Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2009

WE CAN'T AFFORD RESULTS LIKE THESE.... Charles Darwin was born 200 years ago today, so it seems appropriate to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions the scientist made to modern scholarship. The LA Times noted today, "Not only was Darwin's theory of evolution a scientific epiphany, millions of people owe their lives and their health to research that is predicated on Darwin's insight that human beings share a common ancestor with other species."

The same editorial noted, however, that a movement still exists that hopes to undermine modern biology. The good news is, their anti-science crusade has repeatedly been defeated in the courts, when they try to get schools to incorporate religious lessons into public school science classes. The bad news is, wide swaths of the public are still confused.


A new Gallup poll found that only 39% of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution." One in four say they don't, while 36% don't have an opinion either way. There was a "strong relationship" between education and understanding -- 21% of Americans with a high-school education or less believe in evolution, followed by 41% who've had some college, 53% who have a college degree, and 74% who have a post-graduate degree.

There's also, apparently, an age gap. Those aged 18 to 34 are most likely to accept modern science (54% believe in evolution), while those 55 and over are the least likely (31%).

I suppose this offers at least some hope for the future, but the numbers are still pretty embarrassing for the country. A bare majority of American college graduates accept the foundation of modern biology? In the 21st century? That's it?

Reiterating a point from a couple of weeks ago, the country just can't afford this kind of confusion on such a grand scale. The competitive advantage the United States used to enjoy is vanishing, and conservatives' anti-science push comes with too high a burden for the country.

The country needs to start taking science seriously again -- our economy depends on it -- and ignorance costs far too much. The sooner poll numbers like these improve, the better off the country will be.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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Darwin ultimately didn't realize that you can't breed the stupid out. The fittest we are not.

Posted by: The Galloping Trollop on February 12, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Since when do we get an opinion about reality?

Posted by: freelunch on February 12, 2009 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Against logic there is no armor like ignorance".

Dr. Laurence J. Peter, author of "The Peter Principle".

Posted by: islandgeek on February 12, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Religion and right-wing talk help to keep too many people in our country stupid

Posted by: captJP on February 12, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

The survey, of course, is not even wrong. The question is meaningless.

A valid question would be: "Do you understand the theory of evolution and the evidence about evolution enough to explain why it is correct." Those who deny that evolution happened or have 'no opinion' failed in their education.

Posted by: freelunch on February 12, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

File this with the people who STILL think Saddam had something to do with 9/11. Hopefully, it's not genetic (but I'm not holding my breath).

Posted by: bdop4 on February 12, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Would be interesting to see results of the same poll in 1999. Eight years of the media noise machine exclusively running Republican talking points as fact has dissolved scientific debate into a strange insulting contest. How Darwin's theories could ever be contrived into an assault on Christianity is beyond me, but that's what we have. The debate is not about scientific evidence, it's about accepting every detail of fundamentalists strict tunnel vision view of a parable-like story of creation or not being considered a "Christian".

Obama has a tough job ahead changing an America that has chanted to Bush's cheerleading for eight years: "Say it long, say it loud, SPITEFUL, IGNORANT and PROUD!!!"

Posted by: Capt Kirk on February 12, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

It's another leading indicator as to why we're in the mess we are in.

Posted by: qwerty on February 12, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

freelunch said:
A valid question would be: "Do you understand the theory of evolution and the evidence about evolution enough to explain why it is correct."

Actually, the issue is even more basic than that. We need to ask, "Do you understand the difference between scientific 'theory', scientific 'hypothesis' and scientific 'opinion'."

Until Americans understand those basic concepts, discussion about evolution, energy, economics or any other quantifiable subject is pretty much a waste of time. Everyone who doesn't understand these concepts (especially "journalists", who are some of the most scientifically illiterate people out there) should be encouraged to sit down and STFU.

Posted by: SteveT on February 12, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

The country needs to start taking science seriously again...

I'm not sure it's very scientific to take a population's knowledge or opinion on a single subject and use that to determine whether or not that population is scientifically knowledgable or oriented. There are people whi believe in intelligent design and who know more about atomic structure than I do, for instance, or who can calculate quantum mechanical mathmatics. Science and religion create interesting, varied and highly complex boundaries in the human mind and psyche.

Posted by: Bill Heffner on February 12, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Twenty-six percent of those with post-grad degrees either don't believe in evolution or have no opinion?

