The Frontal Cortex

Evolution and the Generation Gap

Keep hope alive. The future is coming:

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Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    April 16, 2007

    This is almost useless without some indication of scope – US only? general population?

  2. #2 ?
    April 16, 2007

    I guess there is hope after all.

  3. #3 Jonah
    April 16, 2007

    It’s US adults.

  4. #4 Michael Graham Richard
    April 16, 2007

    I’d be curious to see what the numbers are for other areas of the world (Europe, Asia, South America).

    63% is pretty sad when you think about how fundamental evultion is for our understanding of everything else. Darwin has been dead for over a 100 years…

  5. #5 Paul Sunstone
    April 18, 2007

    It would be interesting to know if people’s beliefs about evolution tend to change as they get older. Do some people “get religion” and reject evolution as they age?

  6. #6 Daniel
    April 19, 2007

    Science is the cataloging of facts about the world and the formulation of relationships that explain how things in the world work. Science is neither religion nor philosophy, and is not based on, nor does it depend on, any philosophy. It does not matter what people believe about evolution. If they are not convinced, then so what? The facts will not change.

  7. #7 Robert
    April 19, 2007

    Evolution will take care of the Creationists.

  8. #8 Brad
    April 19, 2007

    Depressing. 33% still think that we have existed as we are since the beginning of time?

    Jesus help us. Americans are idiots.

  9. #9 ChemJerk
    April 19, 2007

    Paul brings up an important point. My guess is that more folks move away from evolution than towards it as they get older. Evolution is taught in school (if we’re lucky) but rarely reinforced thereafter. On the other hand, religion tends to become a greater influence as people get married, have kids and get old. Moreover, creationists, despite having an inferior product, are better salespersons and thus better at convincing the undecided and weaker evolution supporters.

    I’ll be encouraged when this survey is repeated in another 20 years and the 41-60 age bracket is within a couple of points of the present 18-25 age range.

  10. #10 Slippery Pete
    April 19, 2007

    I don’t know if Americans are idiots. Certainly about 40% are but as another person asked, how does this compare to Europe? Assuming people don’t become more religious as they age, things are moving in the right direction.

  11. #11 Walker
    April 19, 2007

    Evolution will take care of the Creationists.

    Seeing as religious families tend to have more children, that’s probably right. Though not in the way you meant.

  12. #12 Phil Bowermaster
    April 19, 2007

    Science is the cataloging of facts about the world and the formulation of relationships that explain how things in the world work. Science is neither religion nor philosophy, and is not based on, nor does it depend on, any philosophy.

    Ah, I think I get it. Apparently, it’s not humans who have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, it’s science! Who knew? And here I thought that the scientific method, er, evolved from earlier forms of inquiry rooted in philosophy.

    All this debate between Bayesians and Popperites must not really be happening. What a relief. So we can throw off ignorant superstitious beliefs about the immutability of humanity and replace them with ignorant superstitious beliefs about the immutability of science.

    Big improvement, I guess.

  13. #13 Daniel
    April 19, 2007

    In reply to Phil Bowermaster, instead of being sarcastic why don’t you just say your complaint, which was not clear in your comment.

    Science has such a good reputation because it has produced great utility. People don’t believe “in science” because it is a good philosophy to believe in; they believe in it because it has produced such utility. When people believe in the truth of something, it is not because science says it is true; it is merely a coincidence that science tells people many useful things, which they believe. Appealing to science to prove an argument won’t work. The power of science to persude is in its reputation, alone, not in its philosophy; and if someone thinks they have a better authority for truth, then that is how they would make their judgement.

    There may be a philosophy of science, but that is not science. Science is not philosophy and it is not based on any philosophy. The basis for science is that some of our sensory perceptions are true, and some of them are not. To me, that statement feels about right. Thousands and thousands of pages of philosphical text cannot say it better than that.

  14. #14 Daniel
    April 19, 2007

    While some people have tried to build a philosophy of science, and some people have tried to use the knowledge of science to build a philosophy of knowledge and truth, science exists apart from all such philosophical underpinnings, and does not depend on them for its successes. Some people infer a universe of natural law, derived from scientific study, and then infer and speculate about religion, metaphysics, and God. But all of these speculations are apart from the practice of science, and science operates successfully, with or without this background noise of speculation.

    In fact, the practice of science does not rest on any philosophical principle at all; it rests upon a simple acknowledgement, or understanding about man’s place in this world in which we dwell: that some of our perceptions of the world are true and valid, and some of our perceptions are not. Of these untrue perceptions, the most important one is the perception of a world that is seamless and complete; a scientist believes that there is more to the world than our perceptions reveal to us. A scientist uses what he knows, to figure out what he does not know. It is a little like feeling your way around in a dark room full of many things, trying to figure out what these many things are. Evolution is a product of this undertaking. Creationism and intelligent design fall more under the category of speculation or speculative philosophy, and there is nothing wrong with that way of thinking. But it is not the same as science.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 19, 2007

    In fact, the practice of science does not rest on any philosophical principle at all; it rests upon a simple acknowledgement, or understanding about man’s place in this world in which we dwell: that some of our perceptions of the world are true and valid, and some of our perceptions are not.

