The root of all anti-evolutionism

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 6:57 pm

The Religious Landscape Survey has a lot of data various denominations. Recently I noticed something weird about Mormons; they are very anti-evolution, as well as anti-universalist in their views on salvation, according to this survey. These are notable views because Mormons don’t have well established attitudes on evolution from on high (which is why Mitt Romney expressed anti-Creationist sentiments without any blowback during the 2007-2008 campaign), and, their religious tradition actually seems to have been influenced by American Universalism, and so an exclusive attitude toward salvation is rather strange. In the case of the latter one could fudge the issue by noting Mormons believe in levels of heaven, and only Mormons themselves have access to the highest level (in particular, male Mormons who become divine). But in the soteriology of Mormonism I am to understand that only a tiny minority of human beings will spend eternity in hell (the “Outer Darkness”). So what’s up with the Mormon response to this question? I think it has to do with social identification, as Mormons are now operational adjuncts to the culture of conservative Protestantism (rejection of the theses of Charles Darwin is apparently more pervasive now than it was in the 1930s on the BYU campus according to surveys published in The Creationists).
I wanted to relate attitudes toward evolution as they depend on other parameters. I created indices by converting ordinal variables into integers, so that Conservatives = 1, Moderates = 0 and Liberals = -1. I weighted by the proportions, so that if a group was -0.5 in terms of political index that mean it was somewhat more liberal than not. You should be able to figure out the meaning of the signs simply by how the groups associate with each other, though I went left to right in the tables in the Religious Landscape Survey positive to negative (1, 0, -1, or 2, 1, 0, -1, -2, etc.). I estimated WORDSUM means by looking at the means for each educational class in the GSS and weighting appropriately (for black churches I used black WORDSUM means).

Evolution Political Party Education WORDSUM Word of God
Evangelical Protestant -0.94 0.18 0.34 -0.45 6.24 0.57
Mainline Protestant 0.04 0.44 0.26 -0.04 6.6 -0.07
Historically Black -0.31 0.19 -0.02 -0.57 5.18 0.6
Catholic 0.3 0.2 0.14 -0.34 6.3 -0.05
Mormon -1.03 0.52 0.52 -0.1 6.41 0.35
Orthodox 0.18 0.11 0.2 0.26 6.73 -0.04
Jehovah’s Witness -1.57 0.08 -0.65 -0.77 6.1 0.53
Other Christian 0.48 -0.21 0.07 0.14 6.69 -0.52
Jewish 0.99 -0.17 0.14 0.69 7.05 -0.49
Muslim -0.27 -0.06 -0.15 -0.4 6.24 0.51
Buddhist 1.12 -0.4 0.03 0.45 6.88 -0.7
Hindu 1.03 -0.25 -0.11 1.02 7.27 -0.44
Other 0.81 -0.38 -0.07 0.21 6.64 -0.81
Unaffiliated 0.76 -0.15 0 -0.18 6.43 -0.6

Here are the correlations between evolution and particular indices:
Political = -0.7 (conservatives more anti-evolution)
Party = 0.09 (no real difference)
Education = 0.78 (more education = more accepting of evolution)
WORDSUM = 0.61 (better vocabulary = more accepting of evolution)
Word of God = -0.89 (More literalist about scripture being Word of God, more anti-evolution)
The last is rather striking. As for the difference between political and party indices, blacks are very Democratic, not too liberal, and very anti-evolution. The greater power of education than WORDSUM again suggests to me that acceptance of evolution is simply peer-group conformity; dumb college graduates go along with their peer-group, and smart non-college folk might never have been brainwashed into Correct Thought in the ways of the world (very few people have any idea about either evolution as a descriptive or analytic matter).
Here are some scatterplots which show clusters of note. Evolution index is always on the Y axis.
Now, you probably wonder how these correlations relate to genuine causation? That’s a complicated issue of course, so we’ll only scratch the surface.
Here are some partial correlations:
Literalism & evolution, control for education, -0.74, p-value 0.0003
WORDSUM & evolution, control for education, -0.18, p-value 0.54
Education & evolution, control for literalism, 0.41, p-value 0.13
Education & evolution, control for WORDSUM, 0.62, p-value 0.008
Politics & evolution, control for literalism, -0.21, p-value 0.46
Politics & evolution, control for education, -0.55, p-value 0.03
Politics & evolution, control for WORDSUM, -0.59, p-value 0.015
Your mileage may vary, but for me the primary issue is literalism, the secondary issue is education. You take a stupid person and force them through college and they’ll buy into the mainstream system instead of dumb countercultures. You allow a smart person to remain outside of the system and even with their own native intelligence don’t expect them not to deviate into weird idea-space. This is obvious insofar as Isaac Newton was certainly smarter than anyone reading this weblog, but he was wrong when it came to all sorts of scientific questions and you are correct, because the system of science upon which we rely upon today maps more closely onto reality as it is than it did in ~1700. Isaac Newton may have been a Creationist in 1700, but if he was reborn today he would almost certainly not be, because most smart people put more credence in the cultural wisdom of the smart than that of the stupid.
Also, it looks like Creationists have attained such critical mass among movement conservatives that the political and the theological are hard to disentangle. There are many smart and well educated conservatives who are Creationist, because literalism has become common enough that the peer-group norms have shifted.

