Is Christine O'Donnell a kook because she's a Creationist?

By Razib Khan | September 26, 2010 12:01 pm

Christine O’Donnell has said a lot of kooky things. Right now people are focusing on her Creationism. Though I’m obviously not a Creationist I think mocking someone for this belief in a political context is somewhat strange: the survey literature is pretty robust that Americans are split down the middle on opinions about evolution. More specifically most of the polling shows that around ~50% of Americans tend to reject the validity of evolutionary theory when asked. This is what I like to call a broad but shallow belief; for the vast majority of Americans attitudes about evolution are really just cultural markers, not stances of deep feeling or impact. One point of evidence for this conjecture is that polling on evolution is easy to massage through framing. Another is that Republican candidates for the presidency do not invariably hew to a Creationist line despite the likelihood that the majority of primary voters are Creationist. Politicians react to incentives, and my own hunch is that there isn’t a strong push from the Christian Right on evolution as there is on abortion or gay marriage.

I’ve posted plenty on how Creationists are more female, less intelligent, more conservative, more likely to be ethnic minorities, less educated, etc. Here I want to put the spotlight parameters which might shed some light on the O’Donnell race. Is her kooky opinion on evolution a particular liability in Mid-Atlantic Delaware? Are Creationists less likely to vote? And what are the regional breakdowns which might explain the bi-coastal shock and amusement at O’Donnell’s opinions?

First, to gauge a sense of Delaware’s religious culture I looked at the Religious Landscape Survey. Because of the small sample size the margin of errors were large, but going through the data I think it is safe to say that Delaware is near the “middle of the road” in reference to the national sample, perhaps just a bit on the more secular and/or religiously liberal end of the spectrum. In the South it seems that Delaware would be very religiously liberal, while in the Northeast it is probably a touch on the more conservative side.

Next, I used the GSS data set. There are four variables which address evolution:


1. God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years

2. Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process.

3. Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man’s creation

EVOLVED: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. Is that true or false?

SCITESTY and SCITEST4: Both also ask if human beings developed from earlier species of animals. Answers though are definitely true, probably true, probably not true, and definitely not true.

I looked to see who voted in the year 2000, variable VOTE00. Note that the questions were asked between 2000-2008, so the “Not Eligible” category simply points to the individuals in the samples in the mid-to-late 2000s who were not yet 18 and could not vote in the 2000 election.

Voted in 2000 ElectionDid not vote in the 2000Not eligible to vote 2000
God Created Man434432
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided414245
Man Has Evolved131016
Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)
Definitely True161221
Probably True283138
Probably Not True151515
Definitely Not True414127

It does not seem to me that the electorate is much less Creationist than the non-voters. The bias toward evolution in the not eligible to vote category is because these are younger age cohorts, who are more secular and less Creationist.

censdivNext I wanted to do some regional analysis of attitudes toward evolution. The GSS has a variable REGION which is broken down into nine categories. The map to the left shows the divisions, as they’re from the Census definitions. 1 = New England, 2 = Mid-Atlantic, 3 = Great Lakes, 4 = Upper Midwest and Plains, 5 = Atlantic South, 6 = Central South, 7 = South Southwest, 8 = Mountain West, and finally, 9 = Pacific West. To increase sample sizes I aggregated some of these together, so 1 + 2 = Northeast, 3 + 4 = Midwest, 5 + 6 + 7 = South, and 8 + 9 = West. Unfortunately the divisions don’t always quite map onto real social and geographical divisions. Missouri is in the same class as North Dakota. The Mid-Atlantic border states of Maryland and Delaware are thrown together into the same category as Florida. In contrast, the Mountain, Great Lakes, New England and Pacific regions are coherent. New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do form a tight unit in the Mid-Atlantic (though I think today Maryland and Delaware should be included in the same class).

In any case, I took REGION and recombined it like so: REGION(r:1-2 “Northeast”;3-4 “Midwest”;5-7 “South”;8-9 “West”). Delaware might be in the South in this system, but the Northeast is probably more representative of its values and attitudes. All of the results are for the year 2000 and later.