Now, that's depressing.

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on February 12, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

As someone over 55 I expect people my age to be smarter about facts, but then I recall my Catholic high school biology class where the priest/teacher denounced Darwin. As far as I could tell, I was the lone heretic in that class.

Posted by: ebbolles on February 12, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

And the share accepting the truth of evolution in the US is lower than every European country except - wait for it- Turkey. Source here (sub req, I think). At 40% acceptance, we're behind countries that are traditionally seen as very religious like Greece, Ireland, Spain, all of which are above 50%.

Which makes me slightly less worried about schools teaching creationism. After all, all those years teaching evolutino sure didn't have much impact.

Posted by: Basilisc on February 12, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

I think the question is stupid and like all polls with stupid questions, leads to dumb results. What does "believe" have to do with it? This just triggers all the pro-religious people and gets them to answer negatively or gets them not to commit. What of the person that believes in the process of evolution, but that a god started it? How do they answer such a question. I would think that is large percentage of the U.S. population.

And in the end, 39% understand and "believe" in evolution, plenty to become biologists and doctors. Our competitive standing is really not hurt. That is a canard. Our pride in how smart Americans are might be hurt though lol

Posted by: Patrick on February 12, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

freelunch said:
A valid question would be: "Do you understand the theory of evolution and the evidence about evolution enough to explain why it is correct."

I was going to say the exact same thing. I think part of of the problem that we use the word "believe" to talk about theories and not "understand" Belief is for something intangible, not concrete like a testable theory.

Posted by: Reverend J on February 12, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

I certainly agree with much of your note here. The decline in scientific knowledge in the population as a whole reflects badly on our education system, the demagoguery of politicians, and has real consequences for democracy and public policy as well as the economy.
That said, I think there is something wrong with the way public discourse poses the question. Asking if we 'believe in' evolution seems the wrong question and to lead to some confusion. We don't ask people if they 'believe in' the theory of gravity or even relativity theory. 'Belief in' seems to imply a kind of faith; science asks people to 'believe that' the best explanation of observed phenomena are the case based on observation and empirical evidence and analysis. The sloppiness of our language poses 'evolution' against other 'faiths' and undercuts understanding of science. Sometimes as well, evolution is misappropriated to justify practices and policies -- e.g. Social Darwinism -- that are deeply offensive to values of cooperation and compassion that might on the contrary be a part of our evolutionary legacy.
Short conclusion is that we shouldn't insist on making theories of evolution an ideology and look for ideological unity. We should more carefully teach scientific methods as well as humility.

Posted by: Bruce Johnson on February 12, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Oh man, don't get me started on this topic...

The Biblical literalist interpretation of planetary and human origins must be countered with every resource we can muster.

Freelunch has it just right above: "Actually, the issue is even more basic than that. We need to ask, "Do you understand the difference between scientific 'theory', scientific 'hypothesis' and scientific 'opinion'."

These far right religionists are purposely blurring the line between the common use of the word theory and the scientific one in order to force their particular creationist myth into the science classroom.

This may be the single greatest threat to our nation's continued well-being.

Posted by: independent thinker on February 12, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

You are overreacting. Most people have no opinion or do believe in evolution. Only 25% don't. I would suppose that those who tend to believe in evolution are so browbeaten by the anti-evolutionists that they hesitate to say they do believe in evolution. But browbeating isn't education. And belief in evolution as taught by high school science classes isn't a caveat for intelligence or education. I would rather have a courteous anti-evolutionist than a rude, pushy and obnoxious evolutionist around me any time. Take heed, Dawkins et al.

The real question is: have you been taught to think? And I see that no one is particularly interested in teaching how to reason, they are interested in making you think their way. And that includes many of the evolutionists. Too bad, because the one skill that is really lacking in this country is the ability to reason.

Posted by: Carol on February 12, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

maybe 12% of the 25% subscribe to Gaia theory?

Posted by: grinning cat on February 12, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

The US is the only developed country, not to say civilized, where the war over evolution is still fought so stridently. Between 1859, when Darwin first published, and 1880, after he was already dead, the scientific world of that day, centered in Europe, had come to terms with evolution, i.e., accepted it, and adjusted their theological beliefs accordingly.