  • JDD

    “…Mormons believe in levels of heaven, and only Mormons themselves have access to the highest level (in particular, male Mormons who become divine).”
    You have not correctly described Mormon belief. Mormons actually believe that those of other faiths can go to the “highest level,” as you call it, and your distinction between female and male Mormons is inaccurate. Your use of the word “divine” is also misleading when taken out of context, but I’ll leave it at that.
    “But in the soteriology of Mormonism I am to understand that only a tiny minority of human beings will spend eternity in hell (the ‘Outer Darkness’).”
    This you got right. Mormons believe that very few will go to hell.
    Mormon bloggers were also surprised at the apparent lack of universalism. They suggested convincingly that it has everything to do with the way the question was phrased. The question was clearly written with Catholic and Protestant Christians in mind, not Mormon Christians, whose view of the afterlife is more nuanced. See, for example,
    The question regarding evolution is far more difficult to answer. Despite the fact that the LDS Church has clearly stated that one can believe in evolution and still be a faithful Mormon, Mormons continue to doubt. As a Mormon darwinist, I find this trend both strange and frustrating.

  • HIiveRadical

    One major issue with surveys like this is that they are crafted without consideration for the nuances of LDS/Mormon belief. The way something is worded means a lot and in many instances I’ve seen where I’d say about a particular question regarding my views “Gee, they really don’t lay that out really well, I could answer that either way and still feel comfortably within doctrinal dictates.”
    Even beyond the issues with wording on the side of the survey the general membership are not generally versed in all of the intricate details of the whole issue of creation, biological or galactic or whatever. Abiogenesis, for example, is something many of our membership may not have any clue about. This may lead them to side to one extreme or the other in an attempt to ‘play it safe’ doctrinally when the actual doctrine is far far far more nuanced and doesn’t really fit any of the given options in these surveys.
    I think that’s why you get such answers. It’s not that you have a church full of 6 day creationists, nothing like it, but when they’re given two bad options that either don’t match their beliefs then they’ll likely just side with whatever they think is the ‘safer’ option following their own understanding of science and doctrine.

  • Clark

    The problem is that the categories don’t really map onto Mormonism too well and lead to some issues. That may just be the pro-evolutionist in me coming out. Clearly there have been major LDS figures who were anti-evolution but major LDS figures who were pro-evolution (including in the early 20th century Mormon general authorities such as Henry Eyring and James Talmage who were both famous scientists at the time.
    But yeah, in these sorts of surveys Mormons come out very anti-evolutionist even though the Church is pretty open towards evolution. (Technically it’s position is no position though)
    I’d discussed the Pew figures on Mormons at my philosophy blog last spring. I really tend to think, despite some true anti-evolutionary movements, that most Mormons just object to the idea of there being no God involved at all. However I think the majority of Mormons view God’s involvement in more physicalist ways for the most part. So in effect I think when Mormons read the Pew question they interpret it as a question about atheism.

  • Clark

    Oh, one other correction I should make. Mormons don’t just think males can become divine like God but also women. Indeed the whole point of marriage for Mormons is that neither sex can be exalted without the other.
    I’m also really skeptical about Darwinism being more rejected at BYU now than in the 30′s. In the 30′s it was pretty controversial at BYU with a philosophy professor losing his job over the kerfuffle. For the last decades evolution is taught to every student as fact. There’s no controversial and there have been lots of prominent biologists who have been professors at BYU. It’s even taught in the religion classes without skepticism. (I had a religion class 20 years ago from one of the conservative professors who you’d expect to be anti-evolutionist if anyone was but he embraced it, albeit the Gould punctuated equilibrium model) Further BYU gives all students a packet on evolution which more or less deals with the religious questions. One could say the packet is quite dated since most of the statements are from the early 20th century before even the discovery of DNA. But it does orient discussion at BYU.
    Once again, it really depends upon how these questions are framed. I think there is distrust among many Mormons towards Darwinism. (Unfortunately) But I think most just get confused thinking Darwinism entails what folks like Dawkins say it is.
    Still, one wishes more Mormons took a positive stance towards the science.