God Created Man31415434
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided50463345
Man Has Evolved1511916
Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)
Definitely True22131121
Probably True40342330
Probably Not True11131520
Definitely Not True27405130
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITEST4)
Definitely True2291221
Probably True39342630
Probably Not True16201915
Definitely Not True23384334

Let’s limit the sample to non-Hispanic whites:

Non-Hispanic Whites Only
God Created Man29405335
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided42463440
Man Has Evolved15121019
Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)
Definitely True24131224
Probably True42352325
Probably Not True11141620
Definitely Not True24394932
Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITEST4)
Definitely True22101325
Probably True46322532
Probably Not True16222012
Definitely Not True16374332

Observations? First, both the Northeast and West tend to be much more accepting of evolution than other regions of the nation. But the West is more polarized, with a larger Creationist minority. This makes sense, as the American West tends to be more secular than the Northeast, but the religious institutions which do exist are generally more fundamentalist in orientation. In the Northeast Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism are much more influential than evangelical Protestantism. In the West the situation is more balanced between Catholics and evangelicals, and includes Mormons who tend to have skeptical attitudes toward evolution. The South is more Creationist than the Midwest, though the Midwest tends toward more fundamentalism in belief than the Northeast and West. This I think aligns with our intuitions, the Midwest tends to be the “swing-vote” in culture and politics, though part of this is because there are more “Southern” regions of the Midwest. The “Butternut” areas of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were settled from the South, while Missouri is also split between Southern and Midwest leaning areas. In contrast, northern Ohio and Illinois, Michigan, and the Upper Midwest states were part of “Greater New England,” and later settled by Scandinavians and Germans who were not congenial toward American Protestant fundamentalism (with the exception of Missouri Synod Lutherans).

As for as Christine O’Donnell and her Creationism, I think she would have benefited from running in Alabama or Mississippi. In some ways the coastal elites are out of touch with how common and pervasive Creationism is, but though Delaware may not quite be part of BosNyWash megalopolis, it’s on the margin of its sphere of influence.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Creationism, Data Analysis, GSS

Comments (20)

  1. Katharine

    ‘Kook’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘in the minority’.

    I mean, sh*t, most people were geocentrists in the Middle Ages.

  2. It’s embarrassing that someone with such a weak science foundation can be a viable candidate for government. I mean, if she was railing against the germ theory of disease, a heliocentric solar system, or DNA as the mechanism of genetic inheritance, would we avoid calling her a “kook,” (or my preferred term, “an idiot”) then. As Katherine says, the popularity of a wrong idea doesn’t make it any less wrong.

    But, I guess she isn’t any more of a kook than the people who end up voting for her.

  3. Katharine

    Rhacodactylus, you seem to have missed the irony of your statement, when as far as I can tell your opinions on global warming go against climatological conclusions.

  4. Since I didn’t say anything about global warming in my post, I’ll assume you mean what I put on my blog. In all honesty, if you didn’t see that this was a joke, then no amount of discussion on here is going to help you.

  5. kurt9

    I find this irritating from a political perspective. I don’t care if she’s a witch, a creationist, or anything else. The relevant question is whether she believes in limited government, reducing regulation and lowering taxes. This is the acid issue. Everything else is irrelevant.

  6. I disagree. A candidates views on science are extremely important to how they will govern. Her opinions on and understanding of science will influence where she devotes funds, how she handles education, her views on various government programs, as well as her ability to understand the world around her. A person’s understanding of science is a key indicator of their world view. And, since we can’t predict every situation that will be faced by our leaders, we have to elect them based on their viewpoint, knowing that their viewpoint is what will inform their later actions.

  7. ChH

    kurt9 – exactly right.

    I am a creationist, but don’t care two figs what politicians think about the issue, and I oppose what’s going on with education in Texas.

    I’m also believe an unborn child is a person with the same right to life as the rest of us – but I’d rather have a pro-choice limited government candidate than a pro-life big-government candidate.

    It should not matter what a politician thinks about most scientific issues because they aren’t supposed to have the power to do anything that matters about it. They’re supposed to protect people from harm by others & keep up the roads, and not all that much else.

    The entire acrimony over creation & evolution would disappear if we’d get our education system fixed – that is: give parents the choice on where & how to educate their kids. If you want them taught evolution & nothing religious at school – fine – do it. If you want them taught only creationism – fine – do it. If like me you want them taught both – fine do that.

  8. Jason Abdon

    Part of this web page is not acting as programmed.

    People who teach, “Cretain science,” to children are committing child abuse.

    People who believe in, “Cretain science,” are fanantic cultist who are in
    need of deprogramming and rational emotive therapy.

  9. Tom Bri

    Lots of people are kooks in some or another area of life, but are perfectly fine in others. I’m kind of a fringe kook in a few areas, I tie my religious beliefs into my political ones in an unusual way ( I think God wants us to live as anarchists, but we can’t. He also wants us to live as brothers and sisters in Christ, but we can’t do that either. We just keep trying and hope for grace.)

