Glenn Beck, Evolution, Global Warming & Tea Parties

By Razib Khan | October 20, 2010 2:04 pm

Glenn Beck said some dumb, but unsurprising, things about evolution:

How many people believe in evolution in this country? I’d like to see. I mean, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable to say this. I’m not God so I don’t know how God creates. I don’t think we came from monkeys. I think that’s ridiculous. I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet. Did evolution just stop? Did we all of sudden — there’s no other species that’s developing into half-human?

It’s like global warming. So I don’t know why it is so problematic for people to just so, I don’t know how God creates. I don’t know how we got here. If I get to the other side and God’s like, “You know what, you were a monkey once,” I’ll be shocked, but I’ll be like, “Whatever.”

First, Glenn Beck is an adult convert to the Mormon religion. Therefore if he is exalted to godhood he could create a universe of half-monkeys/half-men for kicks. Second, note the details of Beck’s background. He was raised Roman Catholic, and secular for most of his adulthood, before coming to the Mormon church. None of these affinities entails a rejection of evolution. You are probably well aware that the Roman Catholic church has made its peace, broadly speaking, with evolution. And there’s nothing about secularism which necessitates a rejection of evolution. But what about Mormonism? This is the peculiarity. Mormons are broadly sympathetic to Creationism, but there’s nothing in the religion’s teachings which imply this as being the orthodox position. This is why Mitt Romney can robustly support the teaching of evolution. So what’s going in?


In The Creationists Ronald L. Numbers reports survey data from BYU students which shows a radical drop in acceptance of evolution over 50 years. I think what you are seeing is the mainstreaming of Mormons culturally, and, their identification with conservative Protestants for whom rejection of evolution is a significant aspect of their rejection of modernism. Still, I don’t think that this cultural dynamic can explain all of this shift among Mormons, or Glenn Beck’s specific view. Nor do I think it can explain the robust resistance which conservative Protestants exhibit toward integration of the fact of evolution into their model of reality .

As a younger man I encountered individuals who expressed nearly the exact same views as Glenn Beck. When I was a thirteen my closest friend at the time expressed skepticism of evolution couched in Beckian terms; i.e., it was ridiculous on the face of it that man derived from monkeys. My friend was from a moderately liberal family politically who were nominal Roman Catholics (his stepmother was a self-identified feminist). He was above grade level in math, though not exceedingly so (there were three levels, he was in the second-tier). When my friend expressed his skepticism I was totally shocked, as I’d never considered that anyone would reject evolution. I was familiar with the idea from my early elementary years because of my fascination with dinosaurs, and I took it as a given as a background fact of the universe. This being in the pre-internet age I looked up the survey data in The World Almanac and was surprised to find that the public was split down the middle when it came to acceptance of evolution!

I think the root of my friend’s skepticism, and that of Glenn Beck, has to do with our psychology and the intuitions which we bring to the table. This thesis is articulated well in Paul Bloom’s argument that we’re wired for Creationism. Humans have an intuition about essences, and the idea of evolution contravenes our expectation of invariant essences. The image of the grotesque chimera which Beck brandishes is a pointer to this reality, and Beck isn’t alone in his incredulity.

So how does it come to be that half the American public accepts evolution then? (as well as say 80% of the population in Japan) I think the two classes of variables of note are individual dispositions (intelligence, aversion to conformity, level of education) and group wisdom. Here’s a quick & dirty from the GSS using the EVOVLED variable in a logistic regression.


EVOLVED
Variable B P-value
POLVIEWS 0.25 0.000
BIBLE(Literal vs. Non-literal) -1.34 0.000
WORDSUM -0.05 0.144
GOD 0.64 0.000
SEX 0.40 0.001
DEGREE -0.16 0.003
AGE 0.02 0.000
Pseudo R-squared = 0.260

Don’t take the values above too seriously. Please. But it does show you the determinative power of Biblical literalism in predicting whether you are likely to be a Creationist or not. Intelligence in terms of vocabulary actually tends to go away in this treatment when you control for other factors which are correlated with intelligence (Biblical literalists are less intelligent). GOD spans the range from atheist to those who know that God exists. Interestingly sex has a stronger effect than education (women are more likely to be Creationist). Political ideology has an impact, but once you control for religion it is far weaker (conservatism is correlated with Creationism). In the same range as education. These data would tend to support the contention that group identity markers are now more important than individual variables like education (or the two are confounded together in such a way that there’s no juice to be gained at looking at individual variables separate from group identity).

I decided to post on this topic because of a conversation I recently had with Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas. We were talking about the correlation of Creationism and anti-Global Warming with politics; specifically the right-wing association of both. I made the argument that there were deep qualitative differences between the two. Creationism is a shallow but broad belief, rooted in intuitions and imbued with symbolic valence. Is man a monkey or an angel? The stance toward Global Warming is different, and more explicitly a function of proximate politics and tribal identity (whether you’re an “expert” on either side of the scientific question, please admit that most people haven’t dug into the scientific details and simply go along with the cultural and political authorities whom they trust). Unlike Creationism Global Warming has concrete near-term implications. I am aware of the contention that rejection of the science of evolution kicks the legs out from under practical fields such as medicine, or, that the inferences that necessarily lead to evolutionary theory are entailed by the same axioms which lead to other practically relevant domains. Nevertheless, for most people medicine, pharmaceuticals, and science in general, are “black box” affairs. If they work, they work, and the philosophical issues are not particularly relevant to them. Anthropogenic Global Warming, and the specific public policy responses which people believe would be prudent to make in response to the validity of the hypothesis, are much more concrete and immediate. Thirty years from now we will not be discussing Global Warming, thirty years from now we will probably be discussing evolution.

