Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – there is simply nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists” that have infiltrated the discussion about evolution.
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 quite easy to understand – it is 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 creationist misinformation 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 scientific research examining 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 scientific disputes about the fact that evolution has occurred over a period of 3.8 billion years until present time. 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. Even though rarely successful, unfortunately, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently implemented antievolution legislation. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they defer to a ridiculous political and cultural “debate” while ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus.
Once again, many or most Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – thus, politicians, at least in some areas of the country, think they have the political cover to do whatever they want with regards to the teaching of creationism.
Creationism in the USA
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.
There is little argument that contradicts the conclusion that creationism is nothing more than a religious belief. Furthermore, 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 concentrated efforts of Republicans to add creationism to schools is unambiguously disallowed 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.
Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – polls
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 legislative agendas across the USA.
All but one of the current crowd of Republican presidential candidates for the 2016 US Presidential election are, to varying degrees, anti-evolution, if not outright creationists. The one exception, Jeb Bush, accepts the fact of evolution, but doesn’t want it taught in schools. And the leading candidate, Donald Trump uses some of the dumbest anti-evolution arguments in declaring his lack of “belief” in evolution.
Disappointingly, as I mentioned above, there is a large segment of the US population that supports the Republicans. A 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.
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:
(Note – there are newer polls that have shown that those who accept evolution, but including those who think it was started or guided by a supreme being, has grown to a majority of Americans.)
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:
But there’s still a problem. Around 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.
What does it all mean?
The fact that most Americans are ignorant fools about evolution isn’t merely a social or cultural issue – the teaching of evolution is fundamental to our 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 fundamental knowledge of evolution.
Being misinformed or ignorant about evolution has many consequences:
- The USA is one of the leading countries for biomedical research and development. Without knowledge and acceptance of the fact of evolution, other countries will supersede the USA with better trained and educated individuals entering colleges and graduate schools.
- And the consequence of this is that USA will lose its status as the premier nation for biomedical R&D. That hurts our economy. That hurts our competitiveness. It hurts our medical technology. This is what Republicans want? A weak America?
- We really can’t train physicians who are unfamiliar with or deny evolution. Many aspects of medicine rely upon a foundation of basic biology, including evolution. How can a physician treat a serious infection that has evolving bacteria without admitting that bacteria evolve?
- And once medicine rejects the fact of evolution, then it opens the field to other junk science that relies upon magic and supernatural pseudoscience – most of alternative medicine, like homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic, exist simply because of the reliance on magical belief. So once a physician thinks he can reject evolution, what next? Germ theory? Cell theory?
As long as a majority of Americans are ignorant about evolution (really, all science), they will allow 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 biomedical research and development – more research companies, that pay high taxes and employ highly compensated employees, will start-up or relocate to these more pro-science states.
Isn’t it ironic that Republicans, who claim to be so pro-business, really have no clue. They deny science, which will be the driver of economic growth for centuries.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2013. It has been revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.