My paper on religious and social factors affecting American acceptance of evolution

April 18, 2012 • 5:07 am

I’ve written a paper for the “Outlook on Evolution and Society” section of the journal Evolution, “Science, religion, and society: the problem of evolution in America.”  They’ve agreed to free public access since it’s about education, and you can download it free at the link.  Be aware of two things: 1) this is the accepted manuscript, and I’ll be making some stylistic corrections in it before it’s published, and 2) the paper was reviewed, so the facts and assertions in it have been vetted.

As you’ll see, it doesn’t pussyfoot around, but places the blame for evolution denial squarely on the shoulders of religion (something that accommodationists all know but are loath to admit), and then discusses ways to deal with religiously-based opposition.

UPDATE: I wasn’t aware this was behind a paywall; they may be keeping it there until the final draft is published.  You can access it through your library if they have a subscription, and I’ll see if I can make a pdf available to readers.

73 thoughts on “My paper on religious and social factors affecting American acceptance of evolution

        1. Btw, I did register to be able to access Wiley’s dls. For some reason I had a very hard time getting my address (city/zip/state) accepted.
          The HUGE traffic from this site might have brought Wiley down to it’s knees?

  1. They probably won’t move it beyond the paywall until the paper is “out out”, right now it’s in “accepted papers” and still hasn’t been fancy formatted and such.

  2. I went ahead and went through the registration process. But then when I tried to get the article, it would cost $35. So, nothing free here.

  3. .
    Can someone upload the PDF to one of many upload sites a post a link here?

      1. Yes, please do wait. The SSE is my society, and I don’t want to violate their rules, especially since the editor has been so kind as to eventually allow the paper to be accessed for free. I’ve written to see when that will happen.

      1. Yes, but it is a whacky world where scientists give their papers for free to journals who then claim copyright on articles and charge for them–and it is considered a *favor* from the publisher for the author to then give away *his own* paper.

        (I don’t know if that is the case in this incident, but it is pretty shocking that the academic publishing industry is a for profit, multi-billion dollar industry based almost entirely on the free labor of science authors and reviewers.)

  4. BTW, I just want to point out that charging 35 dollars(you can buy 3 paper books for that) for an article is pretty damn OBSCENE.

  5. Patience! I let it sit for a few minutes and the site finally loaded (for me, at least).

    I haven’t read it in full yet — off to class now — but from what I’ve read so far, I can safely comment that I am very glad you wrote this paper, Jerry. Honestly, as strongly as I support “free science” — i.e., discussions among scientists and laypeople that hasn’t been officially peer-reviewed — there is still the pervasive attitude that words shouldn’t be taken seriously until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

  6. I’ve got it now.
    “But one suspects that we could best promote evolution not by the
    BioLogos strategy of trying to get evangelicals to embrace a worldview they find repugnant, but
    by concentrating on bringing Catholics and mainline Protestants into the “no religion” category!”
    Exactly – religious triage!

  7. What a wonderful line. Thank you.

    “weakening religion may itself require other, more profound changes: creating a society that is more just, more caring, more egalitarian”

    1. I think this approach has two huge things going for it (and many smaller ones).

      First, social change will garner broad support, even from religious people. Institutions who fight it can expect to be quickly marginalized. (If this is organized by secularists, all the better.)

      Second, I think it will work. I’m on less solid footing here but the correlations are strong and we’ve seen it in several countries and even within countries (eg: Quebec).

  8. I loved every word. Congratulations Jerry!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if some of our friends at NCSE and the major scientific societies read your article and, for once, tried to understand the real issue? I suspect we’ll see a posting from Joshua Rosenau in less than 24 hours. As usual, he won’t understand a thing.

    I have some ideas about how to create a more just society in America. The first thing to do is kill all the lawyers.

  9. My “friends of the library” access at a local research institution is one of my favorite things in life.

    My son has a fairly rare neurological disorder and I got the subscription to keep up with the related research, but it’s great to be able to have access to the frontiers of our knowledge for many reasons.

    At many schools, you can get access to the library and most digital resources for $100 or less a year. If you’re the kind of nerd that hangs out here, it’s probably something you would enjoy. 😉

  10. While I’ve no professional qualifications, I’ve looked at the article. (Library subscription access.)

    One minor quibble I’d have is your (admittedly, ordinary) taking the Gallup poll data at face value. Put simply, the three-alternative answer appears likely to lump in the Old-Earth and the Young-Earth creationists.

    I base this inference based on the 2002 Cleveland Plain Dealer poll, back at the pre-Dover high water period of the Intelligent Design movement. The CPD poll was limited to Ohio, rather than national. However, Ohio is a “swing” state, and typically median on racial distribution, education levels, income, and so on. As such, it seems a serviceable proxy.