But back to Josh.  He decided to do some structural equation modeling with the beliefs of the Tea Party segment of the electorate as predicted by demographic variables. Controlling for background variables he did not find that Tea Party identified Americans were any more, or less, Creationist than they should have been (they’re disproportionately religious conservatives, but they’re not more Creationist than you’d expect from that). On the other hand, they do tend to reject anthropogenic Global Warming to a greater extent even when Josh controlled for background variables. I think this tends to support my contention that the evolution controversy will be with us for a while, and to some extent is sui generis. Both because it as at some remove from immediate policy implications outside of the domain of education, and, because of the deep cultural and psychological soil which Creationism can take root in. It is more than just politics, and so not an necessarily epiphenomenon.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Creationism, Culture, Data Analysis
  • dirk

    “anti-global warming” is an odd term. Would you consider yourself “pro-global warming”?

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

    i think you know what i mean. i didn’t know how to say it in a way that wouldn’t set someone off, so i mulled over what term i’d use and changed it multiple times. any follow up comments which try and get into the details of how i said it, instead of what i obviously meant, will be deleted or unpublished. lots of places on the internet to have that discussion. though i guess if you know of a suitably neutral term insofar as people don’t freak out on all sides, tell me. not too versed in this domain.

  • http://mainereason.blogspot.com karlton Kemerait

    Glenn!

    Wow, I don’t mean to be rude, honestly I don’t. But I hope you realize that saying things like “I don’t think we came from monkeys”, really shows off your ignorance on the subject. I don’t mean that as an insult, just that you need to do some reading on the subject before you start stating opinions like that.

    Like to help get you started … there are many places that you can read, one of the best is

    http://talkorigins.org

    if you prefer some fast videos on the fossil record or common descent these might help

    http://mainereason.blogspot.com/2010/10/plethora-of-transitional-fossils.html

    http://mainereason.blogspot.com/2010/10/did-someone-say-evidence.html

    Good luck. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

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

    if mr. beck is reading this weblog, I INVITE HIM TO MENTION ME ON HIS TELEVISION SHOW AND HIS RADIO SHOW, AND LINK ME UP FROM HIS NEW WEBLOG. i’m sure kalmbach publishing will be happy about that come next month :-)

  • Larry Linn

    Perhaps if Glenn Beck looks in the mirror, he would see a half-monkey, and a half-human.

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

    #6, your comment seems to have a strong specieist assumption beneath it. wilberforce would be proud!

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    I think you’re overanalyzing here. Beck dissed evolution because he is paid to preach to the choir.

  • http://3lbmonkeybrain.blogspot.com/ Mike Keesey

    Agree with #8. But, in a cladistic sense, Beck’s observation is correct, because all humans are 100% monkey.

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

    the common ancestor of humans and monkeys were monkeys?

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

    to be clear, monkeys aren’t even a real clade, right? the term itself isn’t scientific.

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

    I think you’re overanalyzing here. Beck dissed evolution because he is paid to preach to the choir.

    wasn’t most of my post about the choir?

  • Anthony

    Because most people think of medicine, geology, etc., as “black-box” affairs, there’s no cost to believing in Creationism.

    It would be interesting (but expensive) to get data from people in professions which rely on fundamental assumptions which contradict Biblical literalism, and see if (controlling for education) there is either a paucity of strong believers or political conservatives, or disproportionately low belief in creationism among the religious or conservative members of those professions.

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

    It would be interesting (but expensive) to get data from people in professions which rely on fundamental assumptions which contradict Biblical literalism, and see if (controlling for education) there is either a paucity of strong believers or political conservatives, or disproportionately low belief in creationism among the religious or conservative members of those professions.

    i believe numbers has stated that evangelical geologists are invariably not literalists, even if they started as such.

  • dirk

    My first comment was a lame attempt at being funny. We all understand exactly what you meant.

    Hey, if pro is the opposite of con… then what’s the opposite of progre…. nevermind….

