New survey on science and religion

July 12, 2010 • 6:53 am

In May of this year the Center for Public Policy of Virginia Commonwealth University, collaborating with VCU Life Sciences, commissioned a telephone poll of 1001 American adults, asking for their views on science and scientific issues (global warming, evolution, stem-cell research, etc.).  They also partitioned out people’s answers by age, education, and religiosity. The survey, conducted by Princeton Data Source, was selected to be demographically representative of Americans, and is claimed to have a 95% confidence interval of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. You can download the survey results here.

Since the document is 59 pages long, I won’t go into detail about the results, but want to highlight a few items dealing with evolution.

First, what’s the state of American “belief” in evolution?

Which of these statements comes closest to your views on the origin of biological life: biological life developed over time from simple substances, but God guided this process, biological life developed over time from simple substances but God did not guide this process, God directly created biological life in its present form at one point in time? [Note: the order of answers was randomized among people]

God directly created life:  43%

Life developed over time, God guided this process:  24%

Life developed over time, God didn’t guide it:  18%

None of these/didn’t know/refused to answer:  16%

This is pretty much in line with previous surveys over the past 25 years.  67% of Americans are either creationists or believe that God directed evolution; only 18% accept evolution as the unguided process seen by biologists.  Now how many respondents know much about evolution?

How much have you heard or read about the theory of evolution?

A lot:  44%

Some: 32%

Not too much/nothing:  23%

Don’t know/refused to answer:  2%

That 44% seems high to me, and I suspect that if you asked people to explain what evolution or natural selection really are, you’d find that the figure is inflated.  In line with that, these results are a surprise:

From what you’ve hear or read, do you think the evidence on evolution is widely accepted within the scientific community, or do many scientists have serious doubts about it?

Widely accepted:  53%

Many scientists have serious doubts:  31%

Don’t know/refused to answer:  16%

If so many people are widely acquainted with the theory of evolution, it’s curious that nearly a third of them think that scientists have serious doubts about it. But this surely reflects people’s religious biases or what they hear from religious figures.  That’s supported by the following:

In general, would you say the theory of evolution conflicts with your own religious beliefs, or is mostly compatible with your own religious beliefs? [Again, order of responses was randomized among people]

Conflicts with my beliefs:  42%

Is mostly compatible:   43%

Don’t know/refused to answer:   16%

The large chunk who see conflict is bad news for accommodationists.  But the accommodationist response—at least that of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—is this:  You don’t understand your own faith, because if you did, you would see that there’s really no conflict. They have a big theological task in front of them.

And what do Americans think about religion, specifically the Bible?

Which of these statements comes closest to describing your feelings about the Bible—The Bible is the actual Word of God, the Bible is the Word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, or the Bible is a book written by men and is not the Word of God?

Actual Word of God:   40%

Not everything to be taken literally:  34%

Bible written by men:    21%

Don’t know/refused to answer:  6%

That’s more Biblical literalists than I would have guessed, but of course it explains why many people see their faith in conflict with evolution.  Good luck, accommodationists, convincing these people that the Bible is just a metaphor.

As expected, the answers to questions about evolution are highly correlated with people’s faith:

Of those see the Bible as the Actual Word of God (378/1001), 69% believe that God directly created biological life in its present form, 12% believe that biological life developed over time but was guided by God, and only 5% believed in unguided evolution (14% don’t know/none of these).

Of those who see the Bible as the Word of God, but not all of it should be taken literally (366), 35% were straight creationists, 42% were theistic evolutionists, and 11% were adherents to unguided evolution (11% don’t know/none of these).

And of those who see the Bible as written by men (205), 12% were straight creationists, 18% accepted theistic evolution, and 56% were adherents to unguided evolution (13% don’t know/none of these).

Finally, there’s a strong relationship between how one views the Bible and whether one sees evolution in conflict with one’s religious beliefs:

Of those see the Bible as the Actual Word of God, 62% see evolution in conflict with their faith, 22% see it as mostly compatible, and 17% don’t know.

Of those who see the Bible as the Word of God, but not all of it should be taken literally, 35% see evolution in conflict with their faith, 53% see it as mostly compatible, and 12% don’t know.

And of those who see the Bible as written by men, 20% see evolution in conflict with their faith, 68% see it as mostly compatible, and 12% don’t know.

What can you conclude from all this except that the acceptance of evolution depends heavily on the nature and extent of religious belief?  That’s not news to anyone—except, perhaps, some accommodationists.  How do we solve the problem?  Many scientists—atheists and accommodationists alike—are trying to educate people about what evolution is and how much evidence supports it.  Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be working very well, at least judging by how little acceptance of evolution has budged over the last few decades.

We diverge from accommodationists, though, in how we go further.  The accommodationist technique is to accept that people are religious but to convince them that evolution doesn’t really violate their faith.  Good luck with that.  We atheists see religion itself, and its adherence to superstition and acceptance of irrational ways of thought, as the root cause of not only evolution denial, but of a whole host of maladies that afflict society.  Our strategy may be harder, but has the benefit of dispelling these other maladies as well.  As Sam Harris observed when discussing Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America:

The goal is not to get more Americans to merely accept the truth of evolution (or any other scientific theory); the goal is to get them to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that now make a belief in evolution obligatory. Doubt about evolution is merely a symptom of an underlying problem; the problem is faith itself—conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas occluded by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, etc. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.

