Daily Dispatches
Robert Lefkowitz
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Robert Lefkowitz

Scientists stunned by the public’s doubt of Darwin

Science

The scientific establishment recoiled in horror when a recent poll revealed a majority of Americans doubt the truth of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. The poll by the Associated Press and GfK showed that Americans have more skepticism than confidence in the Big Bang, global warming, the earth’s age, and evolution. The majority was slim—51 percent, not even within the poll’s margin of error—but scientists were crushed to learn there weren’t more true believers in atheistic theories.

But they shouldn’t be so surprised, said Stephen Meyer, the director of the Center for Science and Culture at The Discovery Institute. 

“They tend to be skeptical about … theories that are about events that are in the remote past, which are essentially historical in character and which cannot be verified in the same way that you would verify things in the laboratory,” said Meyer, who has written two books making the case for intelligent design. “So I don’t find this surprising, and I think it’s overall evidence of the public’s good horse sense in being able to distinguish ideology from scientific facts and evidence.”

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Where Meyer cast the debate over evolution vs. intelligent design as philosophy vs. fact, many scientists the AP interviewed saw it the other way around. They dismissed the public’s skepticism of Darwinian evolution as “scientific ignorance”—facts versus faith. Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University attributed the poll results to “the force of concerted campaigns to discredit scientific fact,” citing significant interest groups—political, business, and religious—campaigning against scientific truths on vaccines, climate change, and evolution.

Meyer said that view under-represents the real facts being discovered in evolutionary biology. 

“Very few leading evolutionary biologists today think that natural selection and random mutation are sufficient to produce the new forms of life we see arising in the history of life,” Meyer said. “And then when the public is catching wind of the scientific doubts of Darwinian evolution and expresses them in a poll like this, these self-appointed spokesmen for science say that the public is ignorant. But actually, the public is more in line with what’s going on in science than these spokesmen for science.”

Listen to Nick Eicher’s full conversation with Stephen Meyer on The World and Everything in It:

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