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

    My first comment was a lame attempt at being funny.

    people really need to make more use of emoticons ;-)

  • http://N/A Elle ( Mountglamgirl)

    There is more energy wasted creating BOUNDRIES that separate our chosen psycho/sociological stance, than their ever ever is, finding out the ” close” answers to these questions, BECAUSE, as long as we are far more interested in establishing ourselves into smaller and smaller and LESS relevant sociological splinter groups: i.e. secular HUMANIST, LIBERAL ( YOU BET THAT IS ME AND I BELIEVE IT IS THE INDICATOR OF A MORE INTELLIGENT, MORE OPEN MIND ( READ STATS ABOVE)) but THAT makes me just as guilty as the rest of ( MAINLY WESTERN) humanity.CHRISTIAN, ( PRO LIFE) BLOWING UP CLINICS THAT DO ABORTIONS WITH THE MOTHERS INSIDE, WITH A BABY IN UTERU, because the clinic ALSO provides pre natal care.HOW TOTALLY IRONIC. OR, :” AGNOSTIC”, what the heck does the even MEAN, really?It means, not accepting the simple Judeo Christian ethic, still SEARCHING.( ummmm should we all be still searching, for that, that itself , not MONKEYS, an IMAGE, is what EVOLUTION s all about: Mental evolution.A stolid self named CHRISTIAN would say an agnostic does not even beLIEVE. NO, THESE maelstroms of words, breaking us( HUMANS, WHEREVER WE CAME FROM, the (heheh)literal( chuckle)Adam and Eve mythology,OR monkeys or spaceships or WHO AMONG US BUT HIGHER ONES THAN US( IF THEY DO EXIST, and I am sure that they do) really knows for SURE FOR SURE? I fault myself and fellow liberals just as much, for being so cocksurethat there are no other answers out there.We end up standing up for our increasingly divided identities, which is the total opposite of the hopeful idea of God as Love. WE ALL need to connect again, and find something to bring us a connection with each other again , not pull us apart.

  • tfagan

    I am a Christian and for most of my life I just took for granted that Evolution was the most likely process that eventually resulted in homo sapiens.
    Then I began to look at micro and macro evolution and learned that the number of helpful, non damaging, sequential mutations necessary for macro-evolution is beyond so called natural means.

    Micro-evolution of course is simply the natural variations already built into our genes (large dog, small dog, short hair, long hair, blue eyes, Brown eyes, etc).

    Just to keep it simple for those that make simple statements that specific, informational, intelligent code can be created by natural means. No! it cannot be created by natural means!

    It has been scientifically shown that the code structure actually exists in the DNA, RNA, mRNA, tRNA, genes, nucleotides, ribosomes and the like, so the problem is not for Intelligent Design, but for Darwinists to prove such information can be created by natural means.

    We know using the scientific principles including probability theory that such information cannot be created naturally by accident in a trillion years, certainly not possible in 3 or 4 billion years.

    So your task is to prove those scientific mathematical theories are in fact wrong and demonstrate how billions of bits of meaningful, specific, functional code can be created by accident. For example: demonstrate how the “Signature in the Cell” or “Edge of Evolution” can be produced by watching dirt, water, trees and all elements as they accidentally come together and form a book with the same message with the same words, correct spelling and grammar, a simple task compared to creating Homo-sapiens.

    I have now accepted that we cannot have come from some simple reaction in a mud puddle and that Intelligent Design is the best theory available. Darwin’s evolution was a good theory while it lasted but its time has passed.

    [ooh, second candidate for comment of the week! -razib :-]

  • http://N/A Elle ( Mountglamgirl)

    Instead of dividing ourselves into smaller and less meaningful splinter groups, because we feel that our identities are established this way, we ( perhaps) would all be happier if we found a common ground, after all, God was meant to create this, and somehow the different ideas we USE to DEFINE ourselves, morally, have broken a most primal connection. It is NOT funny any more, it’s the tower of babble all over again. MAYBE, human beings have BEEN HERE BEFORE, and suddenly I have seen the metaphor in that old and well loved bible story. WILL WE LEARN THIS TIME?

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

    we GET the POINT, OK?

  • http://N/A Elle ( Mountglamgirl)

    There is more energy wasted creating BOUNDRIES that separate our chosen psycho/sociological stance, than their ever ever is, finding out the ” close” answers to these questions, BECAUSE, as long as we are far more interested in establishing ourselves into smaller and smaller and LESS relevant sociological splinter groups: i.e. secular HUMANIST, LIBERAL ( YOU BET THAT IS ME AND I BELIEVE IT IS THE INDICATOR OF A MORE INTELLIGENT, MORE OPEN MIND ( READ STATS ABOVE)) but THAT makes me just as guilty as the rest of ( MAINLY WESTERN) humanity.CHRISTIAN, ( PRO LIFE) BLOWING UP CLINICS THAT DO ABORTIONS WITH THE MOTHERS INSIDE, WITH A BABY IN UTERU, because the clinic ALSO provides pre natal care.HOW TOTALLY IRONIC. OR, :” AGNOSTIC”, what the heck does the even MEAN, really?It means, not accepting the simple Judeo Christian ethic, still SEARCHING.( ummmm should we all be still searching, for that, that itself , not MONKEYS, an IMAGE, is what EVOLUTION s all about: Mental evolution.A stolid self named CHRISTIAN would say an agnostic does not even beLIEVE. NO, THESE maelstroms of words, breaking us( HUMANS, WHEREVER WE CAME FROM, the (heheh)literal( chuckle)Adam and Eve mythology,OR monkeys or spaceships or WHO AMONG US BUT HIGHER ONES THAN US( IF THEY DO EXIST, and I am sure that they do) really knows for SURE FOR SURE? I fault myself and fellow liberals just as much for preaching the evolutionary theories, not because they are not THE BEST WE HAVE COME UP WITH SO FAR, but because when we stop searching, we start fighting, and stop learning. AND LEARNING, I TRULY DO BELIEVE, is a great and loving GIFT from whatever loving GOD that does exist. We are at the Tower of BABBLE, splintering into these different groups, and the moment we get angry at another human being, we are splintered, broken off from him or her. The very single moment our self WES,,,,,,,,, created identity is attacked, we are NOT going to think about the person in a kind, human, GODLIKE way, and then, AND THEN HATE rears it’s evil head. THAT is why I can only say”, I am trying to find an answer, and I HOPE I am on the right path, I am not close yet, but I am learning ALOT. YEA, you can best BELiEVE that I believe in a GOD, a LOVING GOD, but aside from THAT, I do not know, and WILL NOT be a sheep, ever. Another gift from our lord is the gift of LOVE. EACH TIME WE SPLINTER INTO ANOTHER” I am THIS but what are YOU??” thing, the love, GOD.s love, gets tossed away.