117 thoughts on “New survey on science and religion

  1. Religious beliefs are a big obstacle to controlling population because a better standard of living which combats poverty and starvation comes from reduced population and better living standards results in folks not needing to have a lot of kids. A virtuous circle.

    Thank goodness for Hans Rosling:

    The world’s population will grow to 9 billion over the next 50 years — and only by raising the living standards of the poorest can we check population growth. This is the paradoxical answer that Hans Rosling unveils at TED@Cannes using colorful new data display technology (you’ll see).

    The accommodationists are more part of the problem than the religious believers. And they should know better; there is no excuse for their denseness.

    Just as improved living standards will lessen population growth, critical and evidence-based thinking will lessen religion which will lead to better living standards because of reduced population.

    Wake up accommodationists: you are preventing the solution of the problem because of your idiotic addiction to ‘niceness.’ Make those believers sweat, don’t enable them. They are hurting themselves, us, and you.

    1. Without yet viewing that TED talk, one problem that comes to mind is that raising the standard of living of the billions of the world’s poor — at least in the same way that developed countries have raised theirs so far — is going to outstrip the natural resources and pollution-aborption capabilities of the Earth.

      Imagine another two billion cars — heck, SUV’s — in China and India, for example, and another billion or so in Africa. And large homes, meat-heavy diet, etc. — for all those people who at present only get to eat about once a day (if that), plus their kids and kids’ kids.

      We need to find ways to develop that don’t consume nearly so many natural resources.

      1. Kill more people with more famine, bombs, and coups…the real solution is one where there simply are less people on earth. As grotesque as that may sound, war is all we have left. There simply are not enough fish in the oceans, crops on the ground, oil in the ground for all of us….so…who will decide who get’s what, and how?

            1. I’ll bite.

              The comment is insane because it begins with a sentence in the imperative mood, enjoining us to kill individuals, who have done no wrong, via, among other things, starvation. Michael Gray apparently does not speak English, or he would know how we (English speakers) grammatically distinguish commands from predictions. A prediction that more people will die from famine as the world population grows is perhaps indeed correct. But an exhortation to bomb, starve, and politically disenfranchise innocents is, in the literal sense, psychopathy.

      2. Yes, we do that all the time, it’s called technical development and efficiency. That is why we know have more food per capita in a much larger population than in the 60s, et cetera.

        Rosling is correct (though I haven’t seen his TED speech yet), we need to invest to gain. If we give up, for example give the war nuts a reason to see war as a possibility or, worse, “a solution”, despite that we are now more peaceful than ever, we will fail. Epically.

          1. Surely we are on topic, as the post itself notes that such concerns are vital for atheists: “We atheists see religion itself, and its adherence to superstition and acceptance of irrational ways of thought, as the root cause of not only evolution denial, but of a whole host of maladies that afflict society.”

            Our concern is much, much larger than the accommodationist concern. We need to feed and educate enough people for a better world, so that the vicious circle of superstition doesn’t feed more poverty and other maladies of society.

  2. The American trope of “having a right to my belief” is why the struggle for clarity will require a sledge hammer of reason. Most individuals protect their emotional attachment to bogus ideas by constructing false dichotomies that are reinforced by political pandering. The slightest critique sends them into rabid protesting on the grounds of individual liberties.

  3. From what you’ve hear or read, do you think the evidence on evolution is widely accepted within the scientific community, or do many scientists have serious doubts about it?

    Widely accepted: 53%

    Many scientists have serious doubts: 31%

    My guess is that many people don’t understand how science works. Example, they might see Jerry and Larry Moran disagreeing on how big of a factor natural selection is versus, say, genetic drift and then exclaim: “see, even the evolutionists disagree…they must have doubts” without realizing that these two are “talking shop” about how evolution occurs and NOT whether it occurs.

    1. Many evolution deniers equate discussing/arguing about/disagreeing about how evolution occurs means scientists don’t know how it occurs. Therefore if they don’t know, evolution must be “just a theory”.

      I think it is important to use very careful language here. Saying something like “Scientists discuss/argue about/disagree about what mechanisms drive evolution” would be more specific. Stating things carefully is more time consuming but it is important for clarity.

      1. Yeah, when I think about consensus I think of biblical interpretations, and religious affiliates. How many branches of Christianity are there anyways? All the more reason for Militant Atheism!!

        1. “How many branches of Christianity are there anyways?”
          Simple: n:=number of christians
          Branches of Xtianity:=n * 365

    2. Of that 31% of respondents, probably ALL they have heard or read about evolution is entirely second-hand, through the propoganda of their church. Too bad the survey didn’t ask for info that would reveal that.

    3. My guess is most of those respondents (31%) wouldn’t have any inclination to read anything like the argument you give as an example nor would they have any idea where to find it to read it. Their pastor/talk show host/fill-in-the-blank said it’s so, so it’s so.

  4. “Good luck, accommodationists, convincing these people that the Bible is just a metaphor.”

    But can’t they say back to you, with even more force, “Good luck, Jerry, convincing people that the Bible is just a pack of lies”?

    It strikes me as easier to get people to go in for “different truths” type talk, than to get them to give up entirely on their religious beliefs. That talk may be drivel, but if the issue is how to increase acceptance of evolution, it seems like a better bet.

    Actually, towards the end of the post (I now see) you say the non-accommodationist’s job IS harder, and say the ultimate goal is bigger–not just promoting evolution, but promoting reason and eliminating other maladies. On the maladies issue, it can’t be ignored that psychologists tell us religious people are more optimistic and happier. That somehow has to be reckoned with.

