Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/09

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Conservative elites are conflicted on evolution, liberals are not

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On one of my other weblogs I point out how anti-evolutionary sentiment seems particularly contingent on two variables:

1) Literalism about the Bible (a rough measure of “fundamentalism”).

2) Lack of educational socialization (i.e., not going to college and learning Truth).

One of points that cropped up though was that political ideology is highly predictive of anti-evolutionary opinions because of the strong correlation between Biblical literalism & conservatism. This is no great surprise, the modern conservative movement with the emergence of the New Right in the 1970s and the influx of southern evangelical Protestants is strongly inflected with fundamentalist Christianity. In contrast, the modern Left has become progressively more secular during the same period. But when it comes to opinions around Creationism there is an asymmetry: conservative elites are split down the middle, while liberal elites have come to a consensus that the theory of evolution is accepted science. Below I’ve broken it down by party and ideology, and italicized cases where the columns don’t exhibit any overlap on the 95% confidence intervals. I limited the sample in two ways:

1) Those who claimed advanced degrees (something beyond a bachelor’s degree).

2) Those who scored 9 or 10 on the WORDSUM vocab test, which was only 13.2% of the GSS sample.


Advanced Degrees




Human Beings Developed From Animals


Democrats Republicans
TRUE 82.1 50
FALSE 17.9 50




Liberals Conservatives
TRUE 90.9 49.8
FALSE 9.1 50.2




Democrats Republicans
God Created Man 10.8 32
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided 46.8 56.4
Man Has Evolved 37.5 7



WORDSUM 9, 10




Human Beings Developed From Animals


Democrats Republicans
TRUE 89 56.3
FALSE 11 43.7




Liberals Conservatives
TRUE 92.3 48.8
FALSE 7.7 51.2




Democrats Republicans
God Created Man 12.6 35.4
Man Has Evolved, But God Guided 31.8 11.7
Man Has Evolved 49.7 47.6

· · ·

25 comments

  • Michael in PA · September 29, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Any chance of further dividing these samples by region?

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 29, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Any chance of further dividing these samples by region?

    N’s are small. the difference tends to hold, though the gap is biggest in the “pacific” zone, and smallest in new england.

  • Michael in PA · September 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    That’s what I figured. Thanks.

    You wrote in your earlier post, “…it looks like Creationists have attained such critical mass among movement conservatives that the political and the theological are hard to disentangle. There are many smart and well educated conservatives who are Creationist, because literalism has become common enough that the peer-group norms have shifted.”

    This is something that is intuitive but it is still very distressing when confirmed with hard data.

  • Kevembuangga · September 29, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    strong correlation between Biblical literalism & conservatism

    Yeah, isn’t it a bit worrying for the sane rightwingers to have such incredibly nutty bedfellows?

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Yeah, isn’t it a bit worrying for the sane rightwingers to have such incredibly nutty bedfellows?

    well, does anyone care as long as these folks remain precinct workers, door to door activists, etc.? the main issue is that people like huckabee are an order of magnitude more serious contenders in republican primary politics than someone like pat robertson was 20 years ago. they’re climbing up the food chain.

    a substantial number of right-wing bloggers are creationists. because of my interest in biological science i’m obviously sensitive to that. but i do have a generalized concern that if you knock out that brick in the edifice that is modern science that pretty soon you ain’t gonna get no respect for the whole house.

  • Michael in PA · September 29, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    If you deny evolutionary biology then you deny modern medicine.

    It is really that simple. I find it interesting that so very few of those self-proclaimed biblical literalists opt out of using medical science when they suddenly have chest pains.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 29, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    michael, to be fair, a substantial minority of doctors are creationists. although only 3% of jewish doctors are, so perhaps another reason to look for a jewish doctor? :-) though my impression from friends who work in medical research (as opposed to primarily being private practice physicians) is that those are contributing to the body of scientific knowledge rarely have those viewpoints (e.g., MD/PhD holders are generally not creationists, though your internist may very well be. my dentist was, as he would talk about his views while working on my teeth).

  • Gotchaye · September 30, 2009 at 9:41 am

    The last entries in each chart are really striking. When we look at smart as opposed to educated Democrats, there’s a small shift from theistic evolution to unguided evolution. But for Republicans this difference is enormous. In both cases, full-blown creationism isn’t really budging – there’s just massive flight to unguided evolution from theistic evolution as Republicans get smarter.

