Friday, January 03, 2014

Do we care that Republicans stop accepting evolution?

  By ericf on Wed Jan 01, 2014   Daily Kos

How did evolution, in the biological sense, come to be a partisan issue? Let's start with a recent poll by Pew Research showing that such is happening. h/t TPM. 60% of Americans accept it, at least in some form, including the maybe-God-is-directing-it sort of acceptance, 33% deny it, which are about the same proportions as the same poll in 2009. The partisan difference is interesting though. 67% of Democrats accept evolution, but only 43% of Republicans. The Democrats have ticked up from 64% since 2009, while Republicans have dropped from 54% ---  statistical evidence Republicans have made themselves more delusional.

Do we care if they think the world's biologists are making it all up? I used to say no. Do we decide to build highways or railroads based on whether life on Earth has always been exactly like it is now? Do we predicate tax rates on opinions about the age of the universe? Based on the rule "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins", I looked at my unbloodied nose, and formerly didn't care if anyone wouldn't distinguish Darwin and the devil.

The key word is "formerly", as in something dawned on me eventually. It wasn't being wrong on one scientific question that mattered. It was how they got there and where it leads them. The problem is the attitude that science is just another opinion, and I, with an opinion based on my gut or preferred belief or evidence-optional whatever, have least as good an opinion. So if evolution and the big bang, with the mountains of evidence supporting them, can be readily dismissed, what about questions that are less clear but clearly involve public policy? Where getting the answer wrong might proverbially bloody my nose? OK, now I care. If your opinion based on what feels right is equal to someone else's reams of data, this is bad, though it does explain why some issues are so controversial. If you can reject overwhelming evidence as just another opinion just because of anything, how much worse when such evidence runs into not only religious belief, but into someone's investment, someone's fears of job loss, someone's whatever emotional context they bring to it.

So yes, it absolutely is worth getting out of other people's heads that one opinion is as good as another regardless of evidence, and disturbing that Republicans have grown less willing to accept science. It's not surprising, at least to anyone who has followed debates on environmental issues, but still disturbing. Maybe new data came out that put evolution in doubt, and only Republicans were informed. Seems a bit unlikely. Dare we hope the drop in accepting evolution is just a matter of reality-based people being less willing to identify as Republicans?  Even at that, 40% believe evolution is false or don't know. Ouch. Not a new ouch, an old-news sort of ouch, but ouch nonetheless.

So what to do? Worry about how people got there rather than where they ended up. Start with ourselves. "Feels right" isn't an argument. Certainty has no relation to correctness. Hopefully even the most epistemologically closed mind will accept those starting propositions. And Democrats, come on: we're supposed to be the reality-based community, right? Yet one-third of us either don't accept evolution or think it's as likely one way as the other. If Republicans are turning creationist because that's a requirement for membership, here's hoping the slight uptick in Democrats who accept it isn't just a matter of membership, because that's the right conclusion for the wrong reason. Or dare we hope that reality-based people are identifying as Democrats?

That feels right, so I'll believe that one.

Originally posted to ericf on Wed Jan 01, 2014