    1. I’d go with “just stories” instead of “pack of lies”. The former doesn’t imply that the authors intended to deceive.

      I don’t buy that assertion that religious people are happier.

      1. Church goers are happier, apparently. Although by the same token, to maximise happiness, one should be a Republican and earn over $100,000 pa. I’m no statistician, but can’t we figure out if people go to church *because* they’re happy, or vice versa (or perhaps neither)?

        And how can we tell if they’re misreporting their happiness? Other studies suggest that the religious are anxious, and why are the religious overly represented in prison?

        1. From my churchgoing years, it was clear that unhappy people tended to stop going to church. Reasons varied, but the general reason the congregation gave was “they’re mad at God”. There’s some serious self-selection happening if you’re gauging happiness according to church attendance, similar to if you determine that people with more money are more religious because they tithe more. The issues tend to be related.

        2. One thing that needs to be very much pointed out is that most scientific studies of religion and happiness and such are carried out in the United States (this is because we are the only nation in the world which is both a) developed and rich enough to spend money on that crap and b) still religious enough to give a shit about that crap). And that may have a profound effect on the results.

          If nothing else, being non-religious puts you in the outgroup in the USA, and being in the outgroup can have an inherent correlation with unhappiness, regardless of what the group is. (At the risk of flirting with Godwin’s Law a bit here, I would hypothesize that in Germany 1939, members of the National Socialist Party were probably happier than Nazi resisters, for any number of obvious reasons)

          There’s also the fact that happy well-adjusted people tend to be joiners and conformists. In the US, that means being religious. In Scandinavia, not so much.

          We US atheists are disproportionately represented by miserable disagreeable constantly-questioning non-joining dissenters (I very much include myself in that category, and proudly at that!). But that’s nothing inherent to atheism or religion, it’s simply a factor of the current social climate in the US.

          Check out Tom Rees’ blog Ephiphenom. (Too lazy to copy-paste a link right now, just Google it) He often discusses these kinds of topics.

          In any case, as long as the data is coming from the US, which is an extreme outlier in terms of religiosity in developed nations, there is nothing to account for.

          (And that’s aside from the fact that, as many have pointed out, purported benefits of a belief are irrelevant to the truth value of the belief)

            1. Wait, that doesn’t sound right at all… Last time I checked, some of the most atheist countries in the world (the Scandanavian countries) had some of the highest life satisfaction rates. Something does not compute here.

              The only country I am aware of that scores high on both happines and religiosity measures is Costa Rica.

            2. Right, I’ve read that stuff–but she does present that data. I’d love to see an in depth discussion of it somewhere.

            3. Yes, but if she is correlating to “places with more atheists”, it isn’t internally consistent as seen by comparing with those statistics of Scandinavian nations.

              Overall happiness correlates with GNP AFAIU, and so do education and atheism too. There is no big mystery here. Except maybe how Graham got her funny results.

            4. Is Graham basing this claim on the Clark-Lelkes study? Because they explicitly did not compare countries. Rather, they controlled for country when looking for the effect of an individual’s religiosity on their life satisfaction, and they only compared regions within</i each country when looking at whether people had higher life satisfaction in more religious areas.

              Interestingly, Clark and Lelkes do include national averages for the relevant variables in a table. They don't really do anything with that data, but if you compute the bivariate correlations, they all point in the opposite direction from the within-country effects! E.g., as other studies on Europe have found, life satisfaction is higher for people in countries with less church attendance, less prayer, and more non-religious citizens. It's also higher for countries with more Protestants and fewer Catholics. But within a country, life satisfaction tends to be higher (controlling for assorted personal characteristics) in regions with more church attendance, more prayer, fewer non-religious citizens, fewer Protestants, and more Catholics.

            5. “teheran”

              Uh, right – IIRC it’s correlated with democracy too. And as all correlation, none too perfect.

            6. “if you compute the bivariate correlations, they all point in the opposite direction from the within-country effects!”

              Thanks! That is interesting, sounds like an island type effect. (I wanted to say “prison” effect, but those are rarely happy customers. :-D)

              They did check for happiness as opposed to “life satisfaction”, but I can’t see that they checked against other polls. Funny thing, they claim religion and crime are negatively correlated, while prison statistics of at least US points in the other direction. Also, I think their “spillover effects” remains to be tested as the explanations they later attempt, correlation isn’t causation. Overall, this is hard to make head and tails of.

              Of course, you wouldn’t see these local effects unless you had those pesky atheists/well educated people and their larger scale effect on the larger population in the first place.

            7. Well, one caveat up front: they divide into regional “cells”, which results in some very small counts (bad statistics).

              Then they do regressions and test them, not the overall data, so keep the bad statistics and don’t test it.

              You would like to do a PCA on the whole data set instead!

        3. Just to conjecture without actual data beyond personal experience:

          In a really shitty situation, are religious people on average happier than non-religious people? I’d say yes, if only because they can deny the shitty reality, at least partly.

          In a good situation, are religious people on average happier than non-religious people? Not that I’ve noticed. (In fact, when I was religious, I was often worried about upsetting God, someone going to hell, or some such nonsense.)

          Cross cultural comparison: are women in Saudi Arabia on average happier than women in, say, Denmark? NFW. And what’s the biggest difference between the situation for women in those two countries?

          1. The old saw about “a drunkard being happier than a sober person” is apt here, I feel.

      2. It’s been shown pretty consistently that they are happier. Of course it’s the bliss of ignorance, “nothing bad can happen ’cause Jeebus watches over us”. Then when the bad stuff happens anyway it’s because “Jeebus has a loving plan for us all and that’s why our baby has brain cancer. Allelujah! We love you Jeebus!”

