[extropy-chat] survey on fringe ideas: evolution

spike spike66 at comcast.net
Tue Oct 25 04:07:44 UTC 2005

> bounces at lists.extropy.org] On Behalf Of Samantha Atkins
> Subject: Re: [extropy-chat] survey on fringe ideas
> Most people are not like you...

You are too kind.  {8-]

>   ...They answer what they really
> believe.  It is a large problem not to be swept away with a few witty
> remarks.
> - samantha

But Samantha, *every* large problem can be swept
away with witty remarks or by replacing the first
consonant with schm.  {8^D

Be that as it may, I do not get too worked up about
surveys showing what percentage of the population
believes this or that, for those figures can be
greatly affected by how the question is asked.

Ron Numbers, in his excellent book The Creationists,
deals with this by citing a number of studies based
on surveys, some of which he designed himself, that
demonstrates that a significant portion of the
population believes in two or more mutually
exclusive concepts simultaneously.  Michael Shermer (Why
People Believe Weird Things) and Steven Jay Gould (Rocks
of Ages, et.al.) have also noted this, specifically
with regard to evolution and creationism.  

In some (or perhaps most) cases this really is as 
absurd as it sounds, but consider the case of 
sophisticated creationists (yes such a thing
does exist).  People can be taught from earliest 
childhood that creationism is the truth, and to
think otherwise is to deny the word of god.  The
notion is difficult for many to give up even if
later they receive top-notch scientific training.
So often some hybrid notion is derived.

Consider the survey question:

Do you believe in

a) creationism
b) evolution
c) neither
d) both

A sophisticated creationist may answer choice d,
reasoning that Noah only took aboard the ark the 
land-based families of beasts, or possible only orders,
then genera and speciation occurred later, by the
mechanisms of traditional evolution.  If the survey 
is taken in rural Alabama, I have no doubt that 
the pollsters are appalled at how few choose b.  One 
of our now-absent former ExI posters insisted that 
we avoid the use of the term "believe."  He might 
choose c.  So how do we score it?  Do we say all
the non-b choosers are the percentage that does
not believe in evolution?

Note that I am not claiming that the American 
public school system is doing an adequate job
of teaching evolution; I know that it is not.  This
discipline has become politicized to such an extent 
that science teachers must despair.  I think Max More
mentioned having to teach his philosophy classes
the very basics of evolutionary theory.  College
students, knowing not the very basics of evolution!  Oy.  

Perhaps teachers simply avoid the topic if possible.  I 
went to public schools in the 60s and 70s; the
only time I heard of evolution there was when
it was being seriously disparaged.  When I did
finally study it (in college!) the whole notion
made so much sense I was stunned.

Somewhere in this discussion, we need to note that
one cannot make money off of a group of evolution
believers.  But money can be made from a group
of creationists, I can assure you, big money.  There
are people who make a decent living by going around
lecturing on creationism and the evils of that
reprehensible heretic Darwin.  

Ron Numbers makes the case that those polls which
show a person believing mutually exclusive notions
should be eliminated from the final score.  He suggests
that this could result in most of the survey-returns being
eliminated, but then the conclusions are much more evolution-
friendly.  Perhaps we can figure out a way to weight
the results based on the number of contradictions
in the survey, in the spirit of the three-coins test 

I suppose that if people take a serious interest 
in origins of life and approach the problem with
a disciplined and open mind, they will find the answers
they seek.  If they take no interest in these matters, 
it is irrelevant what they believe.



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