  • http://N/A Elle ( Mountglamgirl)

    I truly believe, from what I have read, and followed up on, that ALL of you guys EACH has a PIECE of the “ANSWER” but we all need to find the ENORMOUS rest of the puzzle, it is with the HIGHER POWERS, that I, because of my lack of true knowledge will call GOD, A LOVING GOD. I am hoping, and when we find the rest of that big puzzle, we will know. I never thought there was a fight between creationism, and darwinism, it has always been that MONKEY IMAGE, I think, that persons found impossible to pass, perhaps because of their lack of self esteem to begin with. Creationism,the buzzword coming along lately, when we think in these terms, has a bit MORE of the puzzle. I apologize, friend for forgetting your name, but the person that said he could see the roots of a deeper creationism in the perfect strands of peptides, etc, and the machine like PROGRAMS imbedded in our D.N. A. said some things I had to stop and look at. Science, it seems, has led us back to where we STARTED, THIS TIME, WITH BACK UP.

  • http://N/A Elle ( Mountglamgirl)

    SOORRY Razib, i tried to delete the stupid repeat of a meandering and self righteous post, am a newb, ummm obviously. APOLOGIES, have pushed delete three times.OBVIOUSLY I missed the clock, if not the point.

  • Sandgroper

    “When my friend expressed his skepticism I was totally shocked, as I’d never considered that anyone would reject evolution. I was familiar with the idea from my early elementary years because of my fascination with dinosaurs”

    You could have been me. It was that rejection by my peers that led me to read On the Origin of Species when I was 12, and more broadly on geology and paleontology, beyond the ‘dinosaurs were awesome’ thing that seems pervasive among young kids.

  • Sandgroper

    #18 tfagan, please tell me you are not an engineer. Please.

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    Thirty years from now we will not be discussing Global Warming, thirty years from now we will probably be discussing evolution.

    This statement requires one of multiple possible sets of assumptions to be true, and I not willing to accept any of those sets. That is, I do believe that we will be discussing Global Warming in thirty years and I don’t think that you’ve made a compelling case that we will not be. Now, if you were suggesting that we will not be discussing it in the same manner (as a contrast to creationism vs. evolution), then I agree.

    the common ancestor of humans and monkeys were monkeys?

    Well, since there are two groups of monkeys (old world and new world) that have a common ancestor and we fall within the lineage of one branch, so I’d say that we are monkeys. ;)

  • http://N/A Elle ( Mountglamgirl)

    To SANDPIPER, EXACTLY, though obviously I am NOT as educated as most on this page, AT LEAST I have been continuing the search, like you yourself did, as you say, at twelve, and I am sure you, as an educated person will continue to search,. In short ( YAY) I have read to the point of ” The mapping of the Human Genome”, which to most on here is probably old , but it gave me the CLUE, that all was not ending at “DARWINISM is AWESOME,” and found that intelligent design seems to me to be the next rung on the ladder, and Darwinism HAS had its day.THANKS all u guys, for the instructive lessons here today. SERIOUSLY. Well, I know we are primates. It is like this: all monkeys are PRIMATES, but not all PRIMATES are monkeys.( UMMM DUH)

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

    Now, if you were suggesting that we will not be discussing it in the same manner (as a contrast to creationism vs. evolution), then I agree.

    yes.

    Well, since there are two groups of monkeys (old world and new world) that have a common ancestor and we fall within the lineage of one branch, so I’d say that we are monkeys.

    it’s a paraphyletic group, so i was really wondering if we can talk about it in a cladistic sense like keesey implied. by this logic birds are reptiles, since they’re closer to most reptiles than turtles

    http://tolweb.org/Amniota/14990

  • Jorg

    #18 tfagan: LOL. Your post reads like a Poe, or a mindless repeat of a Discovery Institute press release, complete with unwarranted distinction between micro and macro (hint: macro, in this case, is nothing but a result of a number of micro events). A class in introductory molecular biology will cure you of such delusions. But even if that’s too much, an elementary textbook on philosophy of science (and, in particular, that of biology) will.