  • Seth R.

    I think you’re talking out of your hat here.
    Both my wife and I attended BYU in the 1990s (I in Political Science and she in Zoology). And while you often did have anti-evolutionist sentiment among the incoming freshmen, by graduation the vast majority of BYU students had pretty-much come around to viewing evolution as the most likely explanation for how things came to be.
    Just about every last one of the current Brigham Young University science faculty is fully on board with the idea of evolution. My wife had it presented to her repeatedly throughout her studies.
    The most common religious view about evolution that I’ve encountered among Mormon graduates is that evolution is one of the ways that God got things done, and almost none of us believe in a literal six-day creation of the earth. Even Mormon temple worship pretty-much encourages you to take the entire first chapter of Genesis as more symbolic than literal.
    And for your information, the entire “evolution in schools” issue is pretty-much a non-issue in Utah.
    Unlike our fellow Protestants, who would like government to do the parents’ jobs for them, Mormons take responsibility for teaching religion to their own children without beggaring it off on the public school system. We feel just fine about the religious content of the education our kids are getting. So we feel no particular need to push it in school. Same with school-prayer. Complete non-issue. In fact one of the kids who sued that school district in Tennessee(?) was a Mormon sick of putting up with Southern Baptist prayers in school.
    Everyone wants to lump us in with the rest of the Christian Right for convenience of labeling.
    But we really are a completely different animal.

  • razib

    Unlike our fellow Protestants, who would like government to do the parents’ jobs for them, Mormons take responsibility for teaching religion to their own children without beggaring it off on the public school system. We feel just fine about the religious content of the education our kids are getting. So we feel no particular need to push it in school. Same with school-prayer. Complete non-issue. In fact one of the kids who sued that school district in Tennessee(?) was a Mormon sick of putting up with Southern Baptist prayers in school.
    Everyone wants to lump us in with the rest of the Christian Right for convenience of labeling.
    But we really are a completely different animal.
    most protestants, and christians, don’t consider your christians or protestants. my impression is that it is generally mormons who identify as such.
    in any case, here’s the quote from the creationists:
    “In 1935 only 36 percent of the students at the Mormons’ Brigham Young University denied that the humans had been “created in the a process of evolution from lower life forms.” By 1973 the figure had risen sharply to 81 percent.
    1) perhaps the % has gone back down in the past 30 years
    2) i don’t have the book, so i can’t check the endnote (i used amazon search inside)
    seth, i’m aware that evolution is taught in BYU’s biology department. it is in evangelical protestant wheaton as well. i was making a comment about the typical uninformed student.

  • razib

    btw, i’m struck that ALL the comments have been about mormonism! does no one click below the fold! :-)

  • Clark

    I think we Mormons are provincial enough to get fixated when people talk about us and insecure enough that we worry too much people think bad things about us. (grin) So we congregate around blogs mentioning us.
    That said to your larger thesis I actually think there’s a lot to it. The anti-evolution movement at BYU and in the Church in general in the 1930′s tended to adopt a lot of Protestant anti-evolutionary apologetics. So you can trace a lot of conservative Protestant theology as developing that strain of Mormon thought. Likewise I’ve seen a rise in ID support among some. I can’t quite figure it out as there is absolutely zero theological need that would incentivize people to embrace ID. The best theory I can come up with is that the rise of ID proponents among Mormons is tied to Mormons tending to be conservative Protestants and having peer influence.
    It’d be interesting to see wha a prominent conservative Mormon like Glenn Beck thinks about evolution. (I honestly have no clue – although he’s also a convert to Mormonism and may bring southern Protestant presuppositions with him) As you note Romney took an anti-Creationist stance. (For all his flaws of appearing pandering and flip flopping due to expediency I was pretty surprised he came out that strongly) While I’m not 100% sure, I suspect Huntsman takes a fairly similar view. (I still hope Huntsman has a chance since he doesn’t have all the negatives Romney does – but many conservative Protestants distrust him even more than Romney)

  • razib

    (I honestly have no clue – although he’s also a convert to Mormonism and may bring southern Protestant presuppositions with him)
    re: beck; he was raised as a catholic in washington state (though by later life it had become nominal).
    here’s beck interviewing ben stein:

  • geotopia

    Regardless of religious affiliation, every rational person owes it to themselves to look at evolutionism (to be pin point accurate, “Speciation through Evolution”) on a strictly empirical level, and taking into account observed phenomena from zoology, genetic biology, and with a good dose of mathematical analysis, and see if it has passed the muster to graduate from a conjectural theory. I’m fine with the questions raised through examining the diversity of life, but I reject the free pass it gets from pseudo scientific dogmatists. They betray their profession by embracing it as more than a yet-to-be-verified theory and applying any assumptions drawn therefrom to other areas within their discipline is a gross professional mistake. It requires a greater suspension of disbelief to believe in Darwin than in an unseen creator.
    [i normally don't let creationist comments through, but a lot of them are quite funny in the car-crash-rubbernecking fashion -razib]

  • Clark

    Interesting. I didn’t know Beck was Catholic. For some reason I thought he was a Protestant from Florida originally. Beck rubs a lot of Mormons the wrong way – causing a firestorm when he pops up at most Mormon blogs (i.e. this post), although he’s quite popular with some. I’d lay really good odds that the very people he’s most popular with tend to be the Mormons most likely to be very distrustful of evolution without many caveats. Which would suggest some ties to the political/social aspects of extreme conservative Republicans as you theorized. But I should be careful as I just don’t listen to Beck nor know much about him. He seems more the second coming of Cleon Skousen (who was a Mormon who did reject evolution as I recall – even though he like most Mormons isn’t really a Creationist either)
    I should note with respect to BYU the issue isn’t whether evolution is taught there. Rather the issue is the reception of evolution there. It’s simply found everywhere there. That this isn’t seen as controversial for most students suggests either compartmentalization of topics or else that the way they think about these questions is different. So I think with respect to these sorts of polls there’s simply a framing issue that affects Mormons in a different way than most other groups. Which isn’t to deny what you say – just that I think the social influence is more in how they respond to certain phrases rather than necessarily content.

  • bioIgnoramus

    Is there any simple way to find out how many Americans (or anyone else) disbelieve in evolution and do believe in Global Warming doctrine?
    (By the latter, I mean not a suspicion that the world is in a mild spell, but believing that it’s hot, getting hotter, it’s all our fault, we’re going to roast in Hell, serves us right, only Al Globe can save us, and all that excitable stuff.)

  • Al Brideau

    If I may get straight to the point. If we are speaking about the theory of evolution and Darwinism in the broad sense of the belief that man originated from lower life forms such as apes. You may use all of the formula’s, graphs, algorithms, charts that you want, but the simple truth is this. The first man and woman on earth were created by God and their names were Adam and Eve. The math here is simple folks. The entire human race sprang from Adam and Eve as all of the scriptures and prophets in all dispensations testify boldly and clearly. In relation to mans origins, the scriptures are clear whether you are a mormon, catholic, protestant or other christian. It is amazing to me how a simple truth can become so twisted and complicated. The witness of the Holy Ghost is more powerful than any other factor or evidence. Have you enquired of the Lord in this matter?
    [boy, well, i was wondering why it was ONLY mormons in these parts. now we gotz some diversity! - razib]

  • toto

    WORDSUM & evolution, control for education, -0.18, p-value 0.54
    Education & evolution, control for WORDSUM, 0.62, p-value 0.008

    I read this as saying that, for a similar level of education, being more or less smart doesn’t affect your general belief in evolution. Whereas for equal intelligence, being more educated increases the probability that you believe in evolution.
    That’s a real gem of an interesting, non-obvious data bit there. Of course one can argue about how well WORDSUM fits “intelligence” in general. If it targets more the “literary” than the “analytic” types, this might explain some of the result.

  • Clark

    Sadly, I suspect he is a Mormon in comment 13 Razib. Mormons are typically the ones using phrases like “prophets in all dispensations’ and “witness of the Holy Ghost.” You don’t hear those phrases much from Evangelicals. So please note no one is saying there aren’t strong anti-evolutionists amongst the Mormons. I think they are a small minority though. (Albeit a vocal one)
    Toto, Yes, that is quite interesting. What would be really interesting is to be able to break it down via major. Obviously science majors will overwhelmingly accept evolution. But it’d be interesting to see business majors, English majors and other humanities and how their views change from when they are largely ignorant Freshmen to more educated graduates. I suspect there is pressure in a lot of the humanities to accept evolution even if it isn’t understood. But the other majors I bet you’d see less change. Just a guess though.

  • razib

    toto, there is some effect of intelligence even without education on many variables. but yeah, from what i’ve seen in the GSS educational attainment tends to trump raw intelligence when it comes to shaping zeitgeist. IOW, people don’t reason much themselves, they let their peer groups reason for them.

