One of the more curious aspects of the Republican Party these days is the extent to which its adherents are distrustful of science, especially with regard to two issues in particular — Darwinian evolution and global warming.
It’s safe to say, I would think, that there’s an overlap on these issues. Many, if not most, of those folks who don’t believe in evolution also are skeptical of mainstream scientific theories regarding man-made global warming. Whether the reverse is true — that is, whether most global-warming skeptics are also skeptical of evolution — remains an open question. I know of no reliable polls on this matter.
But, of course, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence of an overlap on these two varieties of anti-science bias. For example, in THIS ESSAY of a couple of years ago, Lori Lebo suggested that creationism and global-warming denialism are “anti-science’s kissing cousins”:
South Dakota Rep. Don Kopp doesn’t believe we descended from apes, but he claims that’s not why he wrote a resolution to cast doubt on climate change. His feelings on climate change, he says, have nothing to do with evolution.
Still, the connection is hard to ignore. Last month, Kopp successfully led efforts to adopt a resolution in his state calling for a “balanced approach” to global climatic change in public schools.
As Donald R. Prothero, Occidental College geology professor and lecturer in geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, says, “It’s all out of the creationist playbook.”
The New York Times raised the connection in a March 3 article “Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets.” But just how much do anti-evolutionists and global warming deniers have in common?
There is one clear connection: just as there is virtually no debate in the scientific community regarding the validity of evolution, there is also little disagreement among scientists actively studying climate change.
More recently, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida signaled a reluctance to offend his party’s creationists when he somewhat awkwardly tried to dodge a question about old he thinks planet Earth is. He said it’s a matter of “dispute amongst theologians” — ignoring the fact that there’s not much dispute on the matter among scientists.
Columnist Paul Krugman says THIS of Rubio’s response to the question:
Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.
By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.
What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.
The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.
Still, as I noted above, we don’t yet have any good study that quantifies the overlap of creationism and global-warming denialism among American right-wingers.
Last year, a poll co-sponsored by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service came close, but ultimately fell short.
It did, however, give us this pertinent data:
More than 6-in-10 political independents (61%) and Democrats (64%) affirm a belief in evolution, compared to 45% of Republicans and 43% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party.
Nearly two-thirds (66%) of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, and 77% of the unaffiliated believe humans and other living things evolved over time, compared to only about one-third (32%) of white evangelicals. African American Protestants are evenly divided on the question, with 47% affirming a belief in evolution and 46% affirming a belief in creationism.
Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 7-in-10 independents believe the earth is getting warmer, compared to less than half (49%) of Republicans and only about 4-in-10 (41%) Americans who identify as members of the Tea Party.
Among those who believe the earth is getting warmer, nearly two-thirds (64%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, compared to 32% who say it is caused by natural environmental patterns.
Less than 1-in-5 Republicans (18%) and Tea Party members (18%) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, compared to 60% of Democrats.
White evangelicals are significantly less likely to believe that the earth is getting warmer and that changes are caused by human activity (31%) than white mainline Protestants (43%), Catholics (50%), or the unaffiliated (52%).
FOOTNOTE: Regarding the excerpt above from Lori Lebo’s essay, she may be right that “South Dakota Rep. Don Kopp doesn’t believe we descended from apes,” but neither do evolutionists believe that.
Evolutionists believe that humans and apes have a common ancestor, not that the former descended from the latter. A misunderstanding of that disinction often gives rise to this stupid question: If humans descended from apes, why are there still apes?