What does it tell you when someone says "I don't believe in evolution"?

Maybe not what you think, says Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale. In an interesting piece about the findings of a new Pew survey, he makes a case for why saying you don't believe in evolution isn't necessarily a sign of being anti-science, and points out how belief in evolution isn't as clearly broken down along political party lines as you might guess.

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  1. The U.S. is an astonishingly pro-science society. If you think otherwise, you just don’t know very much about this area.

    Apparently I don't know much about this area. I would have guessed having large numbers of people reject well-established scientific findings like evolution, politicians defund and muzzle researchers, and even seeing candidates try to earn points by mocking basic research into things like fruit flies would be enough to make it not astonishingly pro-science.

    So here we find that 40% of adults say they don't believe humans have changed over time, but the article points out that has less to do with them being scientifically illiterate and more to do with cultural identity like religion. Ok, I could have guessed that. That then means it's not actually an anti-science position?

    Maybe I just don't understand what the terms pro- and anti-science are supposed to mean. It's not explained, but it sure doesn't sound like much.

  2. Ratel says:

    Concern Troll FTL.

    Paul Krugman’s reaction is typical & typically devoid of reflection: “Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe — and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists.”

    Stupid Paul Krugman being all stupid!

    What it is is a measure of cultural identity. People who say “yes” are expressing one sort of cultural affiliation & associated outlooks; those who say “no” are expressing another.

    Oh, uh, okay.

  3. elpool says:

    This article really fails to provide a definition of what "pro-science" and "anti-science" mean, and I suspect that the people he's complaining about are just using a different definition. Can you really call someone pro-science just because they said they love science when answering a survey question? I think that if you reject well established science because you don't like the answers it provides, then you don't really get to call yourself "pro-science".

  4. Saying that you "believe" in evolution tells us nothing of whether or not you actually understand the theory of evolution. On this, I agree with Kahan completely. But I'm puzzled that he didn't once criticize Pew's word choice: believe. Biologists do not "believe" in the theory of evolution, but rather use it to make sense of empirical observations and form hypotheses that can be disproven, knowing that sufficient evidence may require changes to the theory itself or even another theory altogether. This cyclical process is the same in every branch of science (albeit in evolutionary biology, some of that evidence is forensic).

    In short, Pew's word choice implies that evolution is seen as just another idea to support, deny, or disregard as a way for individuals to culturally identify themselves— which was Kahan's point. I just don't understand why he didn't criticize a word choice that seems to perpetuate this very phenomenon.

  5. "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it." - Neil Degrassi Tyson

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