A British journalist gets it all wrong when explaining why Americans reject evolution

February 1, 2012 • 6:01 am

Accommodationists have the most amazing ability to ignore the elephant in the room when discussing why America, uniquely among First World nations, largely rejects evolution.  That elephant is, of course, religion.  How many creationists, or opponents of evolution, aren’t motivated by their faith? Yes, there are a few, but you’d have to be completely blinkered not to see that America’s rejection of evolution is due largely to America’s extreme religiosity (also unique among First World nations).

One of the blinkered is British journalist Dennis Sewell. His new piece in the CatholicHerald.co.uk, Jon Huntsman was crazy to back evolution,” explains why Republican politicians won’t embrace evolution.  Unfortunately, Sewell blames everything but religion for that behavior.

Well, he’s right about one thing: the Republican fear of Darwin:

On a Thursday afternoon last August Jon Huntsman, then a candidate for the Republican nomination in the US presidential race, used Twitter to send the shortest political suicide note in history: “I believe in evolution… Call me crazy.”

I call him crazy. Had the man done no message research? This single tweet did more even than Huntsman’s decision to pose for Annie Leibovitz in Vogue to confirm that the candidate was out of touch – not only with popular opinion in the small towns that Sarah Palin likes to call “real America”, but also with a philosophical anxiety that pervades the United States, from sea to shining sea.

(Note the term “philosophical” anxiety, not “religously-based anxiety.”)  And Sewell’s also correct about the dismal statistics on American acceptance of evolution, though he gets in a gratuitous swipe at Richard Dawkins and his ” smart alec” acolytes:

Smart alec acolytes of Richard Dawkins, who like to style themselves “Brights”, while dismissing anyone who questions their materialist outlook as intellectually deficient, will be peeved to discover that only one in four American voters who have been awarded Masters degrees accepts the Darwinian line on evolution. Indeed, Gallup found that scientific orthodoxy on this topic is a minority position at every level of education – from high school dropout to PhD – and in every category of political affiliation. Despite the barrage of publicity that attended the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 2009, the latest Gallup figures show that overall only 16 per cent of Americans today believe what they were taught about evolution in science classes at school. Consequently, any politician, of whatever stripe, who unambiguously sides with science on this issue puts him or herself at odds with the majority of voters.

(Really, does anyone us the term “Brights” any more?)

Don’t you sense here a bit of evolution-dissing here? More about that in a minute.  Yes, the Gallup Poll shows that only 16% of Americans accept evolution (at least in humans) as scientists do: an unguided, materialistic process of which humans were one of millions of products.  More Americans—38%—think that God guided the evolution of humans, but that’s a form of theistic evolution which, as Eric MacDonald argues in a new post, is simply a form of creationism, with humans reflecting God’s intercession in evolution. And 40% of Americans still believe in the Biblical view that humans were created instantly.

To what does Sewell attribute this problem?  Not religion, although he mentions it tangentially. Rather, he sees it as the result of two factors:

1.  Eugenics and evolution-inspired racism. Sewell says this:

The answer lies in the way evolution has evolved in the United States. It is not Darwin’s original scientific theory that so many sensible, well-educated Americans object to, but the ideological monstrosity that Darwinism has become over time. First, at the turn of the 20th century, scientists claimed that evolution had social implications. This found expression in Social Darwinism and eugenics, which saw the rural poor hunted across the Appalachians and young women forcibly sterilised for having children out of wedlock. Then came Scientific Racialism, which claimed that evolutionary science proved that America’s minorities – Blacks, Hispanics, Italians, Greeks and Jews – were biologically inferior to those of pure New England stock. Meanwhile, the Darwinists were asserting that evolution necessarily implied the triumph of philosophical materialism. Americans were told that the rights they held to be self-evident had no basis in reality at all and that a human life has no more intrinsic value than that of an insect.

Well, it’s questionable how much theories of evolution played into this racism, as opposed to the rise of genetics at the beginning of the 20th century.  Yes, that was a dire time for the misapplication of science (see Steve Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man), but I think that theories of genetics and of selective breeding  played far more of a role in eugenics than did evolution.  After all, natural selection was in low repute until about 1930, although artificial selection—the basis for eugenics—had been practiced for millennia without any knowledge of evolution.

But that’s beside the point. Does Sewell really think that Americans reject Darwinism because of its supposed connection with racism and eugenics? I doubt that most Americans even know much about that, and they’re also not aware that Darwin campaigned constantly against slavery, though he did of course have some dire views on racial superiority.  Sewell’s views here appear largely to derive from his book, The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics. which pins all sorts of racism and eugenic ideas on Darwin (see a critical review by Marek Kohn in The Independent here). Of course we can’t hold evolutionary biology responsible for how its ideas are misused, but neither can we impute Americans’ dislike of evolution to those misuses, about which Americans are largely ignorant.

2.  Scientism, evolutionary psychology and “pan-Darwinism.” Yes, the trouble’s also due to Dan Dennett and those evolutionary psychologists, who impute everything to evolution:

Evolution began as a neat explanation of variation within species and a plausible hypothesis for the origin of species. But today it is held out as a sufficient explanation of the origin of all life, a general explanatory theory of the development of everything – including culture – a grand narrative to end all grand narratives. Evolution is presented by Daniel Dennett as a “universal acid” that dissolves all ethical and moral systems, and by Richard Dawkins as a compelling argument against the existence of God and a slam-dunk case for abandoning any search for meaning, purpose or direction in human affairs.

Does anyone seriously expect the American public to buy into all that? Science has broken its bounds. Instead of confining evolution to the natural world, scientists have sought to intrude its application into the social, political, philosophical and religious domains. Denying evolution’s veracity is for many ordinary Americans a way of rejecting that. It is righteous cussedness.

Well of course evolution does have implications for sociology, politics, and even philosophy, if for no other reason than those are the products of evolved brains, and those areas may also evince phenomena that are the result of evolution (male-male competition, for instance). But again, that’s not the reason America rejects evolution.

As you know, I’m not a wholesale fan of evolutionary psychology, but the application of evolutionary biology to human and animal behavior has been very fruitful.  And yes, evolution is evidence against an important religious view: the design argument. Nor does the cruelty and waste of natural selection attest to the existence of a loving and benevolent God.

But that aside, the gist of Sewell’s article is that evolutionists themselves are to blame for America’s rejection of evolution.

That’s palpable nonsense.  Every statistic shows that evolution-denial is born of religion.  Religious people accept evolution far less than do secularists, and Biblical literalists far less than those who see the Bible as divinely inspired but not literally true.  Church attendance is strongly and negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution.  Countries that are less religious accept evolution far more readily.  And, of course, creationism has repeatedly been thrown out of America’s public schools by the courts because creationism is a belief based on religion, not fact.  Finally, and I’ve quoted this several times before, here’s an analysis of poll data by Dennis Masci writing for the Pew Forum:

When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.

So while Sewell is correct in claiming that Republicans see evolution as a hot potato, he’s simply wrong to blame that on American’s fear of eugenics and evolutionary psychology.  It’s palpably obvious that Republicans are pandering to Americans’ religiosity (much stronger among fellow Republicans than among Democrats), and their knowledge that religious folks, particularly conservative ones, who form much of the Republican base, see evolution as damaging to their faith and therefore destructive of meaning, purpose and morality.

I’ll have more to say about the influence of religion on American evolution-denial in a future article, but the connection is so obvious that you have to have some other agenda to deny it. One such agenda is accommodationism: the idea that we can’t criticize religion if we’re to convert the faithful to evolution.  I don’t know if that’s what is behind Sewell’s views, and I find it strange that a Brit, who lives in a country so much less religious than America, can’t descry the effect of our religion on our views about science.

