ASA Origins Survey with Correction

Recently the ASA sent a poll to its members concerning origins. Roughly half responded. The ASA is a fellowship of professional scientists and technologists who are Christians. The American Geophysical Union did a similar poll concerning global warming and found a huge difference of opinion between climatologists and petroleum engineers with 97% of climatologists affirming anthropogenic global warming and only 47% of the petroleum engineers. This got me thinking. Is there a similar kind of effect in our poll?

First here is how the results came in for the membership as a whole:

Survey

With 2/3 of our members accepting evolution of humans it’s probably pretty surprising to your average church goer. Is it the evil secular universities that Expelled railed against? We can look and see how the answers differed for those who attended secular or Christian universities.

My columns correspond to:

  1. The Universe is 14 billion years old
  2. The Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
  3. Natural evolution. That is plants and animals evolved with natural causes.
  4. Generic evolution. That is plants and animals evolved through either natural or non-natural causes. This is calculated by counting up who answered yes to either the natural or non-natural question.
  5. Human evolution.

I’ve included a bar called all in all my charts so that the average response can be compared.

Views vs. College

Nope. No difference. Another thing to explore is whether there is any difference between scientists who are currently employed full time and those who are retired. Presumably the former would be more aware of the current state of the evidence since they are in the thick of it.

Views vs. Employment

So, at least in the minds of those who are currently full-time scientists, the state of the evidence is moving in the direction of natural and human evolution. The difference between the full-time scientists and the retired ones is 13-14%.

Now let’s look at the employers of the scientists. Since origins is basic and not applied research those who are in education, government, and medical should be more aware of the state of the evidence over and against industry and ministry.

Views vs. Employer

Education, government, and medical all cluster together. I haven’t talked about the age of the Earth or Universe since there is mostly agreement regardless of category. Here we have a drop in support for an old Universe by those in the medical field. Hmm. We see more profound drops in support of natural evolution: 17% for industry and 31% for ministry. Human evolution drops 16% and 29% respectively.

Finally, let’s test my hypothesis that differences in opinions stems from differences in familiarity with the evidence by looking at the specific domain experts. I will look at full-time biologists, geologists, and physicists/astronomers. I will include engineers as a group of non-experts with which to compare.

Views vs. Expertise

100% of the physicists/astronomers affirm an ancient Universe and 100% of full-time geologists affirm an ancient Earth. 80% of full-time biologists affirm natural evolution and human evolution and 88% of them affirm generic evolution. The difference from engineers is 30% for natural evolution, 18% for generic evolution, and 24% for human evolution. The degree to which there is a difference of opinions on origins is not related to whether Christian scientists went to a Christian or secular school. Rather, it is related to the degree of familiarity with the scientific evidence. The greater the familiarity, the greater the degree of acceptance of mainstream science on origins.

Other Questions

So far, I’ve limited myself to areas where there is scientific consensus. The questions above are more in the developing stage where there is some evidence but more work needs to be done. See my blog post for one example. We still see a similar pattern where the domain experts see more of the evidence, probably because it’s more obscure. Still, only the OOL evidence was sufficient to warrant a bare majority (51%) of the experts. Multiverses were the exception where the physicists/astronomers scored it lower than the non-experts.

CORRECTION:

In the comments our executive director, Randy Isaac, noted a flaw in how I did the calculation and Doug Hayworth noticed my graph format was not helpful (N.B. for those who are unfamiliar with peer review Terry’s, Randy’s, and Doug’s comments are similar to what happens in the peer review process. The difference between this and real peer review is the intensity of the review and the domain expertise of the reviewers.) Randy noted that roughly 8% did not choose to affirm any of the statements. I interpreted this as no answer and didn’t include them in the calculations. For example, a young earth creationist would presumably also not select