Do religious Americans accept evolution?

Well, now I’ve seen it all.  There are many ways that accommodationists try to show that faith and science are compatible, but never before have I seen a scientist with this aim play so fast and loose with the data.  Dr. Joel Martin, the Curator of Crustacea and chief of the Division of Invertebrate Studies at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, has written an astonishing article in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, “Compatibility of major U.S. Christian Denominations with Evolution”. (I can’t resist adding that besides his upcoming book, The Prism and the Rainbow: a Christian Explains Why Evolution is not a Threat, he also edited Crustacean Sexual Biology.)

Martin is a good marine biologist, but, it seems, not so good at presenting a fact-based argument about the compatibility of science and faith.  His goal in the EE&O paper is to correct what he sees as a “misconception” about science and faith:

One of the persistent misconceptions among the public, especially in the United States, is that evolution is embraced by a mostly secular component of society and is viewed with distrust by persons of faith. This misconception is probably fueled by poll data indicating that, for example, 53% of both Protestants and Catholics in the U.S. feel that “science and religion are often in conflict,” with 41% of that group referring specifically to evolution as an area of conflict . . .

He sees this “misconception” as feeding the persistent anti-evolutionism of the American population:

This perceived divide (secular= pro-evolution, religious=anti-evolution) can be a stumbling block to the teaching of evolution and other sciences, especially if students assume that the topic is going to be contradictory to their religion before hearing what it entails.

So how does Martin try to correct this misconception?  By looking not at the views of believers themselves, but at statements made by theologians, or official “dogma”, of the churches themselves.  His aim is to show that most American Christians belong to churches whose doctrine accepts evolution, and thereby to dispel the idea that “persons of faith” view evolution with distrust.

Martin surveyed 24 branches of Christianity, ranging from Roman Catholicism (the largest, with 67 million adherents in the U.S.) to the New Apostolic Church (the smallest surveyed), and either looked for a church’s official statements about evolution/faith compatibility or wrote to church officials asking for their position.  The data are given in Table 1 of his paper.  (The table didn’t include figures for Christian “megachurches,” though Martin indicates that most don’t seem to accept evolution.)

I think his assessment about whether churches “officially” accept evolution or not is generally accurate (I have a quibble about the Greek Orthodox data, but never mind), and the table and official statements are quite useful if you’re interested in theology.  When Martin totals up the number of American Christians who belong to evolution-accepting faiths versus evolution-denying faiths, he gets 94,050,000 Americans in the former class and 45,850,000 in the latter, with 9,800,000 belonging to the “unclear” category.  Voila!  Nearly 63% of American Christians are of evolution-accepting faith! (This is, of course, heavily weighted with Catholics, who represent 71% of the “evolution-accepters).

The problem is obvious: the proportion of faiths that accept evolution is not the same as the proportion of believers who accept evolution.  Martin recognizes this:

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, we cannot assume that all members of a given denomination agree with, or are even aware of, the “official” position of the group to which they belong. Such statements, if they exist, might not reflect the opinions of, and might not even be known by, the general membership of the group. I know Presbyterians who are creationists and Baptists who are not. Any large group will contain a diversity of beliefs and opinions.

But he nevertheless concludes:

These data could be helpful in teaching evolutionary biology by dispelling the myth that persons of faith, and specifically Christians in the United States, are opposed to it on religious grounds. Although the number of Christians opposed to the idea that evolution is compatible with their faith is still quite large—again, as represented by their organizing bodies and/or spokespersons rather than surveys of individuals (but see Mazur 2004)—the position that evolution is somehow contrary to the Christian faith is a minority one.

And he summarizes the data in his abstract by saying, “there is more acceptance than non-acceptance of evolution among Christians, based on statements from their organizing bodies or spokespersons.”

This is pretty dire, I think.  This soothing conclusion comes simply from ignoring what individual religious people really believe, and surveying the official positions of their churches—positions that (as Martin concedes) most believers probably don’t even know about.  To pretend that most people find evolution compatible with their faith by looking at official theology is misleading.  The vocal opponents of evolution are usually not churches but people. After all, the “misconception” that Martin sees involves not churches but persons of faith.

