Fewer People Believe in Evolution

One common recent meme articulated by  atheists is the US is becoming more secular while Christianity is fading. There are various polls offered to that effect, and while I don’t disagree that more people are willing identify as atheists, I am not sure that this particularly indicative of the fact Christianity is fading in its influence in the US.

I think better explanation of what is happening is polarization; rather than there being a large middle ground of where people fall on matters of faith, they are being pushed to take sides in what has become a much more contentious discussion about the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Part of this has to do with the success of more conservative churches and the fading of mainline religious institutions. Part of this has to do with the openness and combativeness of the New Atheists who have no toleration for those they call accommodationists, or those who allow for the notion that religious ideas inhabit a different sphere of thought than science does.

A recent Gallop poll gives some weight to that interpretation. Asking respondents whether they believe human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life but God guided this process, human beings have evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life but God had no part in this process or whether God human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years, the survey found that 6% more people believed in the direct creation of humans than did just two years ago. This would seem to run counter to the notion that the US populace is becoming more ‘secular’ – particularly given the atheist position that God played no part in the development of humans dropped by a point. But the greatest drop was in what I would call the ‘middle’ position, the notion that God guided the development of humans over time. That notion dropped by an amount corresponding to the amount that the full blown creationist position increased. I think this is some indication that the middle ground is evaporating in the wrangling between Bible-believing Christians and the New Atheists.

While I don’t necessarily discount the idea that the U.S. is becoming more secular (the West certainly is to its growing detriment) and I think there are Christian principles that explain why this is so. But the current data suggest something else is going on, and that something else maybe a very refreshing distinction between the Christian and secular position that can’t be compromised away.

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23 Responses to Fewer People Believe in Evolution

  1. Justin says:

    Many of the other online places I frequent have a section for religious discussions, and it seems to be a perpetual “science vs. religion” debate. Those of us who are in the middle end up taking a bit of a beating on both ends sometimes, and everyone seems to be talking past everyone else.

    My personal experience is consistent with the graph, that among believers, the middle ground is a smaller percentage of believers, and it’s hard to gain ground in discussions with one extreme shouting at the other. “7 literal days” vs. “13.7 billion years” or evolution vs. special creation, etc.

    The extremely literal view of the Bible seems to be alive and well. I fear it makes progress in the discussion a bit difficult. It seems to be a mentality that if God didn’t do it in a literal 7 days, then Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead. The fundamentalists won’t budge, nor will the atheists who mock the fundamentalists. I suppose it’s like beating a puppy for the atheists; it’s easy to do, doesn’t require much effort or thought, they don’t bite back with anything terribly credible, etc.

    Kind of wish we as believers could move on a bit, accepting that changing a stance in one respect doesn’t mean flushing the entire Bible down the drain by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I agree. I have discussed why such an extreme position isn’t neccesary before.

    That being said, I think one deficit of the survey is that it only gives people three narrow choices. I think what is essential about humans certainly existed from the origin of humanity, and was the product of design – I don’t however hold that this neccesarily happened in the last 10,000 years. I also don’t hold that it developed gradually over time, even in a guided way. But there isn’t really an option for that in the survey.

  3. The questions in the questionnaire are something of a ‘false dichotomy’ (albeit with three options)! For instance, does God guide the laws of physics? Most of us would say no, but that he created and sustains them. So what is the problem with the created laws of physics ‘doing their stuff’ and leading to the commonly accepted scientific viewpoint of evolution?
    I recommend the book ‘Creation or Evolution, do we have to choose?’ by Denis Alexander as a good treatment of the topic.

  4. jackhudson says:

    I haven’t read that one MC, I appreciate the recommendation.
    I know Alvin Plantinga has also identified where he believes the conflict between actually exists between naturalistic views of science and those of Christians in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism , which sounds like it articulates a similar view.

    For me it really comes down to the insufficiency of naturalism to explain the origin of life, its complex and interdependent mechanisms and the unique qualities of humanity (that go beyond mere physical characteristics). Once one lands there, it is game over for atheism.

  5. Harry says:

    “those who allow for the notion that religious ideas inhabit a different sphere of thought than science does.”

