Scientific Belief vs. Scientific Literacy

Back in November, Nathaniel had a Times & Seasons post based on a survey from Pew Research. The survey looked at beliefs regarding evolution across various religious denominations. Yet, Nathaniel pointed out that the survey isn’t really about evolution. “It’s basically a roll call to see where  people stand on the perceived cultural war between religion and science”:

Folks who embrace strong, anti-scientific rhetoric are flaunting their disregard for the world’s estimation of their IQ and burnishing their loyalty for all to see. They are signalling to their fellows, yes, but it’s more than that. They are enacting a narrative of persecution and using the scorn that comes their way to validate their sense of importance and role in a larger narrative. The folks on the other side of the fence, those who mock the anti-science crowd, are displaying their sophistication and cosmopolitan nature. Once again, they are signalling to their fellows and strengthening social bonds, but they are also paying the cover charge to see themselves as participants in some grand endeavor. Instead of taking the role of a stalwart band of besieged disciples, however, they are playing the part of foot soldier in the ongoing march of progress. Mocking those who seem ignorant is a cheap price to pay for feeling like you’re part of the rising tide of enlightened reason. (Especially if you bear the burden of a near total lack of relevant scientific expertise.)

This astute observation from Nathaniel has some backing from the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School. Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law & Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School, has a couple posts demonstrating that “”believing in evolution” is not the same as “understanding” or even having the most rudimentary knowledge of science knows about the career of life on our planet. Believing and understanding are in fact wholly uncorrelated.”

Turns out the scientific beliefs of the public actually end up being cultural beliefs; markers along political divisions with no basis in scientific literacy. Eye-opening stuff. Give it a read.

2 thoughts on “Scientific Belief vs. Scientific Literacy”

  1. “Believing and understanding are in fact wholly uncorrelated.”

    This is actually precisely what I find so disturbing about evolution denialism. So many of the deniers should know better, but evidence is trumped by ideology. I admit I probably make more of it than is warranted, and I’m sure I’m complicit in some cultural signalling and back-patting. But still, evolution-denial seems like an apt microcosm of so much that’s wrong with our system of governance: the way that ideology and group loyalty trump evidence and reasoned thinking. I long ago decided that I wasn’t going to vote for anyone who believed in creationism or conspiracy theories, and I stand by that even if it makes me a validation-seeking elitist. :)

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