        I’ll take a pass on that kind of lobotomized, pathologically optimistic happiness, thanks.

        1. Where has it been shown “pretty consistently”? Whenever I go to look at the data someone cites, It doesn’t support the claim– or other studies conflict– or the benefits are more closely associated with social outlets rather than faith.

          My own observations don’t lead me to believe that religion makes me happier though I do think that once people are religious… they may need to “keep the faith” to maintain their happiness. If you are told that all good things come from god, then you confirm that bias and fear that the goodies will be taken away if you lose faith.

          I wasn’t happier when I was religious. I was constantly full of angst. Many people talk of despair as they lose faith, but of a great joy once they realize all there is to discover and learn.

          I think the camaraderie of the atheist community on various internet sites aids with a lot of the social isolation people might feel when they no longer fit in (or are shunned by) their faith communities.

    2. On the maladies issue, it can’t be ignored that psychologists tell us religious people are more optimistic and happier.

      Citation, please.

    3. “It can’t be ignored that Republicans are happier than Democrats. That somehow has to be reckoned with.”

      What does “reckoning with mean,” except “let’s go easier on faith because it makes people happy”? If that’s the argument, then we should go easier on the Republican platform, too.

    4. Happier? Non-believers are less happy because they are SO FRUSTRATED with the mass delusion and being forced to live with the decisions of mass delusion. Happier? Scared of facing, questioning, or being raptured by their God, happier, or “poll questions shaped to lead to a conclusion that serves an agenda” kind of happier??

    5. I’d go more to the core. It’s time to teach the younger generation that faith and feelings are NOT methods of finding out objective truths.

      Religions tell people they will “live happily ever after” if they BELIEVE the right thing. Science can’t promise such a thing. But it can teach people to question those who do.

      There is no evidence for a soul– a form of consciousness that can exist outside the body. If people understand this then they are immune from the various claims religions make about how belief can affect the after life of said soul. I think once people understand that the soul is likely an illusion… just like the flat earth, religion will naturally disappear. There is no more evidence for souls than there are for gremlins and the concept should not be given any more respect.

      People need to learn to keep their magical beliefs private if they don’t want them questioned or mocked.

      People need to understand that if there were any actual evidence for souls or that faith could lead to real knowledge or “divine truths” scientists would be refining and honing that evidence for their OWN benefit like we have for DNA– and everything else we have evidence for. The evidence would lead to more knowledge… not just feelings and anecdotes and stuff you “need to have faith in”.

    6. And there are no good studies showing that religious people are happier. In fact, they seem more afraid of death (more likely to ask for breathing tubes and other life prolonging measures) and more likely to commit suicide if they are gay. Coming from a religious background makes gay people less happy. And the studies showing positive effect are often due more to the social aspects… that is, atheists with social outlets are equally happy. Moreover, some of the studies are just flawed. One study found that people attending religious services lived longer, but they didn’t factor in all the people who were too sick to attend religious services!

      Utah is very religious and has the highest antidepressant usage in the nation. Are anti-depressants factored into the happiness?

      I hear a lot of accomodationists say that religion makes people happier.. and I don’t doubt that many people believe that– and so they are afraid not to be religious, and so it might work as a placebo… or it might be a kind of “fix” for someone who has come to need such a “fix”.

      I’m not trying to take away anyone’s security blanket, but let’s raise future generations so that they can be happy without the dogma and dishonesty inherent in all systems claiming “higher truths”.

      Remember, heroin makes people very happy too.

      1. “And there are no good studies showing that religious people are happier.”

        Thanks, I thought so: that explain the discrepancy with macro scale (nation scale) statistics!

        I’ll go one further and predict that no such data will be forthcoming. Ever.

        This is why books (like Graham’s) makes bad references, as much as they are based on observational and/or unique data. You have to buy/lend, read and get other data to evaluate all of it.

        It is all well and good for good, “definitive”, books that you would like to read anyway. (WEIT perhaps? :-D) But for the disputable ones it’s difficult, which intrinsically makes such books of less value compared to papers.

    7. Jean Kazez: “It strikes me as easier to get people to go in for “different truths” type talk, than to get them to give up entirely on their religious beliefs. That talk may be drivel, but if the issue is how to increase acceptance of evolution, it seems like a better bet.”

      Are you saying that one should use “drivel” to raise awareness of an important scientific phenomenon? The end justifies the menans?

      Teaching must be sincere, otherwise it is not efficient. It is very difficult to find science teachers who can sincerely present the thesis of “different truths”. Heck, even people at Biologos and NCSE’s Faith Project seem to have difficulties presenting this dualism in a consistent way.

      Moreover, if “drivel” would be used to lure religious people to “accept” evolution, creationists would be more than happy to blow the whistle.

      So my suggestion to the accommodationists is: first make a convincing case for “different truths”, then use it to educate people. By “convincing” I mean using substantial arguments, not pointing at show-case scientists like Collins, Miller or Ayala.

      1. This:

        “It strikes me as easier to get people to go in for “different truths” type talk, than to get them to give up entirely on their religious beliefs. That talk may be drivel, but if the issue is how to increase acceptance of evolution, it seems like a better bet.”

        is an example of what Sam Harris said in my post above:

        “Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to imagine that we can get people to value intellectual honesty by lying to them.”

