Big surprise: You can’t get Americans to accept evolution by giving them the facts

A new piece in The Atlantic, “You can’t educate people into believing in evolution” (shouldn’t that be “accepting evolution?”) reports the results of a survey by Calvin College sociology professor Jonathan Hill. The survey was commissioned by BioLogos, the accommodationist organization funded largely by the Templeton Foundation, so although the results aren’t surprising, they’re spun by both the magazine and the National Center for Science Education as showing that since we can’t bring people around to evolution by giving them the facts (as I tried to do in WEIT): you have to cozy up to their faith. In other words, the survey is used to justify accommodationism.

Hill did what the Gallup Poll does every year or so: survey Americans on their views about evolution. Here’s a summary of his data from The Atlantic:

In a nationally representative survey of more than 3000 people, Hill divided respondents in the survey into “creationists,” “atheistic evolutionists,” “theistic evolutionists,” and “unsure,” but even creating four categories is tricky. Under his definition, all “creationists believe that God created humans as part of a single, miraculous act,” but some think that happened within the last 10,000 years (often called “young-earth creationists,”). Others believe the earth has been around much longer (“old-earth creationists”). That group accounts for about 37 percent of the population; another 16 percent accept the scientific evidence for evolution while still believing God was involved in creation in some way (or “theistic evolutionists”); 9 percent embrace evolution and reject God (or “atheistic evolutionists”).

This leaves 39 percent who are unsure, or whose views don’t fit into the categories typically used to frame this issue.

This differs somewhat from the recent Gallup poll on the issue, which gives Americans only three choices besides “don’t know”:

mh7klzb21ue_tb0a1h_86qThe proportion of creationists in both polls was similar (42% vs. 39%), but the proportion of theistic evolutions was much lower in the BioLogos poll (16% vs. 31%). The proportion of naturalistic evolutionists was also lower in the BioLogos poll (9% vs. 19%), and these disparities may reflect the way the question was asked (I can’t find a description of Hill’s survey, though he talks about the results in Christianity Today). Another difference is that Hill found a much higher proportion of people who were “unsure, or whose views don’t fit into the categories used to frame the issue” (39% vs. 8% in the Gallup poll). Hill explains the difference as follows

The trouble is that these various views contain multiple beliefs about common descent, natural selection, divine involvement, and historical timeframe. The survey questions conflate these underlying beliefs in particular ways and force individuals to select from prepackaged sets of ideas. This is simply a practical necessity given the limited amount of space on general public surveys.

The Atlantic adds this:

In his report, Hill argued that Gallup’s numbers are wildly misleading. “The difference between Gallup and [this survey] is almost certainly due to Gallup respondents being forced to choose from limited options, even when many are unsure of what they believe or maintain beliefs that do not fit into the options available,” he wrote.

Hill might be right, but we won’t know until we see his survey and the data.  But the proportion of straight creationists in the U.S., to me the most important figure, is still about the same in both surveys.  The 15% discrepancy in theistic evolution needs explaining (could it be the sampling techniques that differ between the surveys?), as does the 31% discrepancy in “don’t knows”. Another disturbing result is Hill’s finding that Americans have a much lower acceptance of straight naturalistic evolution—he calls it “atheistic evolution”, even though you could have naturalistic evolution occurring with a hands-off God—than did Gallup.  So the news isn’t as encouraging as Hill and The Atlantic seem to imply.

Here’s something that’s not so surprising, though: a graph showing the proportion of people in each class (in Hill’s survey) that felt it was important to be right about human origins:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 7.37.11 AM

Since creationists are almost all motivated by religion, it’s no surprise that they cling to their beliefs more tenaciously. And of course the uncertainty in one’s own belief (“unsures”) will be reflected in uncertainty about how important it is to settle the question.

And here’s something that’s not a surprise, but explains the title of The Atlantic‘s article:

But ultimately, this may be what matters most for influencing Americans’ opinions on the origins of life. In his report, Hill found that religious belief was the strongest determinant of people’s views on evolution—much more so than education, socioeconomic status, age, political views, or region of the country. More importantly, being part of a community where people had stated opinions on evolution or creation, like a church, had a big impact on people’s views. “Creationists are substantially more likely to belong to networks who agree with them about human origins,” he wrote. “Likewise, creationists are more likely to belong to congregations who have settled positions that reject human evolution.”