    Rather than Gallup’s three-alternate, the CPD used a which of five. The five appear to map well to Atheistic Evolution, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, Old-Earth Creationism, and Young-Earth Creationism. The percentages of AE:TE:ID:OEC:YEC was roughly 13:26:15:13:29 (reordered into subjective saner to whacko order, neglecting the underresponsive). Gallup’s numbers nearest (2001/02/19-21) the CPD poll dates was 12:37:45. This looks to me like the Gallup “Man developed, with God guiding” includes both TE and ID respondents, while “one time within the last 10,000 years or so” looks to include both OEC and YEC.

    I’d speculate OEC answer that way, because while they accept that the earth is old, they think God popped humans onto the scene pretty recently.

    This doesn’t have much impact on the overall paper; 25% YEC is an improvement over 40%, but not much of one. Contrariwise, treating the Gallup number as corresponding to the YEC contingent (rather than YEC core plus OED penumbra) appears to be at best carelessly imprecise, and at worst willfully sensationalist distortion.

    Similarly (and with marginally more impact), the numbers for Gallup’s trinary question appears to correspond imperfectly to the numbers for the binary Scott/Miller question. The GSS 2006, 2008, and 2010 has a closer analog (EVOLVED); GSS-2010 gives a value of about 55% acceptance, while the earlier two about 50%. This would shift the US to be slightly less an outlier from the curve fit. Not a lot of apparent consequence, otherwise.

    I also suspect the phrase “there is only one brand of scientific truth” a bit further on in the paper might raise some eyebrows among those dealing with the anthropology, sociology, and philosophy of science. Under close scrutiny, there are probably borders to the brand as fuzzy as the borders of biological species. However, developing an extended gene-to-meme analogy and consideration of science as a case-study would probably require a paper in its own right. (More likely, a dissertation.)

    Finally, I think the analysis of accomodationism could be stronger; however, critique of that would require more reflective consideration than I can spare time for at this instant.

    Overall, I think the paper is sound and well written. Of course, your cat may well be more qualified to judge that. =)

  11. The paper is a well-argued, well-referenced and concise distillation of all of the important points that we’ve seen discussed here and elsewhere over the last few years. It’s very readable, which hopefully will result in some broader appreciation. Great job, Jerry.

  12. Dr Coyne, I’m sure that you are aware of the fact that Nick Matzke is calling you out at Pandas Thumb?

    1. Or even, as per the comments there, accommodationist! 😉

      I find it hard to sympathise with Nick’s second point, when he can say something as fatuous as “[Darwin] was an agnostic, not an atheist”. (I know some commenters on this site will disagree, but I think this issue has been nailed by Shermer and Rieux, among others.)

      Re his fourth comment, what term would he prefer? Collaborator? Quisling? 😉

      Nick’s first point might warrant a clarification from Jerry, but I haven’t got access to the paper, so I can’t properly judge.


      1. Matzke’s first point is that Jerry quoted Theodosius Dobzhansky’s line “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” however Dobzhansky was religious therefore you cannot use a quote from him (or more specifically you cannot quote Dobzhansky because the essay from which the quote originates is pretty accomodationist in tone.)
        I don’t see the connection he tries to make here. The line “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” stands by itself as a clear statement of the central importance of the evolutionary process within the discipline of biology.
        By itself it says nothing about any supernatural involvement in biology and to include elements of theistic evolution (God guiding mutations or intervening to facilitate the development of species towards some defined point) you need to add something extra to that statement – which I guess Dobzhansky does in the rest of the essay.
        To use the quote, however, doesn’t mean you endorse the rest of the essay. I’m sure that bothe Ken Miller and Francis Collins say many things in their books that any gnu could agree with. Does that mean that quoting these points of agreement mean you must also agree with the rest of their beliefs? – or are you precluded from agreeing with them on some points unless you sign up to all their views?
        Matzke’s argument is rather typical of accomodationists in that he seems to regard the debate in primarily political terms – there are sides to be chosen here, not individual points with which we happen to agree or disagree.

            1. Rereading it now, it’s not quite that, since, Jerry doesn’t quote Dobzhansky, but quotes the SSE which quote’s Dobzhansky!

              But, yes, agreed: Dobzhansky’s other views (which seem to be religious rather than atheist-accommodationist; Nick’s mistaken there, I think) doesn’t make the SSE’s statement less than “completely neutral about religion and ‘accommodationism’”.

              But I see Jerry has another post directly addressing Nick’s criticism, so I’m probably lagging the discussion significantly.

              On the other hand, I’m pretty pleased with the work I got done today: Anyone interested in a paper on how to write a good password policy?


    2. I think Nick’s saying that, because people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins can successfully compartmentalize religion and science, religion itself can’t possibly be the problem because the religious anti-evolution types could all do the same.

