Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

10 01 2007

I spend quite a lot of time on this blog blasting creationists and ID advocates, but this isn’t to suggest that everything evolutionists do is all fine-and-well by me. In fact, as far as most evolutionary scientists go just about the only thing we all agree on is that evolution occurred, the rest is open to discussion (oftentimes heated debate), and I don’t have to agree with everything Dawkins, Gould, Darwin, or Wilson has said merely because we’re “on the same team.” Such is the case with a recent post over at the Panda’s Thumb dealing with the assertions of Dave Scot and Gil Dogen that there is a preponderance of pro-intelligent design doctors and engineers, thus proving that professionals who deal with design and problems with those designs are better equipped to see the work of an “intelligent agent” than those stuffy evolutionists.

I already authored my own response a few days ago, but Steve Reuland throws in his two cents in on the issue, citing recent Louis Finkelstein Institute and CBS News polls. I usually take issue with statistics and surveys, the results often touted as true for all people in the targeted group. In either case, it seems that most people take the “theistic evolution” approach, accepting evolution but not seeing it as a conflict with their faith. Although I have done no surveys on the subject myself, this seems to be the reaction I get from most people on the subject, even if they have never really thought about the intersection of science and religion specifically. The idea that some people are just so confused or fed up with the arguments from fundamentalists both secular and religious seems to be one that is often overlooked, even one professor I know of commenting that he doesn’t think about the issues too much. Evolution is a very powerful idea, almost inescapably so, but people are loathe to abandon faith as well and most seem unwilling to bend to the arguments of the likes of Ken Ham on one side and Richard Dawkins on the other. In any event, the surveys don’t seem to say very much overall, giving relatively no insight into how the individual respondents reconcile evolution and religion (or not).

So what’s my problem with the PT post? Well, after analyzing the two polls and their results Steve says this:

“It is true of course that doctors are more prone to being creationists than scientists in general and biologists in particular. This is to be fully expected, as it’s unlikely that you’re going to find any one group of people who are more convinced about evolution than biologists and other scientists. But the fact is, we see a steady increase in the acceptance of evolution when we move from the uneducated to the educated, and from those whose educations are irrelevant to evolution towards those who are more relevant. Thus, the prevalence (or rather paucity) of creationist doctors has a simple explanation.”

Perhaps the terms “educated and uneducated” to delineate those who accept evolution and those who don’t was unintentional poor word choice, but I think it speaks to the spirit of the debate in general. At times evolutionists look down their noses at creationists, scoffing at the degrees the creationists have received, associating creationism with Red-State conservativeness, or otherwise suggesting that only a dummy would believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. The reason why this debate is often so infuriating to me is because I know creationists are smart people and yet their moral objections to evolution seem to override scientific observation and data. Perhaps Steve meant that those who get a college education are more likely to agree with evolution than those who do not, but this may not entirely hold true either, especially with the numerous Christian colleges throughout the nation (or all the people who don’t take biology in college). I am not a medical student, but I wouldn’t even expect evolution to play a huge role in classes preparing a student to be a doctor beyond basic biology courses or electives, the care of patients and skill coming first. Thus, as Steve pointed out, biological scientists more readily accept evolution because it underlies everything that is studied and can only be ignored at one’s own peril; not out of potential ridicule but rather not contributing much to interconnectedness that is science.

Teaching ID or creationism in elementary school, going to a Christian college rather than a secular one, strong family church tradition, or personal revelation & conversion all factor in to the makings of a creationist. It’s true that if you take someone from the Bible-Belt with a tradition of Christianity in the family and they never come into contact with the evidence for evolution (or if they do only in terms of natural selection + mutation = evolution and nothing more) that person will likely reject evolution. There are many people, however, who have achieved advanced degrees and reject evolution, although many of these people do not have a strong background in biological sciences (there are notable exceptions like Behe, Wells, and Sanford, of course) and though I would not expect them to be an authority on the subject, their moral life and religious choice having more of an impact on their accepting or rejecting evolution. For the majority of people, however, it seems that either through active reconciliation or employing a Non-Overlapping Magisteria approach evolution is accepted and faith remains intact and such people could arguably be grouped in with intelligent design or a philosophical level, be called “theistic evolutionists”, be “old earth creationists” or any number of things. Many people don’t seem to care one way or another, the people who get the most pissed off in this debate being creationists and evolutionists while the average American cannot ignore evolution any more than they can ignore the presence of God in their lives. Regardless of belief, however, it is important not to automatically assume that creationists are all uber-conservative fundamentalists whose degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, nor is it correct to assume all evolutionists have abandoned God or that atheism is a prerequisite for joining the evolutionary clubhouse. Stereotyping either side will do no good in the end, only dividing the camps further and further until the argument becomes nothing more than a mud-slinging contest.




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