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  • Divalent

    Razib: regarding Lab Lemmings comment, he implies that what Beck said is no evidence at all as to what he actually “believes” about evolution (he could be a creationist, could be an ‘evolutionist’, or he might honestly acknowledge to himself that he is ignorant about the issue); he was merely pandering to his audience with a statement on the topic that he knows will be positively received. In contrast, you imply that tribal affiliation results in an actual belief in the tribe’s doctrine (or at least something just one degree of separation from an actual belief: analogous to Dennet’s “belief in belief”)

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

    divalent, i don’t know about beck’s beliefs. but from what i know i’m pretty sure that explains some of the tendencies of the audience (the other aspect i allude to is the psychology, which is why it’s different from the other denialisms).

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

    btw, i guess i need to make it explicit. the post isn’t about beck. he’s the “hook.” i was thinking about posting on this issue before after talking to josh r.

  • Tom Bri

    For Beck and most people, it is a matter of time and interest. Beck is certainly smart enough to understand evolution. Even intelligent people can’t study everything, and understanding how science works is a long process.

    So why do intelligent people comment on things they don’t know much about? Better question. My guess is smart people assume they know more than they do, cause they took a class in college or whatever.

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

    So why do intelligent people comment on things they don’t know much about? Better question. My guess is smart people assume they know more than they do, cause they took a class in college or whatever.

    hm. well, if you mean that smart people don’t know their limits as much as less smart people, the social science, thin as it is, doesn’t back you up. it was reviewed thoroughly in the invisible gorilla. basically, the better you are at something, the better you can discern range and quality, and your own weaknesses and faults.

    OTOH, stupid people say things which are just stupid on the face of it. smart people say stupid things which can convince other ignorant smart people that they’re not saying something stupid. that’s certainly an evil and malicious thing to do, but it’s common. e.g., politics.

  • Elisheva Levin

    Hmm. Well I do know more than a bit about paleoclimatology and about evolutionary biology. That life on earth evolved is backed up by so much evidence that it is undeniable by anyone who a) is willing to look at it, and b) understands the theory of evolution.

    Beck, who is largely an autodidact, has not had the guidance of good educators who push bright students–and he is bright–beyond their preferences. That is the primary value of a good undergraduate education. And for that reason, he is ignorant of the most basic ideas that comprise the modern theory of evolution, and therefore does not understand it. However, this is not a malady only of the political right (and the Tea Parties). I know quite a few lefties (and social Darwinists), who while fervently preaching the gospel of evolution, understand it no more than does Beck. This is clear from some of the statements they make that sound odd in the ears of a biologist.

    “Global Warming” (a really bad name for climate change) does not have the scientific credentials that the theory of evolution has, nor should it, being that it is less than a few decades old. That climates change is obvious but the extent, the direction of the change, whether it is truly global, and the reasons for it are far from settled, despite politicians’ great desire to use it for their own ends. Further, some of the blatently false statements of the press make those looking into it appear to be ignorant of earth history. Worse, I do believe that some of those scientists probably are ignorant of it, being married to models rather than doing their fieldwork. When a “climate scientist” makes a statement like: “the earth’s temperature is warmer now than it ever was” or “there is more CO2 in the atmosphere now that at any other time”, he loses all credibility. The Mesozoic was far warmer and the earth’s atmosphere contained quite a lot more CO2 than today, and for quite a long duration. And the absurd statements that the CO2 in the atmosphere is a poison, a pollutant are equally non-sensical, given that the late Paleozoic and the Mesozoic saw a tremendous amount of plant growth and diversification, as well as a very twiggy tree of life for the dominant clades on the earth at that time.

    The science is NOT settled. For example, how do we know that the spike in global temperature–if real, and there is evidence that it is an artifact caused by sampling errors–is not the same kind of spike that was seen prior to several of the glacial advances that marked the end to inter-glacial periods roughly 10,000 years in duration. We need a lot more time, and real measurements before claiming that there is no room for controversy in the matter of anthropogenic climate change that is definitely going into the direction of warm.

    And further, even it this science was settled, the science does not in any way dictate a particular political response. Science is value-neutral. This science has been made into an issue, and is being used. Many of the climate scientists have sold their integrity to the political hand that feeds them.

    It took quite a long time to get from Darwin to Crick and Watson and the modern synthesis. We need to be a little more patient and a little less arrogant with this same process with respect to climate change. (Which is really happening all the time. Why should we expect that cycles of glaciation and retreat should suddenly end just because we made our appearance–rather late–on the evolutionary scene?).

    In any case, shoddy science and political agendas only make it more possible and more likely for the likes of Glenn Beck to be able to further discredit research in the eyes of the taxpayers. And lest we forget, they pay for a good deal of the science that is currently done. And it is forced from them, which is always a very bad proposition. Milk cows may put up with it, but Americans have a history of throwing off the yoke of taxation. The more I see of these false debates, the more ignorance I see, the more that I am convinced that government-sponsored science is indeed an oxymoron.

  • Ross

    I have to say I happened to be tuned into the local radio station when Beck started spewing this verbal diarrhea. What shred of baloney I gleaned from his show in the past has been lost forever to his ignorant rantings this morning. With that said where does an Atheist that believes in evolution but does not believe in Global Warming fit into this analysis?

