American political conservatism impedes the understanding of science

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Science magazine has just published a graph of data taken from a general social survey of Americans that quantifies what most of us assume: a well-educated liberal who is not a fundamentalist is much more likely to accept evolution than a conservative fundamentalist with only a high school education. You can see the trend fairly clearly: here we see the percent believing in evolution vs. fundamentalism, amount of education, and self-reported political views.

belief_in_evo.jpg
(click for larger image)

The percentage of respondents believing in human evolution is plotted simultaneously against political view (conservative, moderate, liberal), education (high school or less, some college, graduate school), and respondent's religious denomination (fundamentalist or not). Belief in evolution rises along with political liberalism, independently of control variables.

Continue reading "American political conservatism impedes the understanding of science" (on Pharyngula)

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Well… so much for the last hope of avoiding the politicising of science…

”…likely to accept evolution than a conservative fundamentalist”

I wish to swap the word “accept” with “acknowledge”. Acknowledge implies that, regardless of what you believe the fact of Evolution is what it is.

Like Gravity, whether you accept it or not, it’s there.

Just my 2 cents.

This actually explains the DI and some of the regular ID posters here.

This explains why an Ann Coulter book had an anti-evolution section. It explains why the Dover trial involved the TMLC - a Catholic, not evangelical organization but a self-proclaimed conservative one. It explains a lot more than that. It works the other way, too. Is there anybody at the DI who has a “liberal” view on economic or social issues unrelated to the theory of evolution? There is a very strong relationship between claiming to “doubt evolution” and claiming to think that Mallard Filmore is funny.

Indeed, I might even argue that it’s almost as common for someone to claim to be a fundamentalist because of their political beliefs, as for someone to be be a conservative because of fundamentalist faith.

Forget about “believe” vs “acknowledge” vs “accept the evidence”. Those points are valid, but people knew what the question meant.

I have no doubt that there are honorable, independent thinking individuals who, for one reason or another, arrive at something that could be described as a “conservative” point of view. I personally see no logical rationale for the so-called conservative stances on economics, the environment, social policy or foreign policy that are advanced in the US today, but that’s neither the subject of this blog nor the point of this message. I’m just being honest about what some could construe as a “conflict of interest”.

The American “conservative movement” has been well-know, for at least 15-20 years, for demanding that “members” take the correct opinion on a wide variety of issues. “Disagreeing with evolution” is one stance that has become understood to be required or encouraged (the rationale on this, and some other issues, perhaps being to capture the support of evangelicals who might disagree with right wing economic, enviromental, or forgeign policy ideas, but that’s just my guess). It is not the only science-denying stance, either. Actually, the views that the media touts as “conservative”, including this one, are not necessarily traditionally conservative.

People are very much denying evolution and pretending to because their political biases compel them to. It’s important to remember this.

Oops, the last line should read “pretending to find ID convincing”.

harold wrote:

“There is a very strong relationship between claiming to “doubt evolution” and claiming to think that Mallard Filmore is funny.”

I’m glad to hear that others think this. I find the strip cynical and whiney, not funny. At least Doonesbury entertains while it offends. (although I personally don’t find it offensive)

I’m in the 57% of conservative, non-fund. grad school group. You beat me to the punch that many people “believe in” evolution because they are politically supposed to. And the converse must be true for many who deny it. For me, evolution just “made sense” all along, from before high school, through my phases as an atheist, agnostic, theist, liberal, etc. The big difference, though, is that for 30 of those 40 years I still had many misconceptions of evolution, as I suspect >90% of respondents of such polls do. I’m not sure how one would even conduct such a poll, but if one could weed out those who deliberately misrepresent evolution, I’d bet that, among those who have been corrected on the common misconceptions, >90% of liberals and conservatives alike would accept it.

I’ve always wanted to do a survey like this, but with a slight difference.

The first part would gather demographic information. The second part would gather information about whether the person being surveyed accepted/acknowledged evolution. The third part would be a short quiz on the basics of biology and what evolutionary theory actually says.

I’d love to see what the results would be if you plotted actual knowledge of evolutionary theory against acceptance of evolutionary theory.

I think it is ok to say “accept” versus “believe.” Acceptance at least has some shred of what actually happens - the acceptance that the evidence presented to you has been discovered in a professional manner - and is therefore acceptable. Belief implies human constructions of interpersonally shared imagination. revelation and acceptance of authority. I do like acknowledge as well.

Lamuella, That’s a great idea. Do it if you can.

It’s certainly true that the theory of evolution, although not actually hard to understand at a purely intellectual level, is widely misunderstood.

This is even true, sometimes, among its supporters (albeit much less commonly and much less eggregiously).

However, this trend is not independent of the political trend discussed above. If some people were not motivated, for reasons of political bias, to constantly make inaccurate claims about evolution, and if the media and publishing industry were not prone, no doubt also partly for political reasons, to give such claims excessive respect and coverage, there would be less misunderstanding.

I forgot to mention, above, the disturbing parallel between Soviet Lysenkoism and the embrace of ID by the current “conservative movement”. In each case, loyalty to a rigid ideology is made to demand, or at least strongly encourage, denial of scientific reality.

There has also been a historical tendency for people with a variety of viewpoints to claim that the theory of evolution, uniquely among scientific theories, somehow compels other people to adopt some particular behavior, attitude, or political stance. I would say that the theory of evolution could be said to indirectly add support for some public policy goals (not radically altering our own environment, taking antibiotic and pesticide resistance seriously, perhaps taking a prudently cautious approach to the initial introduction of genetically modified crops). In the same sense, the theory of gravity could be said to support requiring a high degree of safety precautions for passenger aircraft. Although claiming that one’s personal philosophy is justified or exiged by the theory of evolution is far less obnoxious than denying scientific reality to show loyalty to an ideology, this tendency, too, can promote misunderstanding of evolution.

Acceptance of evolution is an indicator of development of analytical skills. These correlations suggest that failure to develop analytical skills is a factor in conservatism and a larger factor in fundamentalism.