    O’Donnell seems a kooky to me. Whether I’d vote for her if able would depend on who she was running against. Against a bearded Marxist? O’Donnell in a minute. A kook is less dangerous. If she turns out pure nut then she’ll be sidetracked and ignored. Kooks are not dangerous in Congress unless there are a lot of them all pointing the same direction.

  10. Creationism is obviously wrong, but the psycho-social distress it registers is real. Philosopher Mary Midgely has some pointed things to say about that. Notably:
    The project of treating the time scale of the Genesis story literally, as a piece of history, is an amazing one, which serious biblical scholars at least as far back as Origen (AD 200) have seen to be unworkable and unnecessary. The reason why people turn to it now seems to be that the only obvious alternative story – evolution – has become linked with a view of human psychology which they rightly think both false and immoral “Evolution as Religion” p.172. It is not possible to think all that well of the concern for evidence of someone who supports Creationism, which is a worry, but it may reflect a wish to see the world in moral terms, which is less bothersome.

  11. mary midgely has a reputation as a hack when it comes to evolutionary biology. whereof one does not know, one should not speak. the psycho-social distress is culturally contextual. most people in the phillipines accept evolution. most people in turkey do not. that is not because turks have a peculiar moral sensitivity with filipinos lack. rather, turks have a religious ideology that is akin to american low church protestantism. but the typical ‘tard doesn’t have deep thoughts on morality anyway, let alone read genesis. philosophers shouldn’t confuse their atypical cogitations for normal human experience.

  12. bioIgnoramus

    “It’s embarrassing that someone with such a weak science foundation can be a viable candidate for government.” Mr Al Globe, former Vice President, believes the centre of the Earth to be at a temperature of millions of degrees.

  13. ChH

    Jason Abdon Says: “People who teach ‘Cretain science’ to children are committing child abuse.”
    Do you think they should be jailed or forced into re-education?

  14. miko

    Just a meta-comment: this thread sure brought out the kooks. Especially whoever thinks anyone running for office “believes” in smaller government once it’s their government.

  15. Cheyenne

    She’s definitely a kook.

    And if I lived in Delaware I’d vote for her. At the end of the day I care how she would vote (particularly about the first 5 or so votes when Congress reconvenes).

  16. Yawnie

    Midgely had a good point about Dawkins’ (basically antireligious) ‘meme’ concept being an incoherent flight of fancy that was taken seriously. Just shows that evolutionists can experience psycho-social distress and believe kooky myths about aspects of the world they don’t understand.

  17. Daniel Murphy

    Yes, Christine O’Donnell has said a lot of kooky things, as you put it. On evolution, there’s this exchange:

    O’DONNELL: You know what, evolution is a myth. And even Darwin himself –

    MAHER: Evolution is a myth? Have you ever looked at a monkey?

    O’DONNELL: Well then, why they — why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?

    And there’s her assertion that there’s “just as much, if not more, evidence supporting” six-day creationism as there is for evolution. And yes, a lot of people share her ignorance. More accurate answers to the poll you site might have been “No, I don’t believe in evolution, but I really don’t know much about it” (and “Yes, I do believe in evolution, but I really don’t know much about it”). But O’Donnell is not an anonymous survey respondent. She says her kooky things in public. She repeats them. And refuses to educate herself. And now she wants to be one of 100 U.S. Senators. So yes, her ideas ideas and willful ignorance deserve mockery in, precisely, a political context.

    I acknowledge that what you seem to be getting at, Razib, is not whether her views deserve ridicule but whether her ignorance of science and her creationist views are a liability for her in the November election, and whether “mockery” on this issue by the opposing side in that election is a winning strategy. Liability? Hard to say. Mockery? No, probably not. She’s only running for the Senate, not a local school board. But should it really, as one commenter puts it, “not matter what a politician thinks about most scientific issues”? Or, as I’d put it, doesn’t it matter a great deal when a political candidate like O’Donnell is so woefully and willfully and publicly ignorant about basic science facts? That’s not a candidate I’d trust to make good evidence-based decisions on any issue, wherever the evidence doesn’t fit her own ignorant preconceived notions.

  18. vel

    well, like many supposed “good Christians” Ms. O’Donnell is a kook, a liar and a hypocrite. It’s always so sad when idiots like her have no problem using the same science that shows their primitive myths to be nonsense as long as it makes them comfortable. Her views deserve as much ridicule as any baseless superstious nonsense. We’d laugh at an adult who beleived in Santa Claus, why not laugh at her and point out just how sad she is? This willful ignorance and deception are just a symptom of a nasty woman who should never be allowed to be in office.

  19. very few of the comments engage the data. so i’m closing them, since i’m not getting anything interesting here. sorry folks, but i don’t like the smell of brain farts.


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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


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