    8. Jean kazez: “On the maladies issue, it can’t be ignored that psychologists tell us religious people are more optimistic and happier. That somehow has to be reckoned with.”

      It think Dr. Coyne was referring to maladies “afflicting society”, not the personal happiness or unhappiness of individuals. I suspect he was talking of the harmful effect of religious thinking on education and the rights of certain minorities.

  5. I ultimately think that, if you really pinned accommodationists down, most of the ones I respect intellectually would ultimately admit that their goal is to emphasize a formal lack of incompatibility in a particular narrow sense. However, these same respectable people (if you could pin them down) I think ultimately would also have to admit that they are trying to change the theology of the literalists, despite their protestations to the contrary. This is very disingenuous and I think is more likely to insult and push away potential converts than to attract them.

    I was convinced to leave faith behind and I was never coddled by accommodationists or liberal religious types. Of course, the plural of anecdote (esp. in this case) is not data. But I suspect that there ARE more people like me out there.

  6. This survey seems to support the idea that the biggest threat is Biblical literalism. Unless the 21% who consider the Bible the work of men are all atheists then it shows that theists who aren’t Biblical literalists tend to accept evolution. Those who attribute partial authorship to God tend to be theistic evolutionists. Maybe it doesn’t support the typical accommodationist position (theistic evolution, quantum interventionist God) but it does suggest going after Biblical literalism as a strategy. Couldn’t atheists and accommodationists agree that the status of the Bible is more important than the question of God’s existence?

  7. How can 5% of those who see the Bible as the literal word of God believe in unguided evolution?
    – They don’t know what’s in the Bible?
    – They think God’s a liar?
    – They didn’t understand the question?
    – The pen slipped?

    1. I suspect a fifth possibility: a lot of people don’t think very hard about the question. Actually, since they asked the questions in a random order, that 5% could be explicable just by that alone.

      Take a hypothetical committed Christian, let’s say a Catholic. This person is very religious, but also believes in theistic evolution — not because she has studied evolution or really thought about it at all, but because the Pope says that’s what Catholics believe.

      If the first question you ask her is, “Do you believe the Bible is the literal word of God?”, given her strong Catholic impulses, she will likely answer yes. But if you first ask her, “Do you believe evolution is compatible with her beliefs?” (which she will answer yes to, because that’s what the Pope says) and then ask her if she believes the Bible is all literal, you might get a different answer, because you’ve primed her to think about what the Bible says, rather than just answer the knee-jerk good Catholic response.

      (A note about pronouns: I’ve been making a deliberate effort to use the female pronoun for hypothetical persons of undefined gender, but I had second thoughts here because of the negative connotations of the scenario. I was not trying to imply anything, only to stick to my effort at pronoun gender de-normalization)

      1. Actually, several popes going back to the 19th century and including the current incumbent, have stated that the bible is not to be taken literally.

        1. Huh. That seems to have not gotten as much press as the evolution thing.

          In any case, I think my point stands: “Do you literally believe everything the Bible says?” could be easily parsed as “Are you 100% Christian?” by someone who isn’t thinking very hard about it.

      2. If the first question you ask her is, “Do you believe the Bible is the literal word of God?”, given her strong Catholic impulses, she will likely answer yes.

        No. In accordance with current Catholic doctrine, she will most likely respond that the Biblical writers were divinely inspired.

        1. Of course, Bible readings in church* end with “The Word of the Lord” or sometimes “Here Ends the Lesson”, and so it would be hard not to get the impression that the Bible is the Word of God. The word “literal” is often taken to mean “really”.

          *void where liturgies vary

          1. Perhaps so, but what we’re discussing here is whether or not belief in biblical literalism is typical of Catholic laity. In my experience, it is not.

            Nevertheless, official Catholic doctrine is at odds with science on the key doctrinal issue of monogenism. Not wanting to be discredited yet again with another blunder, as in the Galileo trial, the Church has hedged its pronouncement on this issue — although, believers are forbidden to speculate on the matter.

            A discussion of the theological issues can be found in a paper by J. P. Mackay entitled,
            Original Sin and Polygenism: The State of the Question published in The Irish Theological Quarterly (

  8. This is probably just coincidence, but I can’t help noticing how well these two figures, well, coincide:

    In general, would you say the theory of evolution conflicts with your own religious beliefs, or is mostly compatible with your own religious beliefs? [Again, order of responses was randomized among people]

    Conflicts with my beliefs: 42%

    Is mostly compatible: 43%


    Which of these statements comes closest to your views on the origin of biological life: biological life developed over time from simple substances, but God guided this process, biological life developed over time from simple substances but God did not guide this process, God directly created biological life in its present form at one point in time? [Note: the order of answers was randomized among people]

    God directly created life: 43%

    Life developed over time, God guided this process: 24%

    Life developed over time, God didn’t guide it: 18%

    If you add together the two “Life developed over time” answers, you get… 42%. I’m sure there would be a high correlation between these two, but this striking coincidence suggests its nearly 1:1. Of course, like I say, it could be random coincidence, where the numbers that deviate are significant but approximately equal on either side… but I dunno. It’s quite possible that it is close to a 1:1 correspondence.

  9. Dawkin’s The God Delusion was published in 2006. If we are to believe Mooney, Kirshenbaum, Rosenau et al this was a bad moment for those wanting to increase the acceptance of evolution amongst the American public.

    Where is the decline in the public acceptance of evolution as a kick-back against those mean new atheists ?

  10. “How much have you heard or read about the theory of evolution?

