College educated conservatives are divided on evolution

A few years ago an academic friend of mine mentioned offhand that it must be difficult for me to be an evolutionary biologist (of sorts) and a conservative (of sorts). As someone in touch with many “elite conservatives” (people who work at think-tanks and the like), that’s not true at all. Though Creationism has substantial support at the grassroots (the only time I have encountered evolution-skepticism in the last ten years has been from people who grew up fundamentalist), the reality is that at the elite levels in the conservative movement it is not a widespread position.

But, conservatives are still divided. Looking at the General Social Survey EVOLVED variable, and limiting to non-Hispanic whites, you see that while there is nearly total unanimity among self-identified liberals with college educations or higher that humans developed from animals, college-educated conservatives are split.

If you run some regressions you will see a lot of this is due not to politics, but to what politics is correlated with. Self-identified conservatives are much more likely to be religious conservatives. Those conservatives who are not religious conservatives are not very skeptical of evolution.

But one issue that I am wondering about: if most elite conservatives have no issue with evolution, and even college-educated conservatives are split down the middle, why is there so little “balance” at conservative publications? That is, periodically there is a report or opinion favorable to Intelligent Design published. But there is rarely a counter-response, even though attitudes amongst the readership are surely mixed?

I may personally attempt to change this a bit by submitting “pro-evolution” pieces here and there. We’ll see how that works out.

19 thoughts on “College educated conservatives are divided on evolution

  1. The question doesn’t seem 100% clear to me.
    I’d answer humans evolved from creatures that were already quite human-like, but perhaps had no language.
    If the question were about hominids, or if it asked if humans have animal ancestors, the answer would be different.

  2. This is an interesting concept. If you DO address this in the future, maybe you could address this post, or at least the concept that it’s addressing. It’s a little different; he’s conservative and his challenges with evolution aren’t based on religious reasons so much as they are on statistics, though.

  3. walter, don’t overthink it. the question is really geared at whether ppl accept common descent with modification for humans.

    Desdichado, don’t see the point about fixed mutations. that’s so 20th century…. can you outline vox’s argument for me? i am well beyond spending a lot of time on anti-evolution stuff at my age and with all the genuinely interesting stuff ppl r interested in.

  4. Most people aren’t scientists so it seems to me that the answer to this is meaningless in their personal lives. I assume many answer based on tribal feelings according to what their side is “supposed” to think. It’s still interesting to see what people think they are supposed to say but I’m not sure it tells me anything about the state of science education or actual knowledge.

    Or people are just stupid.

  5. I have always been “right wing” since my teen years. I went through a phase while in college where I did not like evolution simply because I did not like being associated with the “animals”. I think rejection of evolution is more based on the “yuck” factor than anything else.

    Spend a rainy afternoon or evening watching youtube videos of the big cats, lions in particular (given that they are the only social cats). You will note that “their” social biology is not too dissimilar to that of humans.

  6. Liberal academic friends of mine are surprised when they first hear that I believe in evolution.

    I add to the surprise by pointing out that I believe in it more than they do.

    I recognize that differences between ethnic groups arose because of evolution, that one would expect those differences when any populations of a species are subjected to different evolutionary pressures, and that evolution has not stopped working on us.

    A lot of highly educated liberals who say they believe in evolution draw the line when it comes to recent and strong evolutionary selection operating on our own species. They prefer to think Man can be perfected by social or Marxist measures and that seems to require that we be fixed widgets that can be tweaked and adjusted by training or indoctrination. Of course, evolution isn’t interested in perfection (whatever that is), only in adapting to an opportunity.

  7. “A few years ago an academic friend of mine mentioned offhand that it must be difficult for me to be an evolutionary biologist (of sorts) and a conservative (of sorts).”

    Seems liberals have no problem with evolution insofar as it stops from the neck up around 50k-100k years ago. Seems an odd position to hold, but then again it probably functions as quasi-religious position they de facto hold. But then that calls into question their so-called commitment to ‘science’.

    Seems the only reason they’re so ok with evolution from animals for humans is that well, a faction of conservatives aren’t. So it’s a way to rub it in their faces.

    It’s all pretty silly at some level and so incredibly tiresome.

  8. Evolution is a shibboleth. A person who “rejects” evolution is held to be a deplorable. Only a person who “accepts” evolution can be one of the enlightened ones who are allowed to be members of the blue state elite in the US.