The Tennessee Scopes trial in 1925, and the court challenges to the teaching of evolution that persist to this day, largely in the South (Dover Pennsylvania being an exception), are eloquent testimony to the anti-intellectualism rampant in the US.

The claim that Darwin's conclusions, and the work of all the evolutionary biologists - read geneticists - since is only a 'theory', and therefore may be disregarded at will, is so monumentally stupid as to defy serious discussion. In the US, we can't even get our terms right: a theory is not a hypothesis or vice-versa. Yet scientists have to constantly debate evolution on an equal footing with religious wingnuts in front of regulatory and legislative bodies or in court. What more dramatic evidence of a failed education system does one need?

The phrase "belief in evolution" betrays essentially a theological approach to science. Evolution, and science in general, is not a belief system, based on no verifiable evidence, and dependent on the faith of its adherents Science is not just another religion one can subscribe to or reject at will. Science is a process that eventually explains how things work, sometimes only partially or mistakenly, but it is self-correcting. Religion attempts to explain why things are as they are, and to provide a moral basis for civilization, it is ultimately largely about social control. In a word, it is about power. Power based on fear and ignorance.

Evolution, more than most scientific findings, threatens the power of religion, and of those who control religion. It is a sad day in this country when 150 years after Darwin/Wallace pieced together one of the fundamental mechanisms of the biological world, the number of refusniks is still so high, and the power of the fundamentalist Christians so perversive.

Posted by: rich on February 12, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

At this point, evolution is no more a "theory" than the sky is blue is a "theory".

Evolution is the observable fact. It's causal explanation and precise operations may be relegated to theory, but not the process itself.

Posted by: creepy dude on February 12, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

How does this compare with the rest of the civilized world?

Its my hunch that these numbers are actually misleading and meaningless. A huge number of the "don't believe" and "no opinion either way" are most likely religious people who wouldn't admit they do, in fact, believe in evolution. It seems like many "religious" types give lip service to the dogma and are more interested in the social aspect. There are a group of evangelicals who believe in all the wackey End of Days nonsence, but I would guess most of them beleive much more in the political and social aspects of the movement, not the theology lock, stock and barrel.

In this day and age it would be almost impossible to function in the modern world NOT believing in prevailing science.

Posted by: Saint Zak on February 12, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

It was a stupid question.

I believe that survival of the fittest goes on, but I also believe that the creation of diversity through purely random mutations is wrong, and eventually it will be proven. Plenty of big brains are looking into this now.

So, no, I don't subscribe to the theory wholesale. Doesn't mean I think a guy in a white robe created it all in seven days.

I bet 95% of people don't really understand the theory beyond "we came from Apes."

Posted by: red state mike on February 12, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

On the glass half full side of things, I find it encouraging that only 25% affirmatively reject evolution. I would have expected the number to be 50% or higher.

Posted by: JRD on February 12, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

I would have expected more than 74% of people with PhD's to believe in evolution.

Posted by: Danp on February 12, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

I would have expected more than 74% of people with PhD's to believe in evolution.

That number includes all graduate degrees, not just PhDs.

Piggybacking on others' comments, posing this question as a matter of "belief" necessarily skews the responses. It would be interesting to see a poll with this question worded several different ways.

Posted by: shortstop on February 12, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

creepy guy said:
At this point, evolution is no more a "theory" than the sky is blue is a "theory".

Evolution is the observable fact. It's causal explanation and precise operations may be relegated to theory, but not the process itself.

This illustrates how ignorant the average American is about science.

The sky is not blue, and its blue appearance is a 'phenomenon', not a fact. The sky, more accurately the atmosphere, is pretty much transparent. The atmosphere refracts light from the sun in a way to make the sky appear blue.

And saying that evolution is an "observable fact" is equally inaccurate. It's like saying "It is a fact that a car moves because we put gasoline in it". Until we understand and can reproduce the mechanism(s) of evolution, it is a theory.

Again, until you understand the difference between 'theory', 'hypothesis' and 'opinion' in science, sit down and STFU.

Posted by: SteveT on February 12, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I just can’t resist shoving a stick into this rolling wheel of intellectual superiority.

Despite all the talk about it being “the foundation of modern biology,” evolution, whether one “believes” in it or not, really has very little impact on our lives (yes, I know about antibiotic resistance!).

