A survey of British beliefs about the origin and development of life had the following results:

  • 22% chose creationism
  • 17% opted for intelligent design
  • 48% selected evolution theory
  • the rest did not know.

Or how about this result? Here’s what the people in the land of David Attenborough would like to see taught in school:

  • 44% said creationism should be included
  • 41% intelligent design
  • 69% wanted evolution as part of the science curriculum.

Depressing, isn’t it? I’ve got some Guinness in the refrigerator, maybe I should just knock off work early and go home and start drinking.

Chris has reservations about their methodology—but I don’t know. The fact that almost a quarter of the people admit to being creationists is damning in and of itself. Meanwhile, John thinks 30-40% “isn’t a large group opposing teaching evolution”. That makes me wonder if he’s been raiding my refrigerator and all my beer will be gone when I get home.

Then I read that 73% of American teenagers “engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity”, and I just want to throw up my hands and give up. I’m going to need something stronger than beer.

Isn’t it about time to admit that the strategies of the past, such as being deferential to the nonsense of religion or letting the kooks who dominate discourse off the hook because pointing out their fallacies would be rude, aren’t working? I predict that there will be much finger-pointing at Dawkins and tut-tutting about all those militant members of the high church of evolutionism being to blame, and that there will be further insistence on molly-coddling lunacy to make those willing believers in creationism more comfortable.


  1. #1 Pacian
    January 26, 2006

    Well there’s a program on BBC2 tonight about ID. That sterling publication the Radio Times assures us that it gives the ID lot a good hearing before letting the aforementioned Attenborough and Dawkins trounce them. Might help re. stupidity.

    Further info here.

  2. #2 Dennis Lynch
    January 26, 2006

    I don’t really belive these polls. I think a lot of people hold a loose interpretation of God and creationism. Many who don’t go to church still profess a belief in some kind of creator, and will say so when asked, but will go wishy-washy when pressed or confronted with other ideas. Most people could be re-educated to hold a more rational view.

    I am with Dawkins. Religion is a virus and needs to be confronted, discredited, and replaced with a rational view.

  3. #3 SEF
    January 26, 2006

    The BBC messed up on reporting that survey anyway. For example, the first time round (while the US was probably mostly asleep) they had it that the over-55’s were more likely to opt for evolution. Then a little later they changed the main body of text to say the over-55’s were less likely to do so (and also removing some other stuff which other people had started to comment on). But they left the text under the Darwin picture saying “Over 55s were more likely to opt for teaching evolution in science lessons” when I quoted it elsewhere. Now it has changed again.

    Meanwhile, as someone else already mentioned, we did have an evolution vs ID creationism Horizon programme – though the BBC messed up a bit there too (as usual). However, in the pieces to camera, Richard Dawkins did well – and better than David Attenborough did this time. Also better than he did in much of his C4 pair of programmes (which fits with an idea I had about that).

  4. #4 Timothy Chase
    January 27, 2006

    Isn’t it about time to admit that the strategies of the past, such as being deferential to the nonsense of religion or letting the kooks who dominate discourse off the hook because pointing out their fallacies would be rude, aren’t working? I predict that there will be much finger-pointing at Dawkins and tut-tutting about all those militant members of the high church of evolutionism being to blame, and that there will be further insistence on molly-coddling lunacy to make those willing believers in creationism more comfortable.

    This may be a point on which we will have to agree to disagree. I must admit, I run into a good many atheists who I otherwise respect, but who seem to have an uncanny inability to tell who their allies are who are the enemies.

    Liberal christians who have oppose creationism and intelligent design, support gay rights and women’s rights, who take an allegorical interpretation of the garden of Eden and the Noachian flood, support the Separation of State and Church, and find support for all of this in their understanding of their religious belief in a transcendental God are not the religious fundamentalists who seek to send us back to the dark ages, impose a strict form of fundamentalism upon the rest of us, or set up a theocracy and bring an end to modern, secular society. Such liberal christians (and there are many of them) are not the enemy. They are on your side. But look at how atheists on your side are prepared to treat them (I quote from above):

    I am as convinced as I can be that the way to advance science and promote rational, humane public policies is to expose and oppose religion and other forms of toxic superstition at every available turn. And I mean mercilessly.

    (emphasis added)

    Those who look up to you and Dawkins as individuals to emulate see no distinction between their religious allies and the religious fundamentalists. They are willing to take all of their pent-up fury out on those who share nearly all of their values — as if this somehow would bring an end to fundamentalism by proxy.

    I have a great deal of respect for you. I have a great deal of respect for Richard Dawkins. But the hostility which people like yourself are showing towards your religious allies plays right into the hands of the fundamentalists, and it will no doubt play an important part in their success if and when they succeed.