That’s been found repeatedly, of course, although some surveys show a greater influence of education. But what’s clear, and what I’ve been saying for some time, is that we won’t rid America of creationists by simply teaching people the facts about evolution. Both Hill and The Atlantic agree:

What that means is that “debates” about evolution and creationism actually might not be that effective. “For those invested in the position that human evolution is compatible with orthodox Christian faith, the findings from[this survey] tell us that persuasion needs to move beyond a purely intellectual level,” Hill wrote. “Ideas are important, but ideas only persuade when individuals are in a social position that allows them to seriously consider what is before them.” For those who value the widespread acceptance of evolution, this is an important insight: There may be more effective ways to persuade people to consider principles of biology without trying to debunk the existence of God.

Yes; but in fact there are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to weaken the grasp of religion on America, something that will take a long time (but is happening) but I think is the only real way to rid our country of creationism. We can take an active role as “militant atheists,” or simply sit back and wait for the inevitable process of secularization to take care of the issue. Either way, the elimination of faith has the additional advantage of getting rid of the many bad side effects of religion, side effects (like opposition to abortion, and the disenfranchisement of women and gays) that are far more onerous that mere creationism. Nobody ever died from believing in creation, but plenty of kids die because their parents give them faith-healing instead of scientifically-based medicine.

Or you can take the BioLogos strategy, which is to engage in theological discourse, persuading people that their faith really does allow them to accept evolution. I’m sure this is what Hill means when he talks about persuading religious people to get down with Darwin.

The problem is that this strategy hasn’t worked. I haven’t seen any evidence of accommodationist tactics making, say, evangelical Christians say en masse, “Hey, you’re right! I misunderstood what my religion, and my fellow believers, think about the origin and diversity of life.” The problem with that is that creationism is, as Hill notes, buttressed by its imprimatur as a sign of belonging to a community—a religious community. That means you have to convince the community as a whole, for an individual defector loses his or her community by embracing evolution.

In contrast, when people individually decide leave religion, they often come around to accepting evolution (see Richard Dawkins’s “Converts Corner“, no longer kept up, for the testimony of over 2000 people).  One you give up faith, there’s simply no reason to hang onto creationism, which is invariably based on religion. Or, many people have abandoned religion because they saw that evolution was true, bespeaking a fundamental incompatibility between science and faith.

But of course Josh Rosenau, the accommodationist policy director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), takes the view of BioLogos. The underlying philosophy is a “belief in belief,” so that their overweening mission is to get people to accept evolution without bruising their religious beliefs. From The Atlantic:

But all the anxiety around the origins of human life may partially be a matter of framing, Rosenau said.

“No creationist wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I have really strong opinions about whether Archaeopteryx is the ancestor of modern birds,'” he said. “Who are we as people? That’s the question that they think evolution is answering. What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to be an animal?”

In other words, the cliche of pitting science against religion is a category error, to a certain extent: Evolutionary biology provides certain insights into the mechanisms of how human life has formed and changed over time, but it can’t provide insight into the meaning behind those changes. Yet the meaning part is often what matters in vitriolic “debates” about the origins of life.

. . . “This is the century of biology, and evolution is the foundation of biology,” Rosenau said. “Being open to those conversations [about getting people to accept evolution without ‘debunking God’] is really important for scientists.”

By all means let the Little People have their religiously-inspired “meaning”—the fictions and lies that have the unfortunate side effect of polarizing humanity, killing people, disenfranching religious minorities, gays and women, opposing abortion and assisted dying, and terrorizing children with thoughts of hell. That is the “meaning part” that is so important for people like Rosenau (and BioLogos) to preserve.

More power to you, BioLogos and Rosenau, and I hope you can get those pesky fundamentalists and evangelical Christians to see that their faith really is compatible with evolution. Let’s hope that religionists get their V-8™ moment, realizing, “Gee—I could have had Darwin all along!”

As for me, I’ll go where the evidence points, which is that religion immunizes people against accepting evolution, and once they’ve had the shot, they’re immunized pretty effectively.  Better to not give them the shot in the first place.


  1. Tulse
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    As Swift said, “Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired.” Or, stated in a more modern vein, ““You cannot reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into.”

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      I was just going to say that, and here it is at #1!

      • Daniel Engblom
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Yes you can. Why else would we have so many ex-Christians and others who’ve left their faith?
        Let me put it another way: How many of non-believers started as non-believers or came to their atheism afterwards?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      I’ve used that line myself, but didn’t realise that I was stealing from Swift.