There are a great number of factors not accounted for in a survey like this one. This includes the “supposed to believe” effect, but extends to direct indoctrination in the colleges about what is “right” (don’t get me wrong, colleges are obliged to teach that it is a fact that life evolved—yet for many college grads, their “knowledge” goes no further than that), class effects, socialization, perceptions of what the “lower classes” are up to, and group economic interests.

The fact that a “well-educated” person is likely to be more liberal and more likely to accept evolutionary explanations has to be considered in light of a host of complex phenomena. Post hoc ergo propter hoc (“hoc” being the supposed greater reception of education among liberals) is no more appropriate on our side as it is for cosmological IDists (who are especially prone to it) or for biological IDists (yes, I know they’re typically one and the same, but not always). For just how long did leftists and liberals complain about the pretensions of conservative upper classes, who took pride in the relative uniformity of their “upper class virtues” which they ascribed to their “superior educations”?

The truth is that acceptance of science really has no apparent requisite linkage to political affiliations, hence it would be difficult to demonstrate that conservatism per se impedes the understanding of science (does this survey noticeably measure the actual understanding of science?), or that liberals are more receptive to science in general rather than more receptive to what professors tell them. It could be all, or none, of the above.

Studies have concluded that “liberals” were in the past more receptive to new theories like evolution, but also more receptive to new ideas like phrenology. On the whole this relatively greater openness might be thought to be more admirable, since an open-minded person would presumably find out eventually that phrenology was a crock while evolution was not. However, even if that can be considered to be a true advantage (and one would still have to parse out what makes one a “liberal”), it would on the face of it have little to do with a “better understanding of science”, rather it would reflect quite another value. One may understand established science quite well and be too conservative (I don’t mean in the political sense here, even if the political conservative might be more likely to be a scientific conservative) to think through a new scientific concept.

Of course, having said that, one should also point out that the IDists, along with the tendency of conservatives, is not to be “early adopters” or to consider new ideas. Apart from whether or not being an early adopter is “good”, it points up the fact that IDists aren’t “considering ID” because they are open to new ideas, but because they are not (nothing new there, however I’m pointing out that the studies have demonstrated this to be the case, vicariously). IDists aren’t even open to certain well-established ideas, really never thinking through evolutionary evidence to what they otherwise consider to be legitimate conclusions in paternity and copyright cases, or even in “microevolution”. The fact is that IDists are claiming to be the liberals on the issue of evolution, when they have typically never thought outside of their own little boxes.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

If a political ideology is rigid enough that adherents will, in the face of a conflict between their positions and science, deny specific scientific findings, then such a political ideology will indeed interefere with understanding of science. Granted there may be some cognitive dissonance along the way.

The word “conservative” is ill-defined and has many meanings.

In the US, there is a group of people who are generally thought of as being the “conservative movement”. The ideological positions of this movement, exemplified by figures like Dick Cheney, are well-known and inflexible. Almost any American can quickly tell you the “conservative” opinion on many issues.

The cooption of the term “conservative”, and one political party, by this identifiable ideology took place over the last 15-30 years; prior to that, both major political parties were said to contain “liberals” and “conservatives”, and people could make statements like “I’m basically conservative but I support strong environmental regulations”. Today, such a statement in public would result in angry retorts that the speaker was not “really conservative”.

There are certainly reasonable, flexible people who do not belong to this “movement” whole-heartedly, and who consider themselves in some sense “conservative”, using the term the old-fashioned way. But if you ask an American whether they are “conservative”, they will understand that you are asking them whether they adhere to the widespread ideologic movement that currently goes by this name.

A number of “conservative movement” positions are in conflict with science. Hence, twenty years ago when I was in college, we thought of scientists as often being “conservative”; today, the image of scientists or science being dismissed by George Bush or other “conservative” political figures has become a staple of the editorial cartoonist.

ID is essentially an invention of, and an arm of, the “conservative movement”, and indeed, almost any mention of the DI in the media, however fawning, does refer to it as a “conservative” institute.

All members of the DI are “conservative”, virtually all politicians who ever introduced “ID in public schools” legislation, at every level of government, are “conservative” and belong to one political party.

The reason why a right wing ideology would invest in denying evolution is to broaden membership and fund-raising. Evangelicals are perhaps the most recent and least dependable, but also most numerous, members of the “conservative movement”. In the past, evangelicals often took “liberal” or even “left wing” stances on many issues - slavery, civil rights, minimum wage, social safety net programs - but today, in essence, economic and foreign policy right wingers pander to evangelical social concerns to create a “movement” large enough to get them into power.

Although I am not “conservative”, lest my words be thought to imply extreme political beliefs or be to excessively critical, I hasten to add that I am a firm believer in the capitalist system (I support sustainable, humane, capitalism coupled with democracy and human rights, and I am almost the opposite of “anti-business” or “anti-capitalist”.) This is irrelevant, but I am explaining for extra clarity.

If ID were a sincere crackpot belief rather than a political boondoggle, there would be no DI, no Cobb County, no Dover, no ID screed in an Ann Coulter book, etc.

Harold, For more thoughts on other parallels to Lysenkoism see my and other’s comments on an older thread: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]mment-125461

Please don’t confuse “conservative” with “right-wing ideologue.” A conservative is, simply put, one who wants to “conserve” – who is skeptical of new and radical ideas (not hostile, that would be a “reactionary”), and reluctant to abandon what he knows for what he does not know without considerable debate and study. There are plenty of conservatives who accept evolution, not because they understand it themselves, or are atheists, but because they understand it works, and what works is good. (They would probably accept General Relativity and Quantum Physics for the same reasons.) They want their kids to go to good schools and get good educations so they can get good jobs and benefit both themselves and their country; and if their teachers say evolution is solid, they’ll just accept what the trustworthy authorities and experts say, and let the teachers do their jobs.

The American “conservative movement” has been well-know, for at least 15-20 years, for demanding that “members” take the correct opinion on a wide variety of issues.