    Is this a notion that you hold to? If so, how is this “sphere of thought” valid, and is it equally, or more, as valid as empirical evidence? I’m assuming that these other “spheres of thought” (based on some of your other writings) might fall under categories like history, tradition and personal experience. If so, I don’t see how we can base our beliefs on things like tradition or personal experiences (which may be better explained without a supernatural explanation).

    I’m also assuming that you don’t find the evidence for evolution convincing. Is there better evidence for a Biblical creation?

  6. Mike D says:

    Err… I’m looking at the poll, and the largest percentage of change from 1982 to now are people who say God had no part in the process. Otherwise the split is roughly the same.

    For me it really comes down to the insufficiency of naturalism to explain the origin of life

    Argument from ignorance

    its complex and interdependent mechanisms

    Argument betraying your own ignorance about evolution

    and the unique qualities of humanity (that go beyond mere physical characteristics).

    Argument from incredulity

    Once one lands there, it is game over for atheism.

    lol

  7. Mike D says:

    p.s. – I forgot to point out that theism and the idea that evolution is a wholly unguided natural process are mutually exclusive positions. Ken Miller, Francisco Ayala, and Francis Collins are noteworthy evolutionary biologists who will tear any “intelligent design” argument to shreds, who accept the overwhelming evidence that evolution operates without any need for divine intervention, who (unlike the Discotards) actually do practical research in evolutionary biology that has made vital advances in science and medicine, and who are all very devout (and outspoken) Christians.

  8. Dear Mike D,
    Since you like logical fallacies, don’t forget the straw man one. It is not wise to presume to know what others think and then attack it. (Oh, and of course there is the fallacy fallacy….)
    A useful question would be that since Collins et al are devout Christians and evolutionary biologists, to understand how they see God ‘working’ in the universe – which is inherent in Christian belief.

  9. jackhudson says:

    Good point MC – Miller believes God works undetectably, facilitated by ‘quantum indeterminacy’ and Collins believes the universe was created with parameters tuned to allow for the development of complex life and eventually human intelligence – that is essentially ID, they just don’t think it is detectable. And of course Coyne and PZ call these guys creationists and accomodationists. Obviously there is still Divine guidance at some level.

    But of course Mike isn’t really answering anything said here, he is answering some accumulated amalgam in his head of past conversations real or imagined with other people. If he had read what I said above, he would have noticed that I said, “one deficit of the survey is that it only gives people three narrow choices.” which would mean that many views (like Miller’s, Collin’s and my own in many ways) weren’t completely represented by the survey.

    Of course if Mike were responding to what I actually said he wouldn’t have responded to my statement that, “more people believed in the direct creation of humans than did just two years ago” by discussing a data point that occurred thirty years ago. And he would realize that my overall point that what appears to be occurring is polarization still holds, and that he hasn’t addressed that point.
    The rest of course is filler.

  10. Tristan Vick says:

    For me it really comes down to the insufficiency of naturalism to explain the origin of life, its complex and interdependent mechanisms and the unique qualities of humanity (that go beyond mere physical characteristics). Once one lands there, it is game over for atheism.

    Question: How is a Miller-Urey experiment not strong naturalistic evidence for the origins of life?

    It seems a perfect candidate to explain, or rather show, how complex and interdependent mechanisms can create amino acid chains necessary for complex life. After that, knowing what we know about evolutionary processes, it’s only a matter of time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller_Urey_Experiment#Recent_related_studies

  11. Justin says:

    Because naturalism presupposes its own conclusion. It assumes that Miller-Urey experiments are the only explanation necessary for life similar to holding that internal combustion is the only necessary explanation for the Model T, when we know Henry Ford is also an acceptable explanation.

  12. jackhudson says:

    Because the Miller-Urey experiment didn’t produce life?

  13. Tristan Vick says:

    Justin, how does Naturalism presuppose its own conclusion?

    ***

    Jack, that’s equal to saying because I haven’t been alive for billions of years to see complex life arise… I don’t believe in complex life.

    What are you talking about?