  • razib

    tiny N’s
    ROW: scitest4
    COL: colmajor1

  • toto

    I tried with “colmajr1″ as the column variable, and found that English Lit majors (N=42) are just about as creationist as “Science” majors (N=80).
    In fact, “social science” majors seem distinctly less creationist than either Science or English majors (N=31, though). Business majors (N=129) are more creationist than all these groups. I guess that relates to the association between creationism and conservatism.
    But yeah, small Ns.

  • IanW

    Nicely done. Thank you.

  • Kevin

    Talk about humble beginnings, I was reared to become a Jehovah’s Witness ‘elder’ (they don’t have priests, only elder brothers; they consider themselves egalitarian, though all elders I recall were men). I’m an atheist now, but I remember… the JW are strange. In fact, I am reminded of them by the Mormons I know: basically kind, family oriented and science averse/agnostic, mostly white, the kind of people Steve Sailer wishes the middle and working classes consisted mostly of. My wife offered a Mormon the chance to borrow Frost/Nixon, but she turned us down because of the language. Who couldn’t be charmed by that? And I doubt that wasn’t the real reason; this woman possesses nothing resembling guile.
    At any rate, as all religious leaders know, one can’t have too much power in this country. I’m sure Mormon leadership will squirm its way to a respectable mainstream view, and I don’t mind watching them wriggle, so long as they upend these damn Baptists and motley Protestant bozos as the Christian power in America, assuming there must be at least one (they should have a ‘There can be only one!’ contest of some sort, to amuse the rest of us; go Mormons! At least they’re home grown and organic) . I prefer dignity from our lunatics!

  • James Sweet

    You have not correctly described Mormon belief. Mormons actually believe that those of other faiths can go to the “highest level,” as you call it,

    UMMMM… no, that is not correct. Mormon mythology dictates that you can’t get into the Celestial kingdom without a temple marriage, and how the hell is a non-Mormon going to get married in the temple?

  • James Sweet

    Mormon bloggers were also surprised at the apparent lack of universalism.

    That’s funny, because for about 18 years of my life I remember hearing over and over and over again that LD$ is the “one true church”, and that Joseph Smith’s whole motivation was because all of the churches in his time were false.
    I give Mormons credit that they don’t believe the unbelievers are going to burn in hellfire. In Mormon mythology, even the Telestial Kingdom (where all the criminals and “bad people” go) is supposedly a rather nice place, in fact, just not nearly as nice as the Celestial Kingdom, right?
    But please, don’t pretend that there is some touchy-feely universalist attitude in Mormonism. There ain’t. Universalism is the idea that you DON’T have a monopoly on the truth, and that other approaches are just as correct as yours. If you think Mormonism preaches that attitude, you’ve apparently never been to a fast & testimony meeting…!

  • sg

    “Despite the fact that the LDS Church has clearly stated that one can believe in evolution and still be a faithful Mormon, Mormons continue to doubt. As a Mormon darwinist, I find this trend both strange and frustrating.”
    From what I have seen of religious folks, none really seem to use their religion to understand natural phenomena. It seems to be more of a code of conduct and source of moral support and motivation for them.
    Also people are willing to support all kinds of ideas, not just religious ones, based simply on their perception of the authority of those proposing it. Personally, I am a natural skeptic, so I often refuse to give opinions on things I don’t know enough about just because I recognize that I am too ignorant to form an opinion on the topic. I assume there may be some, especially younger people, who may skeptical when they don’t have much information. I would not consider them stupid for just being skeptical when they don’t have information. Similarly, a truly unintelligent person brought up with no religion who is taught evolution will be neither skeptical nor will he understand it, however he may “believe” it. His “belief” is not based on understanding.
    Regardless of the topic, the ignorant skeptic generally strikes me as brighter than the ignorant believer.
    It seems that the endless battle for the hearts of the simple rages on. If the people in biology departments understand evolution, does it matter that a grocery clerk doesn’t? Shall we ask her if she “believes” in quantum mechanics? If a significant portion of sanitation workers don’t “believe” in relativity shall we pledge to spend more on schools and early childhood ed. to persuade them? Seems like a rapidly diminishing return. Personally, if I have to choose, I would rather have the clerks and manual laborers committed to an ethical code of conduct than “believe” in any given scientific concept that I am pretty sure they don’t even understand.

