My Evolution paper officially out

May 24, 2012 • 7:30 am

My paper on the relationship between acceptance of evolution, religion, and societal health is finally available for free at Evolution (you can see the early publication section here and download my pdf here; if the second link doesn’t work, just go to the first link and download my paper directly—it’s the 9th one down). There are three typos that, I hope, will be fixed, but this is essentially the final piece. If you want the article, I’d appreciate it if you downloaded it from the Evolution site rather than asking me: Evolution keeps track of such things to assess the impact of the journal and of original articles.  If neither of those links works for you, email me and I’ll send you the pdf.

I’m grateful to Daphne Fairbairn, the indefatigable editor of the journal, for her suggestions and willingness to allow the article to be disseminated for free; to Tom Meagher (the Outlook on Evolution and Society editor) and three anonymous reviewers—yes, it was peer-reviewed—for their helpful comments; to our old friend Jason Rosenhouse for reading the whole thing and making many useful suggestions; and to Mona Albano for a wonderful (and voluntary) job of tweaking the prose.

Here’s the abstract:

American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This is due largely to the extreme religiosity of the United States, which is much higher than that of comparably advanced nations, and to the resistance of many religious people to the facts and supposed implications of evolution. The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America. This is easier said than done, for recent sociological surveys show that religion is highly correlated with the dysfunctionality of a society, and various measures of societal health show that the United States is one of the most socially dysfunctional First World countries. Widespread acceptance of evolution in America, then, may have to await profound social change.

The reaction in some corners of the blogosphere seems predictable, but I’ll leave you make those prognostications.  All I can say is that when you see religion as responsible for anything bad—even something as palpably obvious as creationism—or suggest that there may some incompatibility between science and religion, there will be nay-sayers alternately bawling and osculating the rump of faith.

I’ll finish with a relevant quote from p. 325 of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (a wonderful book; do read it). I’ve put in bold the sentence that absolutely distinguishes science from religion.

I meet many people offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. They also tend to be less then assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence.  Evidence has little to do with it: What they wish to be true, they believe is true. Only 9 percent of Americans accept the central finding of modern  biology that human beings (and all the other species) have slowly evolved by  natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way. (When asked merely if they accept evolution 45 percent of Americans say yes. The figure is 70 percent in China.)

Reader earlycuyler‘s cat Lynus gets educated:


Coyne, J. A. 2012.  Science, religion, and society: the problem of evolution in America. Evolution, published online: 17 May 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01664.x

104 thoughts on “My Evolution paper officially out

  1. Having attended your lecture, which was great, I look forward to reading more detail in this paper. I’m glad Evolution is making it available for free. You’ve opened up the terms of discussion here in a way that I hope will be fruitful, although I agree that it’s going to be a long time before Americans realize that, for all our strengths, we’re actually not “more evolved” (or “created more perfectly”) than the “lower” countries and can learn something from them.

  2. Can’t a person be persuaded that both work. I am so tired of one or the other trying to destroy the other. There is no proof that a divine being or beings did not influence all of creation and there is no evidence that nothing more than chemical biological processes are at work. You can make all the evidence you like in either direction. Facts are just facts, and evidence is just evidence. The whole point is to find out the truth not seek to destroy what you cannot find evidence for. Carl Sagan is just as blind as anyone else.

    1. You haven’t read the paper, have you? Well, there is evidence for evolution and no evidence for God. Further, there is no proof that dragons don’t live in your closet and sometimes nibble holes in your sweaters, but they’re invisible. Are you persuaded that that is possible? Why can’t we believe in both moths and dragons?

      Science doesn’t destroy what it doesn’t find evidence for; it ignores it.

      And no, you are FAR blinder than Carl Sagen.

    2. Think of it this way. Let’s say there are two dice – one had the number 1 on all sides and the other was a normal 6 sided die – if picked one of these dice at random and I rolled a 1 which is the more probable die that I rolled? If you picked the die with the 1 on all sides that would be correct. That is the more probable answer.

      The same logic happens with evolution. An all powerful god can make humanity any way it wants; divine creation just like in the Bible or evolution (or myriads of other ways). However, a universe with no god can only have humanity come about through a process like evolution. The fact that humanity came about through evolution points towards no god. That is the more probable explanation even if a god could have made humanity via evolution.

      The problem with an all powerful god is that it is unfalsifiable. Because any outcome is “proof” of this god, an unfalsifiable hypothesis will generally be less probable than falsifiable hypotheses due to the same logic with the dice.

      1. At least that is what I put in the subject line when I forwarded this excellent essay to several colleagues.

    3. There is no proof that a divine being or beings did not influence all of creation and there is no evidence that nothing more than chemical biological processes are at work.

      In its strictest sense, this is, of course, true. But the exact same applies to Last Wednesday-ism and Tiger Rock-ism; there is no proof that a divine being or beings did not create all of existence as we know it last Wednesday, and there is no evidence that there is no paranormal properties of tiger rocks that protect their owners from being eaten by tigers.

