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Lightlyseared's avatar

Does it matter if you don't believe in evolution?

Asked by Lightlyseared (33733points) July 1st, 2008

So your brother or mother is a creationist. Let them believe what they want, you might think. After all, that makes family get-togethers a lot easier and it make no difference to anyone else.

Or does it? Imagine if Mike Huckabee ends up as vice-president of the US – a mere heart attack away from the top job. Would you feel comfortable if the world’s biggest superpower was run by a man who rejects evolution, thanks to the support of the tens of millions of people in the US who also cannot accept reality? It is dangerous when leaders prefer dogma to biological reality: Stalin’s support for the pseudoscience of Trofim Lysenko was a disaster for Soviet agriculture.

The success of western civilisation is based on science and technology, on understanding and manipulating the world. Its continued success depends on it, perhaps now more than ever as sources of cheap, easily available energy start to dry up and climate change kicks in. Any leader who thinks evolution is a matter of belief is arguably unfit for office. How can a leader capable of ignoring the staggering amount of evidence for evolution assembled by researchers in myriad fields possibly judge the more subtle scientific evidence for, say, climate change?

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41 Answers

delirium's avatar

I have not come across anyone who rejected science for anything but religion. We all know how I feel about religion and politics (and the public secular world).

iPhone typing leads to short answers. Sorry.

damien's avatar

I agree. I think it does matter – to an extent. A leader should be able to look at all the given facts and draw an informed, logical answer on any subject. The world’s messed up enough as it is thanks to religion and by putting someone like that in control of a superpower, it’ll only get worse.

That being said, I don’t really know who Mike Huckabee is (I’m a UK flutherian) and what his mentality is like. If he can put his own opinions aside and listen to the views of advisors, etc. and make informed, logical decisions based on evidence in hand rather than his own beliefs, it’s not all bad. It all depends on how well he can disassociate his job with his religious beliefs (which I believe people should be able to).

If that comes across in the wrong way to anyone and I seem anti-religious, please don’t take offense. It isn’t meant in that way.

Magnus's avatar

It does matter, because if you don’t believe in evolution you are denying a proven scientific fact that is common knowledge which only can be “disproved” by religion.

shrubbery's avatar

Evolution is a theory, it cannot be proven. It is a very strong and supported theory, but it is not “a proven scientific fact”.

Magnus's avatar

Well, nothing really is a proven scientific fact if you look at quantum-physics. Evolution is pretty much a scientific fact.

damien's avatar

I thought evolution was a fact until reading this and a wee bit of googling.. I found this which is quite an interesting read..

“The Encyclopedia Britannica confidently assures us that “we are not in the least doubt as to the fact of evolution.” In his textbook Evolution, J. Savage says “we do not need a listing of the evidences to demonstrate the fact of evolution any more than we need to demonstrate the existence of mountain ranges.””

shrubbery's avatar

Thankyou, damien, good article. We are in the middle of these discussions in my Religion and Philosophy class at school at the moment.

Upward's avatar

Politicans are a slippery bunch. They get voted in by people that like their views. A creationist won’t vote for an evolutionist but an evolutionist usually isn’t too bothered by a creationist. As the population switches over to evolution so will the politicians. Voters born post 1969 are less likely to be creationist.

ccatron's avatar

I’m still not sure I see why it matters what the president believes is correct about this issue. @magnus – you said that it matters because he/she would be denying scientific fact. Ok, so why does that matter? what facts of evolution are critical to be understood in order to run the country?

honestly, i think everyone believes that evolution is fact to an extent. wikipedia says, “In biology, evolution is the process of change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms from one generation to the next. The genes that are passed on to an organism’s offspring produce the inherited traits that are the basis of evolution.” we shape the things around us, and to an extent, what is around us shapes us. why can’t a creationist believe in evolution as well? why can’t God create stuff and let it evolve?

now, if we are talking about “the big bang theory” (not the show), then I’m still confused as to why it matters whether or not the president believes in it or not.

nikipedia's avatar

Does it matter for what? Making me a sandwich? No.

There’s a big difference between being my brother and being the leader of my country. If the leader of my country honestly lives in a state of denial about science and evidence and bases his decisions about how to run my country on stupid, unfounded opinions, then yes, I can see how that might matter.

