Don’t Know Much Biology

Actually, I’m fond of the song, but the headline isn’t really accurate as a description of the public’s views of evolution.

The (relatively) good news, according to Gallup, is that “only” 40% of the public think that humans were created in their present form in the last ten thousand years.  Obviously, they “don’t know much about biology,” so the song is right as far as it goes, but they also don’t know a thing about atomic physics, which is the way we know just how old fossils really are.  It’s surprising that people who have so little faith in science are willing to entrust their lives to airplanes and modern medicine.  Anyway, 40% is down seven points from the 2000 level, so that’s good.

Both of the other two categories have seen growth.  The number of people who think that people evolved with no help from God has nearly doubled to 16% since 2000.

The remaining  38% think that human evolution happened but was guided by God.  The “guided by God” explanation may be more ascientific than anti-scientific.  In the absence of any ability to show that the evolution of modern humans could have been predicted a priori, you’re equally entitled to believe that we are just lucky to exist or that luck had a helping hand (from God or the aliens in 2001) in selecting this line of hominid evolution among the other equally likely possibilities.  In other word, as opposed to creationism, the guided evolution explanation is something that isn’t inconsistent with the evidence. Still, it’s not falsifiable and hence not a scientific theory.

So the bottom line is that 16% are willing to accept a purely scientific explanation, 38% won’t contradict the scientific evidence but want to add a religious overlay, and 40% are either frighteningly ignorant or simply willing to disregard biology and physics.

Even if you’re part of the 40%, if you’ve gotten this far, you should still enjoy the song, so reading this posting shouldn’t be a total loss.   [youtube=]

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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