Take Catholicism.  There was no more ardent Catholic than William F. Buckley, but of course he hosted the famous Firing Line debate that pitted IDers and creationists like Behe and Phillip Johnson against evolutionists like Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller—and Buckley took the creationist side.   And in my travels I’ve encountered several Catholic creationists.

But we don’t need to rely on these anecdotes.  Go back to the Pew Forum survey again, and look at all the figures about faith/science conflict, including Catholics—53% of whom find science and faith often in conflict. Do the following data paint a picture of compatibility between the magisteria?

And if you break down opposition to evolution by faith, you find that only 33% of Catholics (as opposed to 32% of the American public) see life as having evolved over time due to natural processes. And 27% of Catholics, in opposition to the official dogma of their church, see life as having been created at one time and remaining unchanged since—only a bit less than the 31% of the public in general:

So Martin chalks up 67 million Catholics as belonging to churches that accept evolution—yet only 33% of individual Catholics buy non-theistic evolution.

But does the Catholic Church really accept evolution?  To make his case, Martin cites (along with a snippet from the Vatican newspaper and an archbishop), the most important statement that the Church has made on the issue of evolution: that of of Pope John Paul II from his 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was concluded independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.

What Martin leaves out is the Pope’s additional words that the human mind could not have evolved, but was, along with the soul, instilled in the human body by God (my emphasis):

. . . It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God (“animal enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere inhet”; Encyclical Humani generic, AAS 42 [1950], p. 575).

Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition into the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again, of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans.

(For a critique/explication of this statement, see Richard Dawkins’s piece “Obscurantism to the rescue”.)

My own judgment is that the Catholic Church does not accept evolution as it’s understood by scientists, who think that the human mind, like the human body, is the result of evolution, and that the mind emerged from matter.  By asserting that mind (and “soul”) did not evolve but were instilled in humans by God, the Church can be seen as an advocate of intelligent design.  It differs in degree but not in kind from IDers like Michael Behe, who accept some evolution by natural selection but also assert that other traits were created by a supernatural intelligence.

If you move Catholics from column “A” to column “B”, the proportion of American who belong to non-compatibilist faiths goes from 45.85% to 75%.  But this whole enterprise of totting up faiths is misleading.  It is individuals who reject evolution, fight science textbooks, and make trouble for evolution—many of these in opposition to the “official” positions of their faiths.

Martin is wrong to claim that it’s a “misconception” that “[evolution] is viewed with distrust by persons of faith.” That happens to be the truth. We can’t make opposition to evolution go away by massaging the data.

58 Comments

  1. GM
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    As bad as it is, the worst thing about all this is that it doesn’t even matter and that we are spending way too much time pondering over the relation between the teaching and acceptance of evolution and religion. There are much much more important reasons why religion should be eradicated, and by focusing so much on a single issue that in the big scheme of things doesn’t really even matter that much, all else equal, we are distracting ourselves and dissipating energy that would be better channeled into a concerted effort to solve all the problem by attacking their root.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      I agree with GM. There is very little redeeming value in religious institutions at all. The few areas where religion is beneficial could be done better by organizing other institutions and social entities who could do it better and cheaper. If the money wasted on religious institutions were redirected to other channels then a lot of effort could go a long way to solving the problems of the world.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        Agreed as well. But I do like to defend evolution!

      • GM
        Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        Actually I wasn’t talking about money, I was talking about the current dire need for reassessment of what to means to be a human and how this will never happen as long as religion maintains its grip on most people’s thinking.

        This is why I am saying that in the big scheme of things whether teaching and acceptance of evolution is compatible or not with religion, and all the associated battles over school boards and curriculum are meaningless waste of energy. Of course, evolution and its implication play a very big role in the aforementioned reassessment of the human condition, but those are much bigger issues than whether we teach evolution in Texas or not.

        • CB
          Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          GM: I completely disagree with the idea that these conversations are a “meaningless waste of energy.” Every instance of religion having an influence on large segments of the public that leads to irrational thought or behavior should be exposed. These are all great demonstrations of how individual belief can affect society as a whole.