Really? Gosh, they must have been sending those demands to the wrong address, because I sure didn’t get one. Nor, apparently, did John Derbyshire, George Will, or Charles Krauthammer.

Mr. Meyers,

I’m as “liberal” as a food stamp, myself—“left-wing radical” would be a more accurate label—but let me put in a word for the conservatives here, somewhat along the lines of Mr. Davidson’s comment:

Aren’t you jumping the inductive gun by using in your title the word “impedes,” as in “conservativism impedes the understanding of science”? That word appears to me to specify a causal relationship. But the data depicted do not establish a causal relationship, only a correlation. “Belief in evolution rises along with political liberalism, independently of control variables,” the authors of the Science letter are careful to say. It is the reader’s job to notice that only a handful of relevant variables are shown on this graph out of scores that might be easily imagined. (We should also note two of the variables considered are highly simplistic—political belief is projected onto three discrete values on a one-dimensional axis, religious belief onto a mere two.)

It is quite possible, for all these data tell us, that conservatism’s negative correlation with belief in evolution arises from some shared cause or complex of causes, rather than that “conservatism impedes the understanding of science.” Plus, “science” is way too broad a word for describing the meaning of a study that only examines beliefs about evolution—a study that, in fact (another quibble with your title), examines only belief in evolution, not understanding of evolution. There’s nothing here on the question of how many believers in evolution have a reasonable “understanding” of it and how many disbelievers do not. Although it might seem plausible to us (it does to me) that disbelievers in evolution would have a relatively low understanding rate compared to believers, this graph does not tell us. I would guess, based on the usual random conversational sample, that there is a fairly low “understanding” rate even among members of the general population who affirm the truth of evolution.

As for general ability to understand “science” or tendency to think scientifically, and their correlation of either or both with political attitudes, if we did a survey on the correlation between belief in chakras, energy healing, and the ability of microwave ovens to “kill qi” instead of a survey on evolution, would we find a higher rate of disbelief among self-identified liberals or conservatives? Self-identified fundamentalists or non-fundamentalists? And would disbelief in such things go up, or down, with educational level? I would not bet large sums on any of the answers.

Better title: “Political conservatism correlates strongly with disbelief in evolution.”

Sincerely,

Larry Gilman

What disturbs me is that even in the highest-educated group, grad school, not-fund, there are still 15-20 % of moderates or even liberals who do not acknowledge evolution. Is our science illiteracy really that bad?

Also disturbing is that in no less a magazine than Science there is a graph that speaks about “believing in evolution” - as if science is something you “believe” in (and no, as a Catholic I have no problem with the concept of believing per se).

Dembski responds:

But why should disbelieving evolution reflect a lack of understanding of it? Alternatively, does understanding evolution automatically force one to believe it? I remember speaking at the University of Toronto in 2002 when a biologist challenged me about how holding to ID renders one a nonscientist. I asked him if that disqualified Isaac Newton from being a scientist. His instant response was, “but he didn’t know about evolution.”

Is it that ID proponents don’t understand evolution or that we understand it well enough and think it’s bogus?

Let’s put this in perspective, with a well-known Dembski quote:

If I ever became the president of a university (per impossibile), I would dissolve the biology department and divide the faculty with tenure that I couldn’t get rid of into two new departments: those who know engineering and how it applies to biological systems would be assigned to the new “Department of Biological Engineering”; the rest, and that includes the evolutionists, would be consigned to the new “Department of Nature Appreciation” (didn’t Darwin think of himself as a naturalist?).

Here’s Dembski stupidly saying that evolutionists don’t “know engineering” (yes, I know that there is a clause after it, however anyone who is knowledgeable knows that engineering doesn’t apply to biological systems, other than very recent human endeavors. So I can’t use such a dishonest clause to evaluate his accusation), a smear against both sensible engineers, your more “liberally” educated biologists, and bioengineers.

He still can’t think through the idea that Newton who had no scientific evidence for evolution was a (relatively) reasonable creationist in a way that one who has masses of such evidence is not, as per the earlier block quote.

More pointedly, here’s the yahoo who wants to persecute biologists and replace them with engineers, by theocratic dictate, who happens to be the same one who asks, “Is it that ID proponents don’t understand evolution or that we understand it well enough and think it’s bogus.”

Well Dembski, we haven’t seen you deal competently with any of the evidence, and your yes-men at UD haven’t done any better. You completely lack respect for good science and the evidentiary bases upon which all sound science rests. You have been shown repeatedly not to understand evolution at all well (any time you write about it, in fact) and to oppose sound empirical practices in favor of accepting meaningless speculations and/or traditions. Gee, why do we doubt that a science-banning “genius” who dreams of gaining the dictatorial power to destroy the sciences that you can’t discuss reasonably or argue away, is really just far too knowledgeable about evolution to accept it.

That you repeat all of this errant tripe ad nauseum without in the least answering your critics in a competent manner further indicates that you’re nothing but a would-be dictator who has no regard for undesirable truths (small “t” of course). That I can’t post this at UD only clinches this conclusion.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Gerard Harbison -

The figures you mention have sometimes deviated, in my mind almost trivially and perhaps in a “token dissent” way, from lockstep support of every single position of a very clearly defined ideology. And there are a few “movement conservatives” (possibly including these) who don’t like ID.

As for not getting the message - I mean seriously, you’ve got to be kidding. Fox News, AM radio, the editorial page of the otherwise excellent Wall Street Journal, the token “conservative” commentator in every local newspaper (eg David Brooks in the NY Times, Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe, the ones you mentioned 95% of the time, etc, etc, etc), the conservative talking heads featured on every news commentary show on every station (Ann Coulter and her many imitators) - they all missed you somehow? You must be admirably shielded from media influence.

Raging Bee - I am trying to fair and acknowledge that some people who are not right wing ideologues define themselves as conservative, and that the work once had a broader meaning.

At the same time, let’s admit it, all right wing ideologues always refer to themselves as “conservatives”, and increasingly, the people who call themselves “conservative” mean that they are right wing ideologues.

The right wing has coopted the term.