But I found one telling remark in an interview with Sewell published in Time Magazine in 2009. Here’s his response to a question about the influence of Darwin.

All things considered, do you believe Darwin was a great luminary in the path of human progress?
What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It’s helped our understanding of ourselves, yet compared to, say, the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the World Wide Web, I wonder why Darwin occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise.

Yep, forget about how Darwin’s work transformed our understanding not only of ourselves, but of nature and our own relationship to other living creatures in nature, or how it made instant sense of so many observations that puzzled Darwin’s predecessors. (We all know the famous quote of geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Noting in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off.) No, to Sewell the influence of evolutionary biology reflects a vast public relations exercise engineered by self-aggrandizing scientists.

h/t: Dan Dennett

159 thoughts on “A British journalist gets it all wrong when explaining why Americans reject evolution

  1. First point is an appeal to consequences, and the second is a straw man. Plus a whole load of red herrings and other BS. Ghost written by Ben Stein, perhaps?

    1. Speaking of which, Repubs employ appeal to consequences relentlessly. If we don’t attack Iran, they will destroy us, if we don’t elect a republican, the economy will collapse, etc.

      Primitive people (I’m generalizing here), and conservative christians are primitive in their thinking and world views, respond well to fear.

      They PROUDLY cling to guns and religion. And are afraid of progress.

  2. I found it amusing that he put the discovery of antibiotics above Darwin’s contribution since a lack of appreciation for Darwin’s mechanism has since led to the evolution of resistant strains.

    1. No, the development of drug resistance in creatures has nothing at all to do with our understanding of evolution – evolution goes on regardless of how much or how little we know about it.

      1. think Umkomasia was referring to the application of our understanding of evolution to the design of treatments which would inhibit the emergence of resistant strains.

  3. Its hardly a surprise that an article in the catholic herald is nonsense, though. Just look at the other articles linked to from that page. The one about creationism in schools is far worse (David Attenborough “pontificates” apparently).

  4. “I find it strange that a Brit, who lives in a country so much less religious than America, can’t descry the effect of our religion on our views about science.”

    Because that would be “shrill” and “militant” and deeply uncouth. I mean, religion is so obviously a good thing, and can only have benign effects. So harmful effects (9/11 for example) are self-evidently nothing to do with religion.

    Brits may not be so religious themselves, but most of them still “believe in belief” (to quote Dennett).

      1. Well, in the 2001 UK census 71% put “Christian” on the form under “religion”. That doesn’t mean that that many believe in God or Christianity or attend church, it just means they feel some vague affinity with Christianity in a “believe in belief” sort of way.

        That religion, though, is not the American brand of Christianity, it’s a CofE tea-and-cucumber-sandwiches with the vicar type of benign and largely meaningless religion, which Brits find it hard to regard as harmful. Hence their puzzlement at any suggestion that religion can be harmful, and their labelling of any criticism of religion as “shrill”.

        1. Actually, I think the reason for the 71% figure, is that the question was worded in such a way as to include any association with a religion. Most British people have a nominal identification with Christianity, in that they celebrate Christmas and Easter, but not not Diwali or Eid. Any such person, by the Census’s definition, could honestly describe themselves as a Christian.

          If you define a Christian as somebody who regularly attends a Christian Church, the figure drops to less than 15%.

          1. If you define a Christian as someone who actually believes Jesus Christ is a Saviour who literally died for our sins and came alive again then you’re probably down to single figures. And you might be able to find someone in East Cheam who believes the 39 articles.

        2. That’s suggestive, esp. when compare to a more thoughtfully worded survey like British Social Attitudes.

          I think your suggestion is swinging too far the other way, hyperdeath. I don’t think church attendance is a necessary part of being a Christian. And, as has been pointed out earlier, some of those who do attend church aren’t necessarily true believers.

          But take the 44% Christian from the latest BSA (we should really look at one from 2001!), that gives 27% of folks who are at least culturally Anglican.

          It’s still not clear that all of them believe in belief – after all, even Dawkins claims to be culturally Anglican!

          /@

          1. I agree that church attendance is an imperfect metric, but it’s certainly a better metric than one in which Richard Dawkins potentially counts as a Christian.

            As for “belief in belief”, I don’t think it’s a particularly common position. It’s mainly confined to self-appointed cultural sophisticates, who believe that working class people aren’t cultivated enough to deal with harsh truths, and must be mollycoddled. Such a belief is evident in this particularly disgusting article, by Madeleine Bunting.

            1. I think the idea that religion is somehow ‘a good thing’ and that religion makes you a better person is very common among non-believers. Even in Australia religion tends to have the moral high ground though only 9% of us go to church regularly (and most of them are over 70). This is why it’s so hard to get people to take a stand against it, and why the most important goal of the Gnus IMNSHO is to remove religion from said moral high ground. Pointing out that religion is harmful is unpopular but crucial.

  5. Yeah, not to be too smarmy, but when I hear the words “British journalist” the Catholic Herald does not spring to mind….

    1. Re Brit journalists. It’s not quite relevant but still amusing:

      You cannot bribe or twist
      The British journalist
      Considering what the fellow will do
      Unbribed, there’s little reason to.

  6. The one thing that is clear is that Seawall himself has no clear understanding of evolution as evidenced by his claim that it has been “inconsequential”. And he is rather presumptuous in claiming authority on something he is rather ignorant about.

    1. And he is rather presumptuous in claiming authority on something he is rather ignorant about.

      This is pretty much par for the course for evolution deniers.

    2. Another tell-tale sentence:

      The Mormon Mitt Romney, whose flip-flop politics could teach a Galapagos finch a thing or two about adaptation…

      So much for Sewell’s grasp of Darwinian theory.

      1. I’d be willing to write that one off as comic license. Not particularly great, trying to make a Darwin-themed Rmoney joke is probably tough, and it’s not a bad effort.

    1. Oh… I didn’t read far enough. But yes, there are still Brights, and in growing numbers to judge from the newsletters. (I suscribe, but even though I fit the definition of someone with a naturalistic worldview, I eschew the label.)

      /@

      1. there are still Brights, and in growing numbers

        Oh, for Cthulhu’s sake, no! That is such a terrible term, and does nothing but add to the notion of atheists as smug and shrill. It’s a terrible PR move. I was hoping it has died out, but I guess I was wrong.

        1. That is such a terrible term, and does nothing but add to the notion of atheists as smug and shrill.

          As if they needed help 😀

          In my experience, the term is objectionable mainly to people who don’t bother to understand what it means before getting offended.

          1. the term is objectionable mainly to people who don’t bother to understand what it means before getting offended

            And if you have to explain what a term means in order to avoid offense, it’s a lousy term. That’s not a judgement about its actual intent, but instead about its PR value. It would be like a Christian missionary group to the Middle East calling itself “the Crusaders” — even if you don’t intend negative connotations, just using a term that can be interpreted that way is a very bad idea.

            1. And if you have to explain what a term means in order to avoid offense, it’s a lousy term. That’s not a judgement about its actual intent, but instead about its PR value.

              Yeah, I get it! But I’m not aware of any term that describes the skeptical/humanist/freethinker/atheist community that isn’t used against us. All are broadly misunderstood, and all have to be explained in order to establish real communication.

              We need an abbreviation like LGBT for freethinkers, etc 😕

              1. Ooh! I like FANS better. And it works in a sentence: “FANS of the secular movement believe you should not worship on my dime, time, or property.”