      I’m sure that you dismiss both those possibilities as silly just as I do, yet I doubt you’ll dismiss your own proposed hypotheses as equally silly even though they so clearly are.

      But never mind that. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that your hypotheses are absolutely correct, the resulting implications are not at all favorable to your gods. For, if your gods are, in fact, significantly (even if not entirely) responsible for life as we know it, then they are unimaginably sadistic and evil. Have you any idea the suffering that led to the birth of a cute little kitten? How many parasites serve no other ecological purpose than their own propagation at the cost of incomprehensible pain to their hosts? How many beautiful organisms have been obliterated out of sheer randomness?

      Either the gods are monsters or they’re imaginary (or both); there is no other option. Fortunately, for all our sakes, the evidence is amazingly and overwhelmingly powerful that the gods truly are imaginary; we’ve searched everywhere, including countless places they absolutely must be if they were real, and found nothing.



    4. …there is no evidence that nothing more than chemical biological processes are at work.

      Oh, God made me in his perfect image and Jesus loves me. I am so happy! Squee!

      Oh, wait, my friend down the street has Muscular Dystrophy. He didn’t even inherit it from his mother (who has been tested as a carrier) – it was a spontaneous mutation in her egg’s X chromosome. But if God made him, why did he do this? If he was mad at the egg, didn’t he understand he’d be taking it out on him, too? But I should still worship him? Oh, I see, he just made the world and a starter set of humans, and then walked away. But yet I should still spend my time worshiping him.

      What a crock.

      1. While I feel for your friend, it’s clear that you haven’t made up enough evidence to support him.

        Stop tearing down Muscular Dystophy, no one can prove it isn’t making him/her happier while simultaneously making him/her act as if it’s a horrible debilitating disease.

      2. You don’t understand.

        God had a plan for all that including the MD.

        Hmmm, his plan seems to be to make everyone into atheists. Oh well, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

    5. “You can make all the evidence you like in either direction”

      Maybe you should define what you mean by evidence, because if you can ‘make all you like’ then it isn’t what everyone is referring to as evidence.

      You can certainly search for more evidence to support this or that conclusion, but it’s either there or it isn’t; you don’t just make evidence up, otherwise it would be called fiction or fantasy.

  3. Excellent paper. I think the strategy of working for a more equitable society is a better bet, though America will prove a tough nut to crack in that department. (I often feel that a majority of Americans, including liberals, are instinctively libertarian).

    Too many secularists fall for a fallacy, i.e. that more information (reason, logic, data, etc.) will enact the transformation they seek in their ‘unenlightened’ opponents. This is false. Your paper has the data to prove what common sense and experience alludes to: that narratives are stronger than reason, and that fear is the great motivator of religiosity (especially of the orthodox/authoritarian kind).

    1. Its not entirely false. I think more and better general education will reduce the resistance to evolution. You are focused on pointing out that use of reason on creationists won’t work, but IMO the more critical thinking is understood and used by creationists, the less creationist they become (as a statistical trend; I’m aware of the highly visible exceptions).

      This is not exactly in line with Jerry’s recommendation, but I’ll point out that improving education can help reduce income disparity and a lot of the other negative social factors he cites as correlating with religiosity. So, even if one doesn’t think there is a direct connection (between general education and evolution acceptance), there’s probably a bunch of good indirect reasons to improve general education having to with education’s impact on the health of our society.

      1. I’m sympathetic but my experience leads me to believe this (trying to show creationists the error of their ways) far too difficult. It’s a question of competing narratives and narratives are very difficult to dislodge. As Prof. Coyne’s paper shows, it’s not exactly news that people can hold cognitively-dissonant ideas in their heads at the same time. It does happen that a believer will be shaken out of his dogmatic slumber by evidence (it happened to me), but I would wager that the vast majority of YECers and even liberal Christians who mistakenly ‘see no conflict’ between their faith and evolution need more than data or facts to get them to accept the rather disruptive truth of natural selection. People aren’t religious because they’re stupid; they’re religious because religion answers some pretty basic existential questions.

        As for the latter, re: education and the health of society. No dispute there. A social democracy in America would probably correlate with decreased religiosity since increased wealth, health, less fear does mitigate some humans’ need for a God or religious answers.

        1. It happened to me and now I’m an evolutionary biologist. Why not others? It just so happened that a family member I respected helped me when I was still relatively young, but it is palpably false that even young earth creationists are unreachable. Many may be, and many that are reachable may require so much effort as to be not worth it to you. However, don’t just throw up your hands.

          1. Before this degenerates, please don’t misunderstand my post…I’m not throwing up my hands and surrendering. Like Camus’ Sisyphus I believe in carrying on regardless of the expected outcome. We’re all on the same side here.

