Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Creationism vs. Abortion, Left, Right, elites and the masses

As a follow up to the post below on Sarah Palin and Creationism, it strikes me that those on the Right & Republicans seem more divided and emotive on this issue than abortion. More specifically, libertarian and secular Rightists seem more likely to express their displeasure about Creationism than abortion. Why? A lot of it probably has to do with identity markers. Even if you are a pro-choice Republican, you know that the party’s position is pro-life, just as if you are a pro-life Democrat you know that the party’s position is pro-choice. Some of this was evident with the Stupak Amendment, where liberals blew a gasket. I personally support abortion rights and do not believe that a first trimester abortion should be made illegal. But I can understand why those who are pro-life would fight to prevent public funds, or the appearance of public funds, from going toward the provision of abortion. In contrast, many Left-liberals seem to be complaining about the amendment as if is a horrible deprivation of basic female health services, like a pap test. This is an instance of Left-liberals living in their own ideological bubbles, even if most Americans do not think abortion is murder, they do not conceive of it is as just another health service. (well, that’s obvious, as there are whole lobbies who are focused on abortion, pro and anti)

Moving to Creationism, there never seems to be a debate about this issue among Democrats. And yet black Americans are by and large Creationist. The difference between the political parties and ideologies isn’t that great. My own hunch is that the difference here between the two parties has to do with the degree of unanimity among the elites.

To explore these issue I looked to the GSS. In particular, the variables:


For PARTYID I looked only at Democrats and Republicans. For POLVIEWS I only looked at liberals and conservatives. For DEGREE, I created two categories, those with 4 year college degrees or higher, and those without. ABANY & EVOLVED are both dichotomous yes/true vs. no/false. I also limited to the sample to 1998 and later. Here are the exact questions for ABANY & EVOLVED:

Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if: The woman wants it for any reason?

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (Is that true or false?)

The table below shows the difference between college and non-college educated among the two political parties and ideologies when it comes to evolution & abortion:

College vs. No College Degree

Evolution True
Percent Difference Ratio
Democrat 30.2 1.62
Republican 16.1 1.44
Liberal 31.3 1.58
Conservative 13.9 1.4
Abortion – Yes
Percent Difference Ratio
Democrat 27.1 1.67
Republican 6.2 1.21
Liberal 26.7 1.54
Conservative 3.3 1.13

The data above show that there is a difference between college educated and non-college educated in both variables, both as a raw percentage difference and as ratio. In both cases those with college degrees support abortion on demand and accept that human evolution is true more than those without college degrees. But, the difference between the elites and the masses among the Democrats/liberals is greater than among Republicans/conservatives, in particular on abortion, where among Republicans/conservatives there is convergence. Though the Republican/conservative education gap isn’t as large as for Democrats/liberals on evolution, it is far greater than for abortion.

The following table now compares the ratios of opinions within a particular category (e.g., college educated Republicans). The closer the ratio is to 1, the more balanced the opinion (i.e., 50% support abortion on demand and 50% oppose abortion on demand in a particular class means a ratio of 1).

Evolution Abortion
No College Degree
Democrat 0.95 0.69
Republican 0.57 0.41
Liberal 1.19 0.97
Conservative 0.54 0.35
College Degree+ Democrat 3.72 2.11
Republican 1.11 0.54
Liberal 5.99 3.15
Conservative 0.96 0.41

I put in bold ratios between 0.8 and 1.2, which indicates a balance of opinions within a demographic segment. When it comes to evolution, liberals and Democrats who are not college educated are divided, as are liberals without college degrees on  abortion on demand. When it comes to evolution, college educated Republicans and conservatives are divided! This to me explains why there is no controversy about evolution in the Democratic party, the Democratic elite is totally unified, and can ignore the masses. By contrast, the Republican masses are unified against evolution, while the elites are split. When it comes to abortion Democrat and liberal elites are exceptional in their support for abortion-on-demand. This goes back to my suspicion that the peculiar manner in which pro-choice Democrats talk about abortion emerges out of an ideological bubble where they simply never encounter anyone who might think that an abortion is a more morally charged health service than say a biopsy.

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  • Susan · November 14, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I wonder if the division among elite conservatives/Republicans over evolution isn’t an artificial one, in the sense that many Reps/cons who publically state a belief in creationism are saying so just as a sop to the evangelicals. Just as there’s ceremonial deism, there could be ceremonial creationism, in which the speaker doesn’t believe what he or she is saying, but says it in order to cater to the sensibilities of those whose votes he or she wants. Ever since I was a young teenager, I’ve assumed that most politicians, when they spoke of their very deep and very sincere faith in God, were merely parroting a belief because they felt they had to in order to get elected. It could be the same with creationism: “Well, I’m going to spout this nonsensical crap because that’s what these idiots think is important, not my ideas on fiscal or foreign policy.”

