Yale Law School Professor Says Evolution Doubts Cannot Be Attributed to Ignorance

by David Klinghoffer

Wesley Smith referred to a NY Times article touting a new study by Dan M. Kahan in the journal Advances in Political Psychology. The article is being spun by Brendan Nyhan in the Times and now Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True as evidence that skepticism on evolution may be attributed to and thus explained away by reference to religious belief.

The article is actually much more interesting than that and puts to rest a talking point by Darwin defenders who previously tried to dismiss skeptics as nothing more than ignoramuses, the victims of substandard science education in the United States. That, as Yale Law School’s Mr. Kahan shows, is not going to fly anymore.

There are many ways to assess the quality of instruction that U.S. students receive in science. But what fraction of them say they “believe” in evolution is not one of them.

Numerous studies have found that profession of “belief” in evolution has no correlation with understanding of basic evolutionary science. Individuals who say they “believe” are no more likely than those who say they “don’t” to give the correct responses to questions pertaining to natural selection, random mutation, and genetic variance — the core elements of the modern synthesis (Shtulman 2006; Demastes, Settlage & Good 1995; Bishop & Anderson 1990).

Nor can any valid inference be drawn about a U.S. survey respondents’ profession of “belief” in human evolution and his or her comprehension of science generally. The former is not a measure of the latter.

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Evaluated for their “Ordinary Science Intelligence” (OSI), evolution doubters — defined as those who resist the insistence on universal common descent — are not unaware of the relevant science. On the contrary, Kahan does find a correlation to religious belief; but among religious believers, doubts about evolution are more pronounced, slightly, with those who measure higher in OSI.

You can download the article here, in a draft form. It is primarily concerned with analyzing climate skepticism, but that is introduced with the material on evolution.

As I said, Kahan’s study is being spun as a fallback for Darwin defenders. Having been deprived of the familiar accusation that skeptics are dummies, they now say all doubts about Darwin may be written off and assigned to religious fanaticism.

Kahan shows that more religiously committed people are aware of what evolutionary theory says. However, they doubt its conclusions…


Yale Law School Professor Says Evolution Doubts Cannot Be Attributed to Ignorance – Evolution News & Views