            It happened to me too. But it happened to no one else in my family or a lot of people I grew up with in a very fundamentalist denomination. What happened? Am I just smarter? Better with my ‘free will?’ I have no idea.

            Bringing ‘narrative’ back to make a point…it’s like reading fiction. Many people will read fiction all their lives but have no taste for modernism (let’s use Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ as a fine example). No matter what they do, they just won’t ‘get’ it. I did. It’s one of my favorite novels. For some educated reading people, but not others, something ‘clicks’, even though they are exposed to the same influences. I tend to think that truly accepting evolution and natural selection to the point where you realize what a disaster it is for your religion is rare for a reason. What that is, I’m not sure. But I suspect it has to do with the kind of narratives humans want to believe, the kind that get them out of bed in the morning. If evolutionary proponents in the public square are going to make any headway here on a large scale, there must be more understanding and respect for the gut-wrenching decision to leave one’s faith is for many people (or would be for those on the fence…those who suspect they are wrong re: faith but can’t bear too much reality and so stick with the safe answers).

            1. To Supermarket Songs,

              You said:

              “But I suspect it has to do with the kind of narratives humans want to believe, the kind that get them out of bed in the morning.”

              I think that there are three main points that relate to that and to religion in general (at least christianity). One is the threat of damnation and eternal suffering if people don’t believe it and practice it, and another is the promise of salvation and eternal joy in heaven if people are good little godbots. The third is purpose, a special purpose, while living and after death.

              The theory of evolution doesn’t, and can’t offer those things, and many people especially want and need the latter two to feel like getting out of bed in the morning, although a more earthly threat, like ‘be on time for work or you’ll be fired’, will also encourage people to get out of bed.

              When it comes right down to it, most people need an external threat or promise to get motivated. Most people are not self starters or self sufficient. Most people are ‘followers’.

              1. I would add that often christians can commit any crime or act and can still be forgiven and therefore “saved”! They do not have to be good, moral etc all their life. Just accept Jesus as your Lord and personal Savior and your are saved for Eternity. A win win situation offered to them. Most people will not try to study and learn on their own. Television and computer games, movies,bars,drinking.sports, etc offer easy diversions that are fun. Who wants to take the time to learn anything that most find no use for anyway. Those who are making the moneyare happy and so are the politicians who seem quite pleased to continue to enjoy the corporate gifts and sweet economics deals that are offerred that increases they wealth. But the atheist, nonbelievers have grown through access to the internet!! and the world is a’changing as Bob Dylan’s song said!

        2. I would wager that the vast majority of YECers and even liberal Christians who mistakenly ‘see no conflict’ between their faith and evolution need more than data or facts to get them to accept the rather disruptive truth of natural selection.

          Theists who accept evolution are not the target of JAC’s paper (at least not this paper). They are, at worst – to extend Jerry’s analogy – asymptomatic carriers of the disease, not sufferers of its symptoms.

          My reply to you was about general education improving acceptance of evolution, not general education reducing theism. Forget the latter for the moment; do you agree or disagree with the former?

          1. Maybe? I don’t think education is a magic elixir. Very smart people believe awfully dumb things and always have. It can’t hurt; but one shouldn’t put too much faith in education. Again…quoting Sagan…what they wish to be true, they believe to be true. Even if education tells them otherwise.

  4. Go to YouTube and watch Peter Boghossian on “faith: Pretending to know things you don’t know”. I would add cant know but it is not my video. As you and Sagan both say, faith evolves wish fulfillment and involves a deep emotional attachment. Boghossian presents a possible technique for breaking that attachment. Dawkins already has a link to this video.

  5. JC online: “for example, science and faith are compatible because some scientists are religious. Likewise with Catholicism and pedophilia.”

    JC in a journal: “This argument for science/faith compatibility is like saying that Christianity and adultery are compatible because many Christians are adulterers.”

    I’d like to think that you attempted to use the first analogy in your journal article but were blocked by a faint-hearted reviewer.

  6. This is the first document I ever tried emailing to my Kindle. First I tried it just as a PDF, but the combination of the dual column format and the small size of the Kindle screen leave the PDF unreadable. So I removed the PDF and sent it to my Kindle email address a second time, adding convert as a subject so that the PDF would be converted to Kindle format. Excellent result.

  7. While reading the quotes supporting accomodationism, it struck me that one basis for the accomodationist pose is fear. Religion doesn’t just make people stupid, it makes them mean.

    Scientists who are accomodationist are likely afraid to lose funding, and some could even fear physical attack.

    The spiral of less education leading to less competence leading to more fear leading to more religion, etc. is supported by charlatans in our country who benefit financially and in their quest for power. These people would pull funding for research that is likely to lead to disputation of their position if they possibly could.

    Sometimes I feel like we’re living in the dark ages. Sigh. L

    PS: Really great article, Jerry.