  2. Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    ‘. . .creationism is, as Hill notes, buttressed by its imprimatur as a sign of belonging to a community—a religious community.’

    Such as Calvin College (not named after Coolidge).

  3. Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink


    • GBJames
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink


  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I found similarities in the past when trying to convince people at work that there needed to be changes to the way they did things. The majority would be convinced by my supporting data (statistics, survey results, etc.) since these were highly analytical, technical people, while a small group would resist. Foolishly, I attempted to win the resisting group over with more facts but they weren’t the sort to be swayed by facts. It was at that moment that I realized they were entrenched in their own ideas like those ideas were part of a religion.

    I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t fight emotion with facts – not with these people. The way I got them on board was asking them to “try it” and making them feel safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible with religion or at least it isn’t so simple even though I believe what is going on in the religious person’s mind is no different than what is going on to my emotional change resistors’ minds; religion is just more entrenched due to childhood indoctrination and life long reinforcement.

    • Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      My own suspicion is that none of this has anything to do with the content of ideologies. People differ in the way they see the world, and some people are simply less rigid.

      Psychology has had the concepts of fluid vs crystallized intelligence. Openness and reasoning vs skill and rote learning.

      In the world, both are useful, but people seem to differ in the proportions of each.

      • Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        Doesn’t a person’s childhood environment likely have a big role – maybe the primary role – in developing a fluid versus crystallized mindset? Certainly we might expect to find that there is a structural underpinning, but I have a feeling logic and reasoning are learned habits. To your point, the particulars of ideology are not the issue – but particular ideologies certainly nurture a more or less rigid affect.

        • Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          I’m sure it has an effect, but I’ve raised two kids and am watching a grandchild. From what I can see, learning style is largely built in.

          Things like curiosity, activity level, shyness, and risk taking seem to be hard wired.

          I certainly don’t think this would justify abandoning efforts to raise kids who are more open and flexible. And it certainly argues against teaching bullshit.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        I took the test for openness and the other dimensions and I’m extremely open. Maybe this is why I find myself forever frustrated with others who won’t change. 🙂

    • Larry Esser
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      One of your best posts ever, Diana. In your last, long sentence, you nail one of the big reasons religion is so hard to fight with reason–emotion because of indoctrination at an early age and then having the beliefs you were taught reinforced by (a) always being around people who share those beliefs; and (b) the very real threat of being shunned and cut off from the group who holds those beliefs. This social pressure, as brought out by Jerry, is very powerful. To be denied the love and company of your parents, family, and friends because you dare to challenge their (unfounded) beliefs and assumptions is far more painful and scary than most people want to face. But if you are on a quest for honesty, as philosopher Walter Kaufmann put it, you are going to have to steel yourself for just that estrangement. It will happen. All you can hope is that those you love will care enough about you to think about what you are saying and ask themselves if they might be wrong about what they believe. Then and only then, will they and you have a chance for an honest, real relationship. A relationship based on anything other than that is not worth having.

      • Barry Lyons
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        I am the only irreligious person in my family (I have four siblings). One sister (of three) doesn’t want to hear about my secular views, my brother can only lamely say “What if you’re wrong?”, and my parents… well, I pretty much keep my atheism away from them, though they both know that I no longer look kindly on Catholicism.

        • Wunold
          Posted December 3, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

          > my brother can only lamely say “What if you’re wrong?”

          Pascal’s Wager and its inherent logical flaw: What if HE’S wrong about the THOUSANDS of other religions?

    • JoanL
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I think some feel “changing the way they do things” somehow implies they had been doing it wrong. And chances are when they make the change, no matter how much sense it makes, they’ll hit a spot that doesn’t quite fit and they’ll have to figure out what to do (and maybe be wrong) or ask for direction (and seem dumb). Plus, it takes some time to become proficient with a new procedure, so changeover looks like more work (at least up front). I like the “making them feel safe” approach and hope whoever’s leading the change really has the time to do any necessary hand-holding sympathetically.

      All this to change a simple procedure. To change a religion? That’s so much more fundamental to self-identity – like asking someone who hasn’t traveled to give up their citizenship. Consider how stressful it is just to move across town.

      So how do we make it safe for someone to accept evolution? I suspect it won’t help to say that atheism is a logical consequence.

