How many Americans know how an internal combustion engine works? There’s no numbers, but saying “Maybe half, perhaps more” doesn’t feel wrong, does it? Test it yourself by asking your friends and neighbors next time they start the car, “What makes this thing go?”
Aspirin: how many know how it works? Surely not more than ten-percent. Maybe slightly more can tell you what a CPU does. Maybe fewer know their cell phones were actually radios; even fewer would understand how radio waves propagated.
That’s just the practical side of things. Ask anybody to explain the special theory of relativity, or gravity, or to define a quark, or what valency is, or what the indefinite integral of exp(x) dx is, or what happens at a synapse, or even what a synapse is, or how thunder is produced, or the difference between fission and fusion, or…
Skip it. You get the idea. No more than a fraction know these things, and probably no more than a fraction ever will. This is a matter of only small lamentation to anybody who understands that human beings are vastly more interested in their own daily lives than in the dry abstractions that are anyway “handled” for them by a small all-volunteer army of geeks and scientists.
Now, how many people understand evolution? Got to be somewhere near the levels for these other things. But who cares whether people understand evolution—its mechanisms, theoretical constructs, limitations—when what is really interesting is how many people believe in evolution.
Everybody believes in the powers of aspirin and gravity, even if they don’t understand them. But how many people believe in string theory or believe in the energy landscape theory of protein folding? Not only do many not believe in these things, they don’t give a damn one way or the other. To which most of would say, bowing to the inevitable limitations of human intelligence, so what.
But evolution is different. Here belief is mandatory, the very mark of civilization. Understanding is beside the point. Ye must have faith, and public faith at that.
Thus there was much routine hand-wringing over the new survey by Pew research (never minding their ambiguous questions) where it was revealed only about three out five adults “believe” in evolution.
This isn’t much of a change from the last such survey, but there was an increasing divide between those who self-identify as Republicans and Democrats, such that fewer Republicans than before say they do not “believe.”
Proselytizing atheists are keen on evolution not for the sake of scientific knowledge—if they were then they would moan and groan just as loudly that the populace doesn’t understand protein folding or how to define inertia. The demand belief because it is their contention that evolution does away with God and religious explanations of the role of mankind. To a PA, to say you believe in evolution is equivalent to saying you disbelieve in God.
This is absurd. And false. And silly, especially considering PAs think they are more rational-than-thou. It is perfectly possible to be an orthodox, doctrine-loving, politically incorrect Christian and “believe” in, and even understand. evolution, as is the case with, for example, Catholics and some mainline protesting Christians. Evolution in no way dispenses with God. No science (defined as investigation of the contingent) ever can.
But you have to hand it to the proselytizing atheists. They managed to goad a small segment of protesting Christians (mostly evangelicals) into agreeing that if evolution is true then God is defunct. The PAs created so big a stink that many Christians were tricked into putting more emphasis than they otherwise would have on certain peripheral views, like the harmless but false proposition that the earth is only six-thousand-years old.
People have many false but harmless beliefs. Why is it so important to correct beliefs about evolution above all others? Obviously, because of the PA’s false belief that evolution eliminates (or, worse, “explains”) God. Evangelicals are half the problem, though. Even if they don’t believe evolution, politically they ought to say they do. This would demoralize all but the most blowhardy of the PAs. Meanwhile, evangelicals should adopt a for-the-sake-of-debate posture and argue (correctly) that evolution does not preclude God. Heck, they might even win a few converts from the PAs once the PAs realize they’ve been spouting nonsense.
The evolution wars haven’t been all bad. Evangelicals have been a blessing to evolution. If it weren’t for evangelicals’ sharp and in many cases accurate criticisms, PA scientists would have become fat and happy with some egregious errors. Much as the evolutionary psychologists have become. Belief in flying spaghetti monsters is more rational than embracing some of the preposterous propositions they cherish.