    1. I am not sure I understand your point. Are you saying accommodationists fear that, if they were strident atheists, their scientific funding would be pulled? That does not seem to be the case; AFAIK, scientific proposal evaluators neither ask nor care about one’s religious views. And remember, something like 50% of those evaluators self-identify as Christians. Bigotry against atheists in terms of reserach and grant funding does not, AFAIK, exist.

      Or are you saying that our 75% Christian society is likely to put less money into scientific research if the majority starts to believe science is incompatible with faith? I’d somewhat agree with that. Debates over step cell research, HPV vaccine, etc… says to me that there’s at least a highly vocal minority of Christians who are willing to give up science where it’s seen to conflict with faith. I might need convincing before thinking that group will every be a majority, though. There are a lot of pragmatists out there who, given the choice between science and faith, will choose both and happily live in a state of conflict. Folks who will use (and fund research for) vaccines while rejecting evolution, and shrug.

      1. Think of congressional Republicans making fun of research projects they don’t understand and using them as “evidence” of wasting government money. Think of Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.

        Think of Santorum’s diatribe against education.

        Think of climate denialists. Think of anti-vaccination wackos. Etc.

        While research funding may not be threatened immediately in most cases, I can foresee a time when the anti-science crowd in power would move to defund a lot of research, and not just in the biological sciences. Look what’s happening to NASA. We can debate NASA’s usefulness, but the idea that the money “is better spent” elsewhere (military?, oil subsidies?) can be applied to anything, especially when the benefit is long-range, and especially when the skills needed to do the research mitigate against ignorance.

        I thought it was ironic when Mitt Romney was reported this morning as saying that American kids are getting a “third-world education”. I’m sure he would never pin that on religion, but it’s certainly where I’d pin it.

        BTW, just as an aside, I’ve thought that an appropriate response to the canard that atheists are hypocritical because we use money that says, “In God We Trust” on it, is, “I’ll give up using money when you give up using modern medicine”. L

        1. During the Bush years, science was seriously under attack. It’s said that the only war Bush won, was the War on Science.

          The word was out not to use evolution in the title of a paper or grant proposal. Use changes in allele frequency over time or some other jargon.

          There has been a serious witch hunt against climate scientists for years now. They get death threats too.

          It’s ugly but it is reality. Being an accomodationist isn’t going to stop it, probably it will do nothing or make it worse.

    2. Scientists who are accomodationist are likely afraid to lose funding, and some could even fear physical attack.

      Both can happen.

      I’ve been getting death threats from xians for over a decade. A lot of scientists do. Two evolutionary biologists have been beaten up and one was stabbed to death.

      It didn’t make me an accomodationist though. I was a xian myself when they started. It made me a Militant Atheist and anti-Xian.

      It also made me a lot more careful and wary. The xian terrorists kill a few people here and there, mostly MD’s.

  8. Very good case. I’ve no doubt it will be reviled among many of the unthinking NOMA crowd – You can’t just come out and say that, man – but I’ve also no doubt that it will diminish their ranks.

  9. quite amusing when “1curb” succeeds in being the absolute poster child for exactly what’s wrong per Dr. Coyne’s paper. The same whine that there is a god with no evidence, the same lies that there is no evidence that life, etc is simply chemical/physical. that quote from Dr. Sagan is just perfect to describe this kind of person.

  10. Great paper. A few technical nits:

    1. There is a very minor discrepancy between the datum “US” in Figure 1 and the spreadsheet EVO_1664_sm_suppmat.xls provided online.

    2. This discrepancy may appear in the least significant digits of the numerical results. Matlab:

    » X = [38 31 23 34 36 38 32 43 59 47 74 34 44 …
    44 73 37 41 19 16 81 95 48 61 80 54 67 90 81 …
    40 49 37 90 88 95;
    85 83 82 80 78 75 74 74 73 72 69 68 67 67 67 …
    67 66 66 64 64 62 62 59 58 57 57 55 54 50 49 …
    48 46 40 27].’;

    » p = polyfit(X(:,1),X(:,2),1)
    p = -0.3320 81.4360

    [cf. y = –0.33x + 81.47]

    » R = corrcoef(X(:,1),X(:,2)); r = R(1,2)
    r = -0.6032

    [cf. –0.608]

    » N = size(X,1); t = r/sqrt((1-r^2)/(N-2));
    » nu = N-2; x = nu/(t^2+nu);
    » P = betainc(x,nu/2,1/2)
    P = 1.5952e-04

    [two-sided; cf. 1e-4]

    A remarkable significance level in any case.

    3. Data like this, in which there is no clearly independent or dependent variables and both axes have measurement error, calls for total least squares, not simple least squares regression. Practically, does Belief in God inhibit Acceptance of Human Evolution, or vice-versa? TLS gives a better and more accurate line fit for your data:

    » [V,S,U] = svd(X-repmat(mean(X),[size(X,1) 1]),0);
    » a = U(2,1)/U(1,1)
    a = -0.4000
    » b = -a*mean(X(:,1))+mean(X(:,2))
    b = 85.0763

    [The line y = –0.4x + 85.1 fits the data best.]

