Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution

JudithHayes

For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.

#5. This article was published on 31 July 2013, and has had nearly 12000 views. My “career” in skepticism actually started with debunking evolution deniers, so I always enjoy pointing out the logical fallacies, lies, pseudoscience, and general craziness of the anti-evolution world.

There is just nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists.” The body of work that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record.  In addition, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science worked as a democracy, it would be a landslide vote in favor of evolution. 

The scientific theory of evolution is simply the change in inherited characteristics of a biological population over time and generations through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the misunderstanding, by intention or ignorance, by creationists about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

There is no scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.

Despite the ongoing debate regarding other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no disputes about the fact that evolution happened over 3.8 billion years amongst scientists. None. Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in a real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.

Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Though rarely successful, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently passed antievolution bills. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they conflate a ridiculous political and social argument with a scientific one. 

The reality of the situation is that creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magic, rather than a natural, scientifically explained, process. Creationism explicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to a creator. Without a doubt, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made by so called “creation scientists,” creationism can never be tested scientifically because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic principles of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is ”a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional book

Even from a political standpoint, the push by Republicans to add creationism to schools is unambiguously deprecated by the US Constitution, ironically, a document that Republicans irrationally revere. In the US Constitution, the so-called Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution specifically prohibits any government entity from establishing a religion (which courts have ruled to include teaching religion in schools). Decades worth of Supreme Court rulings have found that teaching creationism in schools is equivalent to teaching religion. As recently as 2005, in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, a Federal Court continued the tradition of considering creationism as religion, and ruled against a school district, costing the Dover Area School District nearly $1 million in legal fees. That money probably could have been used to teach their students better science.

In spite of all of these points, that there is no scientific debate, that all scientists and rational people accept evolution as a fact, and that creationism is nothing more than a religious doctrine, the conservative Republicans keep shoving creationism onto the legislative agenda. Disappointingly, a recent poll from YouGov.com shows that most Americans are ignorant about evolution, and accept a religious, rather than a scientific, explanation for the transformation over time of life on earth.

origin_over_time 

Yes, only 21% of Americans think that evolution is a scientific fact without influence from mythical sky beings. Yes, some of you might be happy that the number who accept the scientific basis of evolution grew from 13% to 21% over a decade, but that’s just pathetic. Over 60% of the population of Sweden, Germany, and China accept the scientific explanation for the diversity of life on earth–evolution.

In a slightly different look at this poll, about 46% of Americans accept evolution, but that includes about 25% of the population that thinks that some mythical supernatural being guided or influenced the evolution of life:

origin_2013

 

I guess this could be considered a “glass half empty or full” result. It’s good to know that most of the Americans in this poll accept evolution (over a few billion years rather than 6,000 years); unfortunately, over half of those people think that some mythical god guided the process, despite the complete and utter lack of evidence of anything but natural processes driving evolution. 

But this YouGov poll asked one more question that will empower lunatic Republicans to continue to push religious teaching, in the form of creationism, into our schools:

creationism teaching

 

Yes, 40% of Americans think that it would be OK to teach creationism (or its bastard stepchild, intelligent design) in schools. This is probably the most frustrating part of the poll, that Americans think it’s OK to religion in public schools, despite the unconstitutional nature of such a move.

This isn’t merely a social or philosophical issue. The teaching of evolution is fundamental to understanding all aspects of biology, including modern biomedicine. Vaccines, antibiotics, fetal development, genetics, infectious disease control, immunology, etc. etc. are all totally dependent on a elemental and basic knowledge of evolution. The USA is one of the leading countries for biomedical research and development, but other countries will supersede the USA with better trained and educated individuals entering colleges and graduate schools. What do these crazy Republicans want? The USA to be a 3rd rate R&D nation? Or to import foreign college grads and Ph.D.’s to develop our biomedical products?

How can we train physicians who deny evolution? We can’t. We shouldn’t rely upon doctors who think that magical sky beings can heal someone, instead of science based medicine. In fact, alternative medicines, like homeopathy, rely upon magic and complete denial of rational science, and most of us wouldn’t want doctors who bought into that nonsense.

As long as Americans are ignorant about science, they will allow the nuts in the Republican party to push the creationist agenda. Of course, states like California or New York, which educate their children, mostly without the influence of creationist junk science, will be more attractive for intense research and development in the biomedical industry, and attract those companies that pay taxes and employ high-paid individuals. And states like Alabama and Tennessee, which think that teaching creationism is OK, will attract…nothing.

All I can say is that I’m embarrassed to be an American. We believe in nonsense.

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