"Darwinism" confers tolerance

The head is my gloss on an article, Disbelief in human evolution linked to greater prejudice and racism, that was just published on the website Phys.org. It is something of a leap to infer causality, but as we shall see in a moment it is a leap made by the authors of the article. (Incidentally, I put “Darwinism” into scare quotes because I do not believe that evolutionary biology is an -ism.)

At any rate, in brief, Stylianos Syropoulos, a Ph.D. candidate in the War and Peace Lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and his colleagues found that in the US and

across the globe—in 19 Eastern European countries, 25 Muslim countries and in Israel—low belief in evolution was linked to higher biases within a person's group, prejudicial attitudes toward people in different groups and less support for conflict resolution.


The researchers theorized that belief in evolution would tend to increase people's identification with all humanity, due to the common ancestry, and would lead to fewer prejudicial attitudes,

which I think is a more positive phrasing than the title of the article. More specifically,

"People who perceive themselves as more similar to animals are also people who tend to have more pro-social or positive attitudes toward outgroup members or people from stigmatized and marginalized backgrounds," Syropoulos explains. "In this investigation, we were interested in examining whether belief in evolution would also act in a similar way, because it would reinforce this belief that we are more similar to animals."

Indeed, the UMass article quotes the technical paper to the effect that “the disbelief in human evolution is the driving factor and most consistent predictor of prejudice in comparison to other relevant constructs.” The actual paper is behind a paywall, so I cannot ascertain how they established causality.

Finally, the authors note that others have claimed that the theory of evolution perpetuates racism, prejudice, and homophobia, partly because of the concept of natural selection and the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Senior author Bernhard Leidner, also of the University of Massachusetts, may have gloated a little bit when he said,

There have been theoretical accounts that predict the opposite of what we found, so it was exciting for us to show that this actually is not the case, that the opposite is true and that belief in evolution seems to have pretty positive effects,

but I think maybe he had a right.

Paul Braterman of the University of Glasgow brought the Phys.org article to our attention. The technical paper is Syropoulos, S., Lifshin, U., Greenberg, J., Horner, D. E., & Leidner, B. (2022). Bigotry and the human–animal divide: (Dis)belief in human evolution and bigoted attitudes across different cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000391.