    1. Perhaps, but that’s why I presented the correlations first, which aren’t based on which is the dependent and which is the independent variable.

      Thanks for the recalculation!

  11. This paper is sillier than I expected. It is based on a “Successful Societies Scale” that rates the USA as the least successful nation in the world.

    1. It’s not based on that at all–that’s an EXPLANATION for the high degree of religiosity in the US. The main point is that America’s creationism come from its religion. Further, other sociological studies (cited in the paper) support the dysfunctionality of the US compared to other First World countries. Finally, you’re flat wrong about the US being the least successful society in the world. As I said, it’s the least successful society among 17 FIRST WORLD COUNTRIES SURVEYED. Did you even read the paper?

      You appear unwilling to accept the US’s position here. Fine, but it doesn’t make the paper silly. And stop urinating on my carpet. If you have criticisms, make them in an objective and non-insulting fashion.

      1. To clarify, Successful was determined by comparing “…25 indices of social well-being, including rates of homicide, incarceration, juvenile morality and adolescent abortion, the incidence of venereal disease and alcohol consumption, corruption, levels of poverty and income disparity, [etc].”

        If success was defined as, ‘who has the biggest GDP,’ then the US would be #1. But the ratings took a broader view of what “successful” means, with wealth not being the determining factor.

        1. Please make your case for GDP being a reliable indicator of a successful society.

          I’m sure that the US GDP could be improved if 1% of the population held the other 99% in thrall on subsistence wages. (Think Metropolis or the Star Trek episode, “The Cloud Minders”.) Would that be a more successful society?


          1. It was an example of what I’m assuming people think about when they find it difficult to accept the US as being last in a list of 17 successful countries. If you assume a high GDP is success, well then the US is certainly more successful than the other 17 in the paper.

            I’m not advocating that position. I was actually just commenting to clarify what the paper used, or cited, as factors in a successful society.

            See Roger’s comment above, I thought he might better understand why the US is so low on the list if he was reminded of what the graph was illustrating.

      2. The paper says that the USA is a lowly 2.9 on a Successful Societies Scale from 1 to 10. It tries to use this score to say that creationism is a symptom of an unhealthy society, and that we need a “more just, more caring, more egalitarian” society in order to weaken religion.

        You cite Gould, Pinker, Dawkins, EO Wilson, and Diamond for bestselling evolution books, but you also harshly criticize Gould, and elsewhere you argue that Wilson gets evolution wrong. If the leading evolutionists get it wrong, then how can you blame the public? You blame the creationists, but there are no creationists with book sales and favorable reviews that compete with the atheist evolutionists.

        1. Roger Schlafly, first you condemn dysfunctional American society, warning that “immigrants do not share American values” and therefore “will not be voting Republican when they start voting in large numbers,” and also criticizing a congresswoman who sought charges against her rapist, maintaining that she simply “did not want to answer questions about whether she seduced the man.”

          Now you criticize Coyne for presenting data on the well-being of American society.

          If the a member of the Christianist right’s leading intellectual family can’t get their story straight about dysfunction in America, how can you expect the rest of us to?

          1. Yes, there is dysfunction in America. In other countries also. Is it the fault of creationists? I don’t think so. Since you read my blog, I guess you know that I am not a creationist, but I fail to see how creationists have caused so much dysfunction.

            1. No such causal relationship is asserted in the article. But I understand that you believe dysfunction in America is caused by immigrants, women seeking to prosecute their rapists, “witch-hunts” against college football coaches who rape little boys, and the fact that wives can accuse husbands of rape.

        2. The difference between creationists and evolutionists is the difference between flat-Earthers and “spherical-Earthers”. The differences amongst evolutionists (Coyne v. Wilson, &c.) are arguments about the degree of oblateness &c.


          PS. After Asimov, of course.

          1. Jerry reports that Dawkins says this about Wilson’s latest evolution book: “As for the book under review, the theoretical errors I have explained are important, pervasive, and integral to its thesis in a way that renders it impossible to recommend. To borrow from Dorothy Parker, this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force.” This is a substantial disagreement on what evolution is all about.

            1. So he does. But that “substantial disagreement” is still orders of magnitude smaller than the disagreement between evolution and creationism.

              All parties are agreed on the following:
              • That evolution happens.
              • That it proceeds by natural selection among other mechanisms.
              • That it is not teleological.
              • That it requires no supernatural agency.

              If the majority of the US public understood and accepted just those four points, which no relevant scientists “get wrong”, that would be a huge improvement.


              1. Actually, I think the apt analogy would be between two rocket scientists debating the relative merits of ion or pulsed nuclear drives for interplanetary probes contrasted with a flat earther / moon hoaxer.

