On June 11 Gallup published a poll on Americans’ belief in evolution that was startling on at least two counts: About half of Americans do not believe in evolution. And major media, including the New York Times, did not believe in covering the story. Liberal bloggers focused on the fact that 68 percent of Republicans don’t believe in evolution—an admittedly startling figure. But nothing in the poll’s many questions is reassuring, no matter the stripe.
It’s not to Democrats’ credit, for instance, that 57 percent of them, as opposed to just 30 percent of Republicans, believe in evolution. That still leaves 40 percent of Democrats (and 37 percent of independents) believing in creationism, which has about as much scientific value as flat-Earth theories or the old Nation of Islam belief that Earth was peopled from Mars 70 trillion years ago. What those large proportions of Americans are saying is that science is not only subordinate to faith (an explicable, if not excusable, instinct in some circumstances), but that science is subordinate to evidence. From there to faith-based politics is a vote for Bush. Still, let’s not assume that this is a novel development, either. Americans since 1982, according to Gallup ’s numbers, have held pretty steady in their anti-evolutionary beliefs.
Equally less justifiable is the contradiction inherent in Americans’ beliefs: “A little more than 4 out of 10 Americans—when presented with three alternatives—say they believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. At the same time, two-thirds of Americans in a stand-alone question say they believe in the theory of “creationism”—defined as the idea that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago.” Gallup ’s narrative goes on to note that the two sets of answers “might seem contradictory.” Might seem? Nevertheless, “it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.” So we not only have a belief in science subordinate to evidence. We have an aptitude for logic subordinate to whatever sounds good at the time.
And isn’t that sort of the way we’ve been doing policy for the last few years?