  9. I don’t understand your point about conservative publications. There is no contradiction between believing Man evolved from animals and intelligent design, as far as I understand it, intelligent design just means that the evolution was guided and not random. So the 50% among educated conservatives who support the idea that men evolved from animals may not have any problem with it.

  10. The only concept of some higher being(s) which created life which can be reasonably argued is in my opinion that of a distant rule maker.
    In that sense, the rules given to us, by chance or some higher being, are the law of nature and evolution itself.
    To deny evolution means to deny creation itself, it makes no sense at all, because the laws and results of evolution are everywhere.
    If you open up your eyes and use your brain on a truly human level, there is no way around it.
    The only more or less intelligent, educated and psychologically normal people opposing evolution I came across did so, because of its impact on lower human beings, society and culture.
    Not because they really believed whats written in old texts.

    But in Europe it might be different from the USA, where more halfway normal people question evolution because of the widespread propaganda against it.

  11. I can think of two reasons why conservative publications don’t touch evolution.

    One is that they simply don’t want to offend half their readers. The context here is democratic politics; political parties work best when they hang together. Supporting your allies on matters that they do care about, and which you care little about is always part of this. Thus for example the left has largely muted their earlier fierce atheism because they want to include Muslims in their coalition.

    Of course, offending one’s allies a little bit might be worthwhile if there is something to be gained from it (i.e. it pleases a larger faction). But I’d suggest for the mainstream conservatives, there is not much there. But why isn’t there? This brings us to the second reason.

    Evolution has not stopped, never did stop, nor can it stop. Thus, we know a priori that humans are biologically unequal. This includes any races that may exist, and of course, we know they do exist because we can see them with our own lyin’ eyes. Races with unequal biological gifts. HBD. And thus crimethink. Hitler is in the building. And this offends the American conservative, who — no less than the the liberal — has learned the American catechism, so poetically captured by Jefferson. “All men are created equal”.

    The left can talk all they want about evolution, but I think it is understood that this is largely just a club to beat on conservatives with. Of course HBD is totally off limits. The left is largely immunized against the Hitler connection anyway because Hitler was on the right. Also the left has its blank-slatism to defend with. The right isn’t so immunized, and has to worry about being called racist Nazis and punished. So they are probably wise to avoid the entire subject.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens if you do start trying to sell evolution to the right’s publishers. My prediction is they won’t bite. All they stand to gain is a tiny handful of scientific racists like me. They stand to lose advertisers, traditional Christian readers, and (worst of all) social standing with their liberal friends.

  12. “why is there so little “balance” at conservative publications?”

    The political cost is likely too high – it risks causing infighting and alienating the base. When trends reach a tipping point, the elites will start speaking their minds.

    For an example, attitudes on gay marriage have become more favorable over time ( I believe that data is strongly related to the fact that Peter Thiel wasn’t called to (and agreed to attend) the Republican National Convention until 2016 to come out as proudly both Republican and gay on national TV ( – and got a standing ovation for it!

    Quite the turn from the Thiel who bankrupted Gawker for outing him, and the audience that would have booed him 9 years earlier.

    Unrelated, but while it’s telling that liberals believe in evolution only up to a point that serves their political agenda, it’s also telling that conservatives do the same. Farmers and ranchers, typically very conservative demographics, have used and benefited from evolution since the dawn of agriculture. The Green Revolution and the Siberian Fox experiment have only laid this more bare.

    The urban liberal rejects capitalism, even as they drink their Starbucks and clutch their iPhone.
    The rural conservative rejects evolution, even as they harvest their purpose-bred plants and animals.
    Two sides of the same coin.

    Tribalism has been a human trait necessary for our survival, and it can still be useful, but in modern society it’s increasingly becoming more playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma with your own country – and defecting.

  13. >The urban liberal rejects capitalism, even as they drink their Starbucks and clutch their iPhone.

    If this is true, then the US is the only capitalist member of NATO. Which is absurd.

  14. >If this is true, then the US is the only capitalist member of NATO. Which is absurd.

    Until you define your terms and present evidence, the only thing that’s absurd is your claim.

    According to the 2017 Economic Freedom of the World Index the following NATO member states are in the top 50 capitalist countries (ranked from highest score to lowest):

    United Kingdom
    United States
    Czech Republic

    Several others on that top 50 list are NATO partner countries.

  15. Z,

    My point has sailed right over your head. I’ll give you 3 words: Argumentum ad absurdum.

    Still, I am glad to see you admit that things like universal health care and fighting climate change are compatible with capitalism.

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