            1. What? Do some people bother to find out what a term actually means before becoming offended?

              Ha! In my experience, no -_- Sometimes you have to sort of sneak up on them.

        2. Oh, I let ’em call themselves that if they wish – put I can’t suppress the look of disgust when I hear it. I try to retrain them by consistently calling them “Special”.

      2. Oh… I didn’t read far enough. But yes, there are still Brights, and in growing numbers to judge from the newsletters. (I suscribe, but even though I fit the definition of someone with a naturalistic worldview, I eschew the label.)

        Well, the label is just a tool that works for some and not others. The important thing is to be engaged as a person with a naturalistic worldview.

        1. I’m not a fan of the term itself, but the movement caught my eye (by that I mean I clicked on the link in my Kindle version of The God Delusion). I’m even an official lapel-pin wearing member. I normally follow the Marxist credo of never joining a club that would have me as a member, but I like collecting pins.

          1. the movement caught my eye (by that I mean I clicked on the link in my Kindle version of The God Delusion). I’m even an official lapel-pin wearing member

            For such an unpopular movement, it seems to be rather many interested parties represented in this comment thread B-) Like you, I often don’t use the term myself, but I value the positive, civic purpose, so you might say I draw from the movement cafeteria style.

        2. I’ve been a member since their inception (hey, Dennett & Dawkins were giving it an enthusiastic endorsement!); my only contact now is via the newsletters, too.

          What’s ironic is that the Brights are about as mild-mannered and noncontentious as it’s possible to be. In fact, as a gnu, I occasionally get a bit impatient with them.

          By and large I think it takes all kinds of approaches, and they are well-intentioned and achieving some successes. I’d wager the term isn’t ever going to really catch on, though.

  7. I find it strange that a Brit, who lives in a country so much less religious than America, can’t descry the effect of our religion on our views about science.

    I don’t. Many British folks have no idea what our particular form of American Evangelical Christianity is like. They think of Christianity as Church of England High Church ritual or those nice Methodists who do all that social justice stuff. They don’t tend to have people on their college campuses screaming at students that they’re “whores” and “fornicators”, for example.

    Plus the British political system is structured in a way that most of the cranks in politics are either backbenchers who get locked in the basement and don’t get to talk to the cameras, or are truly fringe elements that the “self-respecting” political parties don’t speak with.

    So most Brits I’ve met tend to think of religion as this harmless sort of thing that old people do on Sundays, with a smattering of younger people who are interested in anti-poverty outreach. The idea that religion could be as pervasive and as toxic as it is in the US is so far outside their experience that they tend to try to find other reasons for why our society is as screwed up as it is.

    1. They don’t tend to have people on their college campuses screaming at students that they’re “whores” and “fornicators”, for example.

      Well they do, but they tend to be Muslim these days, no?

    2. The firm that I work at brings over a lot of “secondees”, or interns, usually from the UK, Australia, and South Africa.

      I took a few of them to lunch and the subject of my upbringing near the Bible belt came up. The UK kids could not believe some of my anecdotes about classmates who were both excellent students and young earth creationists. It wasn’t until I pointed out how close my hometown is to the Creation Museum in Kentucky, and that people actually attend this monstrosity, that they began to realize that my stories were not hyperbole, and that maybe large numbers of Americans really do take their religion very literally.

      The Aussie and South African kids were much less incredulous – I guess they have many of the same problems with religious resistance to evolution that the US does.

      1. I have had S. African students say to me at the end of an introductory biology lecture where I first talk about evolution – “but, evolution has been disproved hasn’t it?” and when I ask for a citation say “my Dominee (priest) told me!” I have asked for their Dominee to contact me and come in so we could have a chat, but none has ever responded to this request

    3. I agree. I’ve had many arguments with folks about the curse of religion in the USA and they find my stories unbelievable and they counter with ridiculous assertions. I just tell ’em “well, you’ve obviously never so much as visited the USA if you make claims like that”. The usual response I get is “Oh, but you don’t see it in the TV shows” and I have to politely explain that TV shows are nothing but a caricature of American (well, US) society and bear little resemblance to what actually goes on.

  8. hmmm, evolutionary theory has allowed us ot actually use penicillin and its antibiotic brethern to the fullest potential. I still want these anti-science idiots put on an island where they can die of the diseases that evolutionary theory has helped us thwart. It would take this “Brit” a brief search on Google to see his claims are simply wrong. But he didn’t bother, depending on his ignorance to give religion a pass.

  9. Sewell says:

    “Despite the barrage of publicity that attended the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 2009, the latest Gallup figures show that overall only 16 per cent of Americans today believe what they were taught about evolution in science classes at school.”

    I don’t think that most of us Americans were taught ANYTHING about evolution in school, therefore it is not accurate to imply that 84% of Americans were exposed to a fair presentation of evolution but rejected it.

    And why are so many schools reluctant to expose kids to evolution? I’m guessing that it has little to do with Dan Dennett.

    1. I also don’t think evolution is really, clearly explained in American schools or at least not the one I attended. I was reared in a small town in central IL. Think flatlands of thick, black soil and oil rockers in the middle of fields and in town. I think our science curriculum included a day or two of evolution, primarily focusing on the giraffe (imagine a giraffe with a slightly longer neck is more successful at surviving and propagating, etc.) if memory serves. It was only a couple days because some of the students were excused for religious purposes. And it wasn’t on the tests or discussed ever again. I took 4 years of science in high school, but because further studies were in chemistry and physics it wasn’t germane again. Same thing in college. I studied mathematics and computer science. The only science I took in college was physics. For my MS there was no science, either.

      So I literally had no more exposure to evolution in an academic setting than those 2 days in 9th grade. And I doubt that’s unusual.

      Now, recently, I have read “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “On the Origin of the Species”, and “Why Evolution is True” has been purchased but not yet read (currently working through Close’s “The Infinity Puzzle”). I was, despite already accepting evolution for a coherent answer to why are their different species, amazed to discover that it answers a lot of questions regarding why things are as they are in biology. I suppose amazed too that I had never even thought about the questions.

      We also, never to my memory, in history class discussed the eugenics movements of the 1920s, so I’d be leery of using that for a reason.

    2. This is my own experience. Everything I learned about evolution growing up I learned from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series or an occasional article in Scientific American. I learned nothing about it in public school. It was the last chapter of our biology textbook and somehow we just didn’t get to it (and that book organization itself is bizarre!)

      While people focus on resisting attempts to get creationism or ID taught in public schools probably a more pressing problem is getting evolution *actually* taught in public schools. I suspect that if ID were allowed to be taught in many regions of the country it would actually do a lot to *increase* evolution literacy, because ID wouldn’t slip off the schedule and when it was taught, evolution would have to be discussed if only as a foil.

      In a similar way, whenever preachers would stop simply denouncing evolution and start trying to present arguments against it, as they did sometimes, it always had the reverse effect on me of illustrating that the preacher didn’t know what he was talking about. As long as it was just assertions “evolution is a lie”, “the bible is true”, a kid like me would assume that this authority figure had some good reason for those beliefs. But when he spoke those reasons, the jig was up. My final acceptance of evolution finally came when I attended an “apologetics” class at my church. The class attempted to establish the falseness of evolution and the truth of the Bible through argument and evidence. The overwhelming feeling after that class was, “Wow, they’ve got nothing. They even had to lie about a lot of the things they presented. So…it really isn’t true.”

      1. What you say makes sense.

        Of course, when one is older, one is more experienced, wiser, braver, more likely to stand his ground, and less likely to have the adrenaline kick in and the heart go a-flutter with anxiety and conformist peer pressure when a religioso accosts him when it is revealed that he does not subscribe to every jot and tittle of the doctrine of the sect in question. By that time it’s time to vacate the premises, if not before.