          I agree that the root of the problem comes from broader conceptions of what it means to be human, but saying that these discussions are pointless is self-defeating.

          • tomh
            Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

            Agree with CB here. Sure it would be great if we could loosen the grip religion has on (especially American) minds, but this seems like an unreachable goal in the foreseeable future. What matters for out time is the effect religion has on public life, laws, and education. To fight its influence these kinds of discussions are vital.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

              Agreeing too. No one can “eradicate” ideas or practices anyway. (But perhaps make them outdated.)

              I wouldn’t want to replace a (dystopian) faith such as post-semitism with another (utopian) faith such as the feasibility of eradicating religion.

            • GM
              Posted May 12, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

              I don’t think you understand what I am talking about. What seems a reachable goal and what doesn’t matters very little with respect to what has to be done. And it is extremely short-sighted, and honestly, just stupid to think about these things only in the “in our time” time frame. We should not be thinking 20-30 years ahead, we should be thinking thousands of years ahead. So it happens that we have to act right now and very urgently to even make it thousands of years from now, but this is precisely my point, and what you don’t understand. At this point in the history of the species, religion is not the only, but one of the major threats to the survival of the species, and it has to be eradicated if the species is to continue its existence. And it is the major threat because it prevents us from understanding our place in the world, by directly lying about it, which makes us behave in the self-destructive way we behave.

              These are much much bigger issues than what the debate about religion and science is centered around most of the time (although they are very closely related as the goal of science is precisely to understand the world around us, and by doing so it allows us to more adequately figure out where we fit in the picture). Which is why I am saying that in the big scheme of things, it is a waste of time.

        • Notagod
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          Much work to be done! Jump in wherever you can or want to. The christians have accumulated lots of stupid at the alter of their christian gods.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      But this is the root, and that’s why evolution has been under such relentless attack by followers of organized religions for 150yrs. It is the last frontier. They say God created man. If they are to capitulate on that point, they have lost the game, and it is a very lucrative one (what % of the population is employed in the religious sector in the US? That’s not a rhetorical question – I don’t know but would be interested in the number. The corrolary to that might become: Evolution is bad for the economy!)

      But I digress. The evolution controversy IS the root, and the vehemence, lying and scheming on their part is because of that! The pope falling back on the mind instead of body is a deft attempt at reconciliation, but in the end daft.

      Anyway, it’s not our place to explain how various religions have officially accepted evolution, more than to note that many have, but it might be interesting to know how the Unitarians pull it off.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        …it might be interesting to know how the Unitarians pull it off.

        The UU play it every which way. Each congregation can be anywhere from fire-and-brimstone preaching and Jesus-every-other word to full out atheistic and never mentioning god at all.

        • oldfuzz
          Posted May 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          “…it might be interesting to know how the Unitarians pull it off.”

          We don’t. You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe… but please don’t tell me I should believe what you believe and I’ll return the courtesy.

          Our church is too busy with the food bank, juvenile detention inmates, gay and lesbian rights, and other social justice issues to give a frig what you want to call yourself.

          If Glenn Beck shows up, he’d be welcome. As a Missouri boy, Show Me is more important than tell me.

          I wonder why the religious criticism here seldom (never?) singles out Buddhism, “ethical humanist religion”–as labeled by Edward Ericson in his book, The Humanist Way, foreword by Isaac Asimov–as exceptions.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

            Buddism, exception in what sense? If you read a basic description, it is as all religion founded on supernatural superstitions (“karma”, “rebirth”, existential “cycles”). It doesn’t seem exceptional at all, but mundane to a fault.

            • oldfuzz
              Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

              “all religion founded on supernatural superstitions” is a common view; however, there are many who prefer non-rational, meaning embracing the experience of being alive. In Buddhism, meditation, mindfulness, is the gateway to living. When I sit on my patio with a cup of coffee and embrace the view, the feeling I experience is non-rational. When I meditate, the experience is non-rational, but it is not supernatural. It’s a point of view.

        • Sili
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          How does “fire and brimstone” square up with the “universalist” part?