    A lot: 44%”

    This doesn’t surpise me, actually. Here in fundamentalist central WA, churches probably spend more time “addressing” evolution than biology teachers. A fair number of young people get fed all the usual BS canards about evolution and all the “design” arguments.

    1. There’s also the “You don’t know what you don’t know” phenomenon, and that applies to people who believe in evolution just as much as those who don’t. I think the effect is especially strong with natural selection, because the core idea is so deceptively simple, and yet understanding its implications and the ways it can actually work in practice takes a whole lot more effort.

      Just think of all the people who propagate the “benefit of the species” canard. Most of them believe whole-heartedly in evolution. They probably even think they have a decent lay understanding of it. Many of us probably were those people at one point!

  11. What can you conclude from all this except that the acceptance of evolution depends heavily on the nature and extent of religious belief?

    For some (a few I imagine), it may be just the opposite. One’s acceptance of unguided evolution may shape one’s religious beliefs.

  12. The Harris quote is spot-on.

    The most hazardous thing is NOT denialism, but rather accommodationism. I really think people like Marilynne Robinson and Robert Wright do more damage than Ken Ham and Behe because Robinson and Wright muddy the waters, essentially telling people that you can have your silly beliefs and science too. Bullshit. There IS a conflict between silly beliefs and science. Claiming the conflict doesn’t exist can be more damaging than simply advocating silly beliefs.

  13. Discouraging, however, a nice quote from Chris Fowler’s closing from the World Cup yesterday:

    “You will not come away from this country without being moved and inspired and changed if you open your heart to it because after all, as human beings, if you go back far enough to our roots, we are all Africans.”

    1. I’m drinking, so apologies for the multiple comments on this thread, but.. I absolutley noticed that and thought it was a fantastic acknowledgement of our evolutionary history! On ABC no less!

  14. I have a HUGE problem with question 1.

    “Which of these statements comes closest to your views on the origin of biological life:”

    What? Are you talking about abiogenesis? How am I to know whether it happened all at once or gradually over time? At some point, there was a “tipping point” where self-reproducing chemicals turned into something other than non-living. I have no idea when that happened, how it happened, or whether there was a gradual process.

    What I *do* know is that the process was all-natural. Because there has never, ever, ever, never-ever been an instance where we looked at a phenomenon of the natural world and did not find an all-natural explanation for it. And the silliness of the instantaneous creation myth of the Bible is as silly or sillier than all the other creation myths of all the other myriad religions.

    Now, if you’re talking EVOLUTION, that’s a different kettle of fish. That can be defined as “diversity of life forms on this planet.” That we know a LOT more about.

    But “origins of life”? Not so much.

    Bad poll question. Horridly bad. Almost designed to allow theists to wedge a god into a gap.

    1. Yes, “designed” but probably because of VCU misunderstanding the idea 2005 or before (when they last asked about it):

      “The public’s views about the origins of life suggest a sharp divergence from the theory of evolution. [p 9]”

      “Origins of life” instead of “origin of species”. They aren’t consciously asking about evolution here though they believe so.

      But later they compare with a poll which seem to ask a proper question:

      “Reviews of the scientific literature suggest that the theory of evolution is widely accepted in the scientific community as does a survey of scientists belonging to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in 2009. In that survey, 87% of scientists in the sample said they believe that life evolved over time due to natural processes. The general public, then, tends to underestimate the degree of consensus among scientists on this issue. [p 10]”

      This mix up, unintentional or not, makes the survey and its interpretation rather problematic, as RBH mentions in a later comment.

        1. Huh? Does it matter?

          [But FWIW: I’m not a biologist, but I adhere to the process view of science, it is the one we can test on its predictions.

          Evolution is the process of known life and likely the process of successful life everywhere. (At least here, immortal static “life” seems out-competed, as one would expect.)

          It can be defined as the process that takes populations to populations by heredity. Larry Moran: “Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations.” By that definition any system that it operates on is “life”.

          It is in principle, modulo actual details of its contingent mechanisms, independent of substrate. One origin of non-biological life is computer science (evolutionary algorithms). But I dare say that its “organisms” are even duller than virus.

          Btw, the observation that evolution is still a natural process or algorithm despite the substrate and initial state being synthetic, merely underscores that origin of biomolecules and abiogenesis is separate from the former process.]

  15. One the topic of NAIVE “accommodationists”, have a read from one of the smartest scientists that has ever existed, Albert Einstein:

    “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man… In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more NAIVE.”

    The smartest man in the world, or this petty sensationalist blogger. You decide which has a better sense of the subject.

    1. Ah, sort of a variation of the old “Newton was a believer. Are you saying you’re more clever than Newton?”

      If you could be bothered to cut and paste that quote form Einstein, is it unreasonable to ask you to copy and paste the source of the quote? Einstein’s words are routinely the victim of quote-miners, you see, and I’m sure you aren’t one of those.

      1. Certainly not.

        1st is from his own published works: Ideas and Opinions pg. 49 – 52.

        2nd is from his letters, January 24, 1936; Einstein Archive 42-601

        1. BTW, if you want me to explain the scientific method’s fallacy, and why science is a faith, i won’t mind breaking you off some information.

          just let me know.

          1. Hahaha! Another “science is faith” crackpot.
            You know why science is not faith buddy? Because it WORKS. You are bearing witness to that every time you are riding your car.
            Incidentally, if you have such a low opinion of the “scientific method”, why are you using the internet? In case you forgot, it was invented by people using the scientific method.