    You might wish that such religious allies didn’t exist — that things were more simple — with rational atheists on one side and religious fundamentalists on the other (heck, I might prefer it as well), but things just aren’t this simple:

    An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science
    (We’ve reached our goal of gathering 10,000 clergy signatures. The
    next step in our campaign is outlined here.)

    In any case, both you and Dawkins have and will continue to have my admiration, but on this point I must disagree.

  5. #5 Tony jackson
    January 27, 2006

    I too saw Horizon last night. A bit of a curate’s egg I think. Dawkins and Attenborough were good, the Dover teacher and parents who blew the whistle were impressive and Phillip Johnston hanged himself with his own rope. But the programme really messed up where it was most important because they made a lousy job of explaining why ID is fatuous. Firstly there was only a rather half-hearted attempt to refute irreducible complexity and (worse), they let Dembski get away with bamboozling us with his fancy maths. Never did they challenge his absurd and straight dishonest claim that natural selection is random.

  6. #6 Rockingham
    January 27, 2006

    I would agree with an earlier commenter that these results just do not reflect my experience of being British. That said, I am hard pressed to remember being taught evolution at school in the 80’s. The subject of the origin of life just wasn’t mentioned (although we did have compulsory religious education – this in a state school). I learnt about evolution from “Life On Earth” – may his spaghettiness bless Sir David Attenborough – and latterly from Richard Dawkins (Wot no knighthood?).

  7. #7 FJJP
    January 27, 2006

    I don’t see this poll as a major surprise. Ask 200 common people whether they prefer J.S. Bach or this Crazy Frog ringtone… Guess what the answer will be?

    The problem is that lots of people never come into contact with evolution theory. Have you ever noticed that even people in other science departments than biology and biomedical sciences have a minute knowledge of evolution. (I had to recsue a lost physicist lately)
    Second problem is, and this is far worse, that people who do get into contact with it, very often learn about evolution from dubious sources.
    Worst of all: genuine researchers who fail to explain and implement Darwin’s simple idea.
    In a simple twist of stochastics (refuse to say fate) I recently found a great example of this on the BBC news website… real baloney

    >Until that happens, what conclusions would Corey Bradshaw draw from his overview? >Are there any traits which place species in greater or less danger?
    >”If you think about it, nothing really evolves to go extinct,” he comments, “it’s anti->life, anti-Darwinian, it makes no sense.
    >”What does make sense is if suddenly, a novel mortality source comes along, acting on >a scale which is much less than the lifetime of an individual; then you’re getting into a >problem.”
    >And here may be a clue; because in the animal kingdom, the lifetime of an individual >tends to parallel body size.
    >”If your body size is large, chances are you’re not going to be able to adapt to novel >mortality sources.
    >”If I were going to predict whether an elephant or a mouse would go extinct, I would >say an elephant most likely, because it’s not going to be able to adapt to the changes >we’re making to the planet.”

    First of all: The author gives the impression that evolution is an orchestrated event leading to ever-better adapted creatures that should not be prone to extinction anymore. As you, the informed reader all know this is nonsense: there is no sense in evolution. You’re not adapted -> you die. You are adapted -> you thrive. That’s it. Species mutate and evolve all the time, still they could be extinct in let’s say a day or two. (take this with a pinch of salt please). Moreover, extinction is the rule, survival is the exception, as Dawkins would say.
    And what the **** is this gibberish about body size?
    Say there is a sudden new mortality source as the author suggests. If you happen to have somewhere in a species genepool a combination that makes some individuals resistant against this mortality source, these will thrive. The others will perish. This has nothing to do with lifespan. High reproduction rates and a very high genetic variability might help. Of course reproduction rates and number of offspring are often larger in small animals. But this is not mentioned by the author plus it is no guarantee for being adapted. In this interview he gives the impression that individual animals have to start adapting after the arrival of the mortality source.
    The animal is not constantly adapting its genepool to an everchanging environment; the everchanging genepool is constantly tested for its aptness by the environment.

    I hope this is bad communication (in these ID-days this is also a crime against humanity)
    Alternatively: if there’s anything anti-Darwinian, it is the author, clearly confused by our buddy: Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck

  8. #8 NelC
    January 27, 2006

    I think Horizon messed up the explanation of why Dembski’s probability calculations are crap, possibly due to sloppy editing. Ditto the flagellum story. Attenborough suffered from being edited down to soundbites, but Dawkins came over quite well, I thought.

    What I found a bit unfortunate was the way the narration and background music in the first half of the programme made the IDists seem like brave pioneers, rather than the charlatans they are. Everything that popped out of their mouths needed challenging, there and then. “Literally outboard motors”, pah! “These are machines,” pah! “[Scientists] won’t debate us on the science,” pah! The programme would have been twice as long, but ten times as worthwhile.

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