  • http://mengbomin.wordpress.com/ Meng Bomin

    it’s a paraphyletic group, so i was really wondering if we can talk about it in a cladistic sense like keesey implied. by this logic birds are reptiles, since they’re closer to most reptiles than turtles

    Just to add to the counterintuitiveness of that particular relationship, crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards, snakes etc.. Dealing with naming conventions in the face of phylogeny is certainly a challenge.

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

    somehow, i don’t think telling glenn beck that using the term monkey is not best cladistic form would help….

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I found I could not tolerate an entire segment of Beck back when he was on CNN (like an especially awkward sitcom). But I think it actually reflects well on him that he’s taking a weak position on a topic he’s ignorant of.

    Lots of people have probably heard of the “Unskilled and Unaware of It” paper. They may be interested in this critique (this is not intended as an endorsement of any conclusion).

  • toto

    Controlling for background variables he did not find that Tea Party identified Americans were any more, or less, Creationist than they should have been (they’re disproportionately religious conservatives, but they’re not more Creationist than you’d expect from that). On the other hand, they do tend to reject anthropogenic Global Warming to a greater extent even when Josh controlled for background variables.

    Well, the Global Warming issue doesn’t really fall along the standard “Liberal/Conservative” line. It seems to fall more along the “Libertarian+Anti-Government/Everybody Else” line. But maybe Josh did include some ANTIGVT variable in his analysis?

    Having wasted way too much time in various forums, I am not so sure about your distinction between creationism and climate contrarianism. I do believe that there are meaningful similarities, beyond the obvious pattern of wildly espousing conspiracy theories when scientific consensus runs against your ideological core beliefs.

    The post by Elisha above is a good illustration, I think. You could compare it against a standard creationist manifesto about the “doubts”, “hoaxes” and “politics” that “plague” evolutionary theory. Just substitute temperature records with radioisotope dating and you’re halfway there. Hell, you even have the token acceptance of a limited, non-threatening version of the theory (small, insignificant AGW holding the same role as “micro-evolution”).

    Creationism is a shallow but broad belief, rooted in intuitions and imbued with symbolic valence. Is man a monkey or an angel?

    Well, “how can puny humans have any measurable impact on global climate?” Also, intuitions about the omnipotence of free enterprise and the evil of government intervention can run quite deep, even after the Great Pop.

    Thirty years from now we will not be discussing Global Warming

    Ever the optimist, I see. :)

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

    the only thing that will convince many creationists that evolution occurs is a body-plan reorganization of the order of the cambrian explosion within their lifetime. so the argument will continue because they refuse to connect the propositions together. the opinions are at equilibrium, thought shifting slowly toward evolution. i don’t think that the political discussions around global warming are equivalent. it is supposedly playing out now, and even drastic emissions reductions would only be moderately efficacious in mitigating the impact.

  • Ben Capoeman

    #18 tfagan
    “So your task is to prove those scientific mathematical theories are in fact wrong and demonstrate how billions of bits of meaningful, specific, functional code can be created by accident. ”

    Or you could download Avida, run the simulator and see for yourself how billions of bits of functional code come into being.
    http://sourceforge.net/projects/avida/

  • JDD

    Your opening cheap shot at Mormons comes across as sophomoric. Perhaps you could pretend to be a journalist?

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  • bob sykes

    It is my understanding (likely wrong, as usual) that a clade consisted of an organism and all its evolutionary descendents. It that case, a bird is also a reptile and a fish, etc, back up the evolutionary tree.

    By the way, many people (almost all faculty in the humanities and social sciences) claim to believe in evolution, but questioning will discover that they do not believe in Darwinian evolution, at least for humans. They appear to be some sort of Lamarkians.

  • Sandgroper

    #27 Elle

    There is no ‘Darwinism’, just like there’s no Newtonism or Einsteinism or Boyleism or Daltonism or Lavoisierism or Mendeleevism or Copernicusism. There was a guy called Charles Darwin, a pretty fair Geologist for his time, as it happens, who through his work advanced science, which has been advanced a lot further since by a whole lot of other people. ‘Intelligent Design’ has no place in this. It is certainly not the next rung up from the work of Darwin or anything like it.

  • anon

    The answer is the environmentalist power grab is really, really obvious. You have to have an IQ under 110 to believe in global warming fully, if you are any higher you have to use cognitive dissonance techniques.

    And about climategate, you can’t just hold a few incestuous hearings and expect us to forget it. The emails contain direct and irrefutable evidence of a CRIMINAL conspiracy. When we get power you will pay for your crimes. Enjoy your freedom while you have it.

  • bioIgnoramus

    “where does an Atheist that believes in evolution but does not believe in Global Warming fit into this analysis?” Ah, Ross, he’s what I’d call a Sound Chap, a Sensible Fellow, or a Man with a Sense of Proportion – a rational, scientific sort of a cove, in fact.

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com/ miko

    tfagan is definitely an engineer, or maybe a low-level medical professional. I love the “You have to prove it didn’t happen by magic” argument.

    I don’t think Glenn Beck has beliefs about evolution or much else, but I fall into this trap often with the few leaders on the far right who aren’t obvious morons (and let’s note with a sigh that radio personalities are now the leaders of American Conservativism). On the other hand, he has little formal education. Maybe he does think what he said makes sense, but it sounds too calculated to appeal to people much stupider than he appears to be.

