Gene Expression

The use of the word “Darwinist” is to catch the attention of Creationists, normally I’m not too warm to its usage in a scientific (as opposed to philosophical or historical) context. In any case, Jerry Coyne has a post up where he states:

The “new atheists” have been on the scene for exactly five years, beginning with Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, published in 2004. But American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged (with 40+% denying it) for twenty-five years. This means two things.

This is true to a first approximation, and rather depressing. So I thought I would repeat a data finding which might cheer us up: the youngest adult age cohorts are the least Creationist.The GSS has 4 evolution related questions, EVOLVED, SCITEST4, SCITESTY and CREATION, and all seem to point in this direction. Below the fold I present the data, along with a few crosstabs by demographic variables & commentary.

Here’s a graphic that illustrates the topline trend:

i-5bbbdfc5e17426a4bd8a5ca7efa33f53-evolyoungpos1.png

And the table….


Age



18-30 31-45 46-60 60 & Over
Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 59.3 50.7 48.5 43.3
Humans Evolved From Animals (Definitely True) 17 15.6 16 11.4
Humans Evolved From Animals (Probably True) 38.8 29 33.7 23.9
Humans Evolved From Animals (Def. + Prob. True) 55.8 44.6 49.7 35.3
Human Beings Developed From Earlier Species (Definitely True) 17.5 14.6 16.1 13.3
Human Beings Developed From Earlier Species (Probably True) 34.7 29.8 30 24.3
Human Beings Developed From Earlier Species (Def. + Prob. True) 52.2 44.4 46.1 37.6
God Created Man 34.8 46.8 40.8 47.4





Limited to those who “Know God Exists




Age



18-30 31-45 46-60 60 & Over
Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 40 33 33.3 25.5
Humans Evolved From Animals (Definitely True) 8.3 8 9.5 9.2
Humans Evolved From Animals (Probably True) 26.3 22.8 25.5 13.6
Humans Evolved From Animals (Definitely + Probably True) 34.6 30.8 35 22.8





By various demographics




Age



18-30 31-45 46-60 60 & Over
Protestant – Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 33.2 36.1 34.4 32.5
Catholic – Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 78.2 59.5 66.1 47
Protestant – God Created Man 51.7 47.3 53.3 53.4
Catholic – God Created Man 23.2 44.3 31.1 49.6
Liberals – Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 69.8 67.4 60.6 66.3
Moderates – Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 64 46.73 52.1 44.1
Conservatives – Human beings Developed from Animals (True) 43.8 42 38.4 33.3

As you can see the change in attitudes toward evolution vary from group to group. The 60% of the GSS sample who “Know God Exists” is less Creationist in the lower age brackets. This is important because the proportion of those who are secular is higher among the young, so reduced Creationism could plausibly just be a side-effect of increased secularism among the young. But not so, as even religious youth are less Creationist than older age cohorts. But breaking down by Protestant vs. Catholic illustrates that while there has been little change among Protestants across age cohorts, young Catholics are much less Creationist than old Catholics. Finally, when it comes to politics there hasn’t been much change among liberals, who in general are not Creationists, and some change among Conservatives, who are less Creationist among the younger age cohorts, but a large swing among moderates. Among the oldest age cohort self-described moderates are closer to conservatives than liberals in regards to Creationism, but among the youngest they’ve converged with liberals.

All in & all, this leads me to have some guarded optimism for a change. Dembski et al. are losing the hearts & minds of the youth to Scott et al.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    August 13, 2009

    If we define the “New Atheists” as those godless folk who began pushing back against the modern incarnations of Creationism… why would the lack of change in the public’s attitudes toward evolution be relevant?

    Most people set in their ways and established in social milieux that encourage one position or another aren’t going to be converted regardless of what some upstarts outside their groups say. What matters is what people who are choosing how to construct their identities decide – and that’s young people.

    The effects of the recent pro-reason advocacy won’t be known for a generation.

  2. #2 Joshua Zelinsky
    August 13, 2009

    So in the 18-30 age group in the US there’s still no way to get more than a bit over 50% as supporting evolution. That’s not terribly impressive. Moreover, this is still very small compared to the general percentage for many other countries. For example, compare this with the numbers in Britain ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/02/charles-darwin-creationism-intelligent-design ). The questions asked are slightly different which may account for some of the distinction but even given that it looks like the most pro-evolution age cohort in the US is still less accepting of evolution than the general population in Great Britain.

  3. #3 Divalent
    August 13, 2009

    Is there any data available to assess whether the age differences reflect (as you suggest) younger adults truly differing in their beliefs (due to education and public discussion of the topic?), verses a change in attitudes with aging?