  • Bruce

    I’m an LDS member and believe evolution is a ‘type’ of our universe. It is self-evident – all things change from one form to another. Time is the only variable.
    That said, I am also a ‘creationist’ when it comes to mankind. I believe Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles – his 7-volume work stretching back to 1976 that re-examines human and Earth history in the context of its important relationship to a larger rogue planet (recorded as ‘Nibiru’ in Sumerian and Akkadian writings)that became caught in our solar system several billion years ago that orbits elliptically around our sun and causes havoc every 3,600 years as it crosses planetary bodies during its return on its path through our solar system on its way around the sun and then back out of our solar system.
    The story premise becomes intertwined with human history when we are informed in the story that Nibiru is inhabited with technologically advanced and intelligent beings who look like we do today – but who are much larger (giants by our standards). The story of the original fifty Nibiruns on a mining mission “who from the heavens to earth came” nearly 450,000 years ago begins the interactions (and interference if you will) with the most advanced primates on earth at that time.
    Current science findings about the origins of our moon, the Kuiper belt of asteroids, the retrograde aspects of Neptune and Uranus and numerous other findings seem to verify Sitchin’s interpretations of ancient writings starting with the 12th Planet – long before current theories were hypothesized.
    The creation story currently in the Book of Genesis is a very brief synopsis of the much longer and more detailed Atra Hasis – The 18th century BCE Akkadian epic of Atra-Hasis. An “Atra-Hasis” (“exceedingly wise” one) appears on one of the Sumerian king lists as king of Shuruppak in the times before the flood. It includes both a creation myth and a flood account and is one of three surviving Babylonian deluge stories.
    Sitchin’s critics – and there are always critics – focus in on his seeming misinterpretation of some of the arcane symbols that most ancient language scholars have signed off on – thus throwing some doubt on several of his premises but certainly not all of them. The way I see it, Sitchin is winning 80 to 20. His life’s work over 40 years has thrown much light upon many ancient ‘unexplained’ or debateable human and archaeological mysteries.
    Sitchin’s research has clarified my belief and strengthened my faith allowing both Evolutionists and Creationists to be correct in my mind and co-exist just as a Creator and his Creation can also co-exist.
    So what’s all the fuss about? Take a year off and read Zechariah Sitchin’s work.

  • IST

    geotopia> Your ignorance of the evidence and the scientific definition of the word theory (conjecture!= theory as a hint for you) is pretty impressive. Why don’t you actually consider the evidence as it is presented on say Talk Origins, or in Dawkins’ new book, without the religious influence, and work from there? Or just try here and here for starters on directly observed events.
    Seeing as you think you’re using logic, I’d like to point out that you establish a false dichotomy when you claim that the options are natural selection or an unseen creator. Proving Darwinian evolution entirely wrong still wouldn’t demonstrate that said creator exists without evidence to support that argument.

  • TGGP

    Bryan Caplan’s findings on economics beliefs are a counter-example to education being more important than intelligence.

  • John Emerson

    I think that a lot of people assume that Beck is a Southerner just because he’s so raving stupid.
    We’re more or less off topic, so I’ll go further off topic and float my hypothesis that the staying power of anti-evolutionism comes from the belief that eveolution leads to ethical naturalism leads to “animalistic sex behavior”. A lot of Christians and other distinguish humans from animals on the basis of the human ability to “control our instincts [animal desires]“. Sexual liberationists, coming along at about the same time as evolutionists, preached that we should express our animal nature and not suppress our sexual desires, and they used naturalistic arguments to support that.

  • KingM

    I grew up in an educated Mormon family and we always had a subscription to National Geographic on hand. It was widely accepted that humans had evolved from earlier life forms and that the Bible’s “from the dust of the earth” was a pretty good metaphor for evolution. Of course, I knew many Mormons who sneered at Darwinist thinking, but these were generally people with less education.
    Having said that, most of my educated, professional, and evolution-believing family continue to believe in a religion that is obviously falsifiable to anyone who takes even a cursory look at the 19th Century record about it’s origins. The human mind is quite capable of believing what it wants to believe.

  • Clark

    In fact, “social science” majors seem distinctly less creationist than either Science or English majors (N=31, though). Business majors (N=129) are more creationist than all these groups. I guess that relates to the association between creationism and conservatism.

    That’s about what I expected, but I’m glad someone could verify it. I’m not entirely convinced its tied to conservativism though. More that there are accepted beliefs in the humanities and sciences and the people in those tend to adopt those beliefs by peer review. Admittedly there are political beliefs as well. Most majors outside of the practical applied majors tend to have liberal beliefs and business conservative. But I’m more curious if it’s more about a wide ranging set of dogmas that get assimilated.
    One can ask why the humanities have evolution as a de facto dogma of course, but I suspect part of that is tied to skepticism of religion and the masses of society rather than an embrace of science proper. With the social sciences I think there’s more outright embrace of science. WIthin the humanities I suspect it’s much more mixed.
    The thing to check would be acceptance of some popular pseudoscience belief. I suspect we’d then see a split between the science majors and the humanities.

