Evolution skeptical: not just fundamentalists


In the comments below Christopher Mims states:

But evolution? It seems as if denial of evolution comes from a place so basic — religious fundamentalism — that I wonder whether something like this could ever have even the slightest impact.

It’s hard to deny the relationship of religious fundamentalism and evolution denial and skepticism. But, I think it’s important to remember that in the United States the large critical mass of evolution-denying religious fundamentalists has resulted in a “bleed over” of the stance to people who aren’t religious fundamentalists. I know this anecdotally from friends who were of Roman Catholic and Mormon backgrounds who presumed that their religious orientation precluded an acceptance of evolution. In fact, my own first awareness that people might actually not believe in evolution came via a conversation with an evolution skeptic friend who was a nominal Roman Catholic. Nominal in that his family actually never went to church.

What Paul Bloom’s research suggests is that humans find the Creationist narrative intuitively plausible. But, the critical issue is that those who aren’t indoctrinated against the idea of evolution can be convinced of its plausibility.

Let’s look at how this distributes across society using the General Social Survey. The variable BIBLE asks if people think that the Bible is the actually word of god, the inspired word of god, or a book of fables, etc. This seems to be a reasonable approximation of whether one is a fundamentalist, a non-fundamentalist who still accepts the revealed nature of the Bible, or someone who denies the supernatural grounding of the Bible in totality. There are two evolution related questions I can cross with BIBLE. EVOLVED, which asks if humans developed from an earlier species of animal with a true/false response, and SCITEST4, which asks the same question but has a more graded set of responses. Please note that EVOLVED was asked in the mid-to-late 2000s, while SCITEST4 was asked in the 1990s.

Bible is…. (BIBLE)
Evolution is…
(EVOLVED) Word of God Inspired Word of God Book of Fables
True 23 58 87
False 77 42 13
Definitely True 6 13 36
Probably True 21 37 44
Probably Not True 17 19 13
Definitely Not True 56 30 7
Evolution is…. (EVOLVED)
Bible is….
(BIBLE) True False
Word of God 15 54
Inspire Word 54 41
Book of Fables 31 5
Evolution is…. (SCITEST4)
(BIBLE) Definitely True Probably True Probably Not True Definitely Not True
Word of God 14 22 33 54
Inspire Word 47 57 55 43
Book of Fables 39 21 12 3

The columns above add up to 100%. So you see that of those who believe that evolution is “Definitely Not True,” 43% are people who think that the Bible is the revealed, but not literal, word of god. I highlighted in red what I think are the “low hanging fruit” when it comes to evolution acceptance. Nearly 50% of Americans doubtful of evolution are not religious fundamentalists!  Any sort of outreach is probably optimally aimed at these people. Consider for example that in the 2000s ~80% of Roman Catholics ages 18-35 accepted evolution, while only 50% of those age 65 and over did.

Now, as for the appropriate strategy to push the issue on the margins, that’s a different issue altogether….

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