          2. Well, I would like to know which is the “2nd” considering there is only one quote?

            Or do you _admit_ you did a cut&paste quotemining?

            [Weirder things happens. But rarely.]

          3. I don’t think this is going to make you cut the crap, troll, but there we go.
            “Albert Einstein named Spinoza as the philosopher who exerted the most influence on his world view (Weltanschauung). Spinoza equated God (infinite substance) with Nature, consistent with Einstein’s belief in an impersonal deity. In 1929, Einstein was asked in a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God. Einstein responded by telegram: I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”

            1. for those that don’t think that the scientific method requires faith, you should look into the fallacy of thought that is inherent in it.

              If you know anything about scheodinger’s cat, you should understand that by merely asking the question, you are making demands and expectations of events. If you can understand this in the sense, “you can ask any question, why this one?”

              By stating the question, your observations are biased by your belief system. In order to understand your belief system, you yourself would have to be observed and test, and that person tested, and that person tested, ∞. The method of correlating data and understanding perception come into question.

              Even more interesting are the events that take place in quantum physics, where the outcome of the experiment is directly correlated with the initial question. It proves that by merely asking the question, you are interfering with the outcome.

              So, when you consider science as a pure, and undeniable, consider that everything that you know in science is based off of observable data collected by an imperfect understanding (a person).

              If you would like to compare science and religion, you should start here.

            2. Unfortunately, its hard to distinguish between ethical (value based) assumptions in the scientific method. A person preconceptions are based on their understanding of the scientific truths. ::puts on spock ears:: An since people aren’t 100% logical, their assumptions have ethical bias.

            3. OK, so by not answering my comment on “why the 2nd” you are admitting it is a non-factual quote mine that doesn’t need a reply.

              Btw, as many commenters noted on Einstein’s view on science and religion, both are neither naive nor easy to characterize.

              It doesn’t matter anyway, since what a scientist wrote on religion nearly 100 years ago isn’t applicable to todays situation. Today we _know_ that accommodationism doesn’t work.

              As for your extemporizing on quantum mechanics (QM) it is standard quantum mysticism fare.

              None of that is relevant to actual QM, which you should have known if you knew anything about the matter. That you call taking the expectation value of an observable “making demands and expectations of events” shows that you don’t know even elementary statistics, where expectation values are used! (As on QM or classical measurements.)

              But let us reverse that to look at actual QM: it is actually pointing out as strongly as possible that there can be no gods! It is known, by one of the most rigorously tested experiments in all of physics (Bell test experiments; now reaching 30 (!) sigma), that there can be no local hidden variables.

              As this locality by entanglement as in the Schroedinger cat experiment can be extended over large distances (quantum cryptography shows: over km in distance) it is nothing but “local”. It has also been extended to systems with more than pairs, again showing the generalness of “local”.

              So no hidden variables are allowed: no supernatural “gods” are allowed! If they were a fact, QM would self-destruct as a matter of fact. That it doesn’t, as we can see, means that _there are no gods_.

              Your example was a terrible one. But of course you didn’t know that.

              [Certainly not any Miller interacting ones, an idea that already has classical problems: if you interact with single particles in single situations you are destroying stochasticity, measurably so. Finally got my reply to the ongoing Miller stupidity replied to on this blog, FWIW. In spite of Miller, no _to spite Miller_, QM is the one physics that reject gods naturally!]

            4. I don’t know what you have been smoking, troll.
              But science is not faith since it makes accurate predictions about the world we live in.
              The outcomes in science do not depend on your belief system or culture. If you doubt that, you are welcome to just out of the 100th floor windows.
              The outcome of a study in quantum physics does not depend on the culture or religion of the person running the experiment, either.
              Science does not revolve around a set of unprovable dogmas. Religion is. Get over it.

            5. Oops, on Miller and classical physics problems I should have said “destroying stochasticity, _in principle_ measurably so”. After a while any “bump” in the distribution goes away.

            6. This comment is in response to the original troll.

              First, his or her QM is bunk. S/he says “the outcome of [some QM] experiment is directly correlated with the initial question.” Bullshit. Show me a single experiment, done identically by two individuals asking two distinct questions, with different results. You can’t, because, inter alia, that would violate the very laws of Quantum Mechanics themselves (which on most formulations, e.g. Bohm’s or GRW, are deterministic.)

              Second, the idea that “science is faith” is often tossed around by morons, but I’ll give it its due: suppose pwn’d means that there are principles that science invokes are not themselves derivable from empirical observation (and this must be so, of course, because all we can learn by observation is: this happened, then this happened, then this happened, etc.) Such principles might be, e.g. Ockham’s razor, or that the future will resemble the past.

              In reply, first, it’s a theorem of probability theory that, no matter the digression of two subjective probability distributions, provided they don’t assign probability 1 to non-logical truths, they’ll converge, upon conditionalization, given the same evidence. Ergo, even if we make LOTS of assumptions, or LOTS AND LOTS of assumptions, at the start of inquiry– even false ones– upon acquiring enough data, we’ll be as well off as someone who made lots and lots of correct assumptions, and was exposed to the same evidence. Provided, of course, that we’re rational, i.e. that we conditionalize on our evidence.

              Second, even if science a priori assumes certain principles (again, like Ockham’s razor, or the uniformity of nature), nevertheless there’s a distinction between what Kant called ‘principles of pure reason’ and ‘principles of pure understanding.’ The latter are known a priori, but are also confirmed in experience, and it’s quite clear that so are a priori scientific truths (again, like Ockham’s razor or the uniformity of nature)– it does indeed turn out, upon further investigation, that the simpler truths are the correct ones, and we’ve yet to see an instance where the future failed to resemble the past, in respect of, say, physics.