If someone under 35 were to tell me that they were “conservative”, and they meant anything else, I’d be astounded.

Again, the sole reason that this stuff is relevant is that ID is a political entity.

It’s almost trivial to state it. Scientists who make legitimate discoveries don’t bypass peer review, publish books for laymen, insist that their ideas be taught in public high school science, and secretly circulate “wedge documents” confessing a social and political motivation.

In fact, even honest, well-meaning, misguided crackpots don’t act that way. I don’t see anybody trying to use the courts and legislature to force astrology, UFOlogy, homeopathy, or phrenology into public schools. Nor do the adherents of these belong to a single homogenous political ideology.

ID is exclusively a creature of political entities - its proponents are active almost exclusively in courtrooms, legislatures, glossy news magazines, editorial columns, talk shows, staged debates, and privately funded “conservative institutes”.

Conservatives have generally had a respectable history in politics, and there have been many well-educated and articulate advocates of conservatism.

However, the conservative movement, as it has been co-opted by the likes of Ann Coulter (The Whore of Babble On and On and …), William Dembski, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et. al. of the same stripe, is nothing more than bigotry gussied up to make it appear to be respectably based on reason and science. Coulter’s book, “Godless”, is a condescending sneer at anyone who doesn’t agree with her religious beliefs. It is the prototype of most of the pronouncements and commentaries of the others in that crowd.

To extend the phrase that has been applied to intelligent design, modern conservatism is nothing more than bigotry dressed up in a cheap tuxedo.

The American “conservative movement” has been well-know, for at least 15-20 years, for demanding that “members” take the correct opinion on a wide variety of issues.

Really? Gosh, they must have been sending those demands to the wrong address, because I sure didn’t get one. Nor, apparently, did John Derbyshire, George Will, or Charles Krauthammer.

This retort makes as much sense (i.e., none) as saying that the Republican agenda can’t be homophobic because Andrew Sullivan is gay.

harold wrote:

… admit it, all right wing ideologues always refer to themselves as “conservatives”, and increasingly, the people who call themselves “conservative” mean that they are right wing ideologues.

That is something even the conservative and (most of the time) reasonably rational Andrew Sullivan would agree with – conservativism has been hijacked by “Christianists.” He’s got a book on that “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back”: http://www.amazon.com/Conservative-[…]p/0060188774

Sullivan is one of those exceptions that proves the rule. (I think Sullivan use to be what Sam Harris called an enabler - but he might be figuring out how to be Christian and not an enabler – something Harris needs to take account of)

The data PZ presents does not establish a cause and effect relationship (conservativism causes ignorance of science) - but there is such a cause and effect relationship and it’s working both ways in a nasty feed-back loop. Chris Monney established a good part of that in “The Republican War on Science.”

Raging Bee wrote:

There are plenty of conservatives who accept evolution, not because they understand it themselves, or are atheists, but because they understand it works, and what works is good. (They would probably accept General Relativity and Quantum Physics for the same reasons.)

Those are exactly the kind of people that the Dembski, the Discovery Institute and Ann Coulter have been targeting with their PR moves. They want to create the illusion that ID is real science to catch those people who don’t really understand it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if “rational” conservatives like George Will called some of these others on the carpet for their crackpot ideas! After all, George Will, I recall, said that ID wasn’t science in a column he wrote. I hate to lump him in with the Right Wing, because it is clear that he does his homework before he forms an opinion.

Maybe so, but a sensible conservative does not need to understand evolution in order to understand that ID is useless nonsense. And, in fact, MANY conservatives are rejecting ID (and Bush) for precisely that reason.

As for not getting the message - I mean seriously, you’ve got to be kidding. Fox News, AM radio, the editorial page of the otherwise excellent Wall Street Journal, the token “conservative” commentator in every local newspaper (eg David Brooks in the NY Times, Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe, the ones you mentioned 95% of the time, etc, etc, etc), the conservative talking heads featured on every news commentary show on every station (Ann Coulter and her many imitators) - they all missed you somehow?

David Brooks is pro-evolution.

http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w050[…]=adler070705

As the link indicates, there is a consdierable diversity of opinion on the right about evolution.

Facts are wonderful things, and less boring, on the whole, than long-winded rants against political opponents.

General comment: it’s not a novel observation that conservatives in the US tend to include libertarian conservatives, who in Europe would be called ‘liberals’, and ‘social conservatives’. The two united under the Republican banner because of an apparent common interest in smaller government. The social conservatives were more numerous, and their claimed interest in smaller government was belied by the pig-at-a-trough spending of the last few Congresses, and by their promotion of an anti-freedom agenda. The GOP is currently in the process of fracturing, as libertarian conservatives more-or-less deserted it in the 2006 elections.

Now it may seem that the disenchantment of libertarians with the GOP might be a wonderful way to attract them to the Dems, but alas, the Dems are doing very little to help. Pushing socialized medicine, tax increases, etc., will drive libertarians right back to the GOP, as the lesser of two evils. And it’s hard for me to see, say, John Dingell as pro-science. He’s anti-science in a different way from Rick Santorum, that’s all.

Well… so much for the last hope of avoiding the politicising of science…

Of course science is political. Everything is. Art is, whether or not the work makes a “political statement.” It’s about choices–the choice to seek an answer rather than just accept one, the choice to create something rather than celebrate what has already been created, etc. The apolitical person or object is one that does not exist.

Dembski: But why should disbelieving evolution reflect a lack of understanding of it?

William Dembski! How many times have I seen you yak-yakking on the Web: “I’m not an antievolutionist! I believe in evolution! You don’t have to be a creationist to believe in intelligent design.” Oh, yes you do. You are a creationist, sir. Fess up.

I thought that “universaility” of a law meant that it would apply to every region within space-time, not that it would apply to space-time as a whole?

Henry

(Let’s try that again, but spell check it first this time.)

I thought that “universality” of a law meant that it would apply to every region within space-time, not that it would apply to space-time as a whole?

