What rejecting science will mean

By Razib Khan | April 7, 2010 1:09 pm

I am reading that a scholar affiliated with an evangelical theological seminary has had to resign his position because of a full-throated (see here) defense of evolutionary theory. In particular, this scholar seems to have asserted that evangelical Christianity is on the way to becoming a marginalized “cult” if it keeps rejecting scientific consensus in regards to evolutionary theory. Cult, from what I know, has a very strong connotation in the evangelical subculture.

Obviously I don’t have relevant opinions about whether evangelicals should, or should not, accept evolution from the perspective of an evangelical Christian. But, we can look at the type of person who accepts and rejections evolution in American society. The General Social Survey has a vocabulary test which it gives to people, and the scores range from 0 out of 10 correct, to 10 out of 10 correct. Over the history of the GSS a little under 25% of the survey respondents scored on the interval 0 to 4. 13% scored on the interval 9 to 10. Let’s label the first “Not Smart” and the second “Smart.” Below are the proportion who accept evolution for the various GSS variables which speak to this issue (I’ve given the GSS labels, you can look up the specific question at the GSS browser under “selected” at the top left).

  Not Smart Smart  
True 45 73
Definitely True 10 34
Probably True 32 32
Definitely True 11 31
Probably True 31 35
God Created Man 41 25
Man Has Evolved, God Guided 42 48
Man Has Evolved 12 22

I don’t know if rejecting scientific consensus will turn evangelical Christianity into a cult, but it will drive a particular self-selection….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Creationism, Culture
MORE ABOUT: Data, Religion
  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    Bruce Waltke didn’t actually give a full throated defense of evolution. He agreed that every other animal except humans evolved, but he completely denies common descent. He thinks Adam is a historical figure. If you want full throated evangelical defense of evolution you need to look at my friend Denis Lamoureux. His book Evolutionary Creation is here.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    well, that makes it even more crazy!

  • Bebe Harnett

    I don’t agree that rejection of science is simply a phenomenon of evangelicals. One has simply to watch Fox News programming to see that a rejection of science has become a cultural foundation of conservative thought. While many conservatives don’t actually disbelieve evolution, they certainly wouldn’t raise a fuss if creationism replaced real science in our schools. Creationists don’t know about science and they don’t care about science. Their opinions about science need to be ignored. Those who try to mix religion in with science need to be called out for the error of their thinking. And yes, they are “not smart.”

  • http://striz.net/blog BigMKnows

    Intelligent people: secular, liberal, and monogamistic. http://bit.ly/duC0ys

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    . While many conservatives don’t actually disbelieve evolution, they certainly wouldn’t raise a fuss if creationism replaced real science in our schools.

    the empirical record refutes this. in fact the pattern is often that creationism is rolled back by moderately conservative republicans (consider the texas school board election recently). that’s because creationism isn’t an issue in areas where secular liberals can compete.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    This is not the first time this has happened. For example, Richard Colling was barred from teaching biology courses at Olivet Nazarene University after complaints from more fundamentalist members of the church. There are other examples as well.

    I think the most relevant quote here is Pastor Ray Mummert’s line about people getting involved in trying to stop Intelligent Design in Dover: “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture.”

  • bioIgnoramus

    This is surely a very American trait? My friends in the evangelical wing of the Church of England simply dismiss the notion that their religious beliefs are incompatible with acceptance of evolution.

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  • John Emerson

    Tom Delay denounced Texas A&M and Baylor for being too liberal.

    The convergence of religion and politics is worse than either one by itself.

  • Melykin

    “This is surely a very American trait?”
    It is not just an American trait:


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    yes, turkey is somewhat more creationist than the USA. even britain is about 20% creationist last i checked. vs. ~50% usa. (though again, most people are pretty sketch on ‘evolution’ or ‘creationism’ anyhow)

  • bioIgnoramus

    @Melykin: I admit that I was thinking of the civilised world.