      2. cermak_rd, Gluon

        My experience was as follows. I went to Catholic schools grades 1-12. I cannot recall any real exposure to evolution in elementary school. However, I became greatly interested in evolution through a series of National Geographics (remember that one with the 3D hologram of the Taung child?), so much so that I did a presentation on human evolution at around age 11 as a project for science class. Let’s just say my understanding was a bit sketchy – I distinctly remember telling my classmates that A. robustus eventually evolved “back into gorillas”.

        Anyway, I don’t remember any hostility from the teachers – this was a fairly liberal Catholic school. Upon entering high school, I remember getting excited when I received my biology textbook, because it put evolution front and center and declared it as “the central organizing theme of biology”. It must have been a pretty good Ken Miller production.

        So how much evolution did I learn in the (several) biology classes I took in high school? Almost zero. Somehow, it was ignored. The teachers thought it much more important to focus on dissecting pigs, memorizing anatomy, and spending an eternity on minutia like the Krebs cycle.

        Knowing what I know now, this was criminal. Do you have any idea how much good science writing on evolution was around in the early 90s? If these teachers were intimidated with the material on evolution, weren’t they aware of the explanatory works of people like Dawkins, Mayr, Kitcher, Gould? Hey, maybe have us, you know, read a few chapters of Origin by that Darwin guy?

        I can almost guarantee that none of my biology teachers had read any of Darwin’s works, or Fisher, or Hamilton, or Williams, or Maynard-Smith, or any of the giants of the field. I would place good odds that most of them had ever even heard of Dawkins or Gould and only knew Sagan as that funny little astronomer man who went on Carson from time to time.

        Evolution was not taught because it was not even on their intellectual radar. When they were studying to become science teachers, apparently they were taught biology as if 1859 had never happened.

        Ditto for physics. I took AP physics classes, scored well on exams, and remained completely ignorant of relativity until well after college. Yes, Einstein’s signature intellectual achievements, almost 90 years old when I was in school, were not taught to us. Again, most likely not even on the intellectual radar of those physics teachers.

        The physics experience leads me to think that while religion plays a significant role in the non-teaching of evolution, there are other factors going on in the US. One of these is this – too many of our science teachers at the high school level are taken from the intellectual dregs of higher education. Instead of attracting top notch talent, the profession gets a lot of mediocre and unmotivated people just looking to put it into cruise control for 30 years and then retire. Don’t teach stuff that’s hard to test on multiple guess, and don’t teach stuff that might ruffle feathers.

        Now, I know that there are some brilliant teachers out there, and these people are worth their weight in gold. It just sucks that I never got any of these people to teach me science.

        1. I don’t know if it’s due to the quality of the teachers, but I was about to write something similar in my earlier comment that the problem may be more general than evolution.

          I did a year of physics in high school in which I learned of the theories of these wild guys Newton and Kepler. Yep. No Einstein. And I distinctly remember being told in chemistry class that the atom consists of electrons, protons and neutrons…nothing more elementary. That was in the 80s! Though I do recall some of the textbooks were quite old as it wasn’t a prosperous district.

        2. …dissecting pigs, memorizing anatomy, and spending an eternity on minutia like the Krebs cycle.

          So true, and even at the college level, in the “biology for non-majors” courses. As I bio major I cringed watching friends and roommates take these courses that concentrated on the minutia and frequently turned students completely off of the subject; one that should be the most fascinating discipline of all time!

          It’s long been my opinion that some of the loudest complainers about the lack of evolutionary education in the US, i.e., the biology profs themselves, are dropping the ball by not completely overhauling these courses. They should start from the POV, “what do we want these students to remember about biology, decades hence?” It probably won’t be how to balance the photosynthesis equation. (Just pound home the idea of water & CO2 in, sugar & O2 out. How cool is that?!) Etc. But mostly, begin with the concept of evolution and bring it into every step along the way.

  10. I find Sewell’s entire point to be idiotic. He’s arguing that Huntsman was wrong to support evolution because doing so does not pander to the voting public’s irrational anxieties and desire for magical, no-cost solutions to their problems.

    No, Dennis Sewell, the “right” thing for candidates to do is not offer magic beans or silver bullets. That leads to either lying, deceptive candidates – completely undermining the entire concept of democracy as an informed choice of government – or it leads to sincere idiots in change, who implement lysenko-like disasters, waste massive reources, and orchestrate complete failures of public policy.

    Faced with some irrational public anxiety, the right thing for leaders to do is to back sound policy choices, and spend time explaining why those policies are sound and the alternative pipedream is unsound.

  11. It was not Huntsman who was out of touch in appreciating that evolution happens, it is those who DENY it who are out of touch.

    It is curious how the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ politically so often overlap in their detestation of Darwin and evolution. See this bit on the ‘Intelligent Design’ website attacking what they call ‘The Darwin Lobby’ and supporting the Wall Street Journal & its “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” article:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/01/the_darwin_lobb055761.html

  12. Sure, sure … it’s the rejection of eugenics that make the atendees of Ken Ham’s creationist museum hate evolution. Is this for idiot for real?

    You could probably put a posse together today from fans of evilution-denying supporters of Rick Santorum and Eric Cantor who’d love to participate in a ‘freeloader’ hunt.

    1. The problems with the eugenics movement had NOTHING to do with Darwin or evolution. Centuries of agriculture had shown us (including Bible believers long before Darwin) that selective breeding can affect the offspring. Even in our own mate selection we are likely trying to optimize our breeding outcomes.

      The the obscenity of the eugenics movement was ideological and political: the belief that some government bureaucrat or technocrat had the moral right and the intellectual capacity to determine who could reproduce. The state intruding so deeply into personal lives and using science as a veneer is where the problems occurred.

  13. I suppose we need to drag out all the charts again. (sigh)

    Silly politician, you need to pander and reinforce the crazy ideas of the majority if you want to get elected!

    I suppose if Dawkins and Dennet were to politely stay silent then the public will start embracing evolution. How pathetic an argument.

  14. Evolution or religion is a false dichotomy to the majority. Theistic evolution is the safe intermediate haven for those educated evolution believers who reject the necessity of choosing EITHER evolution OR family, church, friends. Theistic evolution is not creationism and not necessarily Christianity. It is a sensible way to have your cake and eat it too. I believe a substantial majority of educated people believe in evolution but will not admit it for fear of alienating church and friends. Becoming an atheist is usually a slow evolutionary process that includes a time when a potential convert to atheism is a theistic evolutionist. It was true for me and I expect for many others.

    1. “Becoming an atheist is usually a slow evolutionary process that includes a time when a potential convert to atheism is a theistic evolutionist”

      We share the same common ancestor – Homo Superfluous

    2. “Theistic evolution” *is* creationism. There is still no evidence for a god, only completely absurd claims that there are.

  15. Then came Scientific Racialism, which claimed that evolutionary science proved that America’s minorities – Blacks, Hispanics, Italians, Greeks and Jews – were biologically inferior to those of pure New England stock.

    Yes, I remember it clearly. There was no racism in America until 1859. Then suddenly people read On the Origin of Species, decided blacks were inferior, and started the institution of slavery. This led almost immediately to the U.S. Civil War, in which those who believed inevolution fought to maintain the institution of slavery.

    1. Meanwhile, back in reality, actual scientists discovered that there was far greater genetic variation within so called races than between them, which entirely killed any possibility that there was any validity the longstanding claims that some races were inferior to others that religions had frequently used to justify oppression and discrimination against ethnic groups that didn’t belong to their religion.