  5. Alex Shuffell
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    It should be obvious that you can’t quickly educate a young-earth creationist into accepting science. Those people have to deny almost all of modern science, especially the life sciences, geology and most of physics. You would have to completely change they way they imagine reality, you would have to get them to accept it is possible they have been misinformed their whole life and you would have to teach them the basics of most of modern science before they could even begin to understand evolution.

    Listening to creationists they can’t tell the difference between physics and biology. Big Bang and Evolution are part of the same conspiracy to them. And why should they care about Geology when The Flood explains everything? You can educate people into accepting evolution, you just have to make them care first so they will listen. The surveys showed that people don’t care enough to listen. Most would rather be correct, and their own community being the only human contact they have, being correct means conforming. There is no need to replace one big lie with lots of smaller lies that add up to the same thing with lots of confusion on top.

    • Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      That makes sense: the onus is on the compatibalism a to show they actually achieve the kind of sympathetic response needed to make inroads, and it seems like they have not done that yet …

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Most would rather be correct, and their own community being the only human contact they have, being correct means conforming

      Hence withdrawing children from education, shunning outsiders, xenophobia and the usual syndrome of correlated behaviours.

  6. eric
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    the proportion of straight creationists in the U.S., to me the most important figure, is still about the same in both surveys.

    I agree. Approximately 40% creationist is way high, and makes the US stand out (in a negative way) compared to other developed countries.

    The 15% discrepancy in theistic evolution needs explaining (could it be the sampling techniques that differ between the surveys?), as does the 31% discrepancy in “don’t knows”. Another disturbing result is Hill’s finding that Americans have a much lower acceptance of straight naturalistic evolution—he calls it “atheistic evolution”, even though you could have naturalistic evolution occurring with a hands-off God—than did Gallup. So the news isn’t as encouraging as Hill and The Atlantic seem to imply.

    I wonder if these are simply self-labeling issues. The Gallup questions avoid categorizing people by belief: they don’t label respondents “theistic” if they think God guided the process, and don’t label respondents “atheistic” if they think God didn’t have anything to do with it. If those words actually showed up as part of Hill’s survey, then my first guess as to an explanation for both discrepancies is that there are a lot of people who would normally agree with one of those two options, but won’t do so on a survey if that survey question forces them to call themselves atheists or theists. So with no-labeling, you get higher percents of both, but with labeling, a lot of squeamish survey participants answer “don’t know.”

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      I too was focused on the possible wording of the survey questions. If any question used the term ‘atheist’ in particular, I think that would cause many people to shy away from even considering the question b/c so many people who do not believe in a literal Christian god still consider themselves to be ‘spiritual’. Wording is key in survey questions.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted December 2, 2014 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        Yes Prime Minister offers a neat example of how the wording of survey questions can affect the answer.

        • Merilee Olson
          Posted December 3, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          LOVE Sir Humprey ( Humpy) on Yes PM!!

          Typo ergo sum Merilee


  7. eric
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    What that means is that “debates” about evolution and creationism actually might not be that effective. “For those invested in the position that human evolution is compatible with orthodox Christian faith, the findings from[this survey] tell us that persuasion needs to move beyond a purely intellectual level,” Hill wrote.

    Hmmm…the point of debates has really never been to change the minds of true believers, its been to change the minds of the fence-sitters. Now it would be true that debates would be useless if everyone was in one of Hill’s three main categories (or in the equivalent Gallup categories), because then his comment about indicators would apply. But Hill’s survey finds more fence-sitters than Gallup found. So doesn’t his survey support the conclusion that debates should be more effective than what we thought they might be when we were armed with just the Gallup poll results?

    • Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      I for one would like to think so! The problem is, there are many degrees of and motivations for the fence-sitting. So there might not be a one-size-fits-all for winning them over to th light. Debate and atheistic “fundamentalism” won me over, but I was always of the “human nature” camp among faitheists and never a “man in the sky” believer – so I can’t suss what would motivate someone who is inclined to believe in the supernatural besides undermining supernaturalism. If what works for me worked for everyone, the numbers would be way better for “our team,” I should think.

      • eric
        Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I also suspect that someone who polls as a fence-sitter may not actually be a fence-sitter (in part because of the labeling/wording issue discussed in #6). So just to be clear, I don’t think Hill’s survey should give us much hopet that debates will be more effective because I suspect his survey technique might have some biases. My point here was simply that if we take his survey at face value, then it would seem to point toward the conclusion that there are more people who might be convinced through rational debate, rather than less. Because he found less ‘dedicated’ theists and atheists (and more “don’t know”s) than previous polls found.