              The difference between science and faith, then, is that the scientific method is rational (i.e. Bayesian), and thus its methods converge on the truth even if its initial assumptions were wrong, and second that though it may assume things a priori, its basic assumptions are confirmed, for all to see, in experience.

              Contrast this with the claim that God literally created humans ex nihilo in the garden of Eden. Here, even religious people disagree, even given loads of evidence, demonstrating the non-rational character of their methods; furthermore, we’re told by the faithful that it should not be confirmed in experience– to take it on faith– which is nothing like the a priori principles of pure understanding science invokes.

              Sorry for the long comment. I’m busy procrastinating.

            7. Ahem, sorry, I was writing too fast. GRW is not deterministic; the dynamic evolution of the wave function is, but its (objective) collapse is not. Apologies.

            8. MJ, you raise some interesting points.

              But it is well known that science _isn’t_ bayesian, since we test and reject theories that doesn’t work all the time. It is easy to test that testing works, while pure bayesianism can’t be tested by definition. (No wonder, since bayesianism is a restatement of induction, which doesn’t work for the very same reason.)

              Since we understand that science theory is based on testing, we also know that assumptions are tested in the same manner. Thus there is no need for conditioning et cetera, parameter space is automatically confined by rejections.

            9. Oh, and I missed this: we now know that the wavefunction doesn’t “collapse” à la Copenhagen, there are experiments where decoherence are smoothly gone in and out of. [I don’t have those references handy, and it’s late. Later.]

              Copenhagen is wrong, in the newtonian gravity fashion: it is a convenient approximation in most cases.

            1. I think it is important to realize that the quote, if accurate, in no way contradicts the broader notion of Einstein’s “nature as god” view. Einstein was not talking about a god who would part seas or
              bring corpses back from
              the dead.
              Here is another quote.
              ” A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty  – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude;  in this sense, and this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”
               The World as I See It, Albert Einstein

    2. Well, of course, Einstein was a pantheist. He said he believed in the god of Spinoza…just a “universal spirit”.
      But he thought quite differently about the god of the “big three”: judaism, christianity and islam.
      And what did he think about that god? This:
      “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses”.

      Incidentally, the person you call “petty sensationalist blogger” has one thing in common with Einstein:
      both had a jewish heritage, and neither believed in the god of moses. (Just like Baruch Spinoza).
      Can you make that claim?

      1. What happened to our troll??

        P.S. – Would most atheists refer to Einstein, or anyone else, as “The smartest man in the world”? The over-simplification is painful.

        1. Youre troll is right here.

          I never implied that Einstein is referring to the judeo-christian god.

          Either way, he (the most influential scientist ever) is still giving his faith (in science) to a greater being, and he has spoken about it frequently.

          1. Thanks for clarifying that you wouldn’t fall prey to “over-simplification”, haha: “the most influential scientist ever”…

            P.P.S. “faith in science” could not be a coherent concept to anyone who understands “science”. Do you understand what the word “science” means?

          2. Troll, have you no shame, really?
            If Einstein did not believe in your god, then what is the point in bringing him up trying to undercut Jerry Coyne?
            The “greater being” you are talking about here is merely the nature itself. Dr Coyne has never denied the nature exists.
            Your first comment whine about Jerry’s dismissal of accomodationists. The accomodationists he is talking about are trying to bridge the gulf between science and religion. Einstein did not believe in religion, which means he wasn’t one of them. Bringing him up establishes your point-how?
            And it doesn’t show that science is “faith”, according to you, either. Einstein was not vindicated until experiments suggested by him proved his point. That is not how religion works, and you know it.
            It is amazing how you liars and trolls try to cover your tracks once you are confronted with a mountain of evidence.

  16. Well hell. I tried to send a trackback from Panda’s Thumb and apparently failed. I focused on Kevin’s comment above, which identifies a real problem with interpreting the poll under discussion.

  17. It seems our troll has taken a leave of absence following the resounding success of his rich mix of lies, half truths, insults and flawed logic in winning converts.
    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, pwn’d.

  18. I was interested in the correlations – ie what would PCA show on the whole dataset. I’ve just scrolled through the report in 30 seconds and my flash opinion is it is very light in that regard. The only cross correlations are with age, political party, region etc. The sample size is pretty low as well.

    They could have saved 50 of the 57 pages by just publishing the data set. With 1001 out of the entire US adult population I don’t anonymity would be a problem.

    1. So it’s the same problem as with the Clark-Lelkes study Anton Mates referred to.

      This seems to be a common methodology when, divide the data until you get bad statistics and do high school regression tests on the resulting models. Coincidentally, or perhaps I should say correlated with this (:-D), if you massage the data enough you can show anything.

  19. Those questions were really biased, so I am not sure the results are at all useful. They were clearly written by theists with all the assumptions of some god entity actually existing.

  20. 1001 persons asked seems like much too small a sample for this type of survey.

    I used to do telephone surveys and it’s important to know that this 1001 is actually about 20 people per state who happen to be home and willing to do a telephone survey. Consider also that survey companies nearly always block caller ID, cannot generally call cell phones, and do not leave callback numbers for people that screen call that screen calls.

    Despite what this company says telephone surveys are unreliable at best and with such a small sample size even more so.

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