  • Clark

    John (#27), interesting hypothesis. My own guess would be that anti-evolution was more due to the acceptance of the old Aristotilean divide between rational animal and animal and that it allowed a distinction between reason and passion. This is similar to your point but somewhat different. I think there was a real fear that if we were more animal like (which even anti-evolutionists you’d think would be forced to accept by now) that it would justify breaking down the barriers of civilization. I think it’s that same fear that led Hobbes to his views about civilization. So in a sense the anti-evolution fears were as much a Hobbesian reaction as it was a fear about the religious order breaking down.
    My guess is that the rise of a certain strain of fundamentalism amongst Protestants was this kind of Hobbesian reaction ultimately. It just happened to merge with a literalist hermeneutic and the rest is history.
    I should note that I think this is why there was so much anti-evolution fervor amongst the Soviets as well. Not quite Hobbesian, but the Marxist teleology still needed that divide between the rational and animals.
    But all this is just my guess. I’m not terribly committed to it.

  • Geotopia

    “i normally don’t let creationist comments through, but a lot of them are quite funny in the car-crash-rubbernecking fashion -razib”
    Well, this kind of demonstrates my criticism of Evolutionism being sustainable only through dogma and censorship and not by any standard of open examination. I don’t expect that you’ll “let THIS comment through” because it cuts to the core. Suffice it to say that “buy in” for Speciation through Evolution requires the otherwise astute scientist to set aside the rigors of proof and observability, repeatability, and to engage in a fantasy, conforming conclusions to support his investment in the theory rather than to simply observe and report and perhaps DISCOVER the truth.
    (BTW, I give credit to genetic drift and punctuated equilibrium, just not Spontaneous Speciation through Evolution nor the misplaced sister concept of Allopatric Speciation, at least not without external influence of a designer, creator, or whatever sentient force.)

  • Fred E Barrett

    As I have read some of the comments above it I have concluded that some are just to smart for their own good. Being smart by the way does not indicate intelligence. I do feel that evolution is a part of the make up of creation that even the most educated may not understand. We do evolve from an infant to an adult and to a senior and we do adapt to all conditions around us or we die from them. I personally have very little faith in such studies as that above simply because one can design it to reveal their own agenda. The Darwin theory has never to my knowledge been proven, but it has evolved over time but it still remains a theory or hypothesis no matter how one looks at it. In my opinion the mistake that the educated makes is to reject anything that is outside the bounds they have set for themselves based on the traditions they have accepted and or rejected likewise many of the Christian have made the same mistake. If one were to seek out the word of God and invest as much time in the study and memorizing it as they do their formal secular education they might be surprised to how much their position might change or evolve over time . One did mention something about man not desiring to be animal like which is something we can’t deny because depending on the level of intelligence some are animals and refuse to change but there is one area we are not animal like in which sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We do not generally survive simply by our animal instincts. We have the power of thought and strength too change, animals don’t seem to have that ability to the degree that man both male and female does. I have known folks who have done a 360 degree turnaround in their lives from the grossest to the the most righteous. This is what separates the lower level of the animal kingdom from the human level. Humans over time have adapted or evolved to the existing conditions of their surroundings so that those in the meridian of time had the ability to walk the roads of Judea while in our modern day we would have a major challenge of those conditions. Even our clothing has evolved. I wonder how many could keep up with any individual or even survive in those other periods of the history of man? I would stand firm on the side of creationism simply because the theory of evolutions remains a theory, it has not been proven and if one accepts something that has not been proven as factual truth then I would question their opinion on anything they say just as I question Darwin or anyone that basis their decision on his unproven theory.

  • razib

    i hope the retards get more creative and funny soon. the last two have been way too serious and coherently unfunny in their tardation.