    Incidentally, does this mean that there’s not nearly as much overlap between smart Republicans and educated Republicans as there is between smart Democrats and educated Democrats? I could buy that, if educated Democrats are more concentrated in academic fields while educated Republicans are more concentrated in professional fields.

    Michael – I know that it’s good polemic, but it’s not like creationists understand themselves as being anti-evidence. If a treatment obviously works, they’ll use it, even if they believe that the theoretical structure that led to the discovery of the treatment was incorrect (and most would probably go further to deny that evolutionary theory plays that big of a role in discovering treatments).

  • TangoMan · September 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    But when it comes to opinions around Creationism there is an asymmetry: conservative elites are split down the middle, while liberal elites have come to a consensus that the theory of evolution is accepted science.

    I’m wondering if there is a way to analyze the GSS data to ascertain just how much of the left’s embrace of evolution is a sign of culture and how much of it is because they accept the process, that it applied to humans and still applies to humans?

    My impression is that the religious creationists reject the process and the consequences of evolution but they focus primarily on the consequences and don’t really care much about the process. The liberal creationists, on the other hand, primarily embrace the process and when they look at the consequences that result they mentally wall off those consequences to the distant past and reject the principles of evolution as they apply to man in the present. Both viewpoints embody a rejection of some sort, so to my mind it’s a like claiming that being a little bit pregnant is better than being fully pregnant, in other words, a distinction without a difference. If one group rejects the world around them but sees the past with a clear eye, are they much different than those who reject the world around them and see the past through a mystical lens? How much import does seeing the past clearly have in life when one’s vision of the present is distorted?

    The cultural appeal of evolution is that a.) it’s not a religious precept, b.) it’s a rational methodology, c.) it’s rejected by religious folks, therefore it’s double-plus good if you see yourself as being anti-superstition, and d.) smart people accept evolution as being the best explanation for how humans got to be what we are. In terms of cultural identifiers, those are some pretty appealing labels or positions to adopt. Claiming to believe in evolution is a quick way to signal something about yourself, especially when it’s done in contrast to religious creationists. By claiming the label you say something about yourself and you also make a statement about religious creationists.

    None of this is news to Mr. Hume, and I’m sure that he can expand on these points, but I’m skeptical about the schism between a political left which embraces cold rationalism and a political right which clings to superstition.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I’m wondering if there is a way to analyze the GSS data to ascertain just how much of the left’s embrace of evolution is a sign of culture and how much of it is because they accept the process, that it applied to humans and still applies to humans?

    well, as you know, most people don’t know jack about evolution. they accept it because scientists say so, unless they have strong cultural reasons to reject it. i’ve actually taken a course in quantum mechanics, but i honestly i accept its utility more because physicists say so (and they say that a lot of modern tech depends on it).

    but your questions have prompted some interesting thoughts re: gss.

  • TangoMan · September 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    i’ve actually taken a course in quantum mechanics, but i honestly i accept its utility more because physicists say so

    I’m not disputing the intellectual shorthand of appealing to expertise. Frankly, I don’t see the cultural message that is signaled if one proclaims to believe in quantum mechanics. With evolution I’m sure that many people accept it because scientists accept it, but I hold that many also accept it because it signals that they reject religious creationism. It’s this latter set which, if you could examine them, would likely reveal all sorts of inconsistencies, where appeal to scientific expertise doesn’t hold true.

  • Derek Scruggs · September 30, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    but I hold that many also accept it because it signals that they reject religious creationism

    Eh, maybe. The logical conclusion of this is atheism, but the percentage of people willing to vote for atheists is vanishingly small. It may signal rejection of fundamentalism rather than creationism, but it also signals that you paid attention in biology and/or asked a few uncomfortable questions about theology.

  • Clark · September 30, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I tend to agree that those who accept evolution are typically as ignorant of it as those who reject it. It’s an interesting question as to what the implications of this are. I mean as I physicist I cringe every time a guy in the humanities raises the 2cd law of thermodynamics as a beliver in it and then presents something so mangled and wrong in implication that it’s scary. (A pet peeve I think every physicist falls prey to)

    The more interesting question is why we worry so much since, as far as I can tell, Creationists aren’t for cutting off research in biology or medicine. I’m much more worried about global warming doubters with whom there are some scary policy implications. Or, to pick a policy more typical on the left, those who are skeptics of vaccines or who want alternative medicine funded by the government.