Now, if you all want to have a talk about the philosophy of science and what it means to be “proven” or a “scientific fact”, that is another (and more interesting) discussion altogether. No, evolution is not proven, but neither is gravity. Do you need proof of that one?

phoenyx's avatar

^ curses nikipedia for answering after, finishing before and doing it better than me ^

First of all, I think that the “evolution is just a theory” argument is pretty weak. It’s just playing semantics. Gravity is also a theory. In scientific terms, “theory” means that it has withstood scrutiny from the scientific community and is much stronger statement than “some idea we made up and still are unsure about.”

If someone is a creationist, it means that they are unable to understand science? It means that they lack critical thinking skills? I personally know several professional scientists, who are also creationists, who I think are brilliant.

Western civilization’s success is dependent on science alone? Really? What about economics? Political structures (representative government, etc.)? Social movements? Political Alliances? Luck? The American colonies didn’t win their independence from the British Empire because they had superior technology.

has to leave for work

TrenchMouth's avatar

Does it matter if you don’t believe in evolution? No. It works whether you believe in it or not.

I find Creationism to be largely (not singularly) an American disease. We would do well to find a compromise so that it does not jeopardize the educations of millions of American children that will be at a scientific disadvantage to the rest of the world.

shilolo's avatar

My personal preference is for an insightful, rigorous thinker as president, one who challenges assumptions, and demands that the people working for the president present all available data before making decisions. Someone who “shoots from the hip” like GWB, or someone who is so entrenched in an outmoded belief system known as creationism would never get my vote.

Upward's avatar

Religious groups killed people for believing the Earth was round only a few hundred years ago. Does anyone really believe they were justified then? Not likely.

It’s only a matter of time before the churches will be on board to some form of evolution that will blend with their beliefs. Any that won’t, will fade away as members realize they are false teachings. It’s not that big of a jump…. Wouldn’t an all powerful god make his creations adjust to their ever changing environment?

I would love to see a world leader willing to state they believe evolution is compatible with his /her faith.

syz's avatar

Does it matter? It matters to me.

I cannot fathom any reason for denying evolution that does not include being close minded, rigid, backwards, uneducated, or just plain stupid. I cannot respect such an opinion and so I cannot respect the holder of that opinion. I don’t hang out with anyone like that, and I certainly don’t vote for someone like that.

PupnTaco's avatar

Evolution is a proven process, a fact.

Human evolution and shared simian ancestry is just about as “provable” as anything else. The rigors of the scientific method demand that we identify it as a “theory,” though.

ccatron's avatar

no one has really given a reason as to why this issue matters besides that it makes the person automatically stupid if they deny evolution. I am confused as to why this issue matters so much to people.

shilolo's avatar

Well, ccatron, most reasonable people understand that evolution is a real phenomenon equal to gravity and other physical laws. If the president (or presidential candidate) came out and said that the earth is flat, or that epidemic diseases are caused by evil humors, then he would be a laughing stock (wait, our current president already is, scratch that). More importantly, someone who shows such a poor understanding of scientific principles likely has a poor understanding of other, non-scientific issues. Ascribing human development to an omnipotent being and rejecting evolution are fantastic notions. If someone is so dense as to believe that, then he/she might also believe in other fantasies not rooted in fact (say, perhaps, that 9/11 was attributed to Iraq).

Upward's avatar

Bush believes “the jury is out” on the theory of evolution.
Nice way to “ride the fence”. I was a little surprised to see he had even gone that far to the left.

For the religious right it is a critical issue, luckily for politicians most other groups don’t seem to mind letting the candidates float the issue. Most politicians know the truth, they’re just waiting for the religious leaders to get up to speed.

ccatron's avatar

@shilolo – As you probably have guessed, I am a creationist, but I believe that evolution happens. so I am a creavolutionist or something, i guess. I have a hard time believing that any creationist would not agree that some form evolution happens. that being said, I find it hard to believe that any creationist politician truly thinks that God (or whoever they believe in) created things that are the same now as they were when they were created.

i think a lot of people automatically associate the big bang theory and people coming from apes with evolution, so when someone says they “reject evolution”, they are rejecting that the Universe just appeared from nothing and our ancestors were apes. Granted, it makes more since that everything evolved from a speck of dirt or whatever. but where did that speck come from and why are the planets and stars perfectly placed? that’s why most creationists have faith in a creator. Faith that there’s something bigger than we can imagine or understand. Just because it seems “fantastic” to believe in a creator, doesn’t mean it is not true. so where did God come from? I don’t know, my brain apparently can’t handle that information right now, else God would have revealed that to us.

