Friday, April 15, 2011

Scientific literacy by belief

As an excuse to continue milking the GSS science module for posts, Top Arguments suggests breaking down answers by theism (or lack thereof).

The following table shows differences in responses, by theistic confidence (for whites only), to the science module of items deployed by the GSS during 2004 and 2006 (except for the last 3 questions, which were asked in 1993, 1994, and 2000). Theistic confidence is characterized by breaking respondents up into three groupings: 1) Atheists and agnostics (8.2%), 2) those who believe in an undefined higher power or fluctuate between theistic belief and doubt (34.1%), and 3) those who are express certainty in God's existence (57.6%). Some of the questions are inverted from the GSS for viewer ease so that in all cases, the higher the percentage, the more knowledgeable the group is. Green indicates the relatively best performance; black indicates middling performance; and red indicates relatively poor performance:

Item
A&As
Skeptics
Believers
Astrology is not scientific77.2
70.4
69.7
The benefits of science exceed the harms80.3
81.8
75.7
Understands the need for control groups in testing90.6
84.8
80.6
The earth's core is very hot97.8
93.7
91.7
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability97.2
94.3
95.6
Not all radioactivity is man-made92.7
88.3
82.8
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex72.7
71.9
80.3
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves85.2
82.1
67.8
Electrons are smaller than atoms83.8
73.1
73.9
Antibiotics do not kill viruses69.0
67.4
64.9
Continental drift has and continues to occur97.5
95.1
87.6
Humans evolved from other animals91.1
78.0
32.0
The earth revolves around the sun91.5
81.9
79.2
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun93.4
80.0
76.4
Respondent will eat genetically modified foods83.4
80.6
65.3
The north pole is on a sheet of ice76.1
69.5
59.3
Not all man-made chemicals cause cancer when eaten58.6
52.7
50.4
Exposure to radioactivity doesn't necessarily lead to death82.9
79.7
73.2
Exposure to pesticides doesn't necessarily cause cancer75.0
69.8
61.7

It's a blowout. Atheists and agnostics demonstrate higher levels of basic scientific knowledge across the board, the only exceptions being a marginal difference with skeptics over the presumed benefits of scientific progress and the question regarding whether the mother or father determines an offspring's sex, where believers shine. They're the ones having kids, after all, so they should know.

I would've predicted non-believers to be more inclined to grant scientific legitimacy to astrology, but that's not the case.

That fewer than one-third of firm theists believe that macroevolution has occurred is a fraction even smaller than I thought it would be. Evolution really is the contemporary defining issue for the fight between science and religion. Parenthetically, I wonder how the 9% of atheists and agnostics who do not believe in evolution account for humanity in its current state.

GSS variables used: GOD(1-2)(3-5)(6), RACECEN1(1), RACE(1), ASTROSCI, SCIBNFTS, EXPDESGN, ODDS1, HOTCORE, RADIOACT, BOYORGRL, LASERS, ELECTRON, VIRUSES, CONDRIFT, EVOLVED, EARTHSUN, SOLARREV, EATGM, ICESHEET, SCITEST5, GRNTEST1, GRNTEST5

12 comments:

The Reluctant Apostate said...

Not a big surprise, given the results of the Pew Survey of religious knowledge done last year. There were religious knowledge questions as well as general questions and the atheist and agnostic group performed the best on both sections.

Alex said...

Dass Christen nicht an die Paradigmen der Atheisten glauben, ist keine Überraschung. Mich wundert eher das die Unterschiede nicht viel größer sind.

(In Sachen Fortpflanzung haben die Atheisten die Evolution nicht auf ihrer Seite, denn sie haben – zumindest in Deutschland – signifikant geringere Geburtenraten. Das erklärt den Ausreißer .)

sykes.1 said...

It is always necessary to separate Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection from "Evolution." There are in fact several theories of evolution, e.g. Spencerian and Lamarckian. People who claim to believe in "Evolution" often reject the Theory of Natural Selection, especially when it is applied to humans.

I served 37 years on college and university faculties, and I would estimate that nearly 100% of humanists and social scientists and a clear majority of physicists, chemists, engineers and mathematicians either reject outright or have serious doubts about Darwin's theory. Only biologists and geologists embrace it.

There are various reasons for this. Nearly all humanists and social scientists are blank-slate socialists, and the Theory of Natural Selection is incompatible with their ideology. Lamarck's and Spencer's theories can be adapted to blank-slate socialism and so are not threatening.

Physical scientists and engineers tend to have a great deal of difficulty understanding Darwin's theory. They get hung up on the probabilities and don't see how selection can overcome low probabilities.

All surveys of opinion about "Evolution", such as GSS, are deeply flawed and misleading if the underlying ideological issues are not addressed.

Underachiever said...

sykes,

Some people are stupid, or misunderstand theories. What is your point?

Saint Louis said...

I'm surprised how many people (of all 3 groups) think that all man-made chemicals cause cancer.

As a theist (one of 32% who does believe in evolution, I might add), I'm very disappointed.

kurt9 said...

Actually, all three groups are not that dissimilar in their scores with the exception of evolution of humans from other animals.

Audacious Epigone said...

Sykes,

Interesting. Yes, survey questions that capture the entire population have to be straight forward and stripped of any nuance, or the comprehension problem becomes a big issue.

kurt9,

It is the partisan science issue, unfortunately (well, CAGW is another, but it is not asked about directly in the GSS).

Anonymous said...

cool, but it would interesting to have the categories be
A&A, Skeptic, Church attenders.

We know that believers are dumber than attenders.

silly girl said...

In case anyone didn't understand Alex and cares what he said:

Dass Christen nicht an die Paradigmen der Atheisten glauben, ist keine Überraschung.

That Christians don't believe in the paradigms of atheists is no surprise.

Mich wundert eher das die Unterschiede nicht viel größer sind.

It's a wonder to me that the difference isn't even larger.

(In Sachen Fortpflanzung haben die Atheisten die Evolution nicht auf ihrer Seite, denn sie haben – zumindest in Deutschland – signifikant geringere Geburtenraten. Das erklärt den Ausreißer .)


It the case of their propagation, the atheists don't have evolution on their side because they have - at least in Germany - significantly diminishing birthrates. That explains the aberration.



Just translatin'

Kira said...

During late summer the North Pole is occasionally over open water and even more often is over pond water on top of the ice.

http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/detection-images/ice-noaa1-2004-0715-0001.jpg

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Will do.

Silly girl,

Thanks for that.

Kira,

Yes, that is probably the most flawed question in the science module.

Eteocles said...

Is "It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun" typed correctly or does the original say revolve? Because "rotate" in that context is gibberish. I'd be temped to answer that it takes the earth one day to rotate, whether it's around the sun or elsewhere. =)