          • oldfuzz
            Posted May 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            Good question. How’d I miss it? I’m sure there are a wide range of UU communities. The two I have attended were led by non-denominational preachers–one a lifelong UU trained in a Christian seminary, the other a trained Methodist who had become a Universalist.

    • Mike
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Apologists for religion keep saying that Dawkins, Coyne, et al wrongly characterise religious belief by pointing to the “sophisticated” (err perhaps “sophistic”) beliefs of a few or the official doctrine, YET not acknowledging the wide gulf between leaders and adherents.

      None of them want to clean house by straightening out their flock’s confusion over doctrine, because that will almost certainly lead to diminution of that flock.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Unlike science, religious belief and practice are personal choices. Where to begin?

        For example, the Methodist Church, of which I was a member for fifty years has no written doctrine although there are many, too many, Methodists who try to impose their own.

        As to diminution of the flock, it’s everywhere. It’s a bit like politics where some 85% say they are Republican or Democrats, but surveys show only 40 to 60% subscribe to party platforms.

        One of the disconnects in the science/religion discussion is the difficulty in understanding that while science is a discipline with proofs, religion is not, no matter how much a few religious absolutists shout it is.

        While most scientists agree on the science of the day, no two people who are truly practicing religion have identical views on the bulk of their beliefs.

  2. Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    “animal enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere inhet.”

    Nothing like spooky, antiquated Latin to settle the score and reinforce the comforting convenience of wilfull ignorance.

  3. Sigmund
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of the claim that because Francis Collins accepts evolution and describes himself as an evangelical Christian, this means that evangelical Christians should have no problem with evolution. This neglects the fact that Collins acceptance of evolution places him in an extreme minority within his self described faith grouping.
    On a related note of accomodationists twisting the facts to their favor did anyone listen to Chris Mooneys latest Point of Inquiry interview, with Elaine Howard Ecklund about her new book about Scientists and Religion? Mooney came across as the more reasonable one!

    • GM
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      The truth is that Francis Collins is a creationist, he just goes a few steps further into trying to distance himself from that label than ID.

      What Francis Collins accepts is that species A shares a common ancestor with species B. That’s it. If you hear him talk about it, it seems like he is either completely ignorant of all the work that has been done on establishing a molecular framework for evolution (most likely he is not, after all, he was the head of the HGP, he just must know this stuff) or he is completely happy with positing a non-random force (i.e. God) behind it that had us in mind as a final product. Which is pure creationism whatever way you look at it.

      In the end, the theory of evolution is a lot more than common descent, however, this often gets left out of the discussion

  4. Zeke
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I am an agnostic, but this post suffers from several flaws.

    (1) Naive interpretation of poll results — there are all kinds of problems with interpreting the classic Gallup-style questions, since those questions mix together science and religion. E.g. “God-guided evolution” vs. “God-unguided evolution” are horrible survey questions — theists could fully accept natural evolution and consider themselves pro-evolution, and answer either way. And they do. (The right question would be something like, “Do you accept that the evolution of life was a fully natural process?”, but the surveys don’t ask that.) But Coyne resolutely and incontrovertibly jams anyone not giving what he thinks is the “right” answer into the creationist camp.

    (2) The requirement that Christians accept “non-theistic evolution” in order to be counted as pro-evolution is anachronistic and ridiculous. Basically, you’re saying that theists have to become non-theists in order to become acceptable pro-evolution-people to you. Well, fine, that’s the hardcore New Atheist position, but don’t pretend like you are actually talking about the question of whether religious Americans accept evolution any more. You are talking about whether religious Americans accept atheism. When one states the question accurately like this, isn’t a very interesting question, really. Theists aren’t atheists is really all you are saying in the posts. And what else is new?

    (3) The post basically says that the Ken Millers of the world don’t accept evolution. Which is just ludicrous on its face. Ken Miller has almost certainly done more for evolution education than has Coyne or any of the commentators here.