  • Author comment by David Hume · November 14, 2009 at 4:49 pm


    1) the “elite” here is actually a low threshold, those with college degrees or more.

    2) i’m actually surprised at the # of republican politicians who support evolution without too much equivocation.

  • Susan · November 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    @David Hume

    I know. I think it’s a kind of trickle-down affected stupidity. But I’m not surprised by the politicians. I think they’re terrified of alienating the fundies, who have gotten very vocal in recent years. And the politicians seem to be convinced they can’t win an election without the fundies. Hence all the creationism idiocy.

  • John · November 15, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Interesting post, David Hume. Here are some other issues I think that the two groups disagree:

    1. The elites tend to favor free trade. The masses are more protectionist.
    2. The elites favor lots of immigration. The masses want less of it.
    3. The masses want more regulation of sex/violence/swearing in TV. The elites don’t.
    4. The elites want gay marriage. The masses don’t.
    5. The masses are more likely to support wage and price ceilings and floors than the elites.
    6. The elites care more about environmentalism than the masses do.

    I’m sure there are more I didn’t think of. For the record, I’m with the masses on 2 and 6 and with the elites on the rest.

  • Chris · November 16, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Evolution and creationism have nothing to do with public policy. To have any debate whatsoever about creationism/evolution within the GOP is playing into the Dems’ hands, since they benefit greatly from the public perception that the GOP is only for Christians. As it’s not essential to any GOP policy position to believe one way or the other on it, it would be best to just keep quiet about it.

  • Susan · November 16, 2009 at 7:34 am


    Yes, but when a Republican/conservative candidate is asked about his or her views on creationism during an interview or a debate, then silence becomes impossible. That’s the problem. Or one of the problems. Proponents of evolution risk alienating the fundies, whom they are convinced they need to win an election. And believers in creationism end up looking like credulous fools. So it’s a win/win for the Dems.

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  • Russell · November 17, 2009 at 7:02 am


    We live in a secular democracy whose public schools teach science. That makes creationism very much a political issue, and a particularly hot topic for those who either pretend that it is some kind of science, or object to public schooling. Both views are frequently expressed as parts of right-wing political activism.

  • Tod · November 17, 2009 at 7:04 am

    An interesting post, and I am sure that there is some truth to your argument. However, the point of view here seems to be a bit too focused, and thus is missing the obvious forest for the statistical trees. It seems to me that there is a far greater reason for secular conservatives (such as myself) voicing more displeasure with Creationist views than Anti-Abortion views:

    Abortion is fully and wholly a moral (and even religious) decision. Evolution is a scientific principle.

    I am also for abortion rights, and agree with those that say that first-trimester abortions should never be illegal. But I completely understand and sympathize with anti-abortionists. If I believed that there was a human soul that was put into a group of cells at conception, before even the tiniest spark of brain development, I would probably be anti-abortion as well. The position does not seem to be illogical in the least; indeed, our inability to come up with a sufficient compromise or solution seems wholly based upon the fact that the very question grapples around issues both unknowable and ineffable.

    Creationism, however, is different. It flies in the face of so much of science’s established (and provable) body of knowledge as to be laughable. (Forget biology, geology alone proves the earth is far older than 600 years in a variety of ways; and we’re not even getting into carbon dating, plate teutonics, astrophysics, etc.) Unlike abortion, believing in Creationism is making a choice to either be ignorant about even the most basic tenants of science, or to purposely ignore them because there is a disprovable idea that you find more appealing to believe in.

    This seems a better explanation that the attempt to build a political argument into a set of arbitrary statistical data.

  • John · November 17, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Evolution and creationism have much to do with public policy! As Russel points out it affects education policy. In addition it affects policy generally and profoundly, in that a denial of evolution is a denial of science and rationality. If an elected official denies evolution, then that says a lot about how that person thinks and functions and makes decisions. Personally, I want my public policy based on science and rationality, hence I want elected officials who think and operate based on science and rationality.

  • Matthew · November 17, 2009 at 8:39 am


    It absolutely has a lot to do with public policy. This statement is perilously naive. Young Earth creationists who disdain fact, empiricism and reason in favor of superstition overwhelmingly support public policy choices that are completely out of step with those who believe in rationality and science. Forcing schools to teach ID in science classes is a public policy decision. Ignoring the facts about climate change and global warming is a public policy decision. Favoring the “soul” of a three day old cell mass over the life of a mother is a public policy decision.

    Pretending that it is ok for politicians to practice irrational, magical thinking and further, pretending that leaving important public policy decisions to those with a demonstrated antagonism towards reason and rationality is dangerous and very misguided.

