By: Jonathan Witt – evolutionnews.org – May 18, 2018
The authors of a recent Bioscience paper say their survey research shows “that Americans’ views on evolution are significantly influenced by their knowledge about this theory.” Many Americans reject evolution, the paper suggests, because they’re uninformed.
But there are problems with the survey and the conclusions drawn from the results. I’ll get to those in a bit, but first I want to confess that I was suspicious of the paper’s claim from the outset because in my experience, many Americans accept evolution because they are uninformed. That is, they have heard the popular arguments for the theory but have encountered little if any of the strongest evidence against it.
Even many highly educated evolutionists betray a curious ignorance of evidence against evolution, evidence that sits in plain sight both in and beyond the peer-reviewed literature. Jonathan Wells details a recent instance of that here.
To be sure, one can know various facts that make trouble for evolution and still accept it. But the more of this eyebrow-raising information you know, the more mental gymnastics you’ll need to perform in order to embrace modern evolutionary theory — contortions that many Americans are either unable or unwilling to perform.
Rendering evolution palatable for those Americans means serving them just the right concoction of evolution ed. — not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Call it the Goldilocks zone of evolutionary pedagogy.
This, I think, is why the pro-Darwin lobby resists our recommended policy of teaching public high school biology students more rather than less about evolution — the evidence not only for it but also against it.
Like baby bear’s porridge in the Goldilocks tale, it’s just right to know that evolution is not a purely random process — that natural selection plays a clever role. But it’s too hot to know that studies of microbes such as E. coli suggest that there are severe limits to how far the random mutation/natural selection mechanism can evolve an organism, even given millions of years.
Pro-evolution educators also regard it as just right to know that beak size has “evolved” among the finches of the Galápagos Islands, a tidbit that regularly pops up in high school biology textbooks. But it’s not helpful to know — and thus rarely mentioned — that their beaks vary only within a narrow range, or that finches long viewed as separate species actually interbreed.
Again, it’s just right to know that the vertebrate eye is wired “backwards,” creating a tiny blind spot in our eyes, something one might neatly explain by reference to the trial-and-error process of evolution. Darwinists love to mention this. But too hot to touch is the knowledge that specialists in the vertebrate eye have shown decisively that the so-called “backward wiring” is actually a clever engineering solution to the vertebrate eye’s high demand for oxygen.
It’s also just right to know that the fossil record suggests that the history of life on Earth moves from microbes to larger, brainless life forms on the ocean floor, to sophisticated sea creatures in the Cambrian, to land animals and now humans. But it’s too much to further learn that the pattern of the fossil record is one in which new animal body plans appear suddenly. It’s equally unhelpful to learn that even some leading paleontologists view this as a major unsolved problem for evolution, not something to be blithely waved away be vague talk of an incomplete fossil record.
This problem is so unhelpful for selling evolution that Darwinists in Texas tried to remove it from the state biology standards last year. (I know, because I was there during the hearings.) This information about the pattern of the fossil record, you see, makes for papa bear porridge — too hot for impressionable young minds to taste.
So that’s my experience. And that’s the experience of scientists such as Michael Behe (professor, Lehigh University), Douglas Axe (former postdoc researcher at University of Cambridge), Jonathan Wells (PhD, UC Berkeley), and others. Time and again they’ve had their nuanced arguments against blind evolution reduced to unrecognizable strawmen, the better to blow the arguments over.
Wells, in fact, has written two books on the Darwinists’ zeal for what I’m calling Goldilocks pedagogy. Both detail how evolutionists obsessively recycle debunked factoids about evolution, and resist including updated information in textbooks that would show why these icons of evolution collapse under scrutiny.
The Survey on Evolution Acceptance
So, now let’s return to the new survey reported on in the journal Bioscience. Do the results really demonstrate that knowing more about science and evolution increases a student’s willingness to accept evolutionary theory? What follows are some things that heighten my skepticism.
First, the study’s conclusions run counter to some earlier studies. That doesn’t mean the study is wrong. But somebody got it wrong, and it might just as easily have been these researchers as the other ones.
As for the survey itself, some of the wording, and some of the reasoning used to interpret the survey results, suggest to me that the authors are uninformed about important contours of the evolution debate.
To be fair, there is one promising moment early on in their Bioscience paper describing their survey. “Extant surveys … may not fully capture Americans’ views about evolutionary theory,” they write. “For the current study, we therefore developed a new measure of acceptance.”
Good! A lot of the older evolution surveys are simplistic, missing key options among the set of multiple choice answers.
The authors of the new study underscore the problem, citing one prominent older poll, then explain how they tried to fix things:
[The Gallup] poll asks which of three options comes closest to respondents’ views on the origin and development of human beings: (1) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process; (2) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; and (3) God created human beings pretty much in their current form in the last 10,000 years or so. Because this question offers three possible answers, it is better than most. However, these three options do not allow for any nuance about God’s role in evolution; the “guidance” could take many forms. We thus added a fourth answer option, reflecting a deistic view: God set up the laws of nature, which then unfolded on their own.
That’s a step in the right direction. Many contemporary biologists fall squarely under this new deism option, while nevertheless styling themselves theistic evolutionists. Why? I hesitate to guess at motive, but many of them are church-going Christians, so it’s possible they want to minimize the difference between their deistic picture of origins, and orthodox Christian theism’s picture of a cosmic maker getting his hands dirty at multiple points in his fashioning of the world.
The authors of this latest survey noticed the difference nonetheless. Good for them. It’s a better survey question thanks to the addition.
To see the remainder of this article and read more about these topics, click read more.
The Survey’s Big, Big Gap
Conflating Understanding and Acceptance of Evolution
Question Why One Might Question Authority