    OT, but whoa! There is a huge and unsubstantiated leap here, between science as a useful method (which is an agreeable description) to the method being based on valid perceptions.

    We can certainly try to model science. And while I agree that philosopher haven’t been particularly successful, I can see why they think such models are interesting.

    For instance, in my own model ;-), there is no sense in discussing validity of perceptions. Repeatable observations generates facts, and facts validates theories. (And of course, if we are nitpicky, theories helps generate repeatable observations as well. There is a lot of recursion all over the place.)

    To get back to the topic, if humans evolved from monkeys, how come there are still creationists? And what would it take to scare them back up the threes?

  16. #16 Daniel
    April 19, 2007

    Science is not a useful method; science is the accumulation of facts and relationships. What you call the method, how you characterize it, how you incorporate it into some greater philosopy, is irrelavant, to the accumulation of facts and relationships. All we have are our few perceptions, mostly of touch, seeing, and hearing; all else is speculation. We know some of our perceptions are true and valid, else how could we accumulate any facts at all? Science is not a religion, and does not appeal to people for belief. It is instead a compilation of discovered facts and relationships, available to whomever may be interested.

  17. #17 Phil Bowermaster
    April 19, 2007

    Daniel –

    You’re right. Sarcasm adds nothing but unpleasantness to the discussion, and I apologize for going that way.

    However, I don’t think philosophy can or should be dismissed as easily as you would like. You write:

    The basis for science is that some of our sensory perceptions are true, and some of them are not. To me, that statement feels about right. Thousands and thousands of pages of philosphical text cannot say it better than that.

    That may be true, but that doesn’t make it any less of a philosophical position. I agree that science isn’t philosophy and that the philosophy of science is not science.

    The difference between you and the creationists isn’t that they’re philosophical and you aren’t. It’s that you and they are proceeding from different philosophical bases.

    But all of these speculations are apart from the practice of science, and science operates successfully, with or without this background noise of speculation.

    I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Speculative thought that goes beyond the bounds of strictly scientific discourse is one of the great drivers of what ends up within scientific discourse. Philosophy asks questions and states assumptions; science asks more precise questions and arrives at answers. We need both.

  18. #18 Infidel753
    April 19, 2007

    There is empirical evidence that people do not become more religious as they get older, which means that these survey results are indeed solid good news.

    The crucial difference between religion and science lies not in what things they hold to be true, but in the basis on which they decide which things to hold true. Science relies on evidence; religion relies on faith, meaning a willingness to believe things when there is no evidence that they are true. That’s the crucial philosophical difference.

    Due to its unique evidence-based approach, science has enabled us to create technology, a vast array of tools that actually work, such as vaccines, computers, anaesthetics, spacecraft, hydrogen bombs, lasers, etc. Religion has accomplished nothing comparable.

  19. #19 Mark Defrates
    April 19, 2007

    FWIW and for those wondering about Yerp, Fox News reported last year

    The percentage of U.S. adults who accept evolution declined from 45 to 40 percent.

    The percentage overtly rejecting evolution also declined, from 48 to 39 percent.

    And the percentage of adults who were unsure increased, from 7 to 21 percent.

    Of the other countries surveyed, only Turkey ranked lower, with about 25 percent of the population accepting evolution and 75 percent rejecting it.

    In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.

    Fox cited Science August 11th 2005 for a University of Michigan poll.

    Google string European Evolution Poll. There’s nothing subdivided by generation, apparently.

    This is a non issue in Europe.

    Mark

  20. #20 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 19, 2007

    Science is not a useful method;

    It seems to be. :-) And it must to be used, being a method to produce results (facts and theories) and not a an area of discourse.

    You said so yourself, I think: “Science has such a good reputation because it has produced great utility.”

    We know some of our perceptions are true and valid, else how could we accumulate any facts at all?

    You haven’t defined “perceptions” and “valid”. I however noted that “repeatable observations” are enough to generate facts.

    At this time I think we have started to discuss at cross purposes. What I am trying to point out is that our eyes are unreliable and not enough to generate data. We need measurements to make quantitative observations. I don’t think either observation is controversial. So I don’t think we can conflate “perceptions” with measurements.

    Btw, I’m sympathetic with Phil’s position – philosophy could (should) be speculative. And, I would add, rooted in what we now know.

  21. #21 John
    April 20, 2007

    I’d be curious to see what percentage of religious still believe in evolution. I’ve met a few very religious people – most of them scientists (Christians, Muslims, Jews) – who are still 100% card-carrying evolutionists.

  22. #22 Daniel
    April 20, 2007

    This is a reply to Phil Bowermaster and Torbjorn Larsson
    I tried very hard to make myself clear. Therefore, I am very suprised that you guys have not understood what I meant to say. I did not say anything against speculative and philosophical thinking; I was just tyring to point out that this kind of thinking is not science. Science is the accumulation of facts and realtionships.