I’ll say it straight: the idea that ones acceptance of evolution is evidence of the relative value of ones political opinion is pretentious, blinding and anti-democratic.

Science is our best tool for describing physical reality. But it is of very little use in describing political reality or in the defense of a personal morality. Put another way, the political opinions of scientists (and those of us like me who are perfectly comfortable with the reality science describes) are no more or less valid than those of people who don’t.

Culture is chaos. Democracy of the true “all men are created equal” variety has proven to be a far better (though far from perfect) mediator of that chaos than any “scientific” system - certainly any based on biology.

Posted by: oldfatd on February 12, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think one area that average science education really fails in is very rarely making original texts, like Darwin's "Origin of Species," a required read. Instead, a 300-page science textbook, with half a chapter dedicated to the theory of evolution, is somehow supposed to make students understand the entire theory and believe it is correct.

Honestly, given that, you can't blame the 36% that have "no opinion." They haven't been given enough material regarding his theory to make a solid conclusion. To those of us who understand it, we can clearly see the evidence around us and in the science articles we come across that very consistently reaffirm our beliefs in the theory. For those who don't understand it, or understand it poorly, things are not viewed the same.

If we want more people to believe Darwin's theory, we're going to have to put more people in front of the text, and let them judge for themselves.

Posted by: Lelia Katherine Thomas on February 12, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Some pretty nasty stuff has come out of belief in the theory of evolution, too. Look up eugenics and scientific racism, some of the worst things humans have managed to do to each other.

Posted by: red state mike on February 12, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I do not believe in evolution, although I do think evolution best explains the origin of the species because of the evidence scientists have used to explain the theory. Perhaps the question in the survey needs revising.

I prefer to reject belief of anything. If one is asked to believe in something without evidence of its existence, then it probably does not exist.

Posted by: Brojo on February 12, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK


Asking someone,"do you believe in the 'Theory of Evolution'" skews the results because most people probably so not understand the theory at all, ergo the 36%.

Ask instead, "On scale of 1-5 (1 being most comfortable 5 being least comforable) with the follwing statement, 'evolution was responsible for life earth."

And switch it with another question, "evolution was not responsible for life on earth."

I know its not perfect, but the answers will be closer to asking about a "Theory" of evolution.

Posted by: Kurt on February 12, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with other commenters. The framing of the question is odd. The premise sets it up like "When did you stop beating your wife?"

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 12, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Mike Judge had it right with "Idiocracy." Now all we need is that museum showing Charlie Chaplin was leader of the Nazi party (who fought using dinosaurs in their army).

Posted by: Vincent on February 12, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, while it is true that the level of ignorance in the general population on evolution is quite abysmal, evolution is a topic on which one can be fairly optimistic. Any struggle against Darwin's insights grounded merely in religous objections is bound to fail. The only thing that would be able to undo the concept of evolution would be a credible and verifiable demonstration of its fallacy.

The beauty of scientific ideas is that once they are out there they are essentially impossible to lasso in, even by very powerful organisations like the Catholic Church, however hard and long they try. Galileo Gallilei is a good example of this fact. It is true that Rome managed to pressure him into recanting his claim of a heliocentric universe. But how successful was the Church really in suppressing the idea as such? I don't think a futile struggle of four centuries before the Vatican could bring itself to publish a sheepish admission of having been wrong all along counts as success. And I wouldn't rate the chances of religious fundamentalists of any creed on suppressing the idea of evolution much higher than how Rome did in this case.

It might take a while still, but some time in the future the moment will come when objecting to Darwin's ideas may look just too silly to be maintained any further.

A toast to Charles Darwin.

Posted by: SRW1 on February 12, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK


When critiquing someone else's details, make sure you get your own terminology right. The sky appears blue because of differential scattering of various wavelengths, not refraction.

Posted by: DavidNOE on February 12, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Among other things, the lab where I work is studying the rapid evolution of various RNA viruses [dengue, HIV, hepatitis C] in response to differential human immunity and/or medication pressures. I've learned from sad experience the inutility of discussing our work with those who believe that the fossil record was planted by Satan to deceive us.