    (you would need data on what the breakdown was of the older cohorts when they were younger).

    It’s not an unreasonable alternative hypothesis to explain the data. After all, don’t people become a bit more conservative as they age?

  4. #4 Marc
    August 13, 2009

    I detest being called an atheist (which I am by definition, and very proud of it) because of the negative connotation. Freethinker and Bright are a bit woolly for me too.

    I prefer to be thought of as intelligent and sufficiently strong willed to break the programming. Should it have a label? I don’t know but I expect not since rather the like the old “The best trick the devil ever pulled…” argument, the best trick believers ever pulled was convincing each other and a large amount of fence-sitters, that being an atheist was tantamount to being a bad person.

    To be a “Christian” is a good thing, not=bad – especially in the US it seems. Yet as I worked on my current book (now shelved temporarily for lack of money and I need to eat) I became more aware of how the Mid-East must view the far west. With all the tub-thumping creationists in the US and the way American politicians of both sides seeming eager to profess unerring faith, it’s little wonder that some states see them as an evil theocracy – and are therefore, threatened.

    While I was, at one point in my life, prepared to accept America as friend, I now find myself slightly repelled by its deeply and frankly idiot clinging to outmoded belief systems.

    Curiously, it’s been suggested that a good health system sounds the death knell for belief – that the NHS is behind the great decline in belief in the UK. Little wonder then that as soon as that is threatened the idiots come out on telly and assume that Prof. Hawking would have been left to die on the NHS – when in reality, it cared for his every medical need ENTIRELY FREE for 40-some years.

    Believe in something you can’t prove and then misrepresent a fact that you (and others) easily can? What sort of people are these?

  5. #5 Joshua Zelinsky
    August 13, 2009

    Divalent, there’s some evidence which suggests that that isn’t the case. See for example: http://www.livescience.com/health/080310-liberal-seniors.html which suggests that if anything people get more liberal as they age. There are problems with that particular study, I’m not so happy with what they think of as liberal as opposed to conservative and there are other issues. However, as far as I am aware every study to look at that question has found either no significant change or a change to the left as people age.

  6. #6 Bob Sykes
    August 13, 2009

    You missed the most interesting demographic: university faculty in the humanities and social sciences. To a man or woman, they will aver a belief in evolution and natural selection, except when it comes to humans. Then virtually every one of them will deny that human behavior has any roots in biology, or that there is any human biodiversity. They are, in effect, special creationists.

  7. #7 derek
    August 13, 2009

    Okay, but who were the least Creationist age cohorts twenty five years ago? Is it like vegetarianism, which they’ve been telling me is the future—because of all the young vegetarians—for twenty five years as well. It turns out people lapse from vegetarianism as they get older.

    It would seem strange for people to buy evolution when they’re young, but become creationist as they get older, but not incredibly strange.

  8. #8 Sili
    August 15, 2009

    The “Darwinist” bit was not what bothered me the most about that headline.

  9. #9 not a gator
    August 17, 2009

    Derek,

    I doubt that, and here’s why. They’ve done comparable studies decade over decade on people’s general beliefs in woo. People who came of age in the 1930′s and 1940′s had a low acceptance of woo, while boomers accepted more woo (ufo’s, astrology, telepathy) than their parents–significantly more. Happily, new studies on current college students show the woo factor is dropping again.

    If that could happen for belief in, say, astrology, there’s no reason to believe that it couldn’t happen with creationism. Both are equally silly and have been considered so since before the beginning of the 20th century.

    I’m wondering what it was about Catholicism for Gen-X that made it so right-wing. The “odd inversion” of the Gen-X cohort can be seen to be a Catholic phenom. The Gen-X proddies were actually less cretinist (before returning to form). This I can believe because I feel like from the 80′s to now, power got to the evangelicals’ heads and they really did their best to go off the deep end. (It backfired, natch.) This seems to have worked in counterpoint to a rather marked inflection by Catholics, from believing evolution overwhelmingly, to accepting it quite a bit less, then finally to believing evolution in even higher numbers than before. (And yes, Pope JPII in the 1990′s did come out with his doctrine about evolution and souls and god knows what.)

    In my own lifetime I’ve seen the flock seemingly become increasingly right-wing and political to scattering (because of the church sex scandal). I don’t know what that’s about except that it also seems like a lot of people left (for feminist reasons) and that may have skewed the church to the right for a while.

    Maybe someone can enlighten me further?