    While I get frustrated with anti-evolutionists I have to confess it’s more just a frustration with pure ignorance. Quantum Mechanics is so difficult conceptually that one isn’t even surprised when a physicist gets it wrong at times. But I think most scientists have the hubris of believing everyone should be much, much better informed on the science they find interesting regardless of utility.

    The one thing I can say about anti-evolutionists is that the often correlate strongly with doubting of more relevant things within science. i.e. that there’s a basic skepticism about the idea we can inquire empirically and reach reasonably confident conclusions as opposed to appealing to a “common sense” that “everyone knows.” (What I like to call the Sarah Palin effect – heaven help the Republican party)

  • Joseph Marshall · October 2, 2009 at 6:20 am

    @David Hume
    well, does anyone care as long as these folks remain precinct workers, door to door activists, etc.?

    If you don’t care, you should. Mass movements start from the bottom, not the top and shoeleather activism is training in real politics. Better training than secular conservatives ever get. Over on the liberal side of the house we’ve known this for a long time. The dangerous things about what is eating into the Republican party are two.

    First, that the minds of it’s followers are impervious to any kind of intractable fact or objective evidence, and not just about religion and evolution. Consider the issue of health care for illegal immigrants. According to recent estimates, there are about 13 million of them. They all can get sick and they all can infect everyone else.

    Keeping them from, say, spreading swine flu or the new West African mosquito borne diseases, is a matter of public health, not liberal weepiness. And you really can’t do it by rounding up and arresting 13 million people–not without turning the country into a police state and not without spending incredible amounts of money even then.

    Second, in order to work our country depends on a consensus of a core of common political values which are described quite elegantly in the Preamble of our Constitution. They are not Christian values and are to some degree incompatible with Christian values.

    The Catholics are the Christians who rely the most on close and careful reasoning, and if you actually read some of Pope Benedict’s writings as Cardinal Ratzinger, you will find him tiptoeing very gingerly around the notion of “democracy” because, dogmatically, all authority descends from God and not from the “people”. And the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia on “Catholic Democracy” is downright incoherent on the issue because the cognitive dissonance of it is so great.

    In addition to the objective conflict, conservative fundamentalist Protestants, are largely in denial that any such conflict exists. So they can abandon the values of that consensus at the drop of a hat while still waving the flag and calling themselves the “real Americans”.

    So a good historical career to study to examine the possible results of a Huckabee Presidency is the biography of Huey Long.

  • Polichinello · October 2, 2009 at 6:47 am

    Joseph,

    “Liberal weepiness” isn’t the view. It’s more like liberal mendacity. Illegal aliens are a means of increasing liberal power by importing a potential voter pool amenable to welfare state policy. IOW, we don’t see you as kindly fools so much as scheming weasels.

    As far as swine flu and other bugaboos, none of the health care proposals will do anything to give us protection that we don’t already have. Illegals can be treated for serious diseases and are monitored for outbreaks like anyone else. The problem with extending them government subsidized health insurance is that it’s yet another reward they and their employers get for breaking the law, and that rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

    Moreover, they’re part of the problem, as they’ve been bringing in a fair amount of disease themselves.

    And you really can’t do it by rounding up and arresting 13 million people–not without turning the country into a police state and not without spending incredible amounts of money even then.

    Well, handing out government bennies sure as hell isn’t going to lower that number.

    Anyhow, you’re way behind on the issue since you’re still throwing up this strawman. No one is advocating a round-up. The favored method is implementing E-verify and penalizing the hell out of employers, along with strengthening existing border controls. Without a job, there’s no reason for most illegals to stay and they’ll self-deport, as we’ve seen during this recession. Once serious controls are in place, we can then look at Amnesty for those remaining.

  • Joseph Marshall · October 2, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Illegals can be treated for serious diseases and are monitored for outbreaks like anyone else.

    Who pays for it? That’s the problem. It is already, de facto, government subsidized health care with no possible controls on cost. Flu shots in my town cost $25.00 a pop and I can tell you from personal experience that this is a significant and intimidating cost when you are below the poverty line–particularly if you have a spouse and children to get innoculated. [No, I don’t.]

    So the uninsured and underinsured significantly delay seeking both preventative care and pallative care until showing a greater strength of symptoms that those with adequate coverage. In this gap they are a far greater risk for infecting others than those who get innoculated and seek care sooner.

