Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Robert Wright on evolutionists vs. creationists

From the Atlantic:

A few decades ago, Darwinians and creationists had a de facto nonaggression pact: Creationists would let Darwinians reign in biology class, and otherwise Darwinians would leave creationists alone. The deal worked. I went to a public high school in a pretty religious part of the country--south-central Texas--and I don't remember anyone complaining about sophomores being taught natural selection. It just wasn't an issue.

A few years ago, such biologists as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact. [Which isn't to say the violation was wholly unprovoked; see my update below.] I don't just mean they professed atheism--many Darwinians had long done that; I mean they started proselytizing, ridiculing the faithful, and talking as if religion was an inherently pernicious thing. They not only highlighted the previously subdued tension between Darwinism and creationism but depicted Darwinism as the enemy of religion more broadly.

If the only thing this Darwinian assault did was amp up resistance to teaching evolution in public schools, the damage, though regrettable, would be limited. My fear is that the damage is broader--that fundamentalist Christians, upon being maligned by know-it-all Darwinians, are starting to see secular scientists more broadly as the enemy; Darwinians, climate scientists, and stem cell researchers start to seem like a single, menacing blur.

I'm not saying that the new, militant Darwinian atheists are the only cause of what is called (with perhaps some hyperbole) "science denialism." But I do think that if somebody wants to convince a fundamentalist Christian that climate scientists aren't to be trusted, the Christian's prior association of scientists like Dawkins with evil makes that job easier.

I reiterate that this theory is conjectural--so conjectural that "hypothesis" is a better word for it than "theory". The jury may remain out on it forever.

Meanwhile, some data to keep your eye on: Check out the extreme right of the graph above. Over the past two years, the portion of respondents who don't believe in evolution has grown by six percentage points. Where did those people come from? The graph suggests they're people who had previously believed in an evolution guided by God--a group whose size dropped by a corresponding six percentage points. It's as if people who had previously seen evolution and religion as compatible were told by the new militant Darwinians, "No, you must choose: Which is it, evolution or religion?"--and pretty much all of them chose religion.


  1. "Over the past two years, the portion of respondents who don't believe in evolution has grown by six percentage points. "

    Wright needs to learn how to read a graph - he might equally have said:

    "Over the past twelve years, the portion of respondents who don't believe in evolution has dropped by one percentage point."

  2. Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

  3. Anonymous6:50 PM

    "I went to a public high school in a pretty religious part of the country--south-central Texas--and I don't remember anyone complaining about sophomores being taught natural selection. It just wasn't an issue."

    Yeah, I went to one of those Texas high schools, too.

    Anyway, saying that creationists reject natural selection is just offering a straw man. Creationists reject that life arose spontaneously.

    From what I can tell, plenty of atheists reject natural selection, especially among current and recent humans.

  4. Anonymous6:55 PM

    @ bgc

    Yeah the graph shows little change and what little there is seems to indicate a possible trend towards greater polarization.

    It would be interesting to see the whites only graph. Increases due to immigration and minorities could account for changes if the non-theistic are higher percentage Asian and creationists higher percentage black or hispanic leaving whites still more in the middle.

  5. This is so twentieth century.

    There is a modern science-religion dispute that dominates the media and political discourse. But Darwin and the creationists aren't involved. Evolution and creationism is a very old and essentially settled argument. People are comfortable with re-arguing the Skopes Trial because of nostalgia. They know how it all comes out and they want to relive the glory.

    Liberals do much the same with blacks. They don't want to talk about current black crime rates. They would prefer to remember the moral clarity of the March on Selma.

    There is a very real split in the public over whether homosexuality is a phenomenon of the natural/scientific world or whether it is God's Will. Sadly most Americans take the religious explanation.

    Tracy Morgan got in the news a while back when he said he would kill his son if he were gay. He said he knew that being gay was a choice. OK, Morgan is no genius. He's an obscure black TV comic. But around the same time Newt Gingrich said much the same thing.

    Choosing your sexual orientation is a lunatic theory. It is in fact a religious theory. It is the modern creationism. God - this theory says - chooses to make you straight or gay. You think you make the choice yourself but God put that idea in your head too.

    My stance is simple I think homosexuality is caused by a T. Gondii infection. I may be wrong but I don't invoke anything supernatural.

    A lot of gay activists also think homosexuality is of divine origin. They view their own sexual orientation as a proof of God's love.

    Almost no one, even intelligent and informed people have any kind of theory as to what causes homosexuality. By default they ascribe it to something beyond nature. God did it - I don't know why.

    So why should we argue over evolution? We all know all the arguments. It is comfortable. We don't have to stretch our minds or challenge ourselves. No, it's easier to be pretend we are committed to science and natural world ideas by rehashing a dispute that was settled long ago.


  6. Saint Louis4:09 PM

    I assume there must be regional differences. I grew up in Vermont in the '80s and '90s, attending a Catholic church every Sunday, and literally never met a single person who held the strong creationist position (or at least no one who admitted it) until I was in college. I remember when I finally did, I was completely flabbergasted to find that a reasonably intelligent college student I was friends with was a young-earth creationist. I actually thought he was pulling my leg at first. It was as if he told me he worshipped Zeus or believed in draining bad blood to treat diseases.


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