  14. Tristan,
    The Miller-Urey experiment produced amino acids from a postulated primordeal soup. There is an enormous gap between having the basic amino acids, lipids, sugars etc that are the building blocks of complex life and having life itself. That’s Jack’s point I think.
    Think of the amino acids as the letters of the alphabet, and life as the works of Shakespear. In a similar manner we might think of the basic elements (carbon, nitrogen etc) as the different pen strokes that make the letters.
    The unresolved question is how to get from the letters to the literature… It may be that this is an inevitable result of a consistent behaviour of matter (i.e according to the laws of physics) or it may be that there was a ‘miracle’ at some point. But it doesn’t really matter (indeed, one might argue about what would constitute a miracle in this circumstance).
    Why doesn’t it matter? Because it has no conclusive bearing on whether or not we live in a created universe (although I guess if we could show it needed a miracle then that becomes something of a problem for the naturalistic view).
    I think Justin’s comment is pointing out that if one presumes that there is no creator God then the only possible conclusion is that life emerged through naturalistic causes from a chance universe and does not allow that a God could have had anything to do anywhere in the process – therefore naturalism only has one possible explanation. If one believes that there is a God then it also allows the possibility of ‘guidance’ in the process…

  15. Justin says:

    Tristan,

    My thoughts are that God is the necessarily existing entity by which all else is able to exist. I’m perfectly fine with the Miller-type experiments giving us insight on how life came to be, but to find out that, given the right conditions and the right amount of time, life will inevitably emerge because of the inherent behaviors and characteristics of certain groups of atoms isn’t the end of the story and shouldn’t be the end of scientific questioning. Imagine, that with the current laws of physics, that life in certain rare places in the universe is a chemical/physical inevitability. I’m fine with that, but life and the building blocks that make up life still seem to be contingent entities, and it seems reasonable that a series of contingent entities needs a non-contingent entity in order to exist and even to remain existing.

    Naturalism, by definition, presupposes that physicochemical explanations are sufficient to account for all observable phenomenon. If you presuppose that, that’s the conclusion you will reach. I think folks are starting to find out this simply won’t do for easily and pervasively observable phenomenon, such as information exchange. Lest you think I’m positing a “God of the Gaps” type of argument here, it should suffice to say that even leaving God out of the discussion at this point, there seems to be more to the universe than mere physicochemical reactions which are necessary to explain all of the phenomenon in the universe. If true, this undermines a naturalistic philosophy and actually will end up, at some point, limiting science.

    I always find if curious that little kids, once they begin to question things, seem to be fixated on the question “Why?”; the one question science seems incapable of answering.

  16. jackhudson says:

    Jack, that’s equal to saying because I haven’t been alive for billions of years to see complex life arise… I don’t believe in complex life.

    No, it’s like saying that if you claim an experiment demonstrated how life arose through natural processes, then the processes it supposedly replicates should produce life. At the cellular level life is information system driven machinery – the experiment produced neither information systems nor machinery. It didn’t even demonstrate “how complex and interdependent mechanisms can create amino acid chains necessary for complex life.” as you put it. It showed a few simple elements in combination can produce some of the building blocks of of those chains.

    In order to construct the systems neccesary for living processes you need informtaion, and you need machinery to read and respond to that information – there is no indication one could arise without the other, and there is no reason to believe both could arise slowly through natural processes.

  17. subayaitori says:

    It would take the experiment billions of years to create life.

    Besides, the Miller-Urey experiment was showing how natural processes can provide all the required ingredients to create complex life, which it did. It wasn’t intended to actually create life.

    But the experiment showed, quite nicely, it is possible to have all the ingredients for complex life to evolve.

    So… given the time required… life seems inevitable. I mean, we have the example of life all around us, and all the ingredients for it, so it’s not a logic leap to predict the effects of evolution and environment upon those chains of amino acids would eventually get the trick done. I mean, we could be wrong, sure, but there’s nothing to suggest it. The inference, given what we know about chemistry and biologys, seems to suggest life will eventually arise in such a system.

    It seems rather strange to postulate some baker, or candle-stick maker, came along–out of no where–and planted life here. That’s a much more complex answer than is required. In fact, the evidence doesn’t even point to that conclusion. It points toward a natural development of life. We just haven’t seen it in real time because nobody has been alive for billions of years to watch chemicals and amino acids form into more complex replicating molecules.