    You are living in a dream world if you think that employers can be leaned on to such a degree no matter which party controls the government. Have you never heard of business lobbys? Moreover, the solution proposed is as corrosive to our personal independence as any of the other massive government interventions which you decry. This never seems to occur to conservatives when bringing forth their pet solutions to intracible social problems.

  • Polichinello · October 2, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Who pays for it? That’s the problem. It is already, de facto, government subsidized health care with no possible controls on cost.

    Yes, Joseph, but it’s not giving yet another imprimatur to illegal immigration. Whatever risk you’ll be palliating, at any rate, will be more than overcome by encourage yet more illegals to enter–some of whom are infected. The corresponding increases in crime and unsafe behavior, like drunk driving alone make it unworthy to give these people yet more reasons to come here.

    You are living in a dream world if you think that employers can be leaned on to such a degree no matter which party controls the government. Have you never heard of business lobbys?

    Well, if the business lobby is agin’ it, I guess we should just roll over and give up. I always love how liberals flop over for businessmen trying to undercut wages when it means importing more of their sort of voter.

    E-verify is being put into place gradually as it is, and the process can be accelerated.

    Moreover, the solution proposed is as corrosive to our personal independence as any of the other massive government interventions which you decry.

    Yes, the horror, an employer would have to make a phone call and insure that his potential employee is using a valid SSN. Truly, our freedoms will be at an end.

  • Joseph Marshall · October 2, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Well, there’s not much I can say to that except, have you got your flu shot yet? And are you getting into the good habits: thorough handwashing before ever touching your face, using hand sanitizer, coughing into your elbow, and so on?

    @Polichinello

  • Polichinello · October 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Sorry, I’m too busy preparing for the sky to fall.

  • Joseph Marshall · October 3, 2009 at 6:33 am

    I gather that you are still immortal. I suspect that you may be afraid of a little stick of a needle. And I’m pretty sure you’ve never been close to genuine danger from a communicable disease. If you had, you wouldn’t treat it so cavalierly. I already have my shot, and I’m lucky enough as a caregiver to be high on the list for the Swine Flu vaccine once it gets approved.

    In the early 1990’s I had the pleasure of doing graduate study in Albuquerque. Since I was operating on borrowed money and was exploited teaching labor, I had a very tiny and run down studio apartment. Now in Albuquerque one of the serious dangers is dying from bubonic plague, or as it used to be known, the Black Death. It’s in the fleas of the wild animals out there. The back country is beautiful and people like to build dream homes of “peace and quiet” in it. But you have to be careful walking your dog, because it just might bring back some of those fleas from sniffing up a dead animal.

    You have to get diagnosed early or you’re in serious trouble. And doctors do make mistakes and misread symptoms, particularly as our body has rather narrow range of symptoms that it can manifest for a whole lot of different diseases. It’s an ugly death. And, routinely, people died of it out there. Not a lot of them. But enough of them that anyone poking around a dead animal out in the boonies was at real risk.

    Also, back then out on the Big Res, young and healthy Navajo suddenly started developing flu symptoms and then just dying no matter what the doctors did. And nobody knew why. Of course, that grand, socialist, waste of the taxpayers money called the Federal Center For Disease Control sent a team to look into it. But it was taking them a very long time to track down the source. In the meantime a lot more young and healthy people died on the Big Res and some of them started dying in Albuquerque. After all, in our contemporary world young Navajo come to study at the University of New Mexico, where I was studying too. And they go back to the res to visit family. It’s not that far away.

    But, suddenly, and thankfully, the source was located by the CDC. It was a hanta virus of the sort that a few soldiers had died of it back in Korea so there already was a treatment protocal. And the carriers were mice–quite common in the rustic house trailers and simple houses out there.

    My shabby apartment was full of mice.

  • Kevembuangga · October 3, 2009 at 7:27 am


    Joseph Marshall
    :

    I’m lucky enough as a caregiver to be high on the list for the Swine Flu vaccine once it gets approved.

    Very kind to you to support the pharmaceutical industry they are in dire need of even larger profits, good for the economy, may be not for you

  • Joseph Marshall · October 3, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Give me a break. Do you think I’m going to put my own health at risk simply because I don’t happen to like the company that holds the patent?