I guess my point is that i think the political issue of “evolution” probably isn’t clearly defined. I believe it has more to do with schools and teaching about theories. I looked at CNN’s website and searched “huckabee evolution”. The article says,

“Huckabee, in a conference call with reporters the morning after the debate, explained how he would have responded if given a chance to elaborate on the question:

“If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, that’s fine. I’ll accept that,” he said Friday. “I just don’t happen to think that I did.”

As for what should be taught in public schools, Huckabee said he wants “schools to acknowledge that there are views that are different than evolution.”

Huckabee downplayed the role evolution should have in the election. “Is a president going to sit in the Oval Office and really make a decision on what’s being taught in a third-grade class in Dubuque, Iowa, on creation or evolution?” he said. “The answer is no.”

shilolo's avatar

Not to belabor the point, but Huckabee’s answers display the very ignorance that drives scientists, like me, crazy. First, we are in fact, great apes. We share >99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and even though we may not look like or behave like them (phenotype), biologically, we have a lot in common with chimps.

Secondly, when he says “schools to acknowledge that there are views that are different than evolution” that brings religion into the schools and thus violating the separation clause of the constitution. You cannot have creationism without god and religion. I won’t denigrate myself to the so-called “intelligent design” argument. I might add that there are still people who believe the earth is flat. Should that be taught in school too?

Finally, I use understanding evolution as a marker of intelligence and rigorous thought. Therefore, as I said before, I would not vote for someone who openly stated opposition to one of the pillars of modern biology.

Upward's avatar

@ ccaton – You’re just shifting from where did the speck come from to where did the almighty all knowing creator come from…. We’ll never know for sure, but the speck is a much simpler solution.

Religion has been wrong about so many other things, it’s not likely they got this right with so little information to go on. Not that science is correct 100% of the time, but at least it admits mistakes when they do happen.

shilolo's avatar

Good answer Upward, although I would add that “so little information to go on” is being generous.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Research published in the Journal of Religion and Society (Paul S 2005) found that countries where higher numbers of people accept evolution have lower rates of murders, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies and so on.

chill_out's avatar

@lightlyseared: What a great correlation between one’s acceptance of evolution and one’s behavior…. Love it actually.

For those creationists who argue that evolution can not be proven: you are an absolute hypocrite! (don’t mean to be harsh but its just an opinion) I’d like to see you prove creationism!

Furthermore, had the theory of evolution been around prior to any beliefs in religion we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It’s only an issue b/c the newer, more intelligent view of the world and its progress fiercely challenges the traditional views.

delirium's avatar

There’s a difference between the idea that the universe came from nothing and the idea that we are related to apes. I hate when they’re bunched together like that.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Yep. Common misconception “Evolution is a theory about the origin of life”

Evolution does not care how life started just what happened next.

Upward's avatar

@Delirium – I noticed that too. I had know clue the RR think of “evolution” as the whole non-biblical formation of the universe and of life. What would Darwin think?

edit- Better yet, what would Albert Einstein think?

phoenyx's avatar


It seems like any dissenting opinion will get my intelligence questioned at best and shunned at worst.


I guess I’ll give an answer, don a dunce cap, and bid farewell.

There are many issues facing our nation, many skills that a leader needs, etc. and it can somehow all be boiled down to “is this person a creationist”? If the answer is “yes” they are unfit to hold the office, if “no” they are qualified? If given candidate A, where candidate A was superior in every way (economic genius, excellent people skills, diplomatic, empathetic, etc.) to candidate B, but candidate A was a creationist and candidate B was not, candidate B should be chosen every time? No other considerations taken? Sounds a lot like “I’d never vote for a ______” and fill in the blank with “woman”, “black man”, “Muslim”, etc.

