Friday, November 18, 2005

Religion & evolution   posted by Razib @ 11/18/2005 10:00:00 AM

Are religion and evolution at eternal enmity? Well, I think the answer is is not as clear as we might assume. Below are the answers to three questions:

God: "I know God exists and I have no doubts about it"
Bible: "The Bible is the actual word of God and it is to be taken literally, word for word"
Evolution: "In your opinion, how true is this? ...Human beings developed from earlier species of animals"

Country, God, Bible, Evolution

USA, 62.8, 33.5, 35.4
N Ireland, 61.4, 32.7, 51.5
Philippines, 86.2, 53.7, 60.9
Ireland, 58.7, 24.9, 60.1
Poland, 66.3, 37.4, 35.4
Italy, 51.4, 27, 65.2
New Zealand, 29.3, 9.4, 66.3
Israel, 43, 26.7, 56.9
Norway, 20.1, 11.2, 65
Great Britain, 23.8, 7, 76.7
Netherlands, 24.7, 8.4, 58.6
W. Germany, 27.3, 12.5, 72.7
Russsia, 12.4, 9.9, 41.4
Slovenia, 21.9, 22.3, 60.7
Hungary, 30.1, 19.2, 62.8
E. Germany, 9.2, 7.5, 81.6

God:Evolution, -0.463
Bible:Evolution, -0.488
God:Bible, 0.93

Modest negative correlations in regards to evolution, though the number of data points isn't that high, so don't read too much into it. Interestingly, the only nation that resembles the USA is Poland. Ireland, which until recently was considered as traditionally Roman Catholic as Poland, is as evolutionarily oriented as most of the "secular" countries (i.e., closer to atheist "East Germany" than the USA). The decoupling with Poland suggests to me social factors at work, likely in Communist countries evolution was associated with the ideology of Marxist-Leninism (ironic in light of Lysenkoism, though of course even they accepted the fact of evolution, just not the orthodox process). Which brings me to Russia and the Philippines, on the one hand, Filipinos express more faith in God and the Bible than all of the other nations on the list, but this Roman Catholic country tends to accept evolutionary theory. On the other hand, 80 years of Communism have worn away the religious sensibilities of the Russian people, but they are highly skeptical of evolutionary theory. Contrast this to East Germany, just as secular, but positively predispoed toward evolution. Overall, one should be careful about wording, the evolution question seems pretty clear, but the other two have fudge room depending on how the languages weight things I suspect.

Other data points welcome.

Note, Correlations without the Philippines:
God:Evolution -0.58
Bible:Evolution -0.66
God:Bible 0.90

Without the USA:
God:Evolution, -0.39
Bible:Evolution, -0.44
God:Bible, 0.93

Addendum: Please note that the question was phrased in regards to the origin of humans. This is the sticking point in regards to evolution for many, the idea that humans and animals have some relationship is innately abhorrent. Or is it?

Many of you know I have an interest in the cognitive study of religion. There are certain gross features of religious expression that are universal. Belief in an anthropomorphized supernatural agent is one of them. Even in religions, like Islam, where God is a power of unfathomable majesty, or those like Buddhist which explicitly reject a Creator God, supernatural agents are referred to in very similar terms by everyday believers. You can take the religion out of supernatural agents, but you can't take supernatural agents out of the religion.

Those of us who live in the United States are somewhat skewed I think by the interaction we have with fundamentalist Protestants of a particular sort in assuming that by their nature religious individuals will reject an animal origin for our species. In part this is because fundamentalist Protestants make their objections most forcefully on these grounds. But I think if one looks at the long view of religious belief, there is no fundamental canalized bias toward rejecting an animal origin for humanity.1 I emphasize origin because there is clearly a bias to recognize that humans are somehow different, superior, but the relationship between man and beast is often far more intimate than acknowledged within fundamentalist Protestanism as it has manifested itself in the United States. We all know about Native American religious traditions which imply a kinship, and common origin, between various species and humans. We also are aware that Egyptians explicitly worshipped Gods in animal form. The Myrmidons of Achilles were derived from ants. In many Hindu religious traditions the boundary between man and animal is more diffused than in the Abrahamic creeds.

In short, there is no reason to a priori counterpose an acceptance of the animal origins of the human species (physically) with religion in the broad sense. Rather, it is a particular religious tradition which has born fruit in the United States and is now being exported throughout the world which rebels against this identification. To be frank, I suspect that some atheists who tightly couple their evolutionism with their anti-religionism (Richard Dawkins) have a difficult time in making the distinction between conservative Protestantism and religion in the broad sense.

1 - Remember that peoples are often liable to cast aspersions of bestial character on other nations, and, there have been confusions as to whether Great Apes are simply a form of "man."