Posted by: genome on February 12, 2009 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

The question asked, "Do you BELIEVE in Evolution is poorly worded. Evolution is not about "belief." Belief is based on opinion to which everyone is entitled. Evolution is a scientific theory based on empirical evidence, a vast array of empirical evidence. The question is as stupid as asking: "Do you believe in gravity?" Unless someone has can prove another explanation as to why we don't float weightlessly off the earth, gravity is fact. Just as evolution is fact unless a more convincing scientific explanation can be advanced.

Posted by: Rene Tihista on February 12, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Up until 1986, MIT -- arguably a leader in science, technology and biology -- did not require its students to take a course in biology (either to matriculate or to graduate). One could get all kinds of beautiful degrees and credentials as a scientist and *not be exposed* to the theory of evolution at anything other than the high school level or the level of conversation in the MSM (which is a terrible place to learn science).

When confronted with this, MIT (and presumably other colleges) did change its wicked ways, but it will take time for the lack of education to percolate out of the general population.

Posted by: Westside Buppie on February 12, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

the results would have been more valid if they first asked: '1) Please explain what the Scientific Method is', and 2) Please briefly explain what the Theory of Evolution is'.

Then you'd see that most people don't know what the Theory of Evolution is other than the catch phrase of human beings descending from apes, or even more importantly, they don't know what the Scientific Method is. Without knowledge of the analysis and evidence and/or knowledge of the Scientific Method, peoples' buy-in to the theory is likely to be weak.

Posted by: pluege on February 12, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think this has more to do with how our brains are hardwired than our educational backgrounds. There are millions and millions of people who believe things that are literally not true (from a secularist point of view). There are millions of people who think that religious beliefs are the only thing keeping us all from being axe murderers.

Rather than some kind of educational litmus test, how our DNA traces back to our immigrant ancestors might reveal more.

Who knows, the same genetic traits which made it possible to burn women alive at the stake might also be responsible for preventing the brain from processing the logical arguments against creationism,

Posted by: bcinaz on February 12, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

As a science teacher in a public school, I would warn against blaming science education. We do our best to counter-act misunderstanding and ignorance, however we are up against a much larger popular culture that has no interest in truth. After many years of fighting the anti-intellectucal atmosphere, I have come to accept the idea that people believe what they are most comfortable believing. Believing in scientific laws and theories requires a great deal of mental effort - sadly it is a level of effort many students and adults have no desire to put forth.
Crop circles, astrological predictions, UFOs and their alien pilots, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, ESP, Road Runner cartoons,and Creationism are not only much easier to believe in - but also a lot more fun.

Posted by: rick on February 12, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly rick, I have to go with the science because I was raised to fundamentally honest, but Science is not fun. Science has told us FTL is impossible and even if we could get close it would screw up time for those people, even if aliens exist we could probably never meet them, colonization is unlikely, teleportation means killing yourself, there are no ancient civilizations with cool tech, fighters in space is impracticable, conquering worlds is too expensive (which cuts both ways I guess) and with Darwin that we were a lucky accident.

So the downside of science is that we know enough to realize all the cool stuff is just imagination.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 12, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Steve T-

assuming it's a nice day at your location:
The sky is blue. Don't over-epistemologize yourself into babbling idiocy. (P.S.refraction is not the reason.)

Meanwhile the OBSERVED paleontogical, biological, and geological record is so clear that only the most deluded could deny evolution of lifeforms is not an observed fact.

Posted by: creepy dude on February 12, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Rather than some kind of educational litmus test, how our DNA traces back to our immigrant ancestors might reveal more.
Posted by: bcinaz

Belief in some sort of supernatural is ubiquitous across societies. Pretty much all of them. Definitely (?) all of the pre-modern ones. If you think evolution holds, then it leads you to believe that this tendency to believe in the supernatural is an evolved trait.

So in short, we've evolved to believe in religion. It is in our genes.

Posted by: red state mike on February 12, 2009 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Even so, having no opinion may mean they just don't feel competent to explain the theory of evolution.

That number is surprisingly similar to those who can't point at the US on a globe.

Not believing in evolution is now tantamount to believing the world is flat, and is probably one of the major divides in the country... I don't think any of them would deign to speak to me, because I would explain, rather endlessly, why evolution exists and how it has nothing to do with religion.

Posted by: Crissa on February 12, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

IMHO Rene Tihista nails it: to ask about "belief" in regards to scientific theory is to load the question with religious overtones. Belief's got nothing to do with evolution (not that making the pairing isn't of benefit to those opposed to its very existence).