Apparently the theory of evolution is a litmus test for competence and intelligence. I don’t even know how to respond to that (further demonstrating my lack of thinking ability, I guess).

delirium's avatar

Phoenyx. It doesn’t all boil down to that. I wouldn’t vote for a creationist, similar to how I wouldn’t vote for someone who didn’t believe in gay marriage.

shilolo's avatar

@Phoenyx. I agree, “the theory of evolution is a litmus test for… intelligence”. My emphasis added.

breedmitch's avatar

Historically, there’s some middle ground here. I might be able to accept a Christian, male, hunter president if he also was interested in the scientific merits of taxidermy, ecological conservation and science. (Teddy Roosevelt) His progressive stance didn’t hurt either.

Critter38's avatar

Just to clarify, there still seems to be some confusion about the word theory. The word does not mean in science what it does in common usage and is not in any way less than a fact. Facts and scientific theories are interrelated but not hierarchical (eg. a scientific theory is not worth less than a scientific fact).

The following is from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences….

“Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by many facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena.”

The difference between the common usage of the word and the scientific meaning has caused untold amounts of confusion and is a real shame. A theory in science is never JUST a theory. This falsely implies that a scientific theory has a lower ranking relative to facts, when in fact, for it to be a scientific heory it has to be supported by many facts. UNfortunately in common usage this is almost the opposite of what people mean when, for instance when they use the word theory to refer to speculation or opinion or hypothesis.

Natural selection, common ancestry amongst living organisms, mutation etc… are all facts, as is the fact that species evolve. Evolutionary theory is the unifying framework within which we understand the inter-relationship of these facts.

I hope that helps.

delirium's avatar

Critter, welcome to the “Goddamnit people, the earth’s rotation is a theory too!” club.

Its always nice to have a new member. ;)

Critter38's avatar

Ta muchly delirium. Nice to be welcomed!

Jack79's avatar

Well, I agree with most of the above answers. But I don’t think it matters all that much, depending on what the alternative is. Does he not believe in evolution because he believes children are brought by storks? And what effect does that have on other aspects of this person’s thinking and personality?

I don’t believe in evolution either, but that’s because I believe it’s a very simplified version of what really happens. I entirely disagree with the notion that generations of species stay the same, then suddenly there is a mutation and then the mutant reproduces and we end up with a new species. I think it’s a much slower and complicated process that takes place gradually in every generation, with every birth. Eg humans are already much taller today than we were even 1000 years ago.

Jack79's avatar

btw the word “theory” comes from the greek “theoro” which means “to look at something”. It is simply another word for world view. It doesn’t necessarily mean the view is right or wrong, even though (as critter38 just explained) in science it implies that this is the held view (eg we currently believe the earth is round and not flat) whereas in everyday speech it means “just another of many ways of seeing things”.

delirium's avatar

Uh, jack… you do believe in evolution, you just define it wrong.

The way you defined it is the really illogical usually derisive religious way of explaining evolution.

Jack79's avatar

I guess I may have confused you because I come from a background where “creationist theory” is just as preposterous as “flat earth theory”. Of course I wouldn’t even consider for a moment to think that the earth is flat, we are made of clay or that the world was created in a week by a guy in a beard some 6000 years ago. However, there are some counter-arguments to consider:
1) even the current held scientific theories are not all that stable, and I am sure they will be superseded by something more sophisticated. Especially the Big Band theory is so iffy that I doubt it will last a decade.
2) there is a valid point (made by someone in this thread) that says “ok, but what came BEFORE? I’d like to call that force “God”.” Which is a pretty acceptable position in my mind, as long as you don’t assume it’s some bearded guy on a cloud.
3)there was an argument I heard by a priest once which said “hey, we’re not the ones changing our minds all the time. It’s the scientists that can’t decide!” which is actually true, since it was accepted scientific fact for centuries that the earth was flat, as it was that we derive from Adam and Eve. So the religions always have to follow the new developments in science, and you can’t blame them for being slow on the take.
Having said all that, I would of course stress that the alternative is certainly not a literal interpretation of the Bible, and that, however you look at it, “creationism” is not a science anymore than I am a self-proclaimed Saint.

shilolo's avatar

@Jack. Interesting points. The problem with religion is precisely what you said. Adapting to modern times is essentially antithetical to religious philosophy. It is a slippery slope for all orthodox religions. Once you allow for one thing, then another, and then another, slowly but surely many (if not all) of the religious doctrines will fall by the wayside, and nothing will be left.

delirium's avatar

And if someone asks me what came before. I ask what came before god.

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