        • Posted December 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          Got it. One more thing about the more assertive style of atheism: it’s an honest expression of opinion. What committed naturalist, if you will, could sow the accommodationist seed without hating his/herself in the morning?

  8. Gordon Hill
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    While disappointing, this is not surprising. Also true for diet and exercise.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink


  9. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    “Nobody ever died from believing in creation” – but people don’t always die from their own beliefs. Just ask Baby Fae (but you can’t).

  10. Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I did a project this semester on whether people would more often report moral/theological issues with evolution vs scientific. I only had 289 participants and the results weren’t widely different, but there was a definite lean towards the moral/theological.

    I fit into the “accommodationist” category though I think multiple approaches should be employed.

  11. Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I live in remote France where it is difficult to find a believer in the gods. Even traditional old families are now satisfied that the local church graveyard is the end. The fight of science to overthrow religion happened in schools. I have nineteen fifties school Catholic ‘Catechism Illustre’ and the rival ‘Les Sciences par l’observation et l’experience’. (Nice touch, that!) The science books won. Now, the schools are secular, and the principle waits at the gates to send the girls in yashmaks home.

    A constant surprise in reading American blogs is just how many atheists were once religious. And many, such as our friend Matt Dillahunty, is reported to have once studied for the priesthood. I had no such experience and was an atheist since a fetus.

    It seems to me that religion is such a powerful and insidious mind-set that even though American atheists may escape ‘belief’, some elements of religion remain hidden deep within people. ‘You can remove the man (or woman) from religion, but you cannot remove religion from the man’! I wonder if it is true.

    What seems to me as religious assumptions lie deep even within atheist conversations. There is a popular view of human personality in America that is to be found in both psychology and the religions. It is regarding humans as exhibiting ‘Spiritual-sentimental-heroic-volition’ And it is far away from what I see of people. You can see it particularly in ‘action-films’ with Stallone and Willis, whereby they seem to be representative of ‘good’, and have magical protection from all those flying bullets. They have ‘heroic volition’. Similarly psychology seems to work upon a good/bad spectrum whereby bad folks can be cured by good folks. And in NRA folk law, a good man with a gun is the only antidote to a bad man with a gun, forgetting that most killers suffer debilitating mental health problems, and that other nations avoid that false dichotomy by removing guns from the people over decades.

    Another religious angle to be found in America is the understanding that all people are the same and that all cerebral activity is based upon the same input, only some people choose to think differently, and adversely. It is an understanding of foreign lands that led to British colonialism, and to recent American wars. The French, and most Arabs have a different understanding of foreigners, and a greater respect for cultural ways of handling diversity in their number. That is why they were scurrilously called ‘Cheese-eating surrender-monkeys’.

    A third religious base to daily philosophy is to be found in the widespread acceptance of great cults simply because they (the cults) have found a traditional home within academia. Scientists having found a grounding in ‘l’Observation et l’experience’ should not be giving such accommodation to the ever-changing cults of the Social Sciences. It would seem that American science is NOT so far removed from the religions, and that it is happy to accommodate the edgier and more ludicrous beliefs held by the American versions of the Social Sciences.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      A constant surprise in reading American blogs is just how many atheists were once religious.

      When you consider that many religions reserve far more opprobrium for the apostate than they do for people who simply follow a different religion, then you’ll see that the religions have long recognised the danger that “free thinking” represents to them. It really is an existential threat – for the religion.

  12. Posted December 1, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    My inner paranoid keeps suggesting the stated accommodationist line is a head fake, and their real mission is to keep religion relevant, palatable and welcoming to those who accept naturalistic evolution. My inner paranoid is exaggerating as always I’m sure – but one can’t ignore the possibility that it is at least part of the project; if not, I don’t know why they would bother.

  13. Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Maybe this should be called “philosophism” – a cognate of scientism. It certainly advocates applying philosophical methods to questions that have long since been solved by science and where philosophy has no busniess sticking its nose into.

    Whatever it is, it’s anti-educational.

  14. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I think there is an important part of this issue that isn’t being addressed. It follows that part of the saying — the horse has already left the barn.

    Instead of dissecting the survey results and all the rest, isn’t education the only answer? And the education must begin much sooner than it is now and also be better. When does the proper discussion of evolution even take place in American education? By this time the church has already done it’s job and it is too late.