We just rid ourselves of an administration that had NASA scientists qualifying every big bang reference with "theory." It's going to be a long road back to adulthood.

Posted by: trollhattan on February 12, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

I went to MIT before 1986, majored in electrical engineering and Russian, and was not required to take biology (though I did read the textbook used, which was by Salvador Luria). Biology instruction at a high-science-oriented place like MIT was then and remains now NOT about evolution or plants or zoology, it is about molecular biology, biochemistry and so on, so called modern biology. It was assumed that you knew about evolution and basic genetics from high school courses (as I did). Natural selection is so evident in the world around us that it does not require more lectures to get the basic point across. Examples include the need to generate new flu vaccine(s) every year, or the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

So the failure in teaching evolution occurs not at university, but in secondary schools. Which is very disturbing, because it affects the entire population.

Posted by: jhh on February 12, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

A better survey question would be:

Do you agree that life forms, including human beings and their ancestors, have changed over time through natural selection, as first described by Charles Darwin?

Posted by: Virginia on February 12, 2009 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

How can I continue to believe in evolution, when what I see around (especially for the past 8yrs or so, when I started to pay attention) me is *devolution*?

Posted by: exlibra on February 12, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

In 200 years have we seen *any* new species "evolve"? That was the book - origin of species. You would think we would see evolution all the time - yet you can go through 1000s of generations in a lab and you still get the same bacterium.

Posted by: rachel on February 12, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

People like Gallup are part of the problem, re the poll you cite today.

The theory of evolution is not something one "believes in" (or not), any more than is the theory of gravity.

Rather, as the scientific community knows, one "accepts" it (or not).


Rachel @ 3:15, we HAVE. Don't comment about stuff you hven't read about.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 12, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

"I believe that survival of the fittest goes on, but I also believe that the creation of diversity through purely random mutations is wrong, and eventually it will be proven. Plenty of big brains are looking into this now."


How do you explain speciation if not through mutations? Since you appear not to believe that a higher Power laid down the species.

Rachel: Actually, bacteria do mutate.

When I was in high school in Arizona back in the Stone Age (early 60s) evolution was not allowed to be mentioned in biology textbooks. However, we WERE taught evolution. Just the word was never used. The textbook discussed the earliest forms of life, simple one-celled organisms, and gradually worked its way through ever more complex organisms. It was obvious to me that we were learning evolution. Also, the biology teacher in my high school led regular after-school "seminars" to explain evolution in more detail to those students who were interested. If memory serves, about 15 of us (all the very top students, of course) attended these "seminars".

When I was a senior in high school I read "On the Origin of Species" cover to cover. It took me a while as I had trouble staying awake. I gave a book report in my honors English class, and was surprised to have a casual friend immediately try to dress me down for not believing in God. (I do believe in a higher power but since I can't prove the existence of such, the last thing I would do is ever try to force my beliefs on someone else.) We had a huge argument about God, the Bible, etc. Later I heard he'd gone to medical school, which scared me. A LOT. Later yet I ran into him. He was by then a practicing anesthesiologist. I asked him how he felt about evolution, after attending med school. He airily replied that his original opposition to the theory had been based on a misunderstanding--he thought that it taught that we were direct descendants from apes that exist today. That the theory teaches that extant primates today are descended from a common ancestor seemed to be ok with him. I mentally shook my head and thought, whatever works for you, buddy.

In my nastier moments, I sometimes think that people who reject evolution should be banned from using any form of modern medicine, since they are mentally rejecting the very foundations of modern medicine. But mostly I manage to rise above that mean-spirited wish.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on February 12, 2009 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Rachel: Actually, bacteria do mutate.

Yes, the evolution of strains of E. Coli to metabolize the citrate in their culture medium being a notable example.

Also: butterflies.


Posted by: trex on February 12, 2009 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Evolution is not a "theory". It was a "theory" when it was first proposed. It's scientific fact now.

Captain Kirk said it right: "...How Darwin's theories could ever be contrived into an assault on Christianity is beyond me, but that's what we have. The debate is not about scientific evidence, it's about accepting every detail of fundamentalists strict tunnel vision view of a parable-like story of creation or not being considered a "Christian"...."

That's what it's all about...ignorant fanatics forcing their "beliefs" with fear and condemnation. Darwin practiced what they only preach...but their too stupid to investigate.

