Gallup poll and evolution folly

Scientific truth is not determined by a popular opinion. it wouldn’t matter if 99% of the American public believed that the sun revolved around the earth—instead of the other way around. Such poll results would have absolutely no effect on the behavior of the sun and the earth.

When it comes to the subject of evolution, despite the distortions you may have read elsewhere, evolution is an established scientific fact. It is as much of a fact as gravity, or black holes, or atoms and molecules.

Have you actually seen gravity? How do you know it really exists? Couldn’t the reason we feel the apparent pull of gravity be due instead to some supernatural force that we don’t understand? How do you know that atoms truly exist and, more importantly, that atoms behave the way scientists say they do? On what basis do you accept the idea that black holes, whatever they may be exactly, exist in outer space?

My guess is that the overall answer to such questions is that, when it comes to such matters, you accept the consensus reached by the scientists that work in these fields. You may not understand the physics of gravity or atoms or black holes. But that does not lead you to dispute their existence. In fact, it is largely because of your lack of understanding, because you have not made the effort to study the facts yourself, that you defer to the experts who have done so.

The truth of a scientific theory also doesn’t depend upon whether or not you are pleased with its conclusions. You may not be happy to discover that you can get HIV from having unprotected sex. You may be irritated to learn that you cannot cure severe depression simply by telling a person to “Cheer up;” medication may be required to help the person. But your unhappiness and irritation does not change anything.

All of this applies in the same way to evolution. You may be offended by the idea that humans are descended from apes. You may find it difficult to understand how the process of natural selection could account for the range of species on the planet today. But such offense and incomprehension has no bearing on the overwhelming evidence in support of evolution.

Unfortunately, although the above logic is indisputable, people somehow are willing to make an exception for evolution. The same person that would never think of denying the scientific evidence that links HIV to AIDS or that supports the existence of black holes in outer space—has no problem making such an assertion about evolution.

The data in this regard are staggering. According to recent Gallup polls, close to 50% of all people surveyed say that they “do not believe in evolution.” This is consistent with similar surveys taken over the past several years. I am sure that much of the reason for this, aside from what I have already said, is that people view evolution as in conflict with their religious beliefs. Forced to make a choice, they go with religion.

For the scientific community, such poll results are equivalent to finding out that 50% of the American public does not believe in gravity. On the one hand, the poll results are a depressing statement about the state of scientific education in our country. On the other hand, it has no bearing as to whether or not gravity really exists.

Scientific assertions based on ignorance of the relevant science (how many people that say that they don’t believe in evolution have actually studied the evidence?) or on religious prejudices is not a particularly effective way to get to the truth. It doesn’t work for deciding on the veracity of gravity, black holes, atoms, or AIDS. And it doesn’t work for evolution.

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