  • Geotopia

    @ IST:
    Checked out your examples and my gosh, you really have strain to squeeze out even a bit of evidentiary poop in support of Darwin’s theory of speciation through evolution.
    However, the petri dish experiment is an interesting experiment for the case of intelligent design, because rather than prove spontaneous speciation, it only proves the effect of sentient interference unless the folks in the lab coats conducted the experiments without their cerebellums intact. I think you need to ponder on the broader implications of Heizenberg as to why laboratory observations will fail to ever explain NATURAL selection. In this case, the contaminant in the experiment is conductor of the experiment. Sure, he’s proven that genetic code can be realigned, perhaps even that it’s sustainable, but he’s done so through manipulation (emphasis on MANipulation, latin for hand or by the hand) which is the basis of the theory of intelligent design. Doesn’t take a huge stretch to wrap your mind around that. I won’t even go into the false parallel that your citation might attempt to draw between a single cell life form and more complex organisms.
    As for the lizards, delightful. A species adapted to its environment. Darwin’s notebook was full of cute drawings. When there’s rock solid evidence that this lizard can no longer mate with the rest of it’s species (i.e. it’s actually a new species – don’t try to pawn off a species predisposed BY PREFERENCE not to mate within it’s own population), drop me a line, because all that has been observed is genetic drift. Assuming the scientists working on this are true to their creed, they should be examining the reversibility of genetic drift and report on that. The next step is to take it back to its original environment through another 20-40 year span and see if the physical traits in the subsequent generations reverse and then we can explore genetic TIDES, an alternative theory to that of a unidirectional drift. The value of the experiment would be the discovery that we can reverse undesirable genetic trends, something worth sinking our teeth into.
    Final word, please read more fastidious before commenting or attributing my words. I didn’t say “conjecture = theory”, I said “conjecturAL theory”, relegating Darwinism as a theory purely of conjecture, that it isn’t yet worthy of even the title of “Theory” because it is as immature as a baby discovering his fingers or toes for the first time, a whimsical discovery but not of much use until dexterity develops through some rigorous development. I may some day be convinced of Darwinism, but at present, it’s still a half baked theory and those that presently subscribe may do so in faith, but spare us the smoke and mirrors of a “Billion Years” or the cute single celled lab experiments. At present, genetic biology would probably advance more quickly if some ditched the Darwinian relic or at least had the courage to break the lock step of the movement.
    @Razib, if you post my comments, I’ve underestimated your objectivity and I do apologize. I’m an engineer and not a scientist, but I understand the scientific theory and I’m also aware of classical religious fanaticism. If my religious views can’t withstand the rigors of the scientific method and the demands of empirical observation, then certainly I should not spare my scientific view of the world of the same. I have no horse (or mule – an evolutionist joke there;) in the race, but I don’t think I’m out of place demanding the same of those entrusted with advancing the sciences.

  • razib

    i’m not objective at all. but since i let your first comment through, i might as well let all of them.

  • Seth R.

    I think HiveRadical makes a good point in comment #2.
    It really depends on how the survey questions were crafted. Did the survey treat divine cause and natural cause as two separate categories?
    If it did, the results are going to be skewed.

  • Geotopia

    @Razib (you don’t need to let this comment through):
    You are a gracious host and I’ll admit your first response did resonate a bit more close minded than you actually appear. The literal debate over Creationism v Darwinism seems an adjunct to your hypothesis which is more an exploration for that which influences one mindset over another. Of course, the topic is provocative and the debate endless.
    My skepticism over Darwin’s theory isn’t that it’s heretical or flies in the face of some fragile religious belief, but that based on the known body of observations, it seems as premature as the declaration of Pons & Fleischmann’s cold fusion – worthy of exploration, but not quite ready for prime time.
    In addition to the strong demographic trends in your analysis, I’m also interested in how individuals allow their existing theological or academic investment influence their acceptance of Darwinism or Creationism. By investment, I am referring to years in seminary school or doctrinal studies in science, or being raised in a religious family or being subject to the opinion or review of peer scientists. I think the results would be interesting or even surprising.

  • John Emerson


  • Jacqueline

    I’d like to suggest that evaluating the whys and wherefore’s of a religious belief system you will find that the logic operates on the level of memes rather than considered analysis.
    Mormons, Catholics and other religions are concerned with having lots of followers, so they adopt the values:
    1)Discouraging birth control and encouraging large families.
    2)Encouraging women to marry young
    3)Discouraging doubt or critical thinking. “The thinking has been done” is a Mormon admonition.
    And that, the discouragement of critical thinking (the tree of knowledge) and promoting unquestioning belief as a virtue (in order to keep order) is the mechanism that causes the divide between science and religion.
    Another aspect of both religions is the business model which is universal and biological…stemming from the Y chromosome’s battle with mitochondrial DNA. (see Adam’s Curse.)
    In Catholicism, the adoption of a policy of non-reproducing priests is sometimes explained by the desire to not burden the Church with the care of widows and orphans of priests and in keeping the efforts of the priests more focused on the business of the Church.
    What a left-hander will tell you is that dichotomies are more a reflection of the way the left hemisphere of the brain works—-a mental foible. The right hemisphere is much more fluid, less structured, less rigid—and more vulnerable.


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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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