The Science Wars

Almost everything you want to know about dysfunction in US politics can be symbolized by the most recent findings on the public’s views on human evolution published by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project[1].

On the whole, 33% of US adults say that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. An additional 7% say that they “don’t know.” We can confidently state that about 40% of the US adult population is either grossly unfamiliar with the overwhelming body of knowledge that supports the hypothesis that all present living organisms evolved over time, or they simply choose to deny it. This is an embarrassment because while the US claims its primacy in the world, a large percentage of its population is ignorant about a critical body of scientific knowledge.

Beliefs about evolution

More disturbingly, partisan differences in beliefs about evolution are growing. In general, where factual evidence exists and is widely available, consensus around that knowledge grows in a predictable way. Instead among US Republican voters, understanding of evolution appears to be receding rapidly. In 2009, 54% of Republican voters stated that humans and other living things evolved over time. Now, four years later, only 43% agree with the same statement. A nearly 10% decline in knowledge cannot be attributed to a change in the evidence base around evolution, because no negative evidence has surfaced during the period. Instead, it reflects something more pernicious about the bundling of science, policy, and religion. See Figure 1 [2] for the gory details.

US voters have few options. Fiscally-conservative voters have no choice but to support candidates who openly trumpet their disdain for scientific knowledge around evolution because these are the positions that are most likely to attract US evangelical voters who find that the science of evolution does not fit properly into their worldview. On the opposite side, voters who support scientific integrity have little choice other than supporting Democratic candidates.

It is indisputable that all existing living things, including humans, evolved from earlier living things. Citizens put tremendous trust in their leaders to make rational decisions. When leaders fail to apply reason in their understanding of fundamental questions about science, how can they be trusted to make rational decisions about matters of policy? We need political candidates and other leaders who are willing to stand up and unequivocally label nonsense when they see it. In short, we need more leaders and fewer panderers.


  1. http://www.pewforum.org (accessed January 4, 2014)

  2. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/ (accessed January 4, 2014)