                Could the debate between the rocket scientists get heated? Sure. Of course. But they’re in absolute agreement on 99 44/100% of how they view the universe, whereas the lunatic nutjob only agrees on the name of the ground he’s walking on.


        3. but you also harshly criticize Gould, and elsewhere you argue that Wilson gets evolution wrong.

          You are just lying here or a typical example of a fundie moron with no education.

          Coyne argues that Wilson’s group selection theory is wrong.

          This is a very, very small part of evolution and is a work in progress. I’m sure Coyne and Wilson agree on the basics and most of the details of the TOE.

          Evolutionary theory is a work in progress. It will never be finished. Science and knowledge are open ended. Religion is a just a dead end.

          1. “Religion is a just a dead end.”

            You must be thinking of a religious approach that is rather shallow. If a person actually thinks rather deeply about their religious precepts (say, the teachings of Jesus) and then tries to understandingly, humbly, and lovingly put those precepts into practice, they will often be forced by such study and action to revise many of their previously held preconceptions and actions regarding God, themselves, and their neighbors.

            In the Book of Jonah, for instance, we see Jonah very much disapproving of God’s viewpoint regarding the Ninevites (historical enemies of Israel.) Jonah wanted God to destroy them. God, however, wanted to save and redeem them. But despite wanting to redeem and care for them, God had no intention of then siding with the Ninevites and becoming opposed to the Israelites. God was just as interested in redeeming and caring for Israel as well.

            Jonah had a really hard time trying to deal with this new (to him) notion of what God was like and what the Ninevites were. Holding onto his old notions about either wouldn’t serve him very well. Thus the need for him to grow in his understanding and his practice.

            When approached in such a way, religion is not a dead end, but is rather a living, growing set of concepts and ideas that should, ideally, take one forward towards higher ideals and practices instead of being a set of sayings that are blindly memorized and ignorantly spoken and lived.

            1. “religion … should, ideally, take one forward towards higher ideals and practices” — So, the Bible is a kind of self-help book? It’s a shame, then, that religion singularly fails in this aspiration…


            2. If a person actually thinks rather deeply about their religious precepts (say, the teachings of Jesus) and then tries to understandingly, humbly, and lovingly put those precepts into practice, they will often be forced by such study and action to revise many of their previously held preconceptions and actions regarding God, themselves, and their neighbors.

              Oh, yeah?

              What sort of precepts would you put into practice with a loving, humble, and deeper understanding of Numbers 31? The Plagues? The Flood? Matthew 10:34? Luke 19:27? The Apocalypse? Hell?

              I can provide more examples if you like, but that should be more than enough to get you started.



            3. If a person actually thinks rather deeply about their religious precepts (say, the teachings of Jesus) and then tries to understandingly, humbly, and lovingly put those precepts into practice, they will often be forced by such study and action to revise many of their previously held preconceptions and actions regarding God, themselves, and their neighbors.

              This is really mindless bafflegab.

              Your benign and pollyannish view of religion is nice. It is in fact, similar to my view when I was a progressive moderate xian for 4 or 5 decades. But it is a small minority of US xianity today.

              People who think deeply about religion in the USA far more often become fundie xians who hate most of the human race (women, gays, atheists, Democrats, nonwhites, each other, themselves, etc.), openly hate the US government, and want to overthrow it and set up a hell on earth Theocracy.

              BTW, this isn’t a theory, it is an empirical observation. It’s what we see every day. The dominant visible variety of xianity today in the USA is tightly bound to right wing extremist politics and hatred of science, education and knowledge. It has a good chance of destroying our country.

        4. but you also harshly criticize Gould, and elsewhere you argue that Wilson gets evolution wrong. If the leading evolutionists get it wrong, then how can you blame the public?

          Speaking of disagreements, there are:

          1. Hundreds of religions with more being invented every year. Xians only make up 28% of the world’s population.

          2. There are 42,000 xian sects, all claiming to be The One True Church, with more being invented every year. My own ex-sect splits off a schismatic group every year or two all by itself.

          If xians haven’t been able to convince the world in 2,000 years of their truth and they never agree on anything, how can you blame the public for thinking it’s all a bunch of made up fairy tales.

          In point of fact that is what the public thinks. They are all atheists about every other god, religion, or sect,…but their own cult.

        5. why did your mother ever let you out of the hose, Roger?

          you never were housebroken.

          go back to “conservapaedia” so we can laugh at you from a distance. It just pollutes the threads here to laugh in your face.

        6. Look, Roger, you first should first apologize for your mischaracterization of the USA’s position in the world on the SSS, and now you show complete misunderstanding of how I regard Gould and Wilson. You obviously haven’t followed my website, which has often praised Gould’s scientific writing (while criticizing his views on punctuated equilibrium and NOMA) and Wilson’s contribution in Socibiology, conservation, and his work on ants. They don’t get ALL OF EVOLUTION “wrong,” but have taken positions that I don’t agree with. That’s true of all science. Your statement that I think “leading evolutionists” (you cite only two) “get it wrong” is misleading, and you know it.

