Amanda Glaze on Evolution and the Nature of Science

Amanda GlazeResearch shows that people in the South are 84 percent less likely than their counterparts in other parts of the country to learn about evolution, or to learn about it in a way that is accurate. Similarly, studies such as my quant study in preservice teachers and Laura Rissler’s study of undergrads in Alabama show that religiosity is a strong negative factor that impacts acceptance of evolution.

When looking at other studies in the United States, mostly done in places in the Northeast (Indiana, New York), the levels of acceptance are quite low overall. However, the South boasts a population that is more closely aligned with the literal interpretation of Genesis (including creationism and Young Earth Creationism) that many cite as their reason for rejecting evolution. It also tends to show a higher impact of religious beliefs as a predictor of acceptance or rejection of evolution compared to other locations…

What bothers me is the lack of understanding about what science actually does.

Science doesn’t consider God as a possible answer to any question whatsoever because God is a metaphysical construct and thus not part of the physical world. And science by definition cannot consider anything metaphysical or supernatural as an explanation.

Science is not out there trying to disprove the existence of God — we can’t even consider that.

I really don’t care what people believe as long as they understand the science.

—Amanda Glaze
Teaching Evolution in the South: an Educator on the “War for Science Literacy”

13 thoughts on “Amanda Glaze on Evolution and the Nature of Science

  1. I think she has the same problem with this “Answers in Genesis” sort of anti-evolutionary bias a lot of NOMA scientists have. Because to them the religious faith isn an impediment to the scientific method they can’t conceive how it doesn’t work the other way around; that if your religious faith absolutely depends on Adam and Methuselah being actual real people then you can’t buy into a multi-billion year old Earth or trilobites not wiped out in The Flood.

    That’s kind of the problem I have, but mine is political; if you think that way and you vote you tend to vote for people on your school board who will insist that the biology teachers “teach the controversy”. So it only works one way; I’m over here minding my physical science business while they’re over there insisting that their metaphysics gets a place at my table.

    IMO that’s why a fair number of atheists or areligious people tend to be dismissive of religion in the way you criticize them for…because their primary interaction w people of faith is the latter insisting that their creed IS an explanation for physical phenomena and trying to use political means to impose that on civil life…

    • Fundamentalism is toxic. My father was, and is, a schizophrenic fundamentalist. As a child, I’d take trips with him around Oregon — he loved road trips, and I’ve always liked scenery. He bought me, and I still own, a wonderful “Geology of Oregon” book. Dad was a geology nerd. He was fascinated by different layers of igneous and sedimentary rocks. We’d hunt for fossils, and find them, under the bleachers at the high school football field in — where else — Fossil, OR. To him, it was all part of the amazing mystery of God’s creation. That God planned the Earth billions of years ago.

      And now he’s totally on board with this medieval young-Earth nonsense.

      During the Bush II administration (I don’t know if this is still the case) the visitor center at Grand Canyon National Park had to sell a book, along with the science books, that explained how the canyon was really only 8,000 years old. At the Grand Canyon. Really, people.

      At one point the lunacy of the beliefs becomes their selling point. It’s like how most cultures have some totally ridiculous food favorites/prohibitions. There’s nothing remotely yummy about cod soaked in lye and then freeze-dried. It’s called lutefisk, and everyone who’s grown up in Minnesota has eaten it. Alton Brown (a fundamentalist Christian) did a show where he and fellow foodies road-tripped the Mississippi from mouth to source. They ate crawfish heads and deep-fried pig snouts and proclaimed them delicious. They finished at Lake Itasca, the Minnesota source of the river, and tried lutefisk. They all vomited. It’s that nasty. And it’s a cultural norm in these parts.

      For many people, sadly, religion has nothing to do with faith. It’s strictly a cultural norm. And for these people, the battier the belief, the more culturally defining it is. Anybody can wonder where the universe came from. To believe Father Ted never, ever would have done those bad things to children? That places you straight in a specific cultural group in a specific community.

    • Absolutely. And I do understand that. I do the same thing. My complaint is with people who claim to be making serious arguments.

      I’ve also written a lot about how I think such literalists are not engaged in religion. It’s just dogma with with God attached. It could just as easily be dogma with Adam Smith attached.

      • Problem with that being that Adam Smith was a person. Well, a Scotsman, but, still…

        Kidding aside, you can argue with a person. Not that you can “argue” with someone who believes in a dogma; that’s kind of the point of dogma. But you can, at least, point out “Look! Your ideas were just some guy’s! I know you BEEEELIEEEEEEVE them, but…they’re one man’s opinion!”

        You can’t do that with a God. That’s kind of the point of God. (So the Adam Smith dogmatist is really just putting old Adam on God’s throne. But there’s nothing to spark some good old fashioned fanaticism like a religious faith).

        Now I’ll grant you that there are all sorts of thoughtful people who argue and question their faith and its tenets. But those people are unlikely to be the sorts that are going to show up at your visitors center and throw a hissy if you don’t sell a Young Earth Creationist geology book.

        You take atheists to task for not understanding religion, or taking religion seriously, and letting the athe-bros dominate the conversation. I think in this case it works the other way around; the onus is on the thoughtful people of faith to wrest their faiths away from the nutjobs who want to teach Jesus riding a dinosaur and bash radiocarbon dating as Satan’s tool.