    I’m a caregiver. My companion is on a drug called Methotrexate to treat a 30 year standing illness of rheumatoid arthritis. She’s on it because it works. There are far fewer days where she’s too sore and stiff to make a decent fist than when she wasn’t on Methotrexate. She is also, by the way, deathly allergic to traditional anti-inflamatories like asprin, acetominaphren, ibuprophin, and naproxen sodium.

    Methotrexate works by suppressing your immune system. So she is at constant risk of infection. She also has COPD from a lifetime of chronic triad asthma and routinely uses a full four liter infusion of oxygen, so any upper respiratory infection is seriously life threatening to her.

    I’m not about to put my companion’s life at risk by not taking every precaution against influenza that I can.

    I suspect you are as healthy as a horse. And if you are, I congratulate you. But if you are, you and I live in different worlds. I’m familiar with the healthy world; I was once healthy, too. But those who are healthy are largely clueless about the world of the chronically ill. It doesn’t mean a hill of beans to me who makes what money from what drug when the time comes for me to take them. I only need them to work.

  • Kevembuangga · October 3, 2009 at 8:16 pm


    @Joseph Marshall

    Joseph Marshall :
    Give me a break. Do you think I’m going to put my own health at risk simply because I don’t happen to like the company that holds the patent?

    Nice confirmation that you are either a moron or a PR troll, or both…
    It is not because you “don’t happen to like the company” that you should preferably not get a h1n1 shot it is because, IT’S A SCAM pure and simple!

    From the British Medical Journal:

    By any measure A/H1N1 is a benign flu virus. According to official statements, New Zealand, for example, usually has 400 deaths from flu each year. This year there were 17, so it could be argued that the pandemic has resulted in 383 lives being saved, which makes it more effective than any flu vaccine.

    Picking up a common benign virus, patenting the vaccine ONE YEAR BEFORE the reported cases and whipping up a media frenzy about it.
    I guess this is called “proactive marketing”?

    Also:

    I only need them to work.

    Some do but many don’t and are even harmful.
    You didn’t want to really read my second link, did you?

  • Joseph Marshall · October 4, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Yes, indeed, I did read your second link, and if you or Seth happen to know “simple cheap safe solutions” for Rheumatoid Arthritis or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, I and my companion would like to know them, too.

    But I really don’t think either of you do. I am also virtually certain that you have never in your life had serious contact with anyone who is chronically and incurably ill. RA doesn’t magically go away with any treatment. If you have it, you have it for good and it hurts, lots, for the rest of your life. Treatment means enough relief of symptoms to allow you a more functional life. Period.

    COPD doesn’t go away either. If you have it, sooner or later it will kill you. Your constantly oxygen starved body will slowly put more and more strain on your heart until it finally gives out. Period. Treatment means keeping the oxygen levels in your blood as close to normal as possible, it requires progressively more and more oxygen infusion and, eventually, increased air pressure, to maintain those levels as the disease worsens.

    My companion started out on two liters infusion. She currently is on four liters. The maximum possible infusion is five liters. She already sleeps with pressurized oxygen because when you are upright gravity actually helps your lungs to breathe, and when she sleeps horizontally, her lungs simply cannot deliver enough oxygen to her bloodstream with normal air pressure.

    If you have COPD it doesn’t really matter whether 17 people die of a flu strain or 400. If I get the flu, any flu, and my companion catches it from me, her lungs will fill with liquid either during the flu itself or during the bacterial pneumonia which almost inevitably follows if your lungs are disfunctional, and there is a very good chance that she will simply smother to death from it.

    Now this is the Internet and you can call anybody any nasty name you like and never have to answer for it. But you are an ignorant, callow fool. You clearly have never been in a position where anybody’s life depended what you do or fail to do.

    God help them if you ever are.

    I wake up with the certain knowledge that one day I will be sharing an apartment with a fresh corpse and over a decade of love and companionship will be over irredeemably and forever. I also live every moment with the possibility that something I do, or fail to do, might make that happen a lot sooner.

    Because I live with this every waking moment, in some greater or lesser degree of emotional torment from it, I will say something to you straight from the shoulder.

    If I had you in front of me I would punch your lights out.

  • Polichinello · October 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I gather that you are still immortal.

    No, I’m well into middle age. We’re all going to die soon enough. I’m not going spend any undue amount of time fretting about my end, because, really, that’s just time lost.

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