People believe in evolution, just not for humans

The term “liberal Creationism” refers to the fact that on the cultural Left there is a strong belief in the concept of evolution on the whole, but in the case of human beings biological evolutionary processes are seen as marginal in comparison to culture. In other words, natural selection and adaptation explain the diversity around us in the animal and plant world, but can tell us little about human beings.

This viewpoint exhibits various degrees of sophistication, but I think it gets at a real deeply held perspective (though not universal one, in Defenders of the Truth it is recounted that Noam Chomsky held his fire during the sociobiology controversy in part because he was quite open to the idea that behavior could have some biological basis).

Looking at the General Social Survey though, I believe now that the liberal Creationist viewpoint is actually just a spin on the normal American position. That is, Americans as a whole are quite open to the idea of descent with modification and common ancestry in the context of animals, but much more squeamish when it comes to humans. Some conservative religious Creationists admit this rather frankly. Their objection to evolution is not about science, but about human dignity. In fact I believe William Jennings Bryan’s Creationism mostly just involved special creationism for human beings. The rest was not important to him.

A new GSS variable, EVOLVED2, which complements an older variable, EVOLVED, allows us to explore this question directly.

Here is what they ask:

EVOLVED: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (Is that true or false?)

EVOLVED2: Elephants evolved from earlier species. (Is that true or false?)

53 precent of respondents answered yes to true in the first case, but 86 percent in the second case. In other words, presenting evolution in a non-human context reduces resistance.

You can check the responses against attitudes toward the literality of the Bible:

I think this suggests to us that on a broader social scale resistance to evolution is culturally conditioned, and derives from deep intuitions about human dignity. The specific details of where that dignity comes from, whether it be Protestant Fundamentalist or Social Justice is incidental.

7 thoughts on “People believe in evolution, just not for humans

  1. Good post. It might be interesting to see how answers to these questions line up against some SJW tell in the GSS. Is there a question asking people how much of the inequality in outcomes between groups they believe is due to discrimination?

    I’m a bit surprised you didn’t include wordsum scores and educational attainment in regards to these questions.

  2. The big difference between answers for humans and animals among the “literal word of God” set may be due to them being more conservative and rural. The heredisphere has discussed the idea that rural people, even if Creationists, can be more receptive to inheritance since they are more likely to know extended family groups and have familiarity with animal behavior (both domestic and wild).

  3. “The term “liberal Creationism” refers to the fact that on the cultural Left there is a strong belief in the concept of evolution on the whole, but in the case of human beings biological evolutionary processes are seen as marginal in comparison to culture.”

    This is not unique to the cultural left. Take out people on the right who believe in creationism for religious reasons, and you would see similar rates of people who believe in decent for elephants and not humans.

    “I believe now that the liberal Creationist viewpoint is actually just a spin on the normal American position.”

    What makes you think this is uniquely American? This is the normal human position. It’s based on innate beliefs of self-importance. In fact, it’s probably not even uniquely human.

    Ask your cats. If they took the GSS for cats, I’m sure more would answer that elephants developed from earlier species than cats. Education in basic evolutionary theory would equalize the proportions. Cats who are more religious would be more likely to believe in the importance of cat-kind.

  4. scott,

    your tone is of an asshole. i’ll ban you the next time you pull that shit.

    This is not unique to the cultural left. Take out people on the right who believe in creationism for religious reasons, and you would see similar rates of people who believe in decent for elephants and not humans.

    hey dumbass, did you see a political filter for the GSS i the post above? no. the results are aggregate for all ideologies asshole.

    What makes you think this is uniquely American? This is the normal human position. It’s based on innate beliefs of self-importance. In fact, it’s probably not even uniquely human.

    hey asshole, i didn’t say uniquely american. the GSS only surveys USA, so i didn’t generalize, though i think it is universal (paul bloom’s “natural creationist” model is true).

    p.s if you are a new reader please note that i do not tolerate assholish behavior in the comments. well, unless you are obviously more intelligent and knowledgeable than me….

  5. Tangentially: I do notice some folk who are vocally enthusiastic about evolution in a particular combatative way seem less interested in the truth, more in chance to do away with the idea of a creator who gave humans a purpose (telos), right and wrong ways to use our bodies, and church authorities that evangelize that purpose. Where they believe in a God, they prefer a hands off one. (Speaking as atheist-agnostic myself.)

    Assume that would overlap with resisting applications of evolutionary theory to human nature and society. People who’ve adopted a belief in evolution for the ends of emancipating individual human choice would be unwilling to then accept restrictions in who we can be from a mere phenomenon of the physical universe. Preference is instead for evolution to take us exactly to the point of being a psychically homogenous, highly plastic Blank Slate (which of course flourishes to the utmost in the absence of authority figures!).

    (These are tendencies not absolutes).

  6. At least for the left, it is not more a kind of “liberal Lamarckism” (for a better word) than “liberal Creationism”? i.e., in many ways they are almost the opposite of Creationists; they don’t believe in an eternal and immutable human nature, much the opposite – they believe in an hyperfluid human nature, where individuals could evolve because of environmental changes, independently of genetic heritage.

Comments are closed.