However, aggressive, forthright opposition also works


OK, so atheists shouldn’t take credit for a decline in religion, but I think science communicators and educators (which is not synonymous with atheism, I’m sure you know) have accomplished something: the gradual decline of creationism. More people are accepting evolution!

In the early years of this blog, way back in the 2000s, I felt a bit of frustration and despair because when I looked at the surveys, all I saw then was a flat line: less than half the population accepted a well-supported scientific fact, and 40% openly rejected it in favor of nonsense contradicted by all the evidence. And the statistics were flat-lined back into the 1960s, when the surveys began! It was all very discouraging, but also motivated a lot of us to get out there and do public science communication. It seems to have worked.

At least, I think educating the public helped. Another factor is that evolution has also become a tribal marker. If you’re a True Republican, you believe in bullshit and the American way; if you’re a True Democrat, you believe in evolution and science. Part of the reason for the growing disparity is simply growing polarization.

Antievolutionism remains a political force. The Republican party often panders to religious fundamentalism, and attitudes toward evolution are politicized as a result. Miller and his collaborators found that 34% of conservative Republicans accepted evolution in 2019, as compared to 83% of liberal Democrats. There is evidence that the politicization is increasing: in 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats accepted human evolution, but by 2013, the ten-point gap widened to a twenty-four-point gap, according to the Pew Research Center.

That tells me it’s just as important as ever to work to make sure citizens accept evolution for the right reasons. Because that’s what the evidence supports.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    Covid-19 provides a very good example of evolution in action. Conservatives provide a good example of inaction.
    Those who are able to absorb new information will take vaccines/ accept evolution.
    The other category will experience increased mortality. Either way, the graphs will continue this trend.

  2. Allison says

    birgerjohansson @1

    Covid-19 provides a very good example of evolution in action.

    I think this is an oversimplified view of things. It seems to assume there is a genetic basis for “not being able to absorb new information,” which is, to put it mildly, debatable. It also assumes that not getting vaccinated (or rejecting evolution) is due to an inability “to absorb new information,” rather than, say, social structures which make it difficult for them to absorb the information as it is being presented to them. (E.g., marginalized groups’ — justified — distrust of establishment institutions.)

    Consider a different issue: poverty. An equally naïve view would say that evolution should eliminate poverty, since being poor greatly increases your chances of dying young. But do you really believe that if all the poor people died tomorrow, there wouldn’t, within a relatively short time, be enough people ending up in poverty that roughly the same fraction of the population would be poor? Capitalist society is based upon a lot of people being relatively poor and even more being poor enough that they will accept inadequate pay, unsafe working conditions, and frequent abuse; if the people that currently do those jobs were to disappear, I’m convinced that things would get arranged to insure that a lot of the survivors ended up poor enough to replace them.

  3. naturalistguy says

    The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision by the U.S. Supreme Court back in December, 2005 was what discredited so-called intelligent design, which was the last gasp for creationism being taught in public schools. The NCSE’s graph I think shows how that decision did have an impact on public opinion about the validity of the theory of evolution, at least among those who weren’t already convinced that GodDidIt.

  4. naturalistguy says

    Whoops, my memory is a bit fuzzy this morning, as it wasn’t the U.S. Supreme Court that decided the case, but in U.S. Federal Court, specifically Judge John Jones III.

  5. angoratrilobite says

    Learning about how evolution actually worked was a major factor in my eventual journey to atheism. The other major factor was actually reading that stupid book… Most true believers have never actually studied the bible. Many people who claimed to read it have only skimmed it or read it with the aid of a bible study guide. But when you really read it, line for line, it becomes clear that this is nothing more than mythology.

    Science gave me the logical mindset to see the ridiculousness of religion.

  6. angoratrilobite says

    Alison @2

    I had assumed birgerjohansson’s comment was literally about the evolution in action of the virus itself, with all the variants developing in real-time. This is a perfect example of evolution happening in front of us.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Angoratrilobite@6

    Yes, this was my intention. As English is not my first language, I do not always spot potentials for misunderstandings.
    .
    From a European perspective, we have generally been spared the phenomena of evolution denial, along with “satanism” scares, rapture beliefs and other distinctly Mercan things.
    Even people who vote for the goddamn tories tend to reject the abovementioned beliefs.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Addendum: Rapture belief was invented in Britain but migrated. No walls can keep out bad ideas, or Ken Ham.

  9. raven says

    Covid-19 provides a very good example of evolution in action.

    Sure is.