    (4) And again we see complete inflexibility of thought on the question of mind and evolution. There is no need to interpret the pope’s statement as creationist. First off, even from a purely materialist perspective it is far from clear that “evolution” produced “mind”. “Mind” is produced anew every generation through a stupendously complex interaction of biology, culture, history, emotion, reason, language, etc. What evolution produced is the biological capacity for mind in a very specific social environment. But if you locked a baby in a cave with nothing but the necessities of life, would a mind walk out 20 years later? I doubt it.

    Second, are you really going to insist that Christians give up on the “soul” to meet the Coyne Ideological Purity On Evolution-Er, We Mean It’s Atheism Or Nothing Test? It’s not even clear what “soul” means, and only on unusual interpretations is there anything conflicting with science there. E.g. it could just be the abstract logical structure describing a particular mind — abstract logical structures are non-material, even materialists should admit this. The only thing needed then to have the persistence of the soul after death is God having the capability for abstract logic. I know you think the whole idea of God is just silly, we all knew that already, but the (alleged) point of this post was to talk about whether religious people can accept evolution, not about whether religious people are atheists.

    • Sigmund
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Your comment about mind makes no sense. The scientific consensus on mind is simply that it is an individual consciousness produced entirely through the material workings of the brain. This consensus is, essentially, a rejection of duality, the notion that the mind requires a non material supernatural element to function.
      There are indeed some religious evolution supporters who are dualists – Simon Conway Morris springs to mind, and others such as Francis Collins who are unclear on the matter. Is it too much for fellow scientists to hope that these religious scientists will inform people of the overwhelming scientific consensus on the matter when discussing their own beliefs, even if those beliefs contradict the consensus, rather than discuss their own viewpoint as if its the norm?

    • Tulse
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      The requirement that Christians accept “non-theistic evolution” in order to be counted as pro-evolution is anachronistic and ridiculous.

      No, the requirement that people accept non-supernatural intervention in evolution is called science. The religious can resolve it however they like, but to say that evolution involved supernatural intervention is simply not scientific, and essentially denies evolution. It’s just as silly as saying that, while almost all babies come from pregnant women, perhaps a few come from storks.

      • Posted May 12, 2010 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        You — and Coyne — are basically simply defining science as atheistic and naturalistic and then insisting that anything that says differently is in a real and meaningful conflict with science. Even if that sort of manuevering was valid, it wouldn’t leave a meaningful conflict, as it would simply say “If you aren’t science, you aren’t science”.

        I suggest this: in order to be seen as compatible with science, a system — or religion — has to accept scientific fact. It is not a scientific FACT that there is no God. It is not a scientific FACT that there was no external interference from a God-like being in evolution, and there seems no way for science to determine this (how can you tell a random mutation from one that was directly caused after the fact?). So, accepting those things CANNOT be seen as conflicting meaningfully with science. Until you have scientific fact, religions are free to postulate outside of that.

        • Tulse
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          You — and Coyne — are basically simply defining science as atheistic and naturalistic and then insisting that anything that says differently is in a real and meaningful conflict with science.

          Not so in my case — I am simply insisting that any supernatural explanation come with evidence. It is supernatural accounts without any supporting evidence that are in real and meaningful conflict with science.

          It is not a scientific FACT that there was no external interference from a God-like being in evolution, and there seems no way for science to determine this (how can you tell a random mutation from one that was directly caused after the fact?).

          If you can’t tell the difference between randomness and god, isn’t that all the worse for a supernatural account? Why bother to speculate that random events were actually caused by some supernatural being? Surely if supernatural beings exist, there would be clear evidence of them, ways to distinguish their actions from natural processes? If not, if there is no need to postulate supernatural beings to account for events in the world, then such postulation is indeed not scientific.

          • Posted May 12, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

            It’s somewhat amusing that you would claim that all you were doing was asking for evidence when the comment I replied to did not, in fact, mention evidence at all.

            At any rate, that’s still an example of the problem. Different fields and areas will have different standards of evidence and, in fact, even different definitions of it. You cannot insist that another field is completely incompatible with science by simply saying that it isn’t science, even if only by saying that their standards of evidence are not those of science.

            Even saying that the field comes to different presuppositions than science is not a problem unless, as I stated, it conflicts with scientific fact.