    Until real education at a much younger level gets a chance to compete with the brain washing effects of religion, the hope for any faster change is pretty much dead.

    • eric
      Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Instead of dissecting the survey results and all the rest, isn’t education the only answer?

      Yes and no. In a formal sense, no: the point both Jerry and Hill make is that if someone gets a rational argument from source X, but their social community says not-X, studies show that they will (more than likely) stick with their social community’s answer and reject the rational argument. That will apply to professors and teachers giving a rational argument just as much as it will apply to neighbor atheist or friend atheist.

      But the answer is yes, in the sense that high schools create their own social communities, and colleges and universities much much more so. They aren’t just about what goes on in class, but who you can interact with. You’re no longer in the Kansas of parents+church any more, you’re in the Oz of a variety of students and professors from different parts of the country, different nations, different cultures, etc. And that can change your mind, or at least make you more open to the thought that your old community might have been wrong about some stuff.

      Thus, in some sense the correlation between greater education and acceptance of evolution (and atheism or less fundamental theism) is very closely related to another correlation we see, between urbanism and liberalism. When you interact with a lot of different people and views, you tend to develop the ability to think hard/critically about them and what they mean…and then you tend to use that ability to think hard about your own prior beliefs, in a way you might not have done so if you had gone through life surrounded with people who thought exactly the same way.

      • Posted December 3, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        The hope is that one can get increasingly large numbers of children before they’ve been brainwashed. The parents are (usually) a lost cause, unfortunately.

        It is a long slog.

        Also, it is vital to note: even if “the facts” don’t change people’s minds, it doesn’t follow any other approach would be more effective. (Accomodationists, take note :))

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    A more interesting dialogue with the non-evo camp would be to discuss how Darwinism does not undercut ethics, nor lead (a la Ben Stein) to Nazism.

    What if the discussion was !*focused*! on this rather than on whether Darwin is compatible with theism??

  16. John Schneider
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    A stunning insight by my former colleague at Calvin College. Good thing BioLogos funded it!

  17. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Well, that sounds very good but does not do it. If we have gone up only 10 percent, 9 to 19 in all these years, then different ways of addressing this thing is needed.

    The church is doing their job and the game is done. Waiting until high school or college and its good bye horse.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      If we have gone up only 10 percent, 9 to 19 in all these years, then different ways of addressing this thing is needed.

      On the other hand, during that time you’ve halved the number of people, children in particular, who can go through their lives and particularly growing up without exposure to the concept that other people can differ from your opinion.
      At least, that would be the case if society were “well mixed.” Which is something that many religious communities strenuously avoid.

  18. Jeffery
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    The “bottom line” here is belief: if a person has adopted, for whatever reasons, the belief that facts are not a necessary criteria for what makes a belief “true”, facts are going to have a limited effect on determining what beliefs they hold. This, “facts are optional” belief explains why a seemingly intelligent person can work all day at a technical job where facts are of paramount importance, yet spend their evening indulging in talking in tongues and the laying on of hands at a Pentecostal church service.

    Educating people as to the facts of evolution who entertain this mindset may, in fact, be “shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted”, as the “education” that is necessary must occur much earlier in life and must concern the importance of fact in determining ALL of our beliefs. Childhood religious programming, with its deep emotional “hooks” to a sense of belonging and community (including the seductive feeling that “I’m right, and I’m with others who are right”)as well as the fear of punishment if the religion’s tenets are not adhered to, supplies the perceived “gains” that support the seeming validity of this “belief in belief” (to avoid Hell is perceived as a “gain”).

    Deeply-held beliefs DO change, however (as evidenced by Richard Dawkins’ “Converts’ Corner”): my personal theory is that, usually, the influences in one’s life necessary to cause a change in a “core-belief” such as this one must be of a strength and perceived importance equal to or superior to the “validating” circumstances of the previous belief: those who leave their religion often suffer a feeling of loss and “rootlessness” that prepares in them the mental “ground” for the adoption of new, more accurate beliefs.

    How, then, to influence the minds of those young enough to have not yet acquired this cognitive bias concerning the predominance of fact, when they are being raised by people who hold to it? It requires the continued “trivialization” of religion; the letting the air out of the puffed-up balloon of importance that it has created around itself and enjoyed for centuries by the well-publicized and consistent critical examination of the tenets of the various religious belief systems. A meaningful alternative MUST be kept in view for the “fence-sitters” who may be presented with the circumstances in their lives where they have the opportunity to escape this programming.