  16. A sidenote on John Huntsman and the 64% who would rather follow religious belief than scientific evidence:

    During the French presidential campaign of 1981, François Mitterrand announced that he would abolish the death penalty, then a highly contentious issue, if elected. Roughly 2/3 of the French electorate were in favour of the death penalty, only 23% for its abolition. Mitterrand was called crazy, like Huntsman. His stance was deemed a liability. Nonetheless, he was comfortably elected. The death penalty was abolished. The final poll, on October 9, 1981, the day after the abolition: 63% of the French were still pro death penalty. Background interviews elucidated the issue: Mitterrand’s firm abolitionist stance had not harmed his electoral chances. For one thing, the issue was very contentious, but not central. More interestingly, the electorate gave Mitterrand high marks for showing his true colours on this issue. They conceded that his going against the grain of mainstream opinion during a campaign revealed two qualities essential in a leader: courage and character.

    Perhaps John Huntsman will someday reap the benefits of his ‘craziness’?

    (Ironically, Mitterrand, a sly schemer sans pareil, had one of his rare displays of courage and character against the death penalty, and it served him exceedingly well.)

    1. I doubt it. After all, Huntsman is also a Mormon. The GoP fanbase is having a very tough time deciding whether they’d rather have a Mormon than Obama for president.

  17. All you have to do to demonstrate the execrable anti-intellectualism that motivates Sewell’s argument is a simple substitution:

    I wonder why Einstein occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise.

    Sewell’s is either too ignorant or too dishonest to explain why either Einstein or Darwin were great and influential men. In either case, he has no business writing about them then.

    1. And what about that silly Newton? Calculus is just intellectual performance art for those math nerds in school. All that fuss about optics – so what if he proved that white light is a mixture of the colors of the optical spectrum? How many lives did that save today?

      Can’t hold a candle to the invention of the internet and all that easy access to porn.

      1. A propos candle, if it weren’t for Edison, we’d be surfing the web by candlelight. So much for Einstein and his photons-shmophtons.

        1. I would just like to point out that Edison did not invent or patent the light bulb. He purchased the patent from the inventors for $30,000. That was a tidy sum at the time, so I am sure they were pleased.

  18. It’s genuinely difficult for many of us Brits to understand how religion works in the USA.

    I had heard of the Bible Belt and Christian fundamentalists for decades, but I had imagined they would be a small bunch of hill billies that no one took much notice of. It was only about 15 years ago that I realised how many irrationalists there are over there.

  19. Maybe religion is just a correlation here. Maybe Americans deny evolution for the same reason why they believe in God: they are not that bright. Granted, there are a lot of smart people in the U.S., but most of them arrived in the U.S. only a few decades ago (e.g., the Ashkenazi Jews running away from Hitler).

    BTW, I have heard of a study where they showed that liberals are a lot more skeptical of evolutionary psychology than the conservatives. Looks like each side has their own amendments to evolution. Those on the right have ID, and for those on the left the evolution stops at the neck and are quick to point to the magic of the “flexible brain.” I suspect that’s why we need compatibilism–it just allows for our brains to be a little more flexible.

  20. Recently, on another thread, a contributor argued that fundamentalist views were of little significance until the GOP from the late 70’s onwards cultivated this group. I felt this was far too simplistic and that a more likely explanation was that post war affluence in the US led to burgeoning tertiary education and a concomitant rise in articulacy and influence by groups whose voices would not previously have been heard.
    The aspect which always causes me the greatest surprise is not the number of fundamentalist believers in the US, but the percentage who are educated to degree level, and even more so, the percentage educated to degree level in a life science.

    1. That GOP cultivation strikes me as a resurgence of the influence of fundamentalism, not it’s birth. I grew up in the late 60’s early 70’s, right before this resurgence, and the feeling in the churches I went to at the time was one of defeat. People seemed to remember, or believe in, a time when religion was more ascendent, but right at that time, secularism seemed to have won in the public sphere. We felt isolated and without influence. We felt like a besieged minority, at least so far as political influence was concerned. It was shortly after that Jerry Falwell formed his “Moral Majority”, and the message was, “You’re not some despised minority, you’re the majority, you’ve just been silent”. The GOP has been shrewd to tap into this sense of defeat and alienation, the feeling that atheism had won the public sphere and Christianity had lost. It seems absurd, in a country with such vast majorities professing to be Christian that we could have ever felt like some minority, but that’s how we felt in the early 70’s, and I think it’s still how most politically active Christians feel. Their rising political influence over the last twenty or thirty years has done nothing to diminish their feeling that they are a tiny minority fighting a Goliath. It’s part of what fuels them, even.

      1. “The Tea Party isn’t really anything new. There was the Militia Movement, and the Moral Majority, it’s always there, it just flares up every once in a while. Like herpes.” Roy Zimmerman, from the Real America album.

      2. The 60’s & 70’s were also an era when at least some churches were bowing to the zeitgeist. Heck, back then the Catholics were so simpatico. Heroes of the anti-war movement. That was when they changed the mass from Latin to English, & and added music. Folk music, even. Issues like birth control, etc., were on the back burner, and US congregations were allowed to widely ignore such official church teachings.

        The thing to remember, perhaps, is that that era is only an eyeblink away, historically speaking. Perhaps the balance can shift again soon.

  21. We disagree with JC. Religious behavior is a symptom and not the problem. The problem is ideology power strategies designed to get people to act a certain way. The best way to do that is to tell them what they want to hear and already believe, since we know no one has free choice in beliefs or behavior.

    Driven by childhood emotions and brain development, no one wants to believe that anyone really dies and we all want to believe that we can wish/pray to make something true – mind over matter. These are the false sales promises that have always given power-seekers control. Add in the promise that everyone else is evil/wrong/bad/going to hell and you get money/elected/etc.

    Also, and Keith Richards said this, America is a VERY young and naïve country that is civilized at the edges but deeply anti-intellectual thru and thru. You see it in the commentators here, most of them don’t know the first thing about biology, physiology and evolution.

    If it wasn’t for the mainly Jewish German intellectual immigrants during WWII, America wud be even dummer. Yikes!

    1. Yes, you may have a point there. The US is indeed a young country and has simply not outlived its mythological purpose. America was a chosen land: a promised land in the same way as Palestine / Israel became a chosen land for Zionists. Echoes of myth lived on in other countries such as Germany and England. The first, that of the Superior Aryan Race. The second, that of an independent, island nation. The first has not outlived the destruction of WWII. The second still feeds into an underlying anti EU & anti immigrant attitude given voice by parties such as UKIP, BNP & EDL.
      The mythology of America being blessed by God runs deep in the soul of the average American. You may get away with disbelief in evolution: you can’t get away with disbelief in God.

      1. I meant to end that post by saying that for many Americans, disbelief in God is equivalent to disbelief in America. That’s an overpowering psychological burden to carry.

      2. Speaking as a native of East Tennessee, more than a few natives like to refer to the area as “God’s Country.” No doubt, most of the other Southern states would take issue with that assertion. Each state is the most “indispensible” state of “the indispensible nation” (Madeleine Albright).

    2. You see it in the commentators here, most of them don’t know the first thing about biology, physiology and evolution.

      Oh, come on now. Most of the commenters here?

  22. Smart alec acolytes of Richard Dawkins, who like to style themselves “Brights”, while dismissing anyone who questions their materialist outlook as intellectually deficient, will be peeved to discover that only one in four American voters who have been awarded Masters degrees accepts the Darwinian line on evolution.