          You’re trolling without any knowledge of my views, and you mischaracterized my paper, which is not silly.

          I suggest you frequent other websites, because I don’t want you urinating on my carpet.

          1. Your statement that I think “leading evolutionists” (you cite only two) “get it wrong” is misleading, and you know it.

            He doesn’t know it. He doesn’t know urine. Like the more prominent members of his family, he believes in all seriousness that it’s both normal and good to form and defend an opinion about things one has no idea of.

            Dr Dunning, have you met Dr Kruger before?

      1. Wait! A new favorite, directly relevant to dysfunction in US society.

        According to Right Wing Watch, Roger Schlafly attacked legislation that would push states to impose penalties on people who do not report child abuse to the police, and wrote that the case against ex-Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky is “bogus” and part of a “witch-hunt.”

        Certainly Roger Schlafly’s views are based on serious reflection and have nothing whatsoever to do with his religious beliefs.

      2. My fav: a self-published book titled How Einstein Ruined Physics.

        Sorry, but that’s not a silly book. I just browsed through it at googlebooks and it seems a well written and well argued book. I’m not saying that I agree with the author’s thesis about the state of modern physics or it’s causes but I don’t think that the book deserves your dismissing attitude.

    2. hmmm, do I sense a trend, people who don’t read the paper, have mistaken ideas about it and are presenting falsehoods because of that? Seems that this is exactly what creationists do.

    3. Nothing you, or your ridiculous mother has ever said or written has made the world a better place. Especially for women. In fact, you and she have made it worse. You suck. She sucks louder.

      I beg your pardon, Jerry.

  12. Dude. In the abstract alone, you slammed religion and denied that America is perfect. Good thing it is safely tucked away in a science journal; if Real Mericans read this, they would explode in a ball of red white and blue flame!

  13. “As both Orr (1999) and Coyne (2000)…”

    Is that a standard way to cite yourself? For a second I was wondering if Coyne had a doppelganger writing about the same stuff.

    1. I guess Jerry is really citing his paper, in which evidence and findings are presented, not himself qua himself, which would be argument from authority!


      1. I just found it funny when reading the article, like when someone refers to themselves in the third person in a conversation.

        I understand that it is another paper, with evidence, reasoning, and conclusions that stand on their own. I also understand that papers are cited by author and date for the sake of convenience and uniformity.

        Thank you for clarifying.

  14. ” Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America”
    Great multiple mixed metaphor construction.
    How about a proper construction from witness Jethro:
    “The paster was ‘a-grabin at my big snake ina death gripa faith like ‘a fever. I tried ‘knockin him down when the cops showed up. I was still fightin on a count he hurt my favorite rattler too when they shot me with a taser.”

    Yes, religious people and their friends all over the world really like it when scientists get together and talk about them like they are infected by various diseases, delusional, ignorant, dimwitted, dysfunctional, and worse. Meanwhile, scientists marvel at why they are growing increasingly hostile to them in a first world country like the US. Hmmmmm. Maybe it is because they are being led by arrogant weasels who openly want to wipe out all non scientific delusional religions. Religions which are supposedly big irritations to them, despite all the amusement they find and money they receive in making fun of them.

    1. Well, if only those religious folks could show themselves to be rational, knowledgeable, bright, prosocial, and better.


  15. The absolute hostility to science by many religious creationists makes any efforts at accommodation an impossible enterprise. I recently debated evolution online with three creationists, who made their strong religious convictions very clear. One rejected all statements by all scientists because they are men and not “the infallible Word of God.” A second rejected anything that scientists say because they sometimes use the words “possibly” and “probably”, thus demonstrating that they actually know nothing at all. The comparison was to the Bible, which has no uncertainty whatsoever. The third likened teaching evolution, and science generally, in public schools to Hitler indoctrinating German children in Nazism. And that was the mild stuff.

      1. And mine. Endless discussion at (sorry to waste so much time on Ken Ham’s only begotten son, but I was practicing the arguments I’ve been learning since I came to my senses). I quit when he stated that Mt. Everest was created by the forces unleashed during Noah’s flood. I posted a last link to
        as a starting point for the refutation of all creationist claims, and he responded that AiG and the ICR have refuted all those arguments. I may or may not be posting again (it’s been going on for three weeks), but I guess I had to see the futility for myself, especially considering that I was him for so many years.

        Anyhow, congratulations to Dr. Coyne for publishing the paper, and thanks for making it available. I plan to read it over the three-day weekend, and to watch the video By Dr. Peter Boghossian, the link to which was posted by Michael Fisher above.

  16. “creationism is a symptom of religion”
    Again, religion as disease rhetoric. Since 70% of China accepts evolution that must include many Taoists and Buddhists. Are they at risk of being infected with creationism? Are they immune from viral creationist Christianity, along with viral Mormons and Jews who both know a thing or two about gambling and like to encourage that now in Macau, more than belief in Jesus as an alternative to the pernicious opium trade?