            There is no way to tell after the fact if a mutation was random or guided, or at least not without getting into details that require data we don’t have. This is not a problem for anything, as far as I can tell, but does make it seem like there will not be a scientific fact of the matter. And since you have not addressed my claim for what constitutes “compatible”, I’m sticking with it.

            “If not, if there is no need to postulate supernatural beings to account for events in the world, then such postulation is indeed not scientific.”

            This is a very nice summary of what you’re doing that is not viable. Yes, such postulations would not be scientific. Religion is not science. Philosophy is not science. So what? That does not mean that they, therefore, must be incompatible with science in any meaningful or interesting way because they are not science. Things other than science are, indeed, not science; why does that make them incompatible with it, to the extent that they should therefore be ignored and derided?

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted May 12, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

              Things other than science are, indeed, not science; why does that make them incompatible with it, to the extent that they should therefore be ignored and derided?

              Other things like art and literature and culture are not science, but unlike religion they do not go out of their way to contradict science. In the few cases where they do contradict science they are not compatible. Religion is highly incompatible because of all the myths and imaginings and made up fairy tales and lies about the science process and evidence and facts.

        • Notagod
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          Then you would need to concede that any christian god-idea portrays an idiot at the master level. Or, the one other possibility would be that the christian god is evil. Which did you choose?

          • Posted May 12, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

            We’re talking about the compatability of science and religion. Your claim here is not scientific, but is theological and philosophical. So to even discuss it requires you to accept the validity of other arguments.

            There’s really nothing more to say at that point …

            • Notagod
              Posted May 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

              The only thing that needs to be acknowledged is that the process of evolution could produce stupid christians, I do acknowledge that.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          Until you have scientific fact, religions are free to postulate outside of that.

          And that IS what they do, postulate, fantasize, whine, lie, imagine, speculate, fabricate and pretend that they have any significance.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      it could just be the abstract logical structure describing a particular mind

      It is likely that in general the workings of the mind is extremely complicated and outsourced to body parts in the same way that the pattern generators for moving limbs aren’t all actually part of the brain but some resides in the brain stem AFAIU.

      However, it has been known since several years that the part what constitutes the basics for the conscious mind resides could reside in a very simple selforganizing structure that is situated in the neocortex. Simple models of the neocortex self-organize symbol-like representations of what it learns.

      If you go to the paper you will further see that this type of symbolic thinking directly maps to self-organized interacting neural net volumes. I.e. there is no “abstract logical structure” describing such minds, but a simple one-to-one mapping between mind symbols and mind template.

      Reversely, since this is AFAIK the only tested self-organizing neural network model of the brain, any suggestions of the need for “abstract logical structure” have to be tested before they can replace the de facto null model of “concrete physical structure”.

      it abstract logical structures are non-material, even materialists should admit this

      This is platonism, and platonism is not mandatory at all. “Abstract logical structures” is another word for algorithmic math and its algebraic content.

      My own theory for math, which I share with physicists like Deutsch, is that it is quasi-empirical. Specifically the important area of proof algorithms is heuristically developed. This is testable, and I would say tested by practice.

      [There are other areas, for example Chaitin’s quasiempirical methods for deciding some math constants to greatest precision.]

      If math then is human trial-and-error methods to develop algorithms, it follows that they are empirically based. They are exactly material.

      Deutsch takes this further. You see, quantum computing algorithms makes another problem for platonism. They can handle more memory than the step-by-step proofs they are described with. A large enough problem will then engage more bits than there are in the universe on a large enough computer.

      This is not a problem for quantum mechanics, which allows this. (Think of it in the many-world interpretation if you like: you are correlating data over many universes to arrive at the answer.)

      But mathematicians that believe that math are written “proof” will have to accept that in fact math is algorithmic process, because they can never see that written bit-by-bit proof that they are used to but they can, if they like, see the thoroughly vetted process converge to a result.

      So again there is a material limit to math, and in fact again an exact material template behind what some, without prior testing, call “abstract logical structures”.