  • Yaniv · November 17, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Evolution/Creationism are extremely important to public policy, insomuch as we want policy to be reality-based. Questions of science are increasingly involved in almost every aspect of government. A rejection of evolution, which is at the very basis of our understanding of biology, is, like it or not, a rejection of science, and has clear implications on ability/desire to incorporate accumulated human knowledge into policy.

  • Chris · November 17, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Even here in the South, 90% of the people I asked on the street would have no idea what “intelligent design” meant or express any preference as to whether it be taught in schools. It’s just not an important issue even for working class conservatives. Richard Dawkins and Michael Behe can yell at each other all they want (or not want, if Dawkins is in his “why legitimize this by arguing against it” mood), and Skeptical Inquirer magazine can pretend ID proponents are on the verge of plunging us into a new Dark Ages, but in reality it just isn’t affecting anything substantive whatsoever about anybody’s life right now. Once every few years some local school board pushes for ID in the classrooms, gets beat up by the media across the county, and eventually loses and the new board repeals it. That has nothing to do with party politics or public policy at the national level.

    Creationism remains a quasi-political issue solely because the libs want it to be. Frankly I think we should hit back and start asking black Dems about their goofball cultural beliefs. “Representative so-and-so, do you believe an FBI conspiracy is responsible for the assassination of Dr. King?” Get THEM on the record saying patently implausible nonsense.

  • Tom · November 17, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Evolution and creationism have nothing to do with public policy.

    Pandering to creationism is an affront to our claim to be the party/philosophy of clear-eyed empiricism, where reality plays a bigger role than fantasy. It’s indicative of the kind of pie-in-the-sky-oh-what-a-wonderful-world-it-would-be fallacies that ran us into the ground and out of office.

    I fact, I recently read a great little book on that subject.

  • kme · November 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm


    It’s been a long time since any party could claim to represent clear-eyed empiricism. Time to give the National Academy of Sciences legislative power?

  • CasdraBlog » Blog Archive » links for 2009-11-18 · November 18, 2009 at 3:00 am

    […] Secular Right » Creationism vs. Abortion, Left, Right, elites and the masses (tags: politics) […]

  • Michael in PA · November 18, 2009 at 3:58 am

    What a depressing way to start my morning.

  • Quote of The Day · November 18, 2009 at 11:01 am

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  • Clark · November 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    It absolutely has a lot to do with public policy. This statement is perilously naive. Young Earth creationists who disdain fact, empiricism and reason in favor of superstition overwhelmingly support public policy choices that are completely out of step with those who believe in rationality and science.


    If we want to have real policy debate about facts we need people to have a bit more faith in established science. Admittedly the tide is against us since the press does such a horrible job conflating breaking and more tentative science from established science. Then when the cutting edge but not really fully verified stuff falls apart people distrust science.

    The other problem is that people rather than attacking the political implications some draw from the science attack the science. For instance I think 100% there is global warming but I’m dubious of the implications some draw from that since I think it impossible to get the world to really cut emissions so I think we need a different approach. But that debate never happens in conservative debates because the tendency is to just discount the science.

  • Susan · November 18, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    I sometimes wonder how much Rush Limbaugh has had to do with the rise in belief in creationism. In 1988, he wrote an article that listed the 35 things you absolutely must believe, and one of those 35 things was the point that “evolution cannot explain creation.” I ask because I really don’t recall from my very young days any conservative, even a religious one, even mentioning creationism. It wasn’t on the radar. But now it seems to be an article of conservative belief–at least for a large number of people, e.g., unless you believe in creationism, you’re not a conservative. I don’t listen to Limbaugh, so I have no idea how vigorously he pushes creationism…but if he does, could this at least partially explain the current situation?

  • Clark · November 18, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I think we discussed it before, but I can’t figure Limbaugh out on those things. He doesn’t, by any stretch, seem like a religious fellow. I know some other figures, such as Reagan or Hannity are religious and tend to be in the Creationist camp. But I can at least understand that.

    Of course Limbaugh is sadly anti-science in many, many, many things. I can understand given he’s a populist radio commentator focusing in on straw men. It’s sort of par for the course. But his deep skepticism and tendency to discount science never made any sense to me. He was doing it well before Bush II and the politicization of science. (By the left, which also never made a whole lot of sense to me – yeah Bush did some really stupid things but surely they could see politicizing science was just bad science policy)

  • Susan · November 18, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Limbaugh says that God is another one of the 35 things in which you have to believe. He could be saying that because, like a politician, he knows what his audience wants to hear. Or he could be sincere. But he wields a huge amount of influence, and it’s depressing and scary to hear–as I have–people who were once rational beings parrot him on subjects like evolution.



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