Friday, August 14, 2009


Of Scientists and Evidence

Jerry Coyne (endorsed by PZ) has repeated his claim that, empirically, accommodationism has failed because "American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged (with 40+% denying it) for twenty-five years." Actually, it is considerably longer than that the numbers on this issue have been stable. What perplexes me is why scientists would make the error of citing evidence that does not bear the weight of the supposed conclusion.

Over this same period of stability in the numbers, there has been a significant shift away from the largely evolution-friendly "mainstream" Protestant denominations primarily to Evangelical, Pentecostal and Fundamentalist churches that make anti-evolutionism a tenet of faith. This would seem to support an interpretation that there is something other than religious doctrine driving anti-evolutionism.

In an area as complex as the effect of social conditions on the beliefs of individuals, the maxim that correlation does not equal causation is particularly apt. Surely scientists are aware that poll results are a particularly tricky type of evidence. Nor does a mere 25 years seem sufficient to count as a fair test of the efficacy of an approach to changing large-scale social phenomena. All of which does not mean that the incompatibilists are wrong about accommodationism ... merely that, as Chris Schoen of u n d e r v e r s e has noted before, there is a strange lack of empiric evidence for many of their positions ... which is highly ironic given their attacks on religion for the same failing.

Now comes Razib at Gene Expression to give a closer look at the polls and he finds that young people, including the religious, are less creationist than older cohorts, particularly among Catholics. Moreover:

[W]hen it comes to politics there hasn't been much change among liberals, who in general are not Creationists, and some change among Conservatives, who are less Creationist among the younger age cohorts, but a large swing among moderates.

I think it is a fair initial guess that moderates are more attracted to the accommodationist message than the incompatiblist simply because ... well ... they're moderates and will tend to favor a position between any extremes.

What I think is definitely true is that the incompatibilists need more empiric evidence before they can credibly claim that accommodationism is a failure.


I think you are right. But I think PZ's utterances on the subject are provoked by the failure of Mooney and Kirshenbaum to present any evidence supporting their position, indeed their refusal to even attempt to provide any evidence what so ever.

Like you said. It is a complex interaction, not worthy of such shabby arguments, as presented by M&K or PZ and Coyne.
Yes. I'm not defending Mooney and Kirshenbaum ... or Ruse for that matter. But bad arguments are bad arguments and no one should get a pass when they present them.

1: The percentage of people who are atheists or non-religious has grown fairly dramatically, which would naturally balance the rise of the religious right.

2: The "anti-accomodationist" movement, which holds that trying to play to the centre doesn't work when the truth is not centrist, only really caught on with Dawkins' "The God Delusion" which came out in 2006.

And 3: After The God Delusion, to quote you "young people, including the religious, are less creationist than older cohorts."

This same group is also where atheism has seen its biggest gains.
It's not all that clear that people who are atheists or non-religious has grown all that much. The number of people who say they are not a member of any particular sect or who do not attend a church regularly has grown. But many of those still believe in a "higher power." Americans have long been rather easygoing in regard to church attendance and mobile in church affiliation, showing little adherence to particular dogma. In that sense the "spiritual but not religious" could just be viewed as another, extremely fluid, sect.

Hard core YEC creationism itself is a relatively new phenomena, dating mostly from the 1960s. Before that, it was only notably a tenet of Seventh-Day Adventism. If our goal is to protect science education (which the "moderate religionists" are more likely to be OK with), then the question is which is better -- accommodationism or incompatibilism -- in shifting the proportion of YECs in the population? As to the number of people who think God is "involved" in whatever process humans came about, I don't think that number has changed very much.
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