    What is ironic is that the fundie xian creationists are getting sick and dying in large numbers from a newly evolved and evolving virus.
    They are also dying in higher numbers than normal people because they reject basic modern science such as wearing masks, social distancing, and above all getting vaccinated.

    Their fundie mythology is literally killing them en masse. They have noticed they are dropping like flies, and they are unable to do anything about it. It’s all so cuckoo and pathetic.

  10. raven says

    The antivaxx fundie xians are dying often from the Covid-19 virus. It is over 90% antivaxxers dying and I estimate 95% of those are fundie xians.
    The virus has scythed through their communities killing multiple members of some families and leaving at least 200,000 orphans behind.
    They’ve noticed all the dead bodies around them but haven’t quite figured out why.
    (Despite the fact that a normal 5 year old could figure it out.)
    But they have theories. All of which are cuckoo.

    .1. It’s all a conspiracy to target fundie xians. By the Space Reptiles, the New World Order, Democrats, witches, MDs, demons, satan, and whatever other Them their minds can come up with.
    .2. God is gathering the faithful home to himself because he needs more prayer warrior angels. They never explain why the all powerful god needs the ghosts of dead white people mostly from the South and Midwest. Something about a new War in Heaven or god needs more janitors or some such.

    They might be able to figure it out if they didn’t fail the mirror test. Looking in a mirror would explain it easily.

  11. PaulBC says

    There has been an explosion of new biological data in the past three decades, not only gene sequencing, but proteomics, including advances in predicting protein conformation. Needless to say, none of it has contradicted evolution, and much of it has backed up common descent by making relationships between species more precisely quantifiable than ever.

    Creationists have meanwhile done nothing but serve up warmed over versions of the argument from incredulity, whether it’s their misunderstanding of thermodynamics, Behe’s “irreducible complexity”, or Dembski’s long mathematical digressions that have no connection to how evolution actually works. It always comes down to the same thing: “I don’t see how nature produced this, so it must be magic.” Personally, I would ask how the human brain apparently produces anything novel, since it too is embedded in nature (but yeah, I get it, that’s magic too, they just don’t feel the need to attack cognitive science and artificial intelligence, because kids aren’t taught it in school).

    Anyway, it would be a sad day indeed if creationism was actually gaining traction in a world that confines its objections to an ever diminishing God of the gaps. I’m not saying it would be impossible. We seem to have lost a cultural awareness of how the immune system works and some large segment of the public has forgotten how effective vaccines are. But maybe the next generation really is capable of learning.

  12. bcw bcw says

    The data implies that people can be moved from “not sure” to “yes, there is evolution” but that the “definitely not” crowd is unswayable. Not sure about what’s happening in the schools, the public schools are under attack at the local level by the racist, anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-history, anti-science crowd so teaching of evolution is still under threat. Is “telling children they’re no better than animals” going to be the next ambiguously phrased restraint on teaching after “making anyone feel bad about their racial group?”

  13. naturalistguy says

    The great biologist E.O. Wilson died at the age of 92 yesterday, and this from his obituary in the New York Times by Carl Zimmer is worth mentioning here:

    One day, as he was casting a fishing line, he pulled too hard when he caught a pinfish, it flew into his face, and one of the spines on its fin pierced his right eye, leaving him partly blind. “The attention of my surviving eye turned to the ground,” Dr. Wilson wrote. He developed an obsession with ants — one that would last his entire life.

    Uncovering logs and discovering ant nests felt to him like exposing a strange netherworld. In high school, he discovered the first colony of imported fire ants in the United States — a species that went on to become a major pest in the South.

    At the time, he was also undergoing a spiritual transformation. Raised as a Baptist, he struggled with prayer. During his baptism, he became keenly aware that he felt no transcendence. “And something small somewhere cracked,” Dr. Wilson wrote. He drifted away from the church.

    “I had discovered that what I most loved on the planet, which was life on the planet, made sense only in terms of evolution and the idea of natural selection,” Dr. Wilson later told the historian Ullica Segerstrale, “and that this was a far more interesting, richer and more powerful explanation than the teachings of the New Testament.”

    Link: E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92

  14. oliversarmy says

    Michael Nesmith died 17 days ago. That is now three out of the four Monkees that have passed. Belief in evolution is increasing. When Mickey Dolan passes everyone will know that evolution is real, because there won’t still be Monkees.

  15. DanDare says

    Could also point to meme evolution. The memes of the right lead to excess deaths among the hosts. Others with less dangerous memes or stronger self preservation memes begin to immunise themselves mentally.

  16. says

    One other reason for the change is simply that young people are rejecting the Religious Right very strongly. They are gradually replacing the old folks. Their generation is who has been persuaded.

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