Posted by: bjobotts on February 12, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

"...Posted by: rachel on February 12, 2009 at 3:15 PM "

That's because all species are connected and always have been...it was just a matter of discovery and tracing and yet here you are judging that 200 yrs have not produced a "new" species as if that is the time line when "millions" of years are involved.

Posted by: bjobotts on February 12, 2009 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

How do you explain speciation if not through mutations? Since you appear not to believe that a higher Power laid down the species.
Posted by: Wolfdaughter

I think the generative process stems from the science of self organizing systems, which you get when you have a complex open system that you're constantly dumping energy into (Earth/Sun/carbon chemistry). This then gets culled through selection. So it is not pure dumb luck mutations, there is an arrow to the process. Kauffman's Investigations is the plainest description.

Go to books.google.com and search on it. You can read the preface.

Posted by: red state mike on February 12, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Following the thought of Virginia at 2:23, I would simplify still further, avoid "evolution" and "natural selection" entirely—they seem to make people wary—and ask two questions:

1. As you see it, do plants and animals (including people) vary, or are they all the same?

2. If they vary, are some likely to do better in life than others as a result of the variation?

Without the highly-charged labels, people might be better able to say what they think about the concepts.

Posted by: tamiasmin on February 12, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

In 200 years have we seen *any* new species "evolve"? - Rachel

Arguably, the best example is that of the Peppered Moth Evolution

Posted by: Marko on February 12, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Why do so many Republicans not believe in evolution?
Because they started out with Abraham Lincoln, and ended up with George W. Bush.

Posted by: jay boilswater on February 12, 2009 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Fundamentalists who "believe" in the creationist myths in the Book of Genesis simply don't understand the Bible. First, which story of creation do they believe - the one in Chapter 1 or the one in Chapter 2? They are distinctively different and in fact, contradict one another in several ways. Read them and compare yourself. Second, the creation myths were never intended to be an eyewitness, documentary account of how the Earth began. In the original Aramaic/Hebrew and even in the first Greek translations, they are poetic. They were meant to be sung or chanted in glory to the fact that all life arises because of the creator. They were not intended to be a blow-by-blow CNN account of a news story. Morons.

Posted by: Sam Simple on February 13, 2009 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

Rachel, er no, when you go thru 10,000 generations of a bacteria or a virus in an environment where there are stressors (for example, in the case of bacteria, antibiotics) the organisms mutate so the species responds to the stress. That is EXACTLY what natural selection is. Where do you think antibiotic resistant bacteria come from? The annual research program to develop this year's flu vaccine is basically an effort to identify the new strain of flu virus that has evolved since the last year's epidemic. They don't know in July exactly which virus will be important in December, so they study them.

There is research going on now on human evolution. One thread is looking at why the BRCA genes that cause susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancers are more prevalent in Ashkenazi Jewish populations. One theory is that these genes were linked to resistance to tuberculosis, a big killer of the young in medieval eastern Europe. The key genes that ensured resistance to TB may have (accidentally) conferred vulnerability to cancer, which occurs later in life and thus does not interfere with reproductive success.

These and a thousand more examples from bread yeast on up are why evolution is as important to life as chemistry and physics.

That someone in 21st century America who can use a computer can type such an ignorant statement is a major problem, It puts us on the same intellectual level as a society as Iran (where a similar fraction of the population does not understand or accept evolution). Seeing as our economy depends more and more on knowledge, that's really dangerous for our children's future.

Posted by: jhh on February 13, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Let's improve the gene pool of the American public by everybody walk their talk on the facts of biomedical science. From now on, people who pooh pooh evolution should only be given vaccines and antibiotics in the forms that were first developed. That means 1943 penicillin, 1955 polio vaccine, 1880 anthrax vaccine, smallpox, measles mumps and diptheria from way back, flu from about 1960, and so on. We'd save a lot of money, too. With our declining economy, lots of folks are going to have to cut back on medical care. In about two generations, the evolved forms of these diseases should weed out the stupid ones and we can work from there. Of course, this could have serious implications for numerous rich but dumb families as well as the Republican Party, so there will be demands for affirmative action for the scientifically challenged, but as they have done a lot to kill off AA, that may not be too serious.

Posted by: qq on February 13, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK



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