My paper on the relationship between acceptance of evolution, religion, and societal health is finally available for free at Evolution (you can see the early publication section here and download my pdf here; if the second link doesn’t work, just go to the first link and download my paper directly—it’s the 9th one down). There are three typos that, I hope, will be fixed, but this is essentially the final piece. If you want the article, I’d appreciate it if you downloaded it from the Evolution site rather than asking me: Evolution keeps track of such things to assess the impact of the journal and of original articles. If neither of those links works for you, email me and I’ll send you the pdf.
I’m grateful to Daphne Fairbairn, the indefatigable editor of the journal, for her suggestions and willingness to allow the article to be disseminated for free; to Tom Meagher (the Outlook on Evolution and Society editor) and three anonymous reviewers—yes, it was peer-reviewed—for their helpful comments; to our old friend Jason Rosenhouse for reading the whole thing and making many useful suggestions; and to Mona Albano for a wonderful (and voluntary) job of tweaking the prose.
Here’s the abstract:
American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the United States, which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and supposed implications of evolution. The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America. This is easier said than done, for recent sociological surveys show that religion is highly correlated with the dysfunctionality of a society, and various measures of societal health show that the United States is one of the most socially dysfunctional First World countries. Widespread acceptance of evolution in America, then, may have to await profound social change.
The reaction in some corners of the blogosphere seems predictable, but I’ll leave you make those prognostications. All I can say is that when you see religion as responsible for anything bad—even something as palpably obvious as creationism—or suggest that there may some incompatibility between science and religion, there will be nay-sayers alternately bawling and osculating the rump of faith.
I’ll finish with a relevant quote from p. 325 of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (a wonderful book; do read it). I’ve put in bold the sentence that absolutely distinguishes science from religion.
I meet many people offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. They also tend to be less then assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence. Evidence has little to do with it: What they wish to be true, they believe is true. Only 9 percent of Americans accept the central finding of modern biology that human beings (and all the other species) have slowly evolved by natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way. (When asked merely if they accept evolution 45 percent of Americans say yes. The figure is 70 percent in China.)
Reader earlycuyler‘s cat Lynus gets educated:
Coyne, J. A. 2012. Science, religion, and society: the problem of evolution in America. Evolution, published online: 17 May 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01664.x