Gene Expression

Smart people believe in evolution

Half Sigma is mining the GSS to try and understand the correlates of acceptance of the fact of evolution. He notes:

Of course it’s not surprising that smarter people are more likely to believe in evolution, but the difference is pretty extraordinary. Only 15% of people with Wordsum 10 disbelieve in evolution (although it’s a pretty small sample size), while a whopping 57% of people with Wordum 6 (which is the average score) disbelieve in evolution.


You can see the full data over at his place. So does this mean that acceptance of evolution is due to close examination of the issues on the part of the intelligent? I really don’t think so. All the data I’ve seen that suggests that very few people truly understand evolution in any way that suggests a close examination of the issues. I think the most plausible hypothesis is that smart people trust what other smart people say and believe. Scientists, and specifically biologists, are assumed to know something about the world. If you work hard you shall know and master the material; that’s what smart people have found in their own lives. In contrast the stupid have struggled even when they invest more time into academic pursuits. Why should they trust the smart? While it is true that they benefit from the technology and science which the smart produce, that’s at a further remove then if they themselves had their own intellectual successes.

In other news, over at The Corner Creationist apologist Steve Hayward states:

…And unlike the social sciences and the humanities, the idea that the ID movement is somehow, someday going to capture a dominant position analogous to the postmodernists/deconstructionists who have wrecked nearly every English department in higher education strikes me as fanciful, if not ludicrous. It seems to me that having the consensus position persistently challenged, even if by a supposedly fringe ideology, is a healthy thing, just as the ideological challenge of Marxism/Communism compelled America to reacquire and sharpen its own understanding of its founding principles after decades of desuetude and rejection (by liberals). It seems to me the attitude should be “bring it on,” not “shut it down.”

This is all in response John Derbyshire’s broadsides aimed at the new Ben Stein Creationist film. As I told John the response shed light on the stance which many Creationist apologists take in terms of promoting the value of controversy and dispute within the sciences. On a generic level they are certainly correct. But on a specific level they contradict the spirit of science, if not the letter of its practice. Here’s Paul Krugman attacking critics of positivist economics:

A strong desire to make economics less like a science and more like literary criticism is a surprisingly common attribute of anti-academic writers on the subject. For example, in a recent collection of essays (Foundations of Research in Economics: How do Economists do Economics?, edited by Steven G. Medema and Warren Samuels), James K. Galbraith, a constant critic of the profession (and a frequent contributor to the American Prospect), urges economists to emulate “vibrant humanities faculties” in which “departments develop viciously opinionated, inbred, sometimes bitter and tyrannical but definitely exciting intellectual climates.” Economics, in short, would be a better field if the MIT economics department were more like the Yale English department during its deconstructionist heyday.

I don’t think most outside the economics profession are wholly convinced by the claims of the practitioners of its scientific status. But, it is clear that that is what they aspire to, to move beyond circular controversy and attain the status of a field characterized by intellectual progress. The natural sciences which economics wishes to emulate do seem to fit into a Whiggish model, more or less. Science stands upon the shoulders of controversies resolved. Dispute is in the service of progress. The debates which Creationists wish to resubmit into the record are debates which have been resolved for 150 years! Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, and they clearly have not provided any such evidence. Steve Hayward’s response by using an analogy to the ideology of Marxism is apposite, as it illustrates his fixation on normative concerns. Ultimately the battle which Creationists wish to fight over evolution is one of values, not facts. And that is why critics of the Creationists will often grant that their ideas do deserve some airing…in a social studies course!

Addendum: Phillip E. Johnson, the doyen of the Intelligent Design movement, is a fan of Critical Theory.

Comments

  1. #1 MartinM
    February 19, 2008

    All the data I’ve seen that suggests that very few people truly understand evolution in any way that suggests a close examination of the issues. I think the most plausible hypothesis is that smart people trust what other smart people say and believe.

    There’s almost certainly an element of that, but really, how closely does one need to examine the issues to conclude that the creationists are talking nonsense? Most smart people who have spent any amount of time at all debating anything will have developed some kind of BS detector, and for creationism it doesn’t even have to be a particularly good one. Those who accept evolution based on a superficial understanding may well be taking cognitive shortcuts, but I don’t think ‘smart people believe this’ is the only one, or even the most significant.

  2. #2 Caledonian
    February 19, 2008

    “departments develop viciously opinionated, inbred, sometimes bitter and tyrannical but definitely exciting intellectual climates.”