    Oh, the inaccuracy! The Brights have to be the most misunderstood players in the secular space.

    The Brights movement has nothing to do with being a smart alec or endorsing any particular philosophical stance as such, nor does it focus on philosophical or theological debate. Rather, the Brights movement distinguishes itself by uniquely focusing on the visibility and civic involvement of citizens who have a naturalistic worldview, without regard to philosophical exactitude that might divide its constituency. Brights who endorse the movement are merely encouraged to be public, positive, principled, and engaged as citizens who have naturalistic worldviews.

    I deny Sewell’s premise: Those who believe that the actions of any particular bright can be taken as representative of what the Brights movement itself is about fails to understand the nature of a “constituency of individuals”.

    The Brights recently released a video in support of Reason Rally. Perhaps it can clarify issues for anyone who thinks that Sewell’s statement reflects the reality of the Brights movement: http://bit.ly/w7wY6b

    1. Perhaps “Bright” should be replaced with the ironic “Ignorant”? Re: Hitchens’s appreciation of and emphasis on the ironic, and his perspective related on pg. 420 of his memoir:

      “It is not only true that the test of knowledge is an acute and cultivated awareness of how little one knows (as Socrates knew so well), it is true that the unbounded areas and fields of one’s ignorance are now expanding in such a way, and at such a velocity, as to make the contemplation or them almost fantastically beautiful.”

      The only problem with that is having to deal with the ongoing problem of those who (refuse to believe and accept that they) “don’t know that they don’t know.”

  23. “…who like to style themselves “Brights”, while dismissing anyone who questions their materialist outlook as intellectually deficient.”

    This is a false assertion or even a blatant lie! The founders of the Brights Movement, Mynga Futrell&Paul Geisert, have explicitly explained ad nauseam that the choice of the word “bright” has nothing to do with a claim of intellectual superiority.

    1. The founders of the Brights Movement, Mynga Futrell&Paul Geisert, have explicitly explained ad nauseam that the choice of the word “bright” has nothing to do with a claim of intellectual superiority.

      And yet they chose a term that has that as a reasonable inference. Whatever their intention, it is a terrible idea to pick a label that is so easily misconstrued.

        1. Yep — the fact that they have to explain the choice ad nauseum clearly indicates that!

          Oh, please. How often does it have to be explained that atheism equates neither to ontological naturalism nor to scientism, or that humanism isn’t a religion in the traditional sense, or for that matter than secularism is about preventing theocracy, not killing religion per se?

          Sure, you get it, and I do, but the objection to “bright” is really nothing that isn’t commonly lobbed at non-theists generally.

          1. Well, all that is true, but none of those terms smacks of intellectual snobbery, which misconception (?!) is what is what is having to be explained ad nauseam [which I misspelled earlier!], over and above what it actually does mean …

            /@

            1. Well, all that is true, but none of those terms smacks of intellectual snobbery, which misconception (?!) is what is what is having to be explained ad nauseam [which I misspelled earlier!], over and above what it actually does mean …

              I say there’s a limited degree to which that matters. “Atheism” doesn’t “smack” of “shrill”, either. All of our labels are often misunderstood, misconstrued, and misrepresented. All are tools that can be used to get attention, after which the correction of misconceptions can begin.

          2. “Brightism” and “atheism” are indeed not synonymous, since being an atheist doesn’t entail being a naturalist. There are supernaturalistic atheists, which, by definition, aren’t “Brights” but “Supers”.

              1. (But isn’t “Supers” just a faintly condescending sop towards those who found “Brights” intellectually snobbish?)

                It’s neither a sop nor condescending. It’s a neologism that means what bright doesn’t.

        2. Are you old enough to remember how dumb “gay” sounded when first campaigned?

          There was even a lot of dissension when “black” replaced Negro, colored, etc.

          1. I don’t know… I was born in 1961… I don’t ever remember it sounding “dumb”. Probably my earliest memory of the word in an almost-but-not-quite-lighthearted-and-carefree sense was camp TV personality Larry Grayson’s catchphrase, “Oh, what a gay day!”

            But “dumb”-ness is not the (only) issue with “Bright”: “gay” doesn’t have any overtones of elitism…

            Apart from anything else, theists often make the accusation, “You atheists think you’re so much smarter than everyone else” (which, admittedly, does seem to be empirically true); using “Bright”, pace Futrell’s, Geisert’s and others’ protestations, just seems to be rubbing that in…

            /@

            1. I agree. The problem with “Bright” is that it is the opposite of “dim” or “dumb”. The label may be accurate, as you suggest, but it has a snooty tone when self-applied.

              I don’t think the originators of the term realized this when they adopted it. I think they were looking for a sparkling, optimistic, friendly alternative to “atheist” at a time when most of us were politely in the closet. It doesn’t have much value these days when Gnu-ism has loudly and proudly adopted the A-word.

              1. I don’t think the originators of the term realized this when they adopted it. I think they were looking for a sparkling, optimistic, friendly alternative to “atheist” at a time when most of us were politely in the closet. It doesn’t have much value these days when Gnu-ism has loudly and proudly adopted the A-word.

                It was “godless” and “non-believer” that ticked off Geisert and Futrell! http://bit.ly/wy0iPZ http://bit.ly/yFjIii I mean, how ironic is it that a community that is often alleged to “believe in nothing” adopts terms that so exactly confirm the stereotypes against it!

                Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of American Atheists. I think they’re doing good and important work to get out the numbers and energize the secular base. They also seem to be experts at pissing off religious in a way that precludes them becoming allies for secularism (yes, even religious people value secularism — see for example, religious membership in AU http://bit.ly/A7ce1x) and creating a brand that not even all atheists want to buy.

                But is precisely the success of such confrontational atheists that creates a need for a resolutely positive and civic focus by citizens in the secular community, and despite its flaws, the Brights fit the other end of the spectrum.

                We need a range of approaches in order to attract and energize the largest possible number of secularists.

              2. RandomCommenter, I do not disagree with you here. I’m about as “in-your-face” an atheist as you will find and revel in pissing off the religious.

                But, as it happens, I am also a member of Americans United. These activities are not mutually exclusive. Hell, I even march in demonstrations arm-in-arm with religious people. (I live in Wisconsin where such behavior is a moral obligation these days.)

                Context is everything.

              3. Although I don’t like “Bright” as a label because, as you say, it is somewhat snooty sounding, my main objection to it is because I grew up in the 80s and think that “The Brights” sounds too much like a cartoon with an annoying theme song and a hokey moral about the episode at the end.

              4. We need a range of approaches in order to attract and energize the largest possible number of secularists.

                I couldn’t agree more.

            2. Yes, but my point was that Futrell & Geisert hoped to emulate the success of the homosexual activists in actually changing the meaning of a common word. IIRC, some of the loudest opponents of that effort at the time were gays themselves.

              I don’t expect to change anyone’s opinion, but it would be nice if the loudest naysayers here would at least go have a look around the Brights’ website: http://www.the-brights.net/

              1. I got your point—and i don’t disagree. But you appear to have missed mine: Neither “gay” nor “black” had any overtones of superiority. Choosing a word that did was F&G’s mistake.

                I have, and I subscribe to the newsletter. (And I won one of the evo posters!) There’s a lot to commend; it’s only the name I have a problem with!

                /@

              2. Wow! Why have I never heard that objection before?!

                /sarcasm

                But I agree with you, their effort does not seem to have succeeded yet, possibly due to that very objection. Though I think it’s equally possible that “atheophobia” has stymied it.

                Hey, thanks for the great job you’ve been doing with Robbie the psi-guy in the Sheldrake thread!