  19. Posted December 1, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    “You can’t educate people into believing in evolution” (shouldn’t that be “accepting evolution?”)

    This has been on my mind for some time. The framing is wrong, and keeps evolution somehow on the same playing field as creationism. Since evolution is fact it shouldn’t be couched in fatheist language. The word accepting, as Jerry pointed out, is much more in alignment with evolution’s foundation in science and facts. It’s true that one can believe the sun will rise in the East, and know it will, but most people don’t say “I believe the sun rises in the East.” It just sounds off.

    I once worked at a very religious company, and I overheard one coworker talking about how weird it was that the body had stuff it didn’t need/use. (She just had her wisdom teeth pulled, and of course was referring to vestigial components.) The person she was talking to took up a snarky tone and retorted: “if you believe in that.” That was the end of that conversation and the wisdom tooth person could tell she struck a nerve and went back to work. I wish I could go back in time and tell the creationist: “belief only refers to creationism; evolution is not a simple belief- it is a fact.” I am much more confident and consequently strident than I was 8 years ago when the incident happened. As this data shows, the vain debate continues on.

  20. Posted December 1, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on My WordPress Notepad.

  21. Pliny the in Between
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    At its simplest level, it’s a battle between knowledge vs perception (that other way of knowing). The scientific method vs mass marketing appeal. Most people and many disciplines (including theology, I would argue) are driven by perception in place of knowledge. There is no distinction to many people. Sadly, it looks like it will always be easier to appeal via marketing (proselytizing being a subset of marketing techniques) than through science.

    My cartoon timing was pretty good for once. I posted this one yesterday covering this subject.

    I never can pass on a chance to have multiple puns in one panel.

  22. Kevin
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    The percentage of people of feel it is important to be ‘right’ about the origin of life. That statement is perplexing.

    It is the duty of a scientist to be absolutely ‘right’ about the origin of life. But by this, I mean, try every attempt to shadow what one believes with colossal criticism. A scientist wants to be right: that is the definition of searching for the truth. It says nothing about adopting a new theory to explain what we see. If, tomorrow, new evidence shows that the origin of life comes from some constituents from another star system…so be it. If confirmed, this what is important when a scientists says: I must be right.

    This is very different than religious convictions.

  23. Posted December 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    There’s perhaps another way to see the incompatibility, and I think I can describe it metaphorically in another human realm: Physical Fitness.

    Imagine that we had a philosophical movement with a great deal of popularity, that saw exercise as a waste of precious energy. Rather than spend time moving our bodies, we should instead conserve our resources, forgoing any medical evidence that exercise is good for us (‘an unprovable theory’, they might say). Some adhered to this view with tenacity, while some saw it as drivel. Others were on the fence, but a lifetime of enforced inactivity made it difficult for them to start any kind of exercise. For most of them, no amount of convincing that moving was good for them (including perhaps, that it might even feel good) would get past the decades of lethargy and sluggish habits they had acquired from parents, mentors and friends.

    Now, let’s transpose this from the Physical to the Mental: A sizeable population has gotten into the habit of not thinking (like those described above who were not moving). They have the _habit_ of belief. They feel before they think. I see this regularly on every American television man-on-the-street interview from the past 20 years. They do not question, and have no need for proof of any belief, be it for a God, Angels, Soul, Heaven and Hell, the Creation story, or Ghosts. They simply _believe_. To suggest that they somehow just get up and get thinking is like asking someone who has been in an easy chair for years to go ahead and jump up and run a few laps. It’s incompatible with their mental hygiene, their habitual approach to responding to questions and making decisions.

    So, by this analogy, I think that it is unlikely that we will be able to get those who are religious to cast off their beliefs and move toward logic and reason, nor do I think you can make these concepts compatible with their beliefs, any more than you could make the easy chair fellow in my example above see exercising as something not in conflict with his sitting and move an inch.

    Despite the gradual drift toward a more secular culture, I don’t see any major change in the U.S. in particular for a long, long time (perhaps a century or more). Mental habits and the dulling effect on the mind of religious beliefs will be passed on to children with the intention that this will make them better people. Religion will continue to get a free ride and to question it will always be seen as rude or in poor taste.

    Sorry, but I think we will have to be content to be the minority who think. We can rail against the unreasoning multitudes, but it won’t do much good, except invite criticism at best, attacks and violence at worst.

  24. Peter Beattie
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    “You can’t educate people into believing in evolution” (shouldn’t that be “accepting evolution?”)