  • Sandgroper

    #49 miko, the practice of engineering is to take a commission from someone with money (e.g. a democratically elected government) to meet an identified community need, and to design, construct and maintain something to meet that need to pre-defined standards of safety, utility and longevity, in exchange for some money. The adequacy with which the profession does that is in some way related to the quantum of money available to do it.

    Religion or any other kind of magic doesn’t come into the process. That is not to say that some engineer somewhere may have some belief in some kind of magic, but it has no relation to the practice of her/his profession. There is no role for magic in engineering design, it doesn’t enter into the process in any way.

    If it does, the engineer concerned will likely pretty soon find her/himself the subject of a professional indemnity suit, if not an inquest and a criminal charge of manslaughter. If that happens, the cause is far more likely to be corruption rather than mystical belief.

    I’m talking about professional engineers in the real world who build, operate and maintain stuff that enables you to stay alive and earn a living, like road and rail, water supply, sewage disposal, electricity and gas supply, building construction…you get the picture.

    Why should you give a shit about whether the moron who maintains your water supply is an Intelligent Design advocate or not, as long as you keep getting clean water when you turn your tap on or flush your toilet?

    The thought really bothers me that when I am lying dying in agony, instead of punching a fucking big syringe full of morphine into me and writing “multiple organ failure” on my death certificate, my palliative care doctor might tell me I don’t need any pain medication and to put my faith in Jesus. That thought really bothers me. Been there, done that. When the anaesthetist said “OK John, now we will take your pain away” and clamped the rubber face mask over my nose and mouth, I didn’t rip it off and say “Wait, are you an Atheist?”

    Engineers can’t hurt you with whatever weird religious beliefs they might attest to – it doesn’t come into the ethical practice of their profession, so I don’t see the relevance. And what they say outside the practice of their profession is about as relevant as what a street sweeper might say, and about as deserving of your attention, ridicule and baseless generalization.

    In any case, you are being hugely Americo-centric – engineers in America might be consedrvative religious crackpots, but they are not in many other countries. And, contrary to popular belief, America is not the whole world. It’s your problem and, increasingly, not ours.

    Don’t defame my profession. Defame any individual you want, I don’t give a shit, after all, you live in the home of the brave and the land of the free, and you can allege whatever defamatory bullshit you want with impunity. But don’t defame my profession, we don’t deserve it. If we ever decide collectively to withhold our services (which engineers colletively don’t believe in on ethical grounds, so it will never happen), you would be totally fucked. I suggest you recognise that fact, and show a little respect.

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

    Your opening cheap shot at Mormons comes across as sophomoric

    mormon superstitions are funny because we’re not acclimated to them.

  • Sri

    Doesn’t Beck remember that part in biology about homologous structures or, I suppose I should be asking based on his comments, has he ever taken a bio class? If so, there is no way he would make a dumb comment about half-monkey/man hybrids in an attempt to discredit evolution.

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com/ miko

    Sandgroper, sorry to give offence. I think it’s a fairly well-recognized phenomenon that people who give belabored, science-y sounding justifications for religious beliefs are often engineers or doctors. It even has a name that I can’t remember now. They are able to be conversant with some of vocabulary of molecular genetics and evolution, though without actually understanding much of it.

    That doesn’t mean many (or most or maybe almost all for all I know) engineers can’t or don’t understand evolution–I’m sure most understand far more than the average person–it’s just that certain ways of questioning evolution seem correlated with being an engineer, but this is only within the pool of evolution-doubters.

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

    sandgropper, you got into an argument about engineering before. some guy sent me an email, and i had no idea what it was about, until i realized it it was about your discussion. anyway, chill out about it. it’s all good.

  • Thomas Field

    People who don’t believe in evolution don’t comprehend evolution. Evolution is a struggle to survive as a species. How else can you explain Neanderthal man and the dead end they came to? They existed, despite the Bible’s not bothering to mention them. The traits that ensured modern man’s survival were passed on genetically. That’s what evolution is; the passing on of traits that are more suited for the survival of the species.

    This is all self evident. It doesn’t threaten religious orthodoxy except in the most simple-minded way. You have to wonder if the people who dismiss evolution because it somehow conflicts with their religious beliefs have ever taken the trouble to actually read Darwin’s “Origin Of The Species”? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess no.

    Evolution is not only a fact, it’s a necessity. It’s all about a species being able to adapt to it’s environment in order to survive. Many species in the history of this planet have gone extinct. How do you account for it? Was it God’s will, or something more plausible? How about this? They ceased to exist as a species because of their failure to adapt to their environment. In other words, their failure to evolve.

    Homo-sapiens didn’t become the dominant species on this planet because we had so much spirituality and trust in the Lord. How did we do it? Here’s a clue, our eyes are located in the front of our heads like any natural predator, we stand upright and have opposable thumbs. The homo-sapiens with eyes in the front, who grasped weapons and stood on their hind legs to hunt, survived and passed these traits along. The traits most suitable for survival were passed along. Get it? It’s called natural selection.