  • dave chamberlin

    I think it is a mistake to label all creationists as dumb and the best thing we can do is ignore them. These people represent a sizable percentage of the general population and they mean to cut science funding in the fields that many of you specialize in and they have the lobbying power to do so. Dismis them as fools at your peril. It isn’t us against them, or good against evil, but it is progressing science that benefits mankind verses ignorant idiots who are hell bent to retard it. However ignorant religious beliefs can be they are the result of very powerful and rewarding feedback loops of our strongest emotions and we need to at least acknowledge our better logic isn’t going to open their eyes. The most effective tactic is the gentle sarcasm of the Jon Stewert variety which if skillfully used disconects the flock from their salesmen-manipulators.

  • Katharine

    Dave, I think the issue is that they’re dumb, but have large numbers – and many among them may have some brains but be significantly deranged. It’s either stupidity or insanity that fuels any member of them.

    I think it’s a more fundamental issue than simply attacking them on this one issue can address. America is giant enough that there are areas where the latest developments in science don’t reach anyone’s ears and where there are idiots in tiny insular kludgy bunches of morons who are isolated, either voluntarily or involuntarily, from Western society.

    Religion is a huge issue here. So is learning how to defuse the uniquely screwed-up rhetoric that emanates from religions. We need to develop our own appeal-to-emotions, as much as I and many others hate the idea of addressing this in the area of anything but the logic which, in an ideal world, would be the only thing we would have to refer to to enlighten folks. There are simply too many people who are so unhinged as to not control their emotions.

    It’s scary sometimes, but in that subtle way that doesn’t really strike most people until they think about it.

  • Katharine

    I’m also afraid of the physical damage the sufficiently deranged can do. It was thrust in my face that many extremists (and don’t get me wrong, they exist on both sides – the right wing seems to have significantly more, though, and this includes fundamentalists) are fairly deranged when I got goose poop smeared on my car door for having a ‘Flush Rush’ bumper sticker and a ‘Pick One: Evolution or Made Up S@$t’ bumper sticker (the person correctly inferred that I am a liberal and a rational person).

    Goose poop is peanuts to having one’s gas line cut or receiving a death threat.

    It has gotten to the point where I have occasionally considered getting a gun for self-defense when I move out of my folks’ house after I finish undergrad.

  • miko

    Creationist are not necessarily stupid, they may be merely sheltered or delusional. In itself creationism is silly and harmless, but it’s a concern as a tactical political wedge in the weird world of US electoral politics and its fetishizing of non-issues. It is part of a broader spectrum of reality denial that is worrying. Opposition to climate change, evolution, vaccines…the source of all of these is reasoning from an ideology instead of from evidence (no amount of seething racist resentment will change where Obama was born, no amount of litigation and paranoia will make vaccines cause autism). This is of course an evenly spread phenomenon across the political spectrum, though I do find that on the left the prescriptive results seem to be less harmful–vaccines is a counterexample as the death toll and illness this movement has caused increases. But “the US military can democratize the Middle East” (if anyone ever seriously believed that) and “market forces can solve our economic problems without the government” (common among people who think a free market and an unregulated market are the same thing) strike me as potentially more threatening to our wealth and security than any liberal woo or denialism I know of. I also often suspect that on the right the real agenda is hidden (probably my liberal paranoia acting up), because I don’t think any informed person really believes those two statements–the GOP stuffs their own straw men; they are part of conscious strategies to transfer public wealth into private hands, and to avoid having to govern.

  • Brian Too

    @13. dave chamberlin,


    Never forget that the religious mindset is based upon faith. Creationism has as it’s strength (and weakness) the fact that it’s supporters have faith in their cause. Facts are irrelevant, arguments are meaningless, intellectualism is a source of doubt and doubt is evil.

    If you overtly try to sway them, you risk being cast in the role of darkness; in the pure religious viewpoint you are either the Devil or an agent of the Devil. It’s therefore best not to go at the issue directly. If they come to a new understanding on their own it’s much more powerful for them.


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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 http://www.razib.com


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