    This whole discussion started about evolution and creationism, and why don’t more people believe in evolution. And all I was saying, is “why worry?” Evolution is not a speculative theory that appeals for belief to sustain itself; it is an accumulation of scientific knowlege available to whomever may be interested. So what if people don’t believe in it? So what?

    Speculation and philosopy, some of it complex, some of it simple-minded, is the basis on which we all live our lives. You cannot force someone’s belief. Just let those “creationist” people believe what they want, however they will.

    Torbjorn Larsson does not like my belief that some of our senses are valid and true. If none of our sense perceptions are true, then how can we read our instruments, and make our measurements? How do we get the measured information from the measuring devices into our brains, if not by way of our sensory perceptions, probably, and usually, vision?

  23. #23 David Marjanovi?
    April 20, 2007

    Science [...] is not based on, nor does it depend on, any philosophy.

    Except science theory.

    Science is the accumulation of facts and realtionships.

    Nope. Science is the interpretation of accumulated facts in the form of falsifiable and parsimonious hypotheses.

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    April 20, 2007

    …and, obviously, the testing of said hypotheses against the facts.

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?
    April 20, 2007

    …and against the principle of parsimony. Sorry. I naïvely thought I had managed to sum up science in a single sentence…

  26. #26 Daniel
    April 20, 2007

    David Marjanovi
    You said,

    “Science is the interpretation of accumulated facts in the form of falsifiable and parsimonious hypotheses, and, obviously, the testing of said hypotheses against the facts and against the principle of parsimony.”

    So, what does that mean? I was just speaking on a very basic level; accumulated facts and relationships are not speculative. Creationism is speculative. This does not mean that I think speculative philosophical thinking is bad; it is not. I speculate; I engage in philosophical thinking; I love speculation; I love philsophy; I love to speculate on natural law, that science would infer. But speculation ain’t science. It just ain’t.

  27. #27 Daniel
    April 20, 2007

    I will make my basic point one last time: if someone examines the accumulated knowlege of science, and is not interested in evolution, but rather, engages in speculative belief in creationism and intelligent design, then we cannot really change their belief, any more than the Spanish Inquisition could change the beliefs of its accused heretics; so why worry so much about it? Science will muddle along with or without them. That is what I was trying to say.

  28. #28 Greco
    April 20, 2007

    I’d be curious to see what the numbers are for other areas of the world (Europe, Asia, South America).

    Numbers for Brazil:

    God created humans 10,000 years ago, just as we are today: 31%
    Humans developed along millions of years, but God guided the process: 54%
    Humans developed along millions of years, but God was not involved in that process: 9%
    Don’t know/No answer: 6%

  29. #29 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 20, 2007

    Torbjorn Larsson does not like my belief that some of our senses are valid and true.

    Not exactly. I don’t think it is relevant for defining what science and knowledge is.

    Of course our senses are useful too. But they aren’t providing quantitative and repeatable observations. Our experiments and measurement instruments do that, which we can read off at our leisure. (Obviously I’m simplifying here. There are many quantitative aspects of our senses.)

    When philosophers describe knowledge as “justified true belief” as you seem to do, they allow other justifications than scientific knowledge. But this isn’t sufficient to generate trustworthy beliefs. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettier_problem )

    However scientific knowledge can be trusted. (Again I’m simplifying. Theories are likely falsified. But there are facts and laws that are persistent.)

    I have my ideas why, but the margin of this OT comment isn’t large enough. ;-)

  30. #30 Mark
    April 22, 2007

    The poll is indeed useless.
    Living things have evolved over time?? Of course they have, if by evolution you mean change! People, as a general rule, are taller than they were hundreds of years ago. In this sense, they have “evolved” and I would be forced to answer the poll accordingly. However, do I believe man evolved from a soulless ape which somewhere up the line evolved from pond scum?

    Nope.

  31. #31 Chris
    April 22, 2007

    I’m trying to remember that article a year or two ago in the Atlantic Monthly. The author said something to the effect of: Evolution is the theory that everyone agrees with but nobody actually lives by.

  32. #32 patrick the rogue
    April 22, 2007

    This is a very interesting survey that brings up many of the questons posed by other posters. Do we get more or less religious as we get older? How does this survey compare to those in Europe? (I can answer this but I can’t find the source – Europeans believe in evolution much more than US adults do.)
    For myself, I became more liberal, less religious as I got older, but I also continued to study and read after college. At some point I was convinced by scientists that evolution made sense and that no other explanation so far comes close.
    I think that most Americans hang their own sense of identity and security on their religious affiliations and that leads them to defend the indefensible to the bitter end. It takes bravery to chuck it all and journey into the chaos with no reassurance that Father Daddy in the sky will be there to pick you up when you run into trouble. Most people are not brave.

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