Henry

Al Moritz Wrote:

Also disturbing is that in no less a magazine than Science there is a graph that speaks about “believing in evolution” - as if science is something you “believe” in

Donald M Wrote:

It is also interesting to note that Science uses the phrase “believe in” in connection with evolution. Perhaps Science secretly thinks that evolution requires a certain sort of religious faith after all.

Although I have defended conservatives against Mr. Myers’s rather contentious title for this thread (see above), this stuff about the verb “believe” being somehow inappropriate for scientific knowledge is silly. Like a great many English words, the verb “to believe” and its cognates function in many overlapping registers of meaning and are universally accepted as doing so in both vernacular and formal speech. Among other roles, “I believe” can mean “I tend to think but am not certain that,” as in “I believe the wrench is in the freezer”; or it can take on religious or values-affirmative overtones, as in “I believe in God the Father” or “I believe in family values”; or it can, as in the Science item under discussion, mean “I take as effectively certain knowledge, conventionally arrived at, that,” as in “I believe I will die someday” or “I believe in plate tectonics” or “I believe the theory of evolution.” In this last mode, it is unremarkable to speak of “believing” a scientific statement or theory: it is simply a way of saying that we affirm that claim or theory’s validity. Faith, blind or otherwise, is not assumed, implied, or revealed by such usage.

So don’t try to spin this grammatical straw into ideological gold. It is not a meaningful project.

Larry

Henry Wrote:

I thought that “universality” of a law meant that it would apply to every region within space-time, not that it would apply to space-time as a whole?

Yes.

“Total energy” is presumably an integrated property over some volume. In most cases, space is locally asymptotically flat everywhere and the large-scale curvature time-independent, and this energy is definable. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADM_energy )

But in some cases (inflation) this requirement isn’t fulfilled.

Application over the universe as a whole is yet another difficulty. (Open or closed?)

Pim asks:

So Donald, is it not time to ‘deal with it’?

There isn’t anything to “deal” with here. The main concept being reinforced here is yet another version of what Dawkins wrote in The Blind Watchmaker that anyone who rejects (disbelieves?) evolution is either ignorant, insane, stupid or wicked (the latter being something RD would rather not consider, as I recall). Put another way the idea that Pim, PZ and most of the other contributers here at PT hold is that it is inconceivable that anyone could both understand AND reject evolution. Such an argument commits two fallacies at once: the argument from authority and a cleverly disguised form of ad hominem (someone who questions evolution is either stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked (to restate the quote).

If this isn’t clear, then perhaps this will help. Suppose someone said it is inconceivalbe that someone could both understand AND reject flat earth theory. Now, now matter what objection you raise, no matter how well said or what facts are put on the table, the response will be “you’re just too stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked to understand what flat earth theory is all about. If you really understood it, you’d just accept it as being true. Deal with it!” In such a formulation I have no doubt that not one person here at PT (myself included) would accept that argument as valid. But when the very argument is used for evolution…well that’s another story. Well, a fallacy is still a fallacy no matter what the subject is. The study that PZ cites and the comments he makes merely reinforce the unfounded concept that to understand evolution is to accept it. Many of the staunchest evolution critics understand evolution perfectly well AND either reject it outright or reject important aspects of it. Trying to make it appear as if “education” magically leads to “belief” in evolution and rejection of it can only stem from being ignorant and uneducated (or the victim of a so-called “Bible” college as PZ points out) is simply bad argument. There certainly no compelling reason to believe that to be true, even from the study shown above (note that 43% of non-fundie grad students still reject evolution – I guess they went to the wrong schools!!). Unless, of course, you want to add to the fallacies already commited and now claim that the truth of evolution is established by what the majority of educated non-fundies “believe”. But that does seem to tbe gist of things!

So, Pim, isn’t time to “deal with it”?

Larry Gilman writes about belaboring the use of the term ‘belief’

So don’t try to spin this grammatical straw into ideological gold. It is not a meaningful project.

Agreed, Larry, but my reason for pointing it out is based on the multitude of times that some IDP or evolution critic gets taken to task if they dare use the phrase “believe in” in connection with evolution. I find it completely amusing that no less a journal than Science employs the phrase. I wonder how many letters to editor from the anti-ID crowd Science will get taking them to task for the very same thing. (hint: the answer will be “0”) So, you’re perfectly fine linguistic lesson not-wth-standing, I think I’m justified in poking a little fun at Science.

Boy Donald does not take (valid) criticism well. When I pointed out to him how the questions in the survey were phrased how these ‘stereotypes’ were indeed supported by the data and I ended with: So Donald, is it not time to ‘deal with it’?

Donald ‘responded’

There isn’t anything to “deal” with here. The main concept being reinforced here is yet another version of what Dawkins wrote in The Blind Watchmaker that anyone who rejects (disbelieves?) evolution is either ignorant, insane, stupid or wicked (the latter being something RD would rather not consider, as I recall).

The main concept reinforced here is how religiosity is the best predictor of resistance to the issue of ‘human evolution’. Since human evolution has been quite well documented, it may be that the conclusion should be that these people are ignorant, or perhaps wicked etc but that seems a bit of a stretch. Now ignorance, as I have shown, is the motivator and force behind Intelligent Design while knowledge is its biggest enemy.

Put another way the idea that Pim, PZ and most of the other contributers here at PT hold is that it is inconceivable that anyone could both understand AND reject evolution. Such an argument commits two fallacies at once: the argument from authority and a cleverly disguised form of ad hominem (someone who questions evolution is either stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked (to restate the quote).

How is calling someone ignorant necessarily an ad hominem? It is only an ad hominem if the argument is “you are ignorant and thus wrong” when instead people at PT go to great lengths to point out why this label may apply. Furthermore, I have seen various examples of people rejecting evolution although few have shown that they understand the concept. Not surprisingly, such rejections of fact are reduced with the level of education. It’s not an argument from authority however.