    So they want economics to become more ‘dramatic’?

    If they want drama, other departments already specialize in it. Why change Economics in an attempt to create what Theatre and Theology already provide?

    I suspect it’s more that they don’t want the field to be connected to reality, which would mean it might produce potentially upsetting claims about economies and political structures. If it’s a mere ivory tower pastime, no reality can ever contradict their systems of thought, and more importantly, no non-academic will ever be able to contradict them.

  3. #3 cuchulainn
    February 19, 2008

    Ben Stein is funny. But also an example of how stupid argument and rhetoric really are. If you’ve got a big enough brain, you can argue for anything.

    LAW 9! http://www.google.ie/search?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&channel=s&hl=en&q=win+through+your+actions%2C+never+through+argument&meta=&btnG=Google+Search

  4. #4 Mike
    February 19, 2008

    If you want to see some creationist nonsense watch the video at wayofthemaster.com. Its pretty funny how ignorant some creationists can be. I think smarter people have a better BS meter detector. People with a low IQ cannot distinguish the difference between scientific fact and pseudoscience. So they are apt to have a lot of childish misunderstandings of the world around them. People with a higher IQ are better able to tell if something is phoney or not.

  5. #5 BGC
    February 19, 2008

    “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” – I don’t think this is quite right.

    Paradigm-shifts in science usually come from a breakthrough that solves an intractable problem (Copernicus, Einstein, quantum physics, structure of DNA), or else one that presents chances of a rich new field of productive work (eg the technological breakthroughs in molecular biology over the past three decades).

    In other words, scientist will adopt new ideas when there is a fair chance of some kind of significant professional pay-off.

    Since the theory of evolution by nataural selection is not currently confronted by any intractable problems that threaten to block progress – and since Intelligent Design / Creationism does *not* present an obviously rich new field of productive activity for scientists – the outcome of the ID challenge to natural selection is pre-determined.

  6. #6 ogunsiron
    February 19, 2008

    James K. Galbraith, a constant critic of the profession (and a frequent contributor to the American Prospect), urges economists to emulate “vibrant humanities faculties”
    ___

    Steve Sailer would just love this use of the word ” vibrant ” :)

  7. #7 Tlazolteotl
    February 19, 2008

    Is it even so much a matter of “smart people believe this” as it is “this body of knowledge was developed within a logically consistent framework that is rational and testable”?

    I am a chemist, but I don’t need to become an expert in evolutionary biology to find evolution more credible than alternative ‘theories’ about how the diversity of life on this planet came about. It is not because I think biologists are ‘smart’ but because I understand the scientific method.

  8. #8 razib
    February 19, 2008

    I am a chemist, but I don’t need to become an expert in evolutionary biology to find evolution more credible than alternative ‘theories’ about how the diversity of life on this planet came about. It is not because I think biologists are ‘smart’ but because I understand the scientific method.

    most people are not chemists. in any case, take a look at the disciplines represented among those ‘scientists’ who are skeptical of darwinism….

  9. #9 El Christador
    February 19, 2008

    But I thought there was no such thing as intelligence and it’s a myth to justify racism and discrimination and totally can’t be measured or defined or talked about, even according to a crude ad hoc “good enough” operational definition…

  10. #10 El Christador
    February 19, 2008

    Oh, and by the way, I was being facetious.

  11. #11 Half Sigma
    February 19, 2008

    Thanks for linking to me.

    Accepting evolution is like accepting the periodic table of the elements. There’s no reason not to accept it, unless it disproves the religion you believe in.

    I will go into this Part III of the series.

  12. #12 ogunsiron
    February 19, 2008

    razib,
    remember the paper _unskilled and unaware_ ?
    Smart people (most of them anyways)have a reasonable competence gauging ability. You have many people though who simply aren’t smart enough to distinguish smart soudning garbage from the real smart thing. The worst are of course those dim ones who actually think they are really clever and smart. One gets the feeling , while watching creationists like ray comfort, that the guy *really* thinks he’s *really smart* and that people who accept evolution are retards .

  13. #13 Caledonian
    February 19, 2008

    Let’s also keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how much capacity for intelligent behavior you have if you don’t actively work to behave intelligently. There are plenty of smart people who don’t choose to think rationally about evolution.

    Any irrationality, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from stupidity.

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