It seems as if Huffington Post isn’t too keen on Victor Stenger’s pieces, either burying them or relegating them to sidebars—all the while giving big play, on the “Religion” page, to the likes of Karl Giberson and a motley assortment of rabbis, nuns, and other believers. Could this be because Stenger’s an atheist?
In his latest column, “Ignoring scientific errors”, Stenger tries to make sense of disparate results when people were polled about their acceptance of evolution. In an Angus Reid poll, when Americans were asked whether they thought humans had evolved from less advanced species or had been created in their present form within the last 10,000 years, the answers came out 35% for evolution, 47% for creation, and 18% unsure.
This conflicted with the numbers from a Gallup poll:
NCSE [the National Center for Science Education] compared these results with a series of Gallup polls from 1982 to 2008 that asked respondents to chose from three options: (1) Humans developed over millions of years, God-guided; (2) Humans developed over millions of years, God had no part; (3) God created humans as is within 10,000 years. The results were fairly consistent over the years, the 2008 results giving 36% for God-guided but over millions of years, 14% for the long period with God having no part, and 44% with creation as is within last ten thousand years.
NCSE concluded that 50% of Americans therefore accept evolution.
Stenger has a different take:
While it is true that there were people before Darwin, including his own grandfather, who had speculated about evolution, today the term is understood to include the Darwin-Wallace mechanism of random mutations and natural selection. There is no crying in baseball, and there is no guidance, God or otherwise, in Darwinian evolution. Only the 14% who accept that God had no part in the process can be said to believe in the theory of evolution as the vast majority of biologists and other scientists understands it today. God-guided development is possible, but it is unnecessary and just another form of intelligent design.
How does this jibe with the Angus Reid result? Notice that their poll did not specifically ask about God guidance. I am sure that a good part of the 35% of Americans who said they supported evolution would have given a different answer if they had been asked about unguided evolution. So Gallup’s 14% supporting evolution, not NCSE’s 50%, seems more likely.
Stenger faults the NCSE for deliberately misrepresenting the data, casting it in the best possible light to argue that lots of Americans really do accept evolution:
But we scientists can at least challenge false or misleading claims made by religion instead of disingenuously sweeping them under the rug. NCSE should have commented on the fact that the 36% of Americans who believe in God-guided “evolution” evidently do not understand the role of random variation and selection pressure in the actual theory of evolution, and therefore do not accept the mechanism of evolution as scientists understand it. It is not being rude or polemical to correct a public misunderstanding of a scientific theory. It is not doing your duty as tax-exempt educational organization to ignore such misrepresentations for political gain.
I’ve argued this point before, and agree with Stenger. Those who think that evolution is guided by God, either directly or as a rigged game in which certain goals were built into the process from the outset, don’t accept evolution as it’s understood by modern science. This also goes (as Stenger argues) for the Catholic church, which believes that evolution is basically okay with the exception of humans, who were inculcated with a soul at some point after our divergence from other great apes. Ditto for those who agree with scientists like Kenneth Miller and Simon Conway Morris that humans were an inevitable, God-produced goal of the evolutionary process.
These people are not evolutionists in the sense that working biologists are evolutionists. They are evolutionary creationists, for they accept that God had a hand in guiding evolution. Indeed, Darrell Falk, president of BioLogos and accommodationist par excellence, proudly wears the label of “evolutionary creationist” when consorting with fellow Christians.
In the interests of political expediency, the NCSE and other accommodationists abandon the bedrock principle of modern science: naturalism. As Stenger argues, by counting evolutionary creationists as evolutionists, and playing down the important disparity between their beliefs and those of real scientists, accommodationists are simply manipulating the facts for political gain. But the gain is illusory.