  5. jdhuey
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I have always enjoyed William F. Buckley and have marveled at his razor sharp wit and vocabulary. It is obvious that Buckley is extremely intelligent and well educated and informed. So, I was extremely perplexed about why he was almost always wrong: How could someone with his mental tools, continually be so wrong on so many topics? Well, whenever I took the time to deconstruct his arguments and logic, I found that the source of his error were his religious beliefs. When you construct a logical argument with a invalid premise it is no surprise that you often end up with an erroneous conclusion.

    • SLC
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Reltive to this observation, Ken Miller had a conversation with Mr. Buckley after the debate and found him to be very intelligent, with a superb vocabulary and utterly ignorant of biology.

  6. Thanny
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I think the last three bars of the last graph say all that needs to be said on this issue.

  7. Matt Penfold
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    There is one good thing about this paper. It will cause problems for Mooney and Kirshenbaum.

    In order to continue to blame scientists for the poor levels of acceptance of evolution in the US they will need to explain why this paper is wrong in blaming clergy for failing to instruct their flock in the appropriate doctrine.

  8. H.H.
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    The biggest misconception I keep seeing everywhere is that the conflict between science and religion is nothing but a public “misconception,” despite the fact that the public perception that science and religion are completely in harmony seems to be the prevailing public view. Seriously, ask any creationist if their religious beliefs conflict with science. They’ll likely answer that no conflict exists because they don’t feel the things they reject, such as evolution, qualify as science.

  9. Rowan Morrigan
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Call me the eternal optimist, but…

    I find it surprising, in a good way, that regarding the naturalistic form of evolution (the first column): 1 out of every 10 *evangelicals* and 1 out of every 3 of both Catholics and mainline Protestants also subscribe to it.

    I know the numbers should be the other way around, but, really, every 10th evangelical subscribes to a nontheistic version of evolution? I mean, com’on, that a little good news, isn’t it?

  10. Bryan
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Martin’s method of querying the official statements of various faiths in order to show scientific compatibility is equivalent to declaring that homeopathy and science aren’t in conflict because the National Center for Homoeopathy says they’re not.

  11. Posted May 11, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    “And in my travels I’ve encountered several Catholic creationists”

    Oh, yes. Just Google “Jean Staune”, as example of a creationist inspired by traditional Catholic thinking (and, to be honest, by the Russian Orthodox Church, too).

  12. oldfuzz
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    In my brief time reading here and responding when I think I have something to contribute, I have come to wonder at the alleged conflict between science and religion. My view is, has always been, that science is foremost–every scientific insight trumps any conflicting religious thought.

    Religion, on the other hand, is a slippery critter. To many religion and fundamentalist Christianity are synonymous which, to virtually every Christian I know, is anathema, to be ignored not confronted. Their literal interpretation of the Bible–which was written in Hebrew and Greek, not English, as story not fact–is a recent Christian development, rejected by contemporary Christian scholars.

    The field of science occupies a spectrum from physics through some disciplines considered unscientific by some scientists. The domain of religion, however, defies rigorous examination because it begins within a person’s consciousness, not in the natural world where evidence is available.

    While this may be too loosely stated, my point is that there are many who embrace science wholly, excepting those areas they don’t understand or where scientists themselves are in disagreement, who also see religion as an essential part of living a meaningful life.

    My question is whether and how we who are religious and embrace science fully can best communicate this. We are as dismissive of “accommodationists” (I still have a problem with that term) as the non-religious.

    • GM
      Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      You can not be religious and embrace science fully. It’s an oxymoronic statement, which you can only make if you define science as a caricature of what it is. Scripture is to be read literally because this is how it has been read for thousands of years. It has become more and more “metaphorically” read only after more and more of it has become simply indefensible without one being made to look stupid by doing so, by advances in our understanding of the world brought by science.

      Based on your post, you seem to be mostly or completely ignorant about the following:

      1. What science is and its methodology
      2. Its origins and history
      3. How the above relate to what is its “domain”
      4. The history of religion and why it is important to know it

      • oldfuzz
        Posted May 11, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        That would depend on your definition of religion. Mine is “having and living with values, a meaning system born of experience and meditation.” What’s yours?