If this isn’t clear, then perhaps this will help. Suppose someone said it is inconceivalbe that someone could both understand AND reject flat earth theory. Now, now matter what objection you raise, no matter how well said or what facts are put on the table, the response will be “you’re just too stupid, ignorant, insane or wicked to understand what flat earth theory is all about. If you really understood it, you’d just accept it as being true. Deal with it!” In such a formulation I have no doubt that not one person here at PT (myself included) would accept that argument as valid. But when the very argument is used for evolution…well that’s another story.

But it is you who created this strawman. It is therefor up to you to support your claims and assertions. Btw, your description of flat earth seems to match ID quite closely. If you rejected ID, it’s because you really did not understand it.

Well, a fallacy is still a fallacy no matter what the subject is. The study that PZ cites and the comments he makes merely reinforce the unfounded concept that to understand evolution is to accept it. Many of the staunchest evolution critics understand evolution perfectly well AND either reject it outright or reject important aspects of it. Trying to make it appear as if “education” magically leads to “belief” in evolution and rejection of it can only stem from being ignorant and uneducated (or the victim of a so-called “Bible” college as PZ points out) is simply bad argument.

Another beautiful strawman. Noone says that education will result in a 100% success rate, just that with education levels rising, more people accept the fact of human evolution. Nothing magical about it. Sure there are some who reject evolution even though their education level is high but such is the beauty of statistics.

There certainly no compelling reason to believe that to be true, even from the study shown above (note that 43% of non-fundie grad students still reject evolution — I guess they went to the wrong schools!!). Unless, of course, you want to add to the fallacies already commited and now claim that the truth of evolution is established by what the majority of educated non-fundies “believe”. But that does seem to tbe gist of things!

So, Pim, isn’t time to “deal with it”?

I love it how you spin some wicked webs of your own, only to tear them down as fallacious. Is it that hard to stick to what is really said, rather than make unsupported claims? Surely you appreciate the difference. The only fallacies are the one’s created by you my dear friend. Time to deal with it… So how hard is it to actually research these ‘facts’? Pretty hard it seems given your track record so far.

Well, forget the other bits and pieces …

“someone … who is not a fundamentalist is much more likely to accept evolution than someone who is a fundamentalist”

No … er, nonsense, Sherlock! They pay grants for people to find that out?

BTW, there’s plenty of evidence for the Laffer Curve, which simply postulates that tax revenue is a concave, non-monotonic function of tax rates.

This, like everything else Adam writes, is ignorant nonsense authoritatively passed off as fact. Years ago, Martin Gardner’s “Mathematical Games” column featured the “laughable Laffer Curve”, which he accurately drew as having two known data points, with something resembling steel wool connecting them.

It is generally acknowledged that the universe has not existed forever.

It depends on exactly what is meant by “the universe”. It is not generally acknowledged that the law of conservation of matter and energy has ever been violated.

Pim

I love it how you spin some wicked webs of your own, only to tear them down as fallacious. Is it that hard to stick to what is really said, rather than make unsupported claims? Surely you appreciate the difference. The only fallacies are the one’s created by you my dear friend. Time to deal with it… So how hard is it to actually research these ‘facts’? Pretty hard it seems given your track record so far.

I have dealt with the facts here, Pim. Your entire response is yet another example of the “you just don’t understand it” argument. Now you’re telling me that I don’t understand what was “really said”. That is always your response to disagreement and challenge. Your message is clear: “If you really understood what was said, you wouldn’t disgree…” or something close to that. My response is not a straw man either…it is precisely what is being argued, and you just demonstrated it again in your response. It is always the evolution critic who doesn’t understand, or is ignorant, or uneducated or stupid or insane or wicked (but, in keeping with Dawkins, we won’t consider that – even though you accuse me of spinning “wicked webs”).

As I said, this entire line of argument gets us two fallacies for the price of one: 1)argment from authority (57% of non-fundie grad students agree…) and 2)ad homninem (if you disagree you’re uneducated, ignorant, etc etc). And you’ve just demonstrated this same approach again, quite nicely. “Donald doesn’t understand what’s being said…etc etc…ad nauseum” What I stated at the outset is right: this entire study is an excercise in irrelevancy. It demonstrates nothing useful. My response is not the stuff of which straw men and “wicked webs” are made, Pim.

This comment from Pim is so juicy, I had to respond separately:

The main concept reinforced here is how religiosity is the best predictor of resistance to the issue of ‘human evolution’. Since human evolution has been quite well documented, it may be that the conclusion should be that these people are ignorant, or perhaps wicked etc but that seems a bit of a stretch. Now ignorance, as I have shown, is the motivator and force behind Intelligent Design while knowledge is its biggest enemy.

First of all, Pim, you haven’t “shown” any such thing (the last sentence above), expcept in your own mind.

So, the culprit is religion or religious belief ( presume that is what you mean by “religiosity”). If only we could do away with religion, we could all just move forward into this great ‘educated’ utopia where there is no more ignorance and everyone happily accepts evolution as the true story of human history. But what if the ignorance lies with those who reject the “religious” notion that a superntural being (God, if you prefer), had quite a bit to do with bringing about the existence of the cosmos and everything in it, including all life on planet earth? To claim that religious belief represents “igorance” is tantamount to saying that naturalism (or something very much like it) represents the true state of affairs in the cosmos, and that that is something any “educated” person knows and accepts as being true. Are you willing to go that far, Pim? If you follow your line of argument all the way through, that seems to be where it leads. The only other option I can see is to say that the boundaries of religion are dictated by the findings of science and to reject that is to display ignorance. But that violates the NOMA principle set forth by the late S.J. Gould. But since NOMA is a self-refuting principle, that route doesn’t seem too helpful.

Boiled down it comes to: education = totaly acceptance of naturalism and rejection of “religiosity”; ignorance=rejection of naturalism. That seems to be your argument, Pim. It should also be pointed out that if naturalism is true, evolution, or something very much like it, is the only game in town. But establishing that naturalism is true has been problematic for centuries, and continues to be so.

Unfortunately for that argument, there are quite a number of well-educated, non-ignorant persons who also reject naturalism outright (Alvin Plantiinga leaps to mind here). This entire line of argument is a non-starter, Pim.

