God of the evolutionary gap in science understanding

While the overall percentage belief in evolution has stayed nearly the same since 2009, more people who characterize themselves as Republican reject evolution.

Public’s Views on Human Evolution | Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

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.”

The big change in the poll was related to political affiliation:

[…]less than half – 43 percent – of those who identify with the Republican Party say they believe humans have evolved over time, plunging from 54 percent four years ago. Forty-eight percent say they believe “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” up from 39 percent in 2009.

At 67 percent and 65 percent, respectively, the numbers of Democrats and independents who believe in evolution have remained more or less the same since 2009. They’re also in step with the population nationally: Six-in-10 Americans say they believe humans have evolved.

So there is something about being associated with the “Republican” mindset that makes you apt to reject well established science. Hmm. No surprises there but why? Is the conservative media? Is it the economic climate? The current state of society with a “stuck in the mud Congress” and a Democratic president pushing for more progressive measures? It’s complicated.

Several Republican politicians will be blatant about their evolution denialism, as if this admission of scientific ignorance will get them votes. It might. But it’s a pretty pathetic reason to withhold your vote because someone accepts a concept that has been on the books and well tested since the 19th century. Way to be anti-progressive! Back to the 18th century!!!

Anyway, this poll establishes more regarding the partisanship we are seeing. And it may be potentially good news. Facts about nature can’t be change but political opinions change over time. They, dare I say it, evolve.

More breakdown of data here.

Tip: Christopher Howard and Jeb Card

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  10 comments for “God of the evolutionary gap in science understanding

  1. December 30, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Well, I’m a Republican and I have no problem with evolution or science in general. Sadly the party has been infested with religious fundamentalists for some time now. They’re a problem, but nothing I couldn’t solve by raising a few billion dollars or so. :-/

  2. December 30, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    I wish that science writers could make a resolution not to use the word “belief” in describing evolution or other well established science topics. I don’t “believe” in evolution, I know enough about it to accept that it is an accurate description of the real world. By using the word “belief”, I wonder if we’re not putting some religious people in a position where they feel they must choose one or the other.

    • December 30, 2013 at 9:00 PM

      It’s a tough thing. I try never to do it but there are arguments both ways. It is clear that people who accept evolution mostly don’t “believe” in it but understand why it’s more correct. But that may go over the head of most people who would think no more deeply than “beleive”.

  3. Bones
    December 30, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    As a recent former Republican, I find these results unsurprising, because while the data show that other Americans haven’t moved much on this topic, the Republican party is overall becoming more virulently dogmatic with each passing year, and many voters have stepped off the bus. I’d contend that the data could partly be a result of this mainstream emigration away from the dysfunction that characterizes the GOP today.

  4. Chris Howard
    December 30, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    It’s interesting to note that there is a correlation between church attendance and, not only being republican, but also being conservative (not the same thing).

    I think it’s the more literal conservative sects of Christianity than, say, the much hyped “nons”.

  5. spookyparadigm
    December 30, 2013 at 9:44 PM

    tldr: this is more of the GOP Civil War, it is bad for democracy, it is being stoked by a profitable right-wing media industry, and there are signs you’ll see more probably sub-par attempts to appeal to it in mainstream entertainment and media

    As someone more likely to vote for a Democrat given that we don’t have viable third parties outside of Vermont, and as someone already on the left who lived in New Orleans during Bush’s second term before and after Katrina,I find this news both somewhat re-assuring, and disappointing.

    As Bones and Dennis above both note, and it is pretty clearly the issue, this is more evidence of the Tea Party and the GOP Civil War, the driving of a wedge between the neoliberal “moderates” of the GOP (aka the wealthy interests and business wing perhaps best represented by Chris Christie and before decided to go independent, Michael Bloomberg), and the bulk of the party, the coalition between the neocon hawks and the Tea Party/Fundamentalist/White base of the American Right.

    I find this news re-assuring because it almost certainly means more horrific candidates winning GOP primaries for senate seats, and then losing them because they thought it would be fun to judge whether someone’s rape was legitimate, or to comment on holding an aspirin between one’s knees. Likewise, the GOP Civil War torpedoes the best national candidate for the GOP, Christie, as the base of the party won’t be happy unless they get Palin or one of her surrogates (maybe the Duck Dynasty guy, the one on the show, not Governor Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal), leaving the field open for the DNC (and presumably H. Clinton, as base-favorite Elizabeth Warren has said she won’t run).

    But it is disappointing because the American political system will work very poorly when the choice is not between two parties with different ideas and different backers, but between a moderate-right corporate party and a white christian identity politics party. It will breed incompetence and corruption amongst the Democrats because their candidates will not be held to any standards more than “must be this sane to ride this ride.” Right now, that’s what you see in leftish-states and on the national stage. And I think it is going to get worse before it gets better, as the main infrastructure of the party is in the hands of right-wing media which has every interest in ginning up outrage, and no interest in actually winning elections. The heads of the Democratic Party are the DNC (especially after Howard Dean overhauled it), the Clintons, Obama, and various power players and donors who are intent on winning elections. The heads of the GOP are Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and others who directly profit from outrage.

    To bring this back on to the main topic, and to address some of the questions in the main post, the issues of science and anti-science are flags for identity politics. They are not ideas to be considered and rejected or accepted on the merits for most people. They are instead cultural values that cohere with other demographics. Being anti-science has become a shibboleth for being a base conservative in 21st century America, for a whole host of historical reasons involving mostly involving class and religion, but are now just part of the ideological package.

    Further, what these numbers suggest is that this is not a two-way street, a “both sides of the story,” story. Most Americans do not have so tightly bundled a belief set. And with the millennial demographic bubble subsiding a bit, marketers have caught on to this. This is why there are several hollywood Bible epics (Exodus, Noah* come to mind but I know there are others) coming out this year and are working hand-in-hand with evangelical churches and social networks. This is why A&E reversed itself on Duck Dynasty. This is why Duck Dynasty and America Unearthed and other anti-elite TV shows are so valuable to cable channels (I’d say it is why Fox News does better than its cable competitors, but CNN’s TV division is truly horrible and MSNBC has huge problems). Even though the conservative base in the US is not the majority of Americans, they hold their identity politics up righteously (see the War on Christmas every year), and clearly will spend on their subcultural trappings. And this demographic is older. Older is typically the kiss of death for marketing (as older people have usually made their brand choices a long time ago), but in this case that is trumped by the ability to sell to mass audience looking to have their hopes and fears validated.

    *several reports about the movie Noah have suggested that the intended evangelical audience for the film is not going to be happy because Noah is concerned about climate change and human destruction of the environment. That this would immediately be at odds for people likely to see a Noah’s Ark movie pretty much makes the point suggested by this poll.

  6. December 31, 2013 at 4:55 AM

    You are also evolving idoubtit and,. in time, you may accept that Jim is correct. The word ‘belief’ should be kept to matters of religion and superstition. It has no place in discussions about reality.

    • December 31, 2013 at 7:44 AM

      I understand the point. I’m talking about colloquial use and the average person.

  7. December 31, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    I noticed that, too. By using the word “belief” in relation to science, a false dichotomy is set up where one must believe in either science or God.

    • Chris Howard
      December 31, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      True, but I think we’re splitting hairs, here. Most people understand belief to be synonymous with a truth/value statement.

      1) “I believe evolution is true.”

      or

      2) “I believe evolution is false.”

      For what ever reason (scientific illiteracy, most likely) people don’t understand the differences in nomenclature.

      So, when one writes a poll one has to do so in language that is understandable, or that utilizes culturally normative language.

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