              3. Well, OK — but you seem deaf to it this time! 😉 Possibly due to atheophobia (DISCLAIMER: not a real phobia)… but sometimes, from comments I’ve read from theists and accommodationist, explicitly due to the supposed air of elitism! (But, no; I can’t provide citations…)

                Thanks! Robbie certainly seems to have a “faith” position there.

                /@

                PS. I’d also point out that “gay” meaning “homosexual” dates back to the 1930s (if not earlier); that is, it was already an established, if less common, meaning of the word when campaigning started in the 1960s. “Bright”, though, had had no prior association with atheism or freethought.

              4. PPS. … or (more to the point) with philosophical naturalism/a naturalistic worldview.

                You do know your Brightism!

                Actually, I’ve been lukewarm about the concept from the start; only decided to join because Dennett & Dawkins were encouraging support. But this inevitable dissing on atheist fora just brings out the Devil’s Advocate in me, admittedly not my best side. I agree with RandomCommenter–such piling on seems unnecessary, esp. since we’ve all heard the main argument over and over again, every single time the issue arises.

                I’m always thinking the Brights movement is dying out, too, till the newsletters come along and make it appear they’re not only hanging in there but growing gradually.

                My personal preference is to stick with “old words,” reclaiming them as necessary. Atheist, freethinker, humanist. If we have to borrow anything from the gay or civil rights movements, lets borrow the “pride” part. (Or even the “power” part. Sensu “black power,” for anyone who remembers the 60’s.)

                BTW, I was coining atheophobia, lamely, along the lines of homophobia, which to me at least connotes more hatred than fear of homosexuals. (What should those roots actually be? Misatheism? Atheiodium?)

              5. Easier to agree, “It probably was an imprudent choice,” early on then… 😉

                Although it’s too late now, of course, but a better alternative might have been “Naturals”. (Plus the movement would’ve had a ready made symbol: ♮)

                But that might have clashed with Tom Clark’s naturalism.org … 

                /@

                PS. Misatheismism!

      1. Agreed. It makes me cringe. It sounds lame but boastful at the same time – a terrible choice for a self-applied label.

        The first time I read it was in something by Dawkins, I don’t often disagree with his writing but this was one time I thought he was badly mistaken.

      2. They picked a term that *already* meant ‘intellectually gifted’ – and then expected everyone to forget / ignore that connotation of the word because they wanted it to mean something else? I’d say they weren’t too bright… 🙂

        1. They picked a term that *already* meant ‘intellectually gifted’ – and then expected everyone to forget / ignore that connotation of the word because they wanted it to mean something else?

          Yeah, yeah. And the gays picked a term that meant “happy”, and we all know how that worked out. The “smart” world found it practically impossible to wrap its head around the concept of a neologism for decades — in fact, we’re still fighting over it today.

          Not.

          1. But — again — “happy” doesn’t smack of superiority, of elitism in the way that “intellectually gifted” does.

            That is the problem: Not that they chose a word with an established meaning at all; just the particular word they chose.

            /@

            1. That is the problem: Not that they chose a word with an established meaning at all; just the particular word they chose.

              Yeah. I understand and concede your point: it’s a challenge. My position is that it would be less of a challenge if people like many in this thread would stop bickering and start explaining. But I no longer have any illusions about what that looks like in the freethought community 😀

  24. Instead of confining evolution to the natural world, scientists have sought to intrude its application into the social, political, philosophical and religious domains. Denying evolution’s veracity is for many ordinary Americans a way of rejecting that. It is righteous cussedness.

    My first response to this was to laugh out loud at the idea that evolution (or science) could be so confined; but I think Sewell has got something there (and utterly fails to understand it).

    To the religious American, the social, political, philosophical and religious domains are decidedly in the realm of the non-natural world. You can use your science to understand physics, chemistry, cosmology, and even the biology of non-human living things; but not human beings. Don’t you dare try to understand ME in terms of the “natural world.”

    Many of the religious recognize that all of science is a problem for their faith (what’s this “dark matter” nonsense, when God can move the stars any way he wants to?), yet they don’t try to put God into the high school physics curriculum (yet!). The resistance becomes political when it affects them personally, when science tries to put humanity itself into a naturalistic context.

    So evolution, unlike physics, has become political. And I suspect that at least part of the resentment toward climatology is the implication that God is not looking out for us: the general well-being of humanity cannot be a part of the “natural world.” I fear that none of science will survive in the envisioned theocracy to come.

  25. Astonishing. An elephant in the room doesn’t begin to show how much was missed.

    I come from a small town in Texas and was raised in a fairly typical evangelical church. I can say that my rather late acceptance of evolution stems completely and entirely from years of indoctrination assuring me that evolution = atheism = you’re going to Hell. Evolution was preached as the chief cause of atheism and atheism as the chief threat to your eternal soul in this country. Europe, in a typical sermon, was portrayed as a vast continent of the damned. I knew the facts of evolution and thought they rang true for a long time before I would admit to myself even that I believed it. This was for the simple fact that I was terrified (in retrospect, terrorized) by a lifetime of sermons on how evil that would be.

    It was for me, exactly as Darwin said, like confessing a murder.

    I can illustrate this most starkly with a post my brother put on Facebook just yesterday,

    “You can live a lie….the way you want too…but for me I am living the truth as God told me to through his Son. You can say the Bible is fake, that its not real, that we are from monkeys and such….but it just shows you have fallen for the lie of the evil one.”

    That pretty much sums up the attitude of everyone I grew up around.

    Now, lest one overgeneralize, not everyone in Texas is like this. Not even everyone in my small hometown even. But such attitudes are not rare and are, without a doubt, the entire basis for the rejection of evolution in the U.S.

    1. I think this is the best refutation of Sewell possible. The man either has no conception of what American evangelical Christianity is about or he is a liar.

  26. FFS, this Sewell is a moron.

    Sewell:

    What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It’s helped our understanding of ourselves,..

    Evolutionary thought is critical in medicine and agriculture. Resistance to anti-pathogens, the model for cancer, somatic cell evolution, which will kill 1/3 of the population and so on.

    It’s the basis of our agricultural systems, continuous plant breeding.

    All this only matters if you eat and want to live a long life.

    What has Sewell done for humanity. Guy is dumb, ignorant and a net loss.

  27. America started as anti-intellectual and very few immigrants carried and educated respect for knowledge and the pursuit of facts using science or even thinking. Individual action was the priority and that made sense is a vast underpopulated country — not so much now.

    Intellectual ideas really only were imported with the German Jewish immigrants during WWII. Up until then American’s didn’t even know what intellectual ideas and behavior were! Still don’t really.

    Other cultures cherish and celebrate their intellectuals and scientists — America hates them unless they play to pop audiences.

    That’s fine. Appreciation for learning takes centuries, at least.

    However, in the meantime we all have really serious problems to face and what fact or knowledge base should we use? The vast majority of Americans say magic/prayer/religion and the marketplace. Try using those next time your kids go to the doctor. RIP.

    Problem is the magical ideologies, adopted by political players, always win — they have all the “divisions” as Stalin pointed out.

    Trying to fight or challenge that directly also just seems to mobilize the forces of magic even further.

    1. Magical ideologies are infinitely flexible. Because their adherents have scant regard for the truth and – what are those things? – oh yes, facts, they can just make things up at the drop of a hat. You see this, for instance, in the way WLC debates. If his opponent very carefully analyses and shows what is wrong with one of his arguments, instead of engaging with this, he just spouts any old rubbish as a “refutation”.