Welcome exile from groggs.

I think the point is that the vast majority of opposition to evolution comes from people with a religious reason to disagree with it. Besides, dont you want some figures to back it up? I doubt you would prefer “My mate knows three people who dont like evolution and they are fundies, so obviously its only fundies that disagree!”

Al Moritz Wrote:
William E Emba Wrote:

The various laws of thermodynamics are local laws only.

What is the scientific evidence, please? Evidence, not assumptions, is what I ask for.

As I only wrote very explicitly, and which you left out in your reply, I was giving an explanation “in the context of general relativity”. This isn’t a question of “scientific evidence”, but a statement of fact about the existing scientific literature. You could look it up. Try MTW.

Energy was a contentious topic in GR until the 60s, after which a new level of understanding was achieved, and which understanding consisted in part of rejecting global laws except in special cases. The local “differential” forms of the laws became the standard.

If you don’t believe GR, the Big Bang, or whatnot, I don’t particularly care, but Chris was asking about what constraints the 2nd law yields within cosmology, and I answered within our current best understanding: his question doesn’t even arise. If you have a different model of the universe, complete with 2nd law, feel free to share.

Chris Wrote:

Well, like I said, I’m just a layman. I guess I don’t understand what is meant by ‘local laws,’ and why the 2nd law would not apply to the uni/multiverse as a ‘whole’ because, isn’t it supposed to be a closed system, and isn’t that what the 2nd law applies to?

Local laws mean those that talk about quantities that can be identified and measured within an arbitrarily small distance, as opposed to those that refer to the system as a whole. Newton’s gravitation was a global law, involving “action at a distance”. An equivalent local version was given by Poisson, and it is this local version which Einstein turned into his field equations.

It took almost fifty years for the physics community to understand that general relativity was mostly incompatible with notions of “total energy” or “total entropy” of the universe.

And, what do you mean by ‘vacuum’? Is it like absolutely nothing, or some kind of force, or some kind of perpetual motion machine, and if not, where does it get whatever power/fuel it has from?

Well, that’s a pretty big topic, but in modern physics, the vacuum is quite sophisticated. I can’t take the time to spell out anything–others seem to be helping out here–but do understand that you can’t just charge into it with popular science accounts of the 2nd law and expect anything meaningful to happen.

And, with respect to infinity, I can see that stuff like infinite sets or whatever works in mathematics, but in the ‘real’ world/uni/multiverse I don’t see how it’s possible to traverse a distance that never ends, no matter how much time we have. If it’s not possible, then, if we apply such considerations to the past, then it seems to me that nature cannot be eternal, so we are still left with the question of where everything came from in the first place. No?

The laws of physics aren’t about what you traverse in a finite time, although that point of view provides a convenient starting point. Dirac introduced the point of view that perhaps the vacuum is CertainKindOfInfinity, and that an electron is CertainKindOfInfinity+epsilon, and us biggers are CertainKindOfInfinity+bigfinitestuff, so when we do physics experiments, we only measure epsilon and bigfinitestuff. Variations of this theme have been part of physics ever since. Many people hate this, but there is nothing logically inconsistent going on.

Similarly, although lots of physics is about what happens from a given initial starting point, there is nothing that a priori rules out infinite time with us puny humans being able to only observe just a finite portion.

William E. Emba wrote:

If you don’t believe GR, the Big Bang, or whatnot, I don’t particularly care,

Hey, just a moment, you might as well chill out a bit. Only because I ask a skeptical and perfectly valid scientific question I immediately get labeled as a creationist? A bit overdone, don’t you think?

Of course, the acceptance of all of modern science, including GR and Big Bang are a non-issue for me (understanding of it all in detail is a different thing; I am a biochemist, not a physicist).

Thanks for your answers anyway.

And what is MTW?

Donald M Wrote:

This comment from Pim is so juicy, I had to respond separately:

The main concept reinforced here is how religiosity is the best predictor of resistance to the issue of ‘human evolution’. Since human evolution has been quite well documented, it may be that the conclusion should be that these people are ignorant, or perhaps wicked etc but that seems a bit of a stretch. Now ignorance, as I have shown, is the motivator and force behind Intelligent Design while knowledge is its biggest enemy.

First of all, Pim, you haven’t “shown” any such thing (the last sentence above), expcept in your own mind.

No, it’s based on the foundational principle of ID that design is the set theoretic complement of regularity and chance. It’s simple: ignorance results in a design inference, knowledge destroys a design inference.

So, the culprit is religion or religious belief ( presume that is what you mean by “religiosity”). If only we could do away with religion, we could all just move forward into this great ‘educated’ utopia where there is no more ignorance and everyone happily accepts evolution as the true story of human history.

Donald, Donald, you surely realize the false dichotomy here (a common fallacy amongst creationists btw). In fact, one may choose to educate religious people that 1. evolution is well supported science 2. that evolution does not (necessarily) interfere with religious faith.

But what if the ignorance lies with those who reject the “religious” notion that a superntural being (God, if you prefer), had quite a bit to do with bringing about the existence of the cosmos and everything in it, including all life on planet earth? To claim that religious belief represents “igorance” is tantamount to saying that naturalism (or something very much like it) represents the true state of affairs in the cosmos, and that that is something any “educated” person knows and accepts as being true.

Again a false dichotomy. Accepting naturalism as a methodology does not mean that naturalism as a philosophy describes the true state of affairs in the cosmos. The educated person ‘knows’ science to be true in case of evolution and accepts ignorance about whether or not a ‘designer(s)’ was involved.

Are you willing to go that far, Pim? If you follow your line of argument all the way through, that seems to be where it leads.

Simply untrue as I have shown. Really Donald, you seem to be fighting your own ignorance here.

The only other option I can see is to say that the boundaries of religion are dictated by the findings of science and to reject that is to display ignorance. But that violates the NOMA principle set forth by the late S.J. Gould. But since NOMA is a self-refuting principle, that route doesn’t seem too helpful.

