Conservatives & Creationism

i-4bdd38256d96e18ce6506ee7ac423e6b-redsateneander.jpgI was browsing RedState today and I noticed an advertisement for the National Geographic special on the Neandertal genome. At first I was surprised at the appearance of this on a right-wing website; after all, there is a bias toward Creationism on the modern American Right. Then I realized that the ad was probably part of a network and RedState was just one of many sites which were automatically included in some package. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about the Right and Creationism. Why is there this association on a deeper level? A survey from several years back showed that in Europe there was little correlation between right-wing politics and Creationism. I'm sure most of you have a good idea about why you see the association here in the United States, but I wanted to check with the GSS.

Catholics, Jews and those with no religion. Politics Left to Right from the left to right on X axis:

Protestants. Politics Left to Right from the left to right on X axis:

Everyone who doesn't know for sure that God exists; i.e., from those who don't believe to those who believe but with some doubts. Politics Left to Right from the left to right on X axis:

Everyone who knows for sure that God exist. Politics Left to Right from the left to right on X axis:

So it seems the issue is more religion than politics; specifically, a form of Protestantism. A quick check with a multiple regression gave a beta for confidence in god belief about twice as big as for politics. So politics may matter, but less than religion.

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As a fellow right wing (ish) atheist I find the right wing blogosphere an interesting mix. Stylistically, I expect more Creationism and over-the-top religiosity from a site like RedState than from, say National Review. But if I think about what I actually read on either site, NRO features more overt religious content than RedState. RedState has a more down-market Walmart feel to it, while NRO has that upscale verbal fluency. I think I just ignore the Catholic doctrine bits on The Corner. (But then I was raised among left wing intellectual Catholics -- so I'm used to people talking impressively, but not really saying anything. I find it mildy comforting even. Long-winded Catholic doctrine discussions are like those white noise sleeping aid machines.)

seems about right. i think with NRO it's biased by the fact that katherine lopez runs the show, and she's a hard-core trad catholic. i don't read redstate too much cuz it doesn't add that much value for me since i'm not very partisan.

Good points. I find Lopez very tiring at NRO, she can't quite keep up with the wit of her fellow writers. Ideally they would just feature Goldberg and Derbyshire bickering. Byron York seems to have consistently interesting things to say. And Ramesh can be interesting, too, if nerdy and pedantic. He's a right wing, Indian version of Peter Beinert.

As to the Catholic content, I think it's mainly the legacy of William F. Buckley. As a larger than life public intellectual he attracted a lot of young conservative intellectual Catholics to his side. I'm sure many of the 40-something NRO writers were enamored with him when they were young and Buckley was in his prime.

And as to RedState. Yeah, the content is fairly weak. But I'll admit I enjoy an occasional anti-Obama harangue. So I'll pop over there to get a little partisan hate fix. We all have our weaknesses.

As to the Catholic content, I think it's mainly the legacy of William F. Buckley. As a larger than life public intellectual he attracted a lot of young conservative intellectual Catholics to his side. I'm sure many of the 40-something NRO writers were enamored with him when they were young and Buckley was in his prime.

right. the original NRO crowd were heavily northeastern. jews an catholics. some of the jews, such as frank meyer, converted to catholicism. russell kirk, who wasn't as closely affiliated also converted to catholicism. the old right was high church. the new right is low church. e.g., the american conservative has a weak evangelical presence; mostly catholics, jews, and oddballs like converts to orthodoxy such as daniel larison.

It's definitely more religion than politics taking into account that both Instapundit and Little Green Footballs are both "right-wing" and fall solidly on the evolution side of the debate. Charles Johnson even has a definite hate-on for Creationists.
Of course, I don't know their religious beliefs. But that is more apathy on the issue on my part.

Clarification: I'm apathetic on religion and religious belief (well, mostly) not on the Evolution/Creationism debate which I strongly favor the former.

In Europe evolution is not a left versus right thing and I think your charts give us an indication of the reason why this is the case - there isn't a significant protestant evangelical presence in Europe - the main source of organised evolution denial worldwide.
I think there is some sort of disconnect between science itself - an inherently conservative (with a small 'c') activity and conservative politics - which is frequently driven by short term requirement of electoral vote-gathering. Pandering to evangelicals would be a disaster in a European setting as they are widely seen as both hypocritical and somewhat insane (and somewhat rare). Its amazing to think that a century and a half ago someone like Robert Ingersoll was a prominent member of the Republican party.
He even had a town named after him! In Texas!

An elderly acquaintance told me the other day of her experience teaching Science in a Roman Catholic school in London in the 50s. They did it without any mention of Darwinian evolution but offered Lamarckian explanations sometimes. She doesn't know whether that was official Vatican doctrine at the time, or just a custom.


I don't think the Church had an official stance in the 50s regarding Darwinian vs. Lamarckian evolution because the Church, quite frankly, didn't want to think too deeply about the issue at the time. Pope Pius XII released an encyclical in 1950 stating that it may be true that one species can evolve into another species, including man, but that if it were true (and the Church hoped it wasn't), it didn't affect Catholic theology because there is a difference between body and soul. In other words, man's body may have evolved from an ape-like creature, but man's immortal soul is created by God, and did not "evolve" out of the soul of that ape-like creature.

Thanks, Marc. That's consistent with her feeling that the issue was simply being dodged. She thought it all very odd, being an Anglican Darwinian herself.

To some extent this reveals the methodological weakness of surveys concerning 'beliefs' - if belief is what you live by, then most of the respondents do believe in evolution - whatever they _say_ about the matter.

I call this an encapsulated disbelief, taking the term from a type of psychiatric delusion which does not affect aspects of behavior beyond itself.

I think that one big factor is sex: some secularists, modernists, liberals, etc. argue that "We're just animals, sex is just a biological need like hunger, we should satisfy our needs the best way we know how". Biblically, man was created in the image of God, and animals weren't (just as woman was created from man, and so should be subservient to him).

I also think that very conventional, rule-following people are reassured by the idea that God created things "according to their kinds" so that everything is what it is. They don't like transformations and flux and borderline cases. And behind this might be the idea that God created distinct human races which shouldn't mix. Very conservative Protestants are dominant in much of the South, and I'd guess that Southerners are dominant among very conservative Protestants. (And that Norhtern converts to SOuthern-based Protestant groups tend to pick up some Southern attitudes.)

By John Emerson (not verified) on 23 Sep 2008 #permalink

Having read Humanae Generis, I'd say that Marc's summary above is a bit on the simplistic side. Yes, it was a bit cautious (argualy over-cautious), but I don't think it would be a fair analysis to say that it said the that Church hoped that evolution wasn't true. (Stephen Jay Gould's writing on the encyclical is pretty fair.)

However, a lot of nuns in teaching orders both in America and the UK seem to have been very hesitant about discussing evolution back in the heyday of Catholic education: 20s through the 60s. A lot of that may have just been the result of poor education on their part.

So far as I know, one of the earliest Catholic comments on evolution was made by Cardinal Newman, who said not many years after Origin of Species came out that essentialy didn't matter one way or the other for Catholics. And as much as there was an "official" stance that's pretty been it ever since.

The constituency of the right may still contain a lot of voters who disbelieve in evolution because they do not have anywhere else to go. Evangelical veiws do not seem to have had any practical impact. Hardly suprising as the current right in government, being a neoconservative machine, has never accepted red state religion as anything but a source of votes.

Buckley, who defended segregation in the 50's, invited militant atheist Revilo Oliver to be part of the original staff of the NR, so his Catholicism was not that big an influence.

Other atheists who were part of the founding group at NR were Frank Chodorov and Max Eastman.