believe or not believe in scientific hypothesis, theories, or natural laws.

One can remain ignorant of a body of scientific inquiry, one can willfully disregard empirical evidence, or one can offer a counter argument backed by evidence. Labeling ignorance as “belief” or “disbelief” only demonstrates further ignorance about the fundamentals of scientific inquiry.


So, it’s a dog whistle? Awesome. What it says to me is that this is a person best met in passing, where everything is kept quite superficial.

There is possibly a “utility” in understanding evolution, rather than merely “believing” in it, though. And maybe this doesn’t apply strictly to evolution, but rather to a better understanding of the scientific method.

People who don’t understand how scientists have concluded the validity of evolution are easily swayed by those who say, “It’s just a theory, therefore it’s intellectually no different from creationism”. They don’t understand the weight that the term “theory” carries in the scientific world. And such people are, I think, the product of an educational system that either undervalues or devalues science education.

I remember being taught science by people who clearly didn’t understand what they were teaching us, which often left them unable to answer difficult questions from students. I worry this is creating a kind of feedback loop: teachers don’t see the value of science, so their students don’t either. The students then grow into adults who believe science doesn’t matter, so they think funding for education–not to mention research–should be cut. Because, hey, “it’s all just a theory”.


That’s trying to push the point a bit too far, I think.

Belief can certainly enter a meaningful discussion of science. I do believe in the theory of evolution. I do believe that the explanatory framework makes sense, and that the evidence backing it is enough to support the conclusion that we evolved from earlier species.

That’s what a widely-supported theory means: it means that the scientific community believes that the theory represents reality, at least to some degree.

And belief is important even when it’s a question of uncertain hypotheses as well. What do you think the Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet was? It was three scientists who each believed that they were right about an aspect of black holes, even though they couldn’t yet prove it. That’s one of the biggest driving forces of science: beliefs that haven’t been proved yet.

So let’s not push the point too far and say that belief can’t enter into a discussion of science.


I agree with Mister44 that the issue of evolution has been politicized, emotionalized, and philosophized out of the context of simple empirical science. This may be primarily the fault of its the detractors, but I believe that many of its proponents have been equally guilty of making evolution a issue of ideological and philosophical rather than merely empirical import. Daniel Dennet, for example, described evolution as a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view”. Richard Dawkins’ has said that he agrees with Creationists that evolution is “fundamentally hostile” to religion. (Dawkins also claimed that the “more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism”!) What one sees now is like the type of emotional sectarianism that must have surrounded the worship of different regional deities in ancient Greece. It seems like a side-show to me: Creationists dutifully providing the cartoon villainy to which a philosophically simplistic scientism can offer solution and alternative.

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Agree that without a definition of “pro-science” vs. “anti-science” this analysis is pretty meaningless. My best guess would be that the definition of “science” being used here is “scientific research that affirms by pre-existing biases.” Pretty much everyone is strongly pro-science by that definition.

As far as woo-woo lefties being anti-science, sure. But do they make up as large a proportion of the left as creationists do on the right?

This is actually pretty misleading given that theistic evolution is empirically identical to just evolution whereas creationism is not. In fact, the intent of theistic evolution is to harmonize theism (mainly Christianity) with biological evolution so it’s a viewpoint that explicitly accepts the validity of biological science. Creationism, quite obviously, does not accept the validity of biological science (as currently understood anyway). (It’s also not particularly suprising to me that a majority of Democrats believe in God.) It’s much more informative to simply look at the numbers for creationism since that is an explicitly anti-science theology:
D: 27%
R: 48%

So as long as anti-vax and crystal-rubbing woo heads make up about 25% of the Democrat party (and 0% of the Republican party) we have parity between the parties.


“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” - Neil Degrassi Tyson


Really? So you’ve personally derived every formula and examined every data point and reproduced the Michelson–Morley experiment?

I haven’t. I have to take most of that on faith. I trust the professor who explained quantum physics to me, and the one who explained relativity. I trust the data I’ve seen are honest and not pure fiction. But I could be deceived. Hell, I’ve never even measured the shadows to prove the Earth is round… though I guess I have seen a couple of eclipses.

Science involves a great deal of faith - although many people want that to be a dirty word. The most profoundly faith-based is the Dana Scully brand, which sees evidence of something screwy and declares the evidence is “unscientific.” Kind of like the French academicians who rejected reports of meteorites because “there are no rocks in the sky - therefore, rocks do not fall from the sky.”