        The pleasant side effect would be to disarm a lot of the atheist hate for religion, since I think it’s as much directed at this “Answers in Genesis” sort of thing as actual religious faith…

        • You’re absolutely right that you can put Smith on God’s throne. That’s exactly the point. For people who think of God in that way, there really is no argument. But is that God? Isn’t that just someone’s appeal to authority? I don’t find young earth creationists any more resistant to facts than I do libertarian true believers. None of it has anything to do with ontology.

          I don’t agree that thoughtful religious believers are obliged to wrest their faiths from the nutjobs. I don’t think they are in the same category. Imagine if someone said, “I am a liberal. I believe we should make the strongest man dictator and everyone else should follow him unthinkingly.” Is it my responsibility that this nutjob has grabbed on to the word liberal? Just the same, I would speak out against this person, just as I speak out against what I see as foolishness and dogmatism among atheists. And there are lots of liberal Christians who rant about conservative Christians. Actually, this reminds me of another article I wrote recently where I noted conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity are actually two totally different religions. That’s the one where I was arguing that religion is politics.

          I suppose what it all comes down to is that I think Biblical literalists are just so obviously wrong that I’m not much interested in talking about them. It isn’t at all the case that I value them. Quite the opposite. But we atheists are supposed to be the smart and learned ones. But as a movement, we don’t live up to that. We just keep attacking the same targets. And I’m not saying there isn’t value in that. But I run into atheists all the time who overgeneralize. My question is: what does a smart atheist have to say to a smart theist? And the answer seems to be: damned little. It’s fun to laugh at the rubes. But if we are to make intellectual progress, we need to get serious about the best theist arguments. I wrote about this: why atheists need to understand theology. And the general response to it was, “Why?! Unless you can prove that God exists, why should I learn anything about theology?” That attitude just makes me sad. In short, it is this: why should I listen to smart people who disagree me when I know dumb people who disagree with me are wrong?

          • “…what does a smart atheist say to a smart theist?”

            – You bore me.
            – You disappoint me.
            – Don’t give me that dishonest bullshit – yes, I have read your sources, and I am not impressed.
            – Your readiness to accept bad arguments – bad, however erudite – is intellectually notorious.
            – The ‘scholars’ you name and quote – all of their work put together is worth less than one essay from a third-rate John Rawls interpreter.
            – Even the libertarians have more to say than you.
            – Bye!

  2. “All religion is a foolish answer to a foolish question.” — Tommy Shelby

    A week or so ago, I was watching “Peaky Blinders,” and when he said that, I had to hit the pause button, rewind, listen again, and write it down. I knew it would come in handy. (“Peaky Blinders,” for those unfamiliar, is sort of an “Godfather” saga of family and violence, set in 1919 Birmingham, England. Excellent series, and available for bingeing on N’flix.)

    • That sounds like a cool show. I’m so behind on my Netflix viewing, it’s pathetic.

      The question religion answers is not one I have enormous interest in. But the best aspects of religion are kind of philosophical. I do like questions about the origin of matter and consciousness. And what consciousness even is! Many apes, for example, seem to exhibit grief over the death of a loved one. Whales in captivity appear to become depressed. Are they conscious? Are we? An alien species with millions or billions more years of evolution might well regard us like we regard ants. Those are interesting things to speculate about. And they can be approached from both a scientific angle as well as a moral/philosophical one.

      But the existence of supernatural entities? Not so interesting, to me. Except the quirky ones, like leprechauns or Icelandic gnomes. Those are fun!

    • That’s where I differ with most of my atheist brethren. I don’t believe it is a foolish question at all. I’ve come to see it as the a difference between scientists (who are dependent upon measuring things in the world) and mathematicians. Mathematicians create universes from nothing. I don’t think just because a question is unanswerable it is foolish or invalid. I have learned many things by trying to answer questions I knew were unsolvable.

      Also: not all religions are theistic. One could certainly be an atheist and be some forms of Buddhist. Indeed, I define myself as an atheistic mystic. Admittedly, that seems to annoy most atheists I talk to. But I think that’s because the New Atheism (as opposed to the old atheism) has become largely dogmatic. That’s a problem.

      • What type of “mystic” are you? Also, re: old vs new atheism, there were pretty strong materialists before new atheism (and Soviet style atheist societies like the League of Militant Atheists could be pretty dogmatic old atheists, too – if not for the whole dialectics thing).

        • I’m a mystic in the Pythagorean sense of the word. That’s not to say that I believe much of the nonsense that they believed. I have more modern nonsense. And I don’t believe any of it. I just speculate and wonder and tie my brain in knots. What I love is the paradox of existence — at least from my parochial point of view. I think that the problem is not the universe (and beyond) but my being quite limited. I am quite certain that there is more in heaven and Earth than can be dreamt of in my philosophy.

  3. Science might not be able to disprove God as a metaphysical abstraction, but it certainly gets in the way of the very concrete and historically involved conception of God that fundamentalist Christians have. There’s very few deists in America.

    • Absolutely! It seems I wrote an article a month or two ago about how all the major religions in America were, at base, just political movements. That’s why I prefer to think of them in those terms. The Christian conservatives that I know are not at all interested in the things that I think make up religion. It’s all tribalism. Even the morality is tribalism. You don’t see a lot of Christian conservatives feeding the poor in urban America. So they get the dogma that allows them to belong to the tribe.

      And even among open-minded “spiritual” (eg, New Age) people, I find a lot of shallow thinking. Just the same, idiosyncratic nonsense is always preferable to dogma. And you won’t find them dismissing science because it conflicts with their beliefs. Their beliefs are fluid!

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