Why do so many people have trouble believing in evolution?

January 19, 2012 | Filed Under Science 

So I read this article by Marcelo Gleiser (a professor at Dartmouth no less) entitled Why do so many people have trouble believing in evolution? and was disappointed that the guy was lazy and didn’t really try to answer the question. Because it is a fascinating question. Truly fascinating. And truly worth some good, non-polemical scholarship.

I would suggest that the reason most people have trouble believing in evolution comes down to a cluster set of reasons such as these:

1. People value their sense of self-worth, and perceive evolution as an attack on their self-worth (I’m not saying it should, just that they perceive it this way)

2. Science popularizers can come off as real arrogant elitist assholes sometimes

3. The authority of science has been overused in marketing and corporate america to swindle people, so it carries less street cred

4. Most people hear about evolution through the testimony of textbooks, professors, experts (i.e. most people never directly perceive it or evidence for it)

5. A lot of people believe that their life can have no purpose unless there is a God (I do not agree with this, but I observe it)

6. Many people believe that evolution sets the stage for complete moral decadence

The list can go on. But the fact is: since we can’t perceive evolution in real time, it is not an experiential belief that lodges into our hearts. It is the sort of belief that people don’t really “feel” directly. It doesn’t impact our daily lives in market-force type ways. And in this culture it has really become a very tribalistic sort of belief as evidence by the article mentioned above (either you are with us or you against us) so people are more prone to apply Pascal’s Wager type logic and throw their lots in with the view of reality that they find the most attractive (the one with a God and a sense of purpose).


On a personal note, I tend to believe in most aspects of evolution (especially the kind we can observe in laboratories as bacteria mutate and adapt), but I do not believe that we really understand the mechanisms all that well. I am more of an evolution agnostic – recognizing that the emergence of life and it’s subsequent development remain more mysterious than known. And I’d like scientists to explore these questions free of tribalistic dogma (and I’m sure many do, we just hear about them a lot less frequently).

And the question I’d like answered: Why do so many science popularizers equivocate between evolution and the origin of life (abiogenesis)? Is it intentional? Or just one of those slips?


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