    As to how evolution gacked up a human hairball like GLenn Beck is another matter entirely. I think he must be some kind of double agent planted by the left in order to make conservatives look like a bunch of clueless, bloviating demagogues. Mission accomplished.

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

    People who don’t believe in evolution don’t comprehend evolution. Evolution is a struggle to survive as a species. How else can you explain Neanderthal man and the dead end they came to? They existed, despite the Bible’s not bothering to mention them. The traits that ensured modern man’s survival were passed on genetically. That’s what evolution is; the passing on of traits that are more suited for the survival of the species.

    no. at least not just that.

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com/ miko

    Someone needs to read some Dawkins cough-#57-cough.

  • dave chamberlin

    Nobody ever went broke understimating the intellegence of the American public.

    H L Menken

    Where o where are our H L Menkens, our Mike Roykos, our Mark Twains, when we need them most. I do believe the N.E.W.S. now stands for Nonsense Everybody Wants Sickness.

  • Tom Bri

    Razib, you have mentioned being a conservative. You are also very tolerant. Considering the comments people leave on your blog.

    Show a little respect for your host, folks.

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

    as my readership has grown it’s gotten more liberal. science is a liberal thing alas. also, lots of these are “one-offs” coming through stumbleupon and what not.

  • Sandgroper

    Razib, OK, just let me make an explanatory statement to miko by way of apology for my outburst, and then I’ll drop the crusade.

    miko, I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t comment when I’m tired and cranky. As you might guess from my comments, I’m deeply offended that there are engineers who masquerade unethically as scientists in order to try to give authority to their wingnut arguments that evolution has been falsified. I’m aware of the correlation you refer to, but in America I think this comes from confirmation bias, or at least I hope it does. Someone who claims to be a scientist once identified a creationist claiming to be a scientist as actually holding a degree in engineering, not science. Since then, people have looked for this among the vocal ID advocates, and sure enough, because they look for it, now and again they have found it, particularly in the more religious states. I understand your point about ways of questioning,which is why I made the comment I did at #25 – I was hoping this was not another data point.

    I am also fed up with engineers and scientists disrespecting each other professionally in real life. It happens a lot, particularly at the boundaries, where mutual respect and cooperation would make for a better world.

  • Katharine

    I find it funny that the anti-Global Warming sorts don’t seem to actually listen to actual climatologists on this – or the plethora of data that backs it up from, say, biology (let’s see: Humboldt squid roaring up the coast from Mexico, species ranges extending north, the list goes on…). Nope, they go to people who don’t study it professionally.

    Anyway, anyone who actually studies global warming essentially thinks we can’t do anything about it anyway, so the best we can do is mitigate the impact.

  • Katharine

    Blecch is painfully stupid, just hyperextroverted and skilled enough in the art of bullsh*t to twist nonsense into words that someone with an IQ of about 85 might think are sensible.

  • Katharine

    And anon clearly stopped reading about the conversations on global warming a long time ago; the idea that there was any ‘conspiracy’ in the East Anglia emails was debunked a long time ago.

  • Sandgroper

    Kat, there are the denialists and the skeptics. There’s a difference. There’s no time for fence-sitters while the evidence comes in. Where I’m currently living, it’s not clear whether what we are experiencing is evidence of anthropogenically induced climate change already in action or part of a long term drought cycle, but it’s a dire period of change happening in real time. Times are tough. The pace of urbanisation means that a lot of now heavily populated cities don’t design for rainfall, temperature, wind, sea conditions, snow loading or frost heave where those have not occurred there within human memory or adequate written records. Even where recurrent major events have been recorded, the political process and the nature of people has permitted those places to become heavily populated, and they are being repopulated (check Aceh, 26 December 2004. If we are pious, God will protect us. After the 2004 event, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Australia pronounced that it was God’s punishment of Muslims, while Muslims noted that most of the mosques remained standing in areas where most other buildings were swept away- Indonesian colleagues have pointed out that it was due to the nature of the foundations of the buildings, rather than some divine intervention – the mosques were built on deep piled foundations due to their size and heavy loadings, the other buildings were constructed on shallow pad foundations and were destroyed – this was one of many major lessons in construdtion of buildings in tsunami-vulnerable areas, but it was swept away in a tide of popuar religion – engineers of many countries and religions had frank discussions about such issues, based purely technical considerations, but we dont run the world- no, large earthquakes on subductions zones on tectonic plate boundaries are not climate-induced, but it illustrates modern human interpretations of such disastrous events that occur in modern times – in that respect the Chinese are admirably scientific compared to most of the rest of us, while being very non-admirable in many other respects.)

    Decisions on design standards and construction of mitigion measures need to be made faster than we have time to gather decisive empirical data, and the forecasting models are not that great. And it looks like it is much too late to reverse the process anyway, the best we can hope for is to mitigate it somewhat, possibly insignificantly, and learn to live with it fast. Redesigning megacities and relying on urban renewal and retrofitting is not an easy or quick fix, and many already live on the edge.

    And the frightening thought remains that we could be on the cusp of a new ice age.

    My take is that we should quit arguing about whether it is happening and what we should do to try to stop it happening, and start dicussing how we are going to design and build for it to mitigate the effects, and feed ourselves.

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Gene Expression

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 http://www.razib.com

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