        • Notagod
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          Ah, the value of sending your daughters to be raped and stoned to death, its in your holey book – read it.

          • oldfuzz
            Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            Too bad your only experience with Judaism/Christianity/Islam is with fundamentalists.

            Read Pathways to Bliss by Joseph Campbell, an atheist, about how to live a meaningful life.

  13. bad Jim
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Spoken like a U-U. I still have trouble with the concept of a “non-creedal religion; our new minister confounds the problem with humanist redefinitions of religious terms, for example “evil” as treating other people as though they didn’t matter, if I recall aright.

    I’d just as soon jettison the terminology, but it’s considered useful to repurpose it to facilitate interfaith dialogue. It’s a bit too accommodationist for my taste, but the spectacle of our gay minister participating in an interfaith Christmas event at the Mormon church is perhaps not something I should have passed up.

    • oldfuzz
      Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      “Spoken like a U-U.” Actually, I’m a Methodist–born,raised, believe, and try to live as John Wesley taught: “think and let think.” Fortunately, while there are no local Methodist Churches encouraging this religious pursuit, the UU community here does. Should they change so will I.

      For me, Wesley’s admonition is the critical mass of my religion which trumps the Religious community I serve. I am persuaded that this ‘debate’ about science and religion is more about terminology than substance. As a reference I use The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions which has a fifteen page exploration of what ‘religion’ is and a full page on ‘science and religion.’ Worth considering.

      Every religion I know is focused on how to live a meaningful life. The ethic of reciprocity–Golden Rule–exists within everyone I know in some form.

      The fundamental issue seems to be whether we are free to choose for ourselves and whether it is appropriate, having done so, to tell others they are wrong to choose otherwise. Yea to the first, no to the second.

      • Notagod
        Posted May 12, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        Yep, sentencing people to burn eternally, now that’s the stuff.

        • oldfuzz
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          They miss the part about Jesus saying, “The Kingdom of God is spread upon the earth and you don’t see it.” which could be read as an invitation to a secular life.

          As for Hell, that’s when we don’t live the life we know is true be we theist, atheist, whatever.

  14. bad Jim
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Martin’s point is not that unuseful from the point of view of a teacher or an advocate for evolution. If most major religions accept or at least tolerate the idea, objections to it can be marginalized and made less respectable, which is all to the good.

    It does seem to be the case that acceptance of evolution as a purely natural process varies inversely with theistic faith. However, it’s probably easier to teach science well than to promulgate atheism, so it may not be the worst idea to support all compatible approaches.

  15. Posted May 11, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Has anyyone else seen the Clergy Letter Project at

    http://blue.butler.edu/~mzimmerm/rel_evol_sun.htm

    Over 12,000 Christian clergy have sined a statement supporting evolution. What do you think… is it significant or just a waste of time?

    • oldfuzz
      Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Worth a visit.

      • Notagod
        Posted May 12, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        Why sign a letter, why not just bray about it? Are the answers too inconsistent when they use that method? That’s what happens when you each have your own pocket god.

        • oldfuzz
          Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know what a pocket god is, but I am convinced that the truly meaningful life is lived out of what one finds within them, not by marching in lockstep to someone’s edicts.

    • Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      It would be more meaningful if they also pledged to give a sermon letting their congregations know their position on the matter.

  16. Sili
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Good lists of official dogma could be good for two things:

    1) Correcting religious people who claim that they don’t have a problem with evolution by showing them that they’re in direct opposition to their own church.

    2) Ditto for evo deniers.

  17. Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Voila! Nearly 63% of American Christians are of evolution-accepting faith!

    Um… and I had to play fast and loose with the data to get this conclusion?

    Wow. “After I manipulated the data to make my club look as favorable as possible, I found that only slightly more than a third of our members are fucking ignorant!”


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Coyne criticizes a study that makes a big deal of the fact that 63% of believers in the U.S. belong to religious […]

  2. […] religions) claim to accept science (e. g., accept evolution), there are some big differences. Jerry Coyne discusses these here; he points out that while some at the pulpit may well accept a form of evolution, relatively few in […]

  3. […] http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/religion-and-evolution/ […]

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