Boiled down it comes to: education = totaly acceptance of naturalism and rejection of “religiosity”; ignorance=rejection of naturalism. That seems to be your argument, Pim. It should also be pointed out that if naturalism is true, evolution, or something very much like it, is the only game in town. But establishing that naturalism is true has been problematic for centuries, and continues to be so.

Fascinating how Donald is able to spin a web of strawmen, creating an either or situation where alternatives exists. This is typical false dichotomy thinking. Note that none of my arguments which Donald quoted, rely on naturalism (being true).

Unfortunately for that argument, there are quite a number of well-educated, non-ignorant persons who also reject naturalism outright (Alvin Plantiinga leaps to mind here). This entire line of argument is a non-starter, Pim.

I for one am quick to accept that well educated people may reject naturalism but anyone familiar with these concepts would also quickly realize that there is a difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism.

Seems Donald once again has stepped into an area filled with his ignorance. Now I understand that ID relishes the equivocation of naturalism, causing much unnecessary concerns amongst the religious people who are then misguided by ID to believe that there is a scientific theory of ‘design’. ID is merely contributing to the ignorance of religious people here and as a Christian myself I find this unforgivable and sinful. Never mind that it violates Augustine’s fair warning about Christians promoting nonsense and ignorance and the effects on religious faith.

Donald M suggests that my conclusion that ID is founded in ignorance is “in my own mind”. So let me ask him the following question to determine the extent of my claim:

How does ID explain the bacterial flagella?

Donald M: Your post was nothing but a disordered jumble of non-sequiturs, and you completely dodged the point that PvM was obviously trying to make.

But establishing that naturalism is true has been problematic for centuries, and continues to be so.

Yet another bald assertion without a scrap of supporting evidence or logic. Actually, “naturalism” has been working quite well for the last few centuries, at least as a means of explaining the natural world – which is all it was supposed to do. Care to explain what’s so “problematic” about it?

I gather from a little googling that “MTW” is shorthand for the well-regarded book “Gravitation,” authored by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler (initials of the authors’ last names ==> MTW), published by Freeman.

Enter the title and one or more of the authors’ names into amazon.com’s search box, and you’ll find it.

Assuming I’m right, of course–always a challenge for us pinheads.

Al Moritz Wrote:

Hey, just a moment, you might as well chill out a bit. Only because I ask a skeptical and perfectly valid scientific question I immediately get labeled as a creationist? A bit overdone, don’t you think?

You quote-mined me. Chris asked a theoretical question, I answered in what seems the most appropriate theoretical context, and you jumped in, editing out the theoretical background and demanded empirical proof. Hence, the thumping.

And what is MTW?

Google “MTW Einstein”.

Google “MTW Einstein”.

Thanks.

I like how Donald M brings this up for me.

Suppose someone said it is inconceivalbe that someone could both understand AND reject flat earth theory.

Let’s turn this one around. Would you agree that it’s inconceivable that someone could both understand and reject round earth theory? (I don’t think that’s really the name for it, but let’s go with that.) Do you think there’s legitimate and sensible opposition to round earth theory which deserves a hearing, equal time in schools and media, and so forth?

If not, does that mean it’s entirely possible that a scientific theory might qualify for the “ignorant, insane, stupid or wicked” description? Doesn’t that mean it depends on the evidence the opposition can bring to the table, and when the evidence consists of one big argument from personal ignorance, why does it deserve any more hearing than a pack of flat-earth picketers?

Donald M Wrote:

So, the culprit is religion or religious belief ( presume that is what you mean by “religiosity”). If only we could do away with religion, we could all just move forward into this great ‘educated’ utopia where there is no more ignorance and everyone happily accepts evolution as the true story of human history. But what if the ignorance lies with those who reject the “religious” notion that a superntural being (God, if you prefer), had quite a bit to do with bringing about the existence of the cosmos and everything in it, including all life on planet earth? To claim that religious belief represents “igorance” is tantamount to saying that naturalism (or something very much like it) represents the true state of affairs in the cosmos, and that that is something any “educated” person knows and accepts as being true. Are you willing to go that far, Pim?

You’ve been found out, Pim! You religion-hating materialist, you.

I have several college degrees and post graduate work. I find your analogies very prejudicial and sup-positional. I do not consider myself a fundamentalist. Most of Christianity is not fundamentalism. To believe in orthodox theology is not fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is an extremism aka David Koresh. You are illogically dumping evangelicals and others into your grouping I assume. I also reject the “theory” of evolution as many respected scientists do today. Your results are tainted by several undeniable facts. First of all I would have to agree as many are indoctrinated by liberal establishment universities and ingrained with liberal humanistic philosophy that eliminates God from the picture they are left with only one thing to believe in-evolution. I believe liberals like yourself are not free thinkers at all but in many ways resemble the fundamentalist extremists you hate and despise. Neither extreme has much thought just emotion. Liberals are guided by their emotional socialistic agendas and the extreme right by their own misguided ideas. When will you guys ever wake up and realize that America despises both of you. Most Americans are like myself. We believe in God, are free thinking,we are little right of center, and we believe in America, we are patriotic, pay our taxes, and love our kids. You people make me and the rest of America sick! America hates liberals period. WE dislike right wing extremists but they are not even as bad as you guys are. You are like a plague on the country when locusts aren’t in season. I have noticed this too-true liberals would even call me a right winger. Any body with any moral values or patriotism is a right winger to you messed up people. Pelosism!

Chris: thanks for the evidence-free, ignorant rant (“Any body [sic] with any moral values or patriotism is a right winger to you messed up people.” - snort)! Writing like yours is the reason why so many people in the outside world think that Americans are bonkers (a popular Canadian comedian always refers to the Excited States).

That you have several degrees is irrelevant, even if true. Many of the commentators here (myself included) not only have several degrees, but they are in fields in which an understanding of evolution is important.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on January 11, 2007 10:00 PM.

More DI Distortions About Axe’s Research was the previous entry in this blog.

Axe (2004) and the evolution of enzyme function is the next entry in this blog.

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