    Nope, that should be “understanding evolution”, becuase nothing whatsoever is gained for a society when people accept things they do not understand.

    And further, why should “the facts” alone change anyone’s mind? That’s not how it works: facts alone can decide nothing, as any decision for this or that point of view depends just as much on the explanatory theory those facts are used to test. Let JS Mill explain:

    Even in natural philosophy, there is always some other explanation possible of the same facts; some geocentric theory instead of heliocentric, some phlogiston instead of oxygen; and it has to be shown why that other theory cannot be the true one: and until this is shown, and until we know how it is shown, we do not under­stand the grounds of our opinion.

    We have theories to explain (sets of) facts, and only theories can be true or false. But facts either are or are not. And also, our theories may be inspired by them but they are not derived from facts.

    Long story short: without a) an explanatory framework (a theory) and b) a fundamental agreement as to the goals (and hence the methodology) of the scientific process, there is no point in showing people “just the facts”. On their own, facts have no significance beyond themselves. Or in the words of Karl Popper:

    But in fact the belief that we can start with pure observations alone, without anything in the nature of a theory, is absurd; as may be illustrated by the story of the man who dedicated his life to natural science, wrote down everything he could observe, and bequeathed his priceless collection of observations to the Royal Society to be used as inductive evi­dence. This story should show us that though beetles may profitably be collected, observations may not.

  25. Diane G.
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    “What does it mean to be a person? What does it mean to be an animal?””

    What does it mean to be redundant?

  26. Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    I am going to have to voice my dissent here and question the methodology used to come up with the conclusion that facts don’t convince people of evolution. For if it isn’t facts and rational thinking, what explains the decline in religiosity and increase in accepting evolution? For myself and many others, certainly it wasn’t an emotional argument.

    When I was a Creationist, I thought I had facts. I wrote a term paper under the direction of my father some 20 years ago citing the numerous anti-evolution literature and using all the typical quote mining and equivocation that is typical in Creationist arguments. I really thought that evolution claimed that fish grew feet and walked out of the ocean, that a dinosaur one day gave birth to a bird, and that the Second Law of Thermodynamics presented a major problem. Of course, once I finally came across the information that no scientists were actually making these claims, I began to see which side of this debate is making false claims.

    All Creationists think that they have evidence on their side or think they at least have mountains of evidence against evolution. Why else would they contort themselves into knots trying to find evidence of the Ark and other ridiculous things of this nature?

    I think facts do persuade people, it’s just a matter of getting people to understand what the facts are amidst a sea of misinformation and propaganda. Ironically, the very people who claim that liberalism and science are massive conspiracy theories are the ones perpetuating conspiracy theories themselves, often times unknowingly.

  27. Leigh Jackson
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    A local church organised a public meeting in my local pub a while back. Leaflets pushed through my letter box said the meeting was to address the science/religion interface, and to ask whether science posed a threat to belief in God.

    I went along and found that the speaker was pushing intelligent design. I addressed several fallacies at the end and found myself surrounded by a group of supporters of the speaker who tried to defend the claims which I had debunked; they ended up asking me what the meaning of life was, if god did not exist. I replied that there might be no answer to that question.

    That silenced them for a moment but when I made to leave they invited (pressed) me to attend their church some time. I told them that was not going to happen.

    The question of the meaning of life is important.

    The word “religion” is sometimes used as a place-filler for mere individual belief in God. Religion (with a capital R) involves a complete dogmatic ideology to which a group of people are committed.

    Simple personal meaning supplied by mere belief in God (or “something more”) is not going to produce evil side effects. Religion with a big R may very well do so. And big R Religion doesn’t have to involve belief in any Supramundane Power. There are plenty of secular R’s capable of polarizing humanity. It is necessary to reject all R’s.

    That said big R’s can follow on from little r’s. The real problem is that people do need their lives to mean something. People need their little r’s. Taking away people’s meaning is problematic, as is trying to dictate what the meaning of others should be.

    There is a difficult problem here, it seems to me.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      The question of the meaning of life is important.

      It may be important to you. It’s not something that I waste any time or effort upon. There is no meaning to life, and then you’re worm food.
      Some people may find that dissatisfying, though how there is any benefit from substituting my answer for something made up is beyond my thinking. Maybe I’m not a “sofistikated feologist”?

  28. matt
    Posted December 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    im american and i totally believe in evolution

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