      However, there’s one big obstacle that’s preventing this type of compartmentalization in most people, and it’s simply that science really does contradict their religion, and the believers are 100% correct in recognizing that. The fact that a handful of scientists have managed to overcome the conflict between science and religion in their own minds does not mean there’s no conflict.

      1. So…are you saying in general ‘believers’ (for example from the Bible belt) are more informed in recognizing a science and religion conflict than a religious PhD biology professor like Ken Miller? I think you have the sides for the argument of authority on both domains here a bit mixed up.

    3. There are people still taking Matzke seriously ?

      I would have thought his lack of honesty over the AAAS’s position of religion and evolution would have been enough to make him a laughing stock.

  13. Thanks for the link. This is an interesting manuscript. Considering the levels of poverty and dysfunction in Asia and Africa, it would appear that the hold of religion there would be great, perhaps even greater than in the USA. Certainly the intensity of religious demonstrations in that part of the world is consistent with the idea. Some years ago many of us who teach biology received free in the mail a beautifully illustrated anti-evolution picture book that was published and sent from the Middle East. Mine went straight into the waste bin.

    As Jerry’s paper indicates, there are some signs of weakening in the hold of religion in the USA. Church attendance is on the decline, and despite their religious beliefs, huge numbers of Americans do not think religion affects real life very much. The notion that it affects real life negatively, i.e. Hitchens’ poisoning thesis, may be gaining ground. Every time science has disproven a tenet of Christianity, it is Christianity that has had to give way, however grudgingly, however slowly.

    It is an interesting notion that fixing society’s ills might hasten the demise of religion. Ironically, the evangelicals already think that science and liberalism are threatening to their beliefs. This paper supports that fear. Chances are though that they will not read it…

  14. I just read the paper. It’s wonderful, of course. WEIT site readers have read most, if not all, the points made in the paper, but it’s really nice to see how beautifully JAC brought them together.

    My only disappointment with the paper is that the discussion of strategy in the paper is on how to promote acceptance of evolution rather than the more important strategic dual goal of (1) promoting the importance of the methodology of science (as JAC nicely summed up) while also (2) promoting recognition of the dysfunctional methodology for “knowing” via religion (as JAC also nicely summed up). However, I recognize that JAC focused on a more appropriate strategic goal to discuss in a journal focused on evolution, in particular, and not science in general.

  15. Just read it. Good stuff, but a couple of points.

    a) Is it really “surprising” that catholics scored lower than prods/jews etc on the science literacy test (p12)? I was surprised they scored as well as they did.

    b) Quite impressive to review a 2009 book in 2000 (p16)!

      1. The combination of Jewish and Protestant makes an odd mix. As I recall, usually Jews tend better educated than Catholics, who in turn tend better than mainline Protestants, who in turn tend better educated than evangelical/fundamentalist strains.

        Looking more closely (RELIG, DENOM, DEGREE, YEAR), however, the differences between Catholics and Protestants in overall education level may be going away. Education levels tend to rise generally, but Catholics appear to have stayed steady since around 1990 while most others (Methodist, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians) tended to continued rising. (Baptist progress remains slower.)

        It looks in part like those Catholics who were better educated are more tending to become Nothingarians. Contrariwise, the Catholic stagnation still looks to remain if you go more by the religion someone was raised under (RELIG16).

  16. Thanks to Ido, I’ve got Jerry’s paper.

    First nit-pick: How does a survey of “33 European countries and Japan” include the U.S. and Turkey? (The latter is maybe arguable) Is this one of the “stylistic” changes you wanted to make?

    I’ll read the whole paper later; I need to get back to work now. :-/


  17. typo:
    “like the existence virgin births” should be “like the existence *of* virgin births”, or perhaps “like virgin births”. I wonder if there was another existence claim you had in mind?

    (digging the paper. just wanted to contribute to the copy-editing…)

  18. I would suggest that religion per se is not the reason, rather it is the underlying implication that the universe exists ex nihilo.

    In terms of science, what might help would be the widespread promotion of any mathematical formulae that express the laws of evolution. Such formulae are obviously characteristic of physics, one or two of these being well known to non-scientists.

    1. You realise, of course, that the collapse of the Islamic Golden Age, their age of reason, was severely damaged by the Crusades and Mongol invaders … but was nailed shut with Al-Ghazali declaring mathematics unacceptable as it led to questioning of religion.

  19. Dr. Coyne, just finished reading your manuscript. One thing in your paper stuck out for me that I can’t quite reconcile.

    You point to several studies that suggest income inequality as a factor in increasing religiosity. You also make the point that, “virtually all indicators show that religion is also waning in the United States.” Wouldn’t we expect an increase in religiosity given the steady increase in income inequality over the past 30-40 years? Are there other factors not considered in your paper or am I thinking about this in the wrong way?

    Maybe you or someone could enlighten me. Much appreciated.

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