    1. “creationism is a symptom of religion”

      actually this is the one thing I disagree with Jerry about.

      it’s a symptom of authoritarianism. evangelical fundamentalism itself is a symptom of authoritarianism.

      I side with Altemeyer on this one.

    2. “Are they at risk of being infected with creationism?”

      you do know that there ARE Buddhist creationists, right?

      that there IS a Buddhist creation myth?

      but then, this is why I say the nature creationism, which is just reality denial in favor of group dogma, is really a reflection of authoritarianism, not the specific religion itself.

      Is China in danger of authoritarianism like the US is?

      you tell me.

      1. No, I was completely unaware of those Buddhist beliefs. I bet they have versions of hell to go along with those myths too huh? I was worried about those Chinese Buddhists who hang out with Taoists getting exposed to all those Bibles, Mormon missionaries, and Baptist preachers who are all fully CCP approved now. I guess you should be even more worried about them going Buddhist fundamentalist or going over to full politically virulent Falun Dafa.

        1. Buddhism is, as most religions, creationist (IIRC) and soulist.

          Obviously the specific arguments depends on the religion. As I remember it, buddhists _do_ admit that their world is a living hell.

          Whether these 70 % “evolutionists” are mostly evolutionary creationists as in US is an interesting question. But there are no reason to think they aren’t, at this point.

    3. Did you guys see the news story on TV about massive numbers of bibles being printed in China, in Chinese? I can’t remember for sure but I think it was on the CBS Evening News last night or the night before.

  17. Second link worked beautifully. I clicked on download to iBooks and it downloaded instantly to my iPad. More long weekend reading material.

    1. They bailed on letting Axelrod do BM for obvious reasons. Not just the obvious political impacts either as the UofC was starting to rise up against him getting up close and personal with a guy like BM.

  18. Although I’m sympathetic to the slant of the article broadly speaking, it seems to me the way certain points are presented is a bit misleading. Jerry writes:

    “Some argue that the mere existence of religious scientists proves this compatibility [between science and religion], but that is specious. That people can simultaneously hold two conflicting worldviews in their head is evidence not for compatibility but for Walt Whitman’s solipsistic admission, “Do I contradict myself?/Very well, then I contradict myself.”

    This is misleading because Jerry accepts the “logical” compatibility between science and religion when pressed, and only wants to claim they are incompatible in some other sense. But note how this paragraph reads: the Whitman example concerns how he “contradicts” himself–which is a LOGICAL property of two sentences. So the way this point is presented is confusing because it suggests Jerry means logical compatibility when he doesn’t.

    Secondly, Jerry says that “Experience has shown only one way to discover what is true about our planet and universe: a combination of empiricism and rationality–that is, science conceived broadly.”

    I think it is unhelpful and likely to confuse people to call this conjunction “science”. If you talk this way long enough, sooner or later you start writing books called The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Moral Values, and confusing the hell out of people because science isn’t about values (and then later admitting your book is really about philosophy). So I think you would do better to use the term “reason and evidence-based inquiry” or even Pinker’s “secular reason” here instead of the term “science”. These terms are neutral and less likely to mislead.

  19. Old thread, but relevant link from the Atlantic:

    The percentage of adults who say they are “very religious” according to Gallup polls is negatively associated with national relative upward mobility (-.51)—a pattern that is graphically represented on the above scatter graph.

  20. Old thread, but relevant link from the Atlantic.

    The percentage of adults who say they are “very religious” according to Gallup polls is negatively associated with national relative upward mobility (-.51)—a pattern that is graphically represented on the above scatter graph.

  21. Finally got round to reading this (!).

    This is an excellent summary of the debate as it stands, so is a useful resource for that alone. I think you draw the correct conclusions from Paul’s and other’s research:

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

    I expect you are aware, but this is also the conclusion of Wilkinson and Pickett in their book The Spirit Level (see The data shows that well-being doesn’t increase after countries reach a certain level of wealth (hence higher GDP figures aren’t really relevant, except in a pissing contest), so then we need to understand why ‘rich’ societies vary so much in well-being. The evidence is quite persuasive that it is inequality that causes the variation (they use data from developed countries and US states to support this). There are provisos – as stated, this is only looking at developed nations (and US states), and the well-being statistics are selective. The grounds for that selection are argued for and methodical.

    What’s interesting about reducing inequality is that it benefits everyone in society, the rich as well as the poor. Furthermore, inequality doesn’t need to be tied to politics – left-wing fiscal policies aren’t needed to deliver less inequality, for example. Any policy that delivers more equality improves our health and well-being, it seems.

    It’s worth looking through the FAQ for responses to common objections:

    Of course, apart from that, it seems to me that a more just society would be a good thing anyway!

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