  18. subayaitori says:

    Justin,

    Could you send your reply (above) to my personal email?

    You can find it on my website.

    I would like to engage in a one on one discussion if that’s alright with you.

    No offense to Jack, who is a fair host, but I would like to get your individual opinion on some things.

    I think I’ll start by pulling from your response and generating some further questions which we can throw back and forth.

    Of course, if you’d rather not, or are too busy, I’ll totally understand.

    -Tristan

  19. jackhudson says:

    It would take the experiment billions of years to create life.

    The problem is, given that you don’t know what it would take to create life, you can’t say how long it took – and there is no evidence it took, ‘billions of years’. In fact it couldn’t have taken billions of years, because the components that make up cells don’t wait around billions of years to be assembled.

    Besides, the Miller-Urey experiment was showing how natural processes can provide all the required ingredients to create complex life, which it did. It wasn’t intended to actually create life.

    Nature provides all the ingredients to build house. Computers as well. But neither houses nor computers are assembled by nature.

    But the experiment showed, quite nicely, it is possible to have all the ingredients for complex life to evolve.

    NO, no, no it didn’t. In order to show that it would have to show the ‘ingredients’ evolving. They did nothing of the sort.

    So… given the time required… life seems inevitable.

    No Tristan, there is no basis for that conclusion. The ingredients didn’t do anything to produce life, or even begin to do anything that would produce life. Time had nothing to do with it. Time is not a mechanism.

    I mean, we have the example of life all around us, and all the ingredients for it, so it’s not a logic leap to predict the effects of evolution and environment upon those chains of amino acids would eventually get the trick done.

    I have the ingredients for making cakes all around my kitchen – yet it’s not inevitable that cakes come into being in my kitchen. Again, nonsensical.

    I mean, we could be wrong, sure, but there’s nothing to suggest it.

    You are wrong, because there is nothing to suggest life inevitably arises out of ‘ingredients’. In fact, we know of no way to produce information systems and machinery except through intelligence. So everything suggests you are wrong.

    The inference, given what we know about chemistry and biologys, seems to suggest life will eventually arise in such a system.

    Actually, everything we know about chemistry and biology suggests it would never self-assemble into information systems and machinery found in the cell. Nothing of the sort has ever been observed.

    It seems rather strange to postulate some baker, or candle-stick maker, came along–out of no where–and planted life here. That’s a much more complex answer than is required. In fact, the evidence doesn’t even point to that conclusion. It points toward a natural development of life. We just haven’t seen it in real time because nobody has been alive for billions of years to watch chemicals and amino acids form into more complex replicating molecules.

    The positing of intelligence as a requirement for the origin of life is not complex at all. I fact it can be stated rather succinctly – given that all information systems and machinery for whom the origin is known arose as the result of intelligence, it can be inferred the information systems and machinery originated from the work of intelligent agents. That is what observation, experimentation, and human intuition tell us.

    The reason most people now and historically have believed God had something to do with the origin of life is because it is overarchingly evident.

  20. subayaitori says:

    The basis for the conclusion is based on the number of variable amino-acid bonds it would take given X amount of time to find just one self-replication combination.

    If you have read any of Dawkins’ research you would probably know more about what I was referring to. It is a statistical thing given the fact that evolution and natural selection are ongoing.

    Given the ingredients, plus X amount of time, there would be enough combinations to get self-replicating chains. This is an inevitable conclusion based on the number of amino acid combinations which can be made of X amount of time.

    There is some research related to this, but I am too lazy on my day off to dig it up for you. But I am sure you could find it just as easily.

    Granted, it’s just a theory, but it’s a predictive theory which explains how nature to give life to the kind of life we find within nature. It’s not going out of its way to leap to conclusions.

    There may be other causes for the existence of life… such as the supposition for an intelligent designer… but given what is currently known about the process of natural evolution, that theory is not requried. So, yeah, it is adding additional complexity when there needn’t be. Also, it creates a digression, of what created the creator who creates the life? And the ONLY way theists get out of that pickle is to say the CREATOR is eternal and has ALWAYS existed.