    2. I feel you do your country a disservice. This was the land of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Paine (by adoption), James, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman.
      Reading Steinbeck, one finds a nation of practical, but curious men. Fitzgerald and other writers of the period demonstrate the extent to which the rich at least, fed on European culture.
      America is probably nowadays a more insular and insular minded nation than at any time in the past. That only 17% of US citizens have a passport tells its own story.

  28. NEWS FLASH — NOTHING in biology is predictable or explanatory without current evolutionary tenets.

    These same tenets have been used to successfully treat fatal diseases. This is not abstract, theoretical, or philosophical — duh

  29. Dennis Sewell whoever that is BTW, doesn’t come across as an accomadationist.

    He appears to be a full blown xian kook extremist.

  30. It seems to me that when Sewell writes “Darwinism”, he actually means “Social Darwinism” – something which Darwin himself rejected. I guess Sewell got his facts from The Lighthouse and Chick Comics. At any rate he’s channeling Irving Kristol (pity there’s no hell for him). If the GoP has no place for an honest man like Huntsman, surely that’s a sign that the GoP is rotten throughout? If a majority of voters will reject a candidate for believing in evolution that’s a sure sign that there is a collective mental illness.

  31. Where are all these evolutionists and atheists running around telling us that nothing means anything?

    All I seem to see are people reassuring everyone over and over again that, of course, atheists believe in love and fairness and family and friendship and justice and enjoying sunsets just like everyone else.

  32. You seriously misrepresent the Gallup poll. Most Americans do believe in God, but according to the poll, belief in strict creationism is not the majority view at any educational level. In fact, the most popular position seems to be that God exists, but so does evolution.

    1. Negative. The “evolution” that most people claim to believe in in that poll does not match the scientific theory so those people do not actually believe in evolution, even if they think they do.

      It’s like someone telling you about how they think the Beatles were such a great band, and how they really loved their albums like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall- they’re actually talking about Pink Floyd and it turns out that they aren’t actually familiar with any Beatles music at all.

      1. I recently had the experience of enduring the “Shocked! Shocked!” bloviating reaction of two apparent Beatles enthusiasts and borderline religious zealots (and by reasonable inference likely YEC’s) who just “couldn’t believe” that I didn’t know the Beatles song, “Because” by name (though I probably have heard it in passing, and even though I know the Dave Clark V and yesteryear’s Guy D’Hardelot songs with the same title). It wasn’t enough that I otherwise knew a bushel basket-full of Beatles songs. (“And YOU grew up during that time!”)

        I replied, “Your ‘Argument from Personal Incredulity’ is noted,” but that went over their heads.

        I spent some time trying to think of something these fellow Amuricuns didn’t know – something worth knowing I would be surprised to discover they didn’t know. (E.g., the geologic and radiometric bases for the age of the Earth; how an airplane is able to fly; the difference between nulear fission and fusion; who elucidated the structure of DNA; a snippet or two of immortal lines by Shakespeare, Shelly, Emerson, etc; the source of the name “America,” and so on and so forth.)

        I gave up; I couldn’t do it.

      2. Sorry, but there is most definitely a practical difference between the claim “Evolution exists, but God guided its development” and the claim “Young Earth Creationism is literally true.”

        They may both be incorrect, but only one of those stances seems to be an outright repudiation of a scientific worldview.

        Also, I too have to call BS on the whole “Jews-fleeing-the-Nazis-invented-whatever-intellectual-distinction-the-US-ever-had” assertion. The political achievemnets of the Founders, the writings of the Transcendentalists and Pragmatists, the many technological advances during the industrial revolution, to say nothing of the discoveries of such great scientists as J. Willard Gibbs and Linus Pauling, were all acomplished before, or indepenently of, the arrival of folks fleeing Hitler.

        1. “Sorry, but there is most definitely a practical difference between the claim “Evolution exists, but God guided its development” and the claim “Young Earth Creationism is literally true.” ”

          At what point did I say that the two were the same?

          1. You didn’t, really. I just think it’s a distinction worth drawing before we get *too* pessimistic about the intellectual climate in the US.

            1. I might agree with you if A) there wasn’t still so much effort put into getting Creationism/ID into American public education and B) theistic evolution wasn’t seriously different from the scientific theory.

  33. sumptin else, some Brit said that in EU religions were state religions so there is/was only one ideology in available…

    however, religious ideologies are always competitiveness and remarketing themselves so are more responsive to the market and customer needs…there are lots of ideologies competing for attention > buts in seats > money and the smartest sales people win…

    sales rule #1 is: only tell people what they want to hear. actually our brains can only listen to and hear what we already believe anyway…

  34. Hello.

    I am glad you picked-up on my article, but it’s a shame you misunderstood and (in small, but significant ways) misrepresented it.

    Perhaps the following points will serve to clarify:

    1. I did not blame ‘religion’ because, as a Catholic, I have no problem with the scientific theory of evolution or with genetic science. As I said in the article – Catholics haven’t had to take a literalist view of the Biblical creation story for around 2,000 years now. The Church itself has given a doctrinal thumbs-up to evolution, and the Vatican has warned AGAINST ID. Most Catholics see no conflict between religion and evolution. I know quite a number of Catholics who are genetic scientists. Catholic doctrine is the same in the US as everywhere else. I believe Catholics account for somewhere 25% of Americans – so that’s a big chunk of US society, and an even bigger chunk of ‘religious folk’ and Christians, who are NOT likely to object to evolution on grounds of religion. For them, there must be another explanation.
    2. You counter my point on the significance of awareness of the social history of eugenics etc. by saying most people don’t know it. But what I actually said was “so many intelligent and well-educated Americans” – referring to those with masters degrees and doctorates. An important qualification (no pun intended),no?
    3. According to the polling evidence, MORE Americans reject evolution as taught in public schools than believe in God or attend church. And, returning to my first point, many who DO believe in God and attend church belong to churches that don’t reject evolution (Catholic, mainstream Protestant, Jews etc.) Go figure.

    1. Dennis — 

      Re 1:

      “as a Catholic, I have no problem with the scientific theory of evolution or with genetic science.” [my emphasis] — Well, yes; yes, you do. The scientific theory of evolution makes no mention of God. If, as a Catholic, you believe that at some point God bestowed souls on early humans — the metaphorical Adam(s) and Eve(s) — then you have significantly departed from the scientific theory of evolution; what you now have is theistic evolution.

      “Catholics haven’t had to take a literalist view of the Biblical creation story for around 2,000 years now.” [my emphasis] — But how many do, nonetheless? According to the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life, 35% of all Catholics and 44% of those who have absolute belief in a personal God do not consider evolution to be the “best explanation for the origins of human life”. (Pew doesn’t distinguish between scientific/naturalist and theistic evolution.) So, it sure looks like up to 2/5 Catholics do take a literalist view!

      “I know quite a number of Catholics who are genetic scientists.” — And?

      Re 2:

      How many “intelligent and well-educated Americans” reject the theory of evolution. Rather less than the norm, I’d expect.

      Re 3:

      “According to the polling evidence…” – Which polls?

      According to the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life, while only 39% of people in the U.S. attend religious services at least once a week, 92% of people in the U.S. believe in God (60% a personal god, 25% an impersonal force and 7% other/don’t know), so the number who “believe in God or attend church” is at least 92%.

      According to a Gallup poll in December 2010, only 15% of people in the US “believe” in naturalistic (that is, scientific) evolution, while 38% believe in theistic evolution and 40% believe in Creationism (that is, 78% reject naturalistic evolution; 6% were don’t know/didn’t answer).

      I don’t know where you learnt arithmetic, but in my school we were taught that 78% is less than 92%…

      /@

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