    Which is an invalid argument. They cannot know that the CREATOR they posit is ETERNAL or not, unless, they actually test the CREATOR itself and, well, since they cannot provide demonstration of this–the argument is invalid. It’s merely a dodge not to have to account for the fact that the theist theory of intelligent design ties itself into a pretzel every time because of a regression.

    Meanwhile, it seems science is pointing us toward a mutliverse theory which, by the current cosmological consensus, is less contrived for the very reason it doesn’t violate any of the physical laws of the universe. An intelligence existing outside of reality itself, so far as science is concerned, does defy physical laws and explanations.

    Which is why the ID/God hypothesis is relegated to a mere metaphysical fancy and nothing more.

    So while yours is an imaginative perspective to take with regard to the origin of life, the standard scientific view is much more practical. In the end, I think practicality wins out over fanciful imaginings of things which there aren’t any evidence for.

  21. Even if we “admit” that a God, a higher power created everything, how do we get from A God to The God. I can see how a person might look at the natural world and conclude there was a creator.
    However, it is a huge jump to go from a God being the creator to the Christian God of the Bible being the Creator. What is the evidence for this claim?

    There is no possible way to scientifically prove the Christian God created everything. Such a claim requires faith. The proponents of ID are less than honest when they speak of God in generic terms. They do this in an attempt to hide the fact that ID is Christian dogma covered with a thin layer of pseudo-science clothing.

  22. jackhudson says:

    Even if we “admit” that a God, a higher power created everything, how do we get from A God to The God. I can see how a person might look at the natural world and conclude there was a creator.
    However, it is a huge jump to go from a God being the creator to the Christian God of the Bible being the Creator. What is the evidence for this claim?

    I agree, I don’t think you can know the personality of God merely through science. Just like one might not know the personality of whomever designed Notre Dame just by studying the structure. One would only gain such information through historical knowledge, written records, or a personal experience by meeting the person. I would say the same sort of evidence is in play for the Christian experience.

    There is no possible way to scientifically prove the Christian God created everything. Such a claim requires faith. The proponents of ID are less than honest when they speak of God in generic terms. They do this in an attempt to hide the fact that ID is Christian dogma covered with a thin layer of pseudo-science clothing.

    Well, that is a personal attack against the motives of those who advocate ideas like intelligent design; and obviously not all of those folks are Christian. Some aren’t even particularly religious.
    Either way, even if I contend that it requires intelligence to create an organic information processing micro machine like a cell, my motive is irrelevant as to whether the statement itself is true or false.

  23. Bettawrekonize says:

    “The basis for the conclusion is based on the number of variable amino-acid bonds it would take given X amount of time to find just one self-replication combination.”

    There are multiple problems with this. First your assumption is based on a long-term maintenence of very specific conditions that you think might form self-replicating combinations of matter given enough time. Yet even when these conditions are artificially produced no self replicating compounds form.

    Secondly, atoms combine to form various compounds but there is no indication that if you stick all the right atoms together, given enough time, you can potentially form a computer speaker by chance. Atoms tend to favor the formation of some compounds over others and there are some compounds that atoms do not form on their own because the tendency to form simpler and more favorable combinations causes the atoms to do so interfering with the formation of other compounds. Just like sticking all the right ingredients together does not form computer speakers by chance, because the atoms will tend to form and remain in (or alternate between/among) other more favorable states instead, there is no indication that if you stick all the right atoms together you will ever form a self-replicating combination of atoms.

    Thirdly, even if you manage to get a self-replicating compound there is no reason to believe that the self-replicating process will maintain itself. Your assumption that it will is faith based. The compound will be faced with all sorts of environmental pressures tending to cause mutations and the majority of mutations are detrimental to the replication process, since there are far more (simpler and more likely to form) non-replicating compounds, and so anything that does form will statistically mutate itself into compounds that no longer self-replicate. and there is no indication that this self-replicating compound would ever produce systems increasing the number interdependent components.

    Abiogenesis and UCD are based entirely on faith. You can continue to believe them but they are faith, and not science, based. Unless you want to redefine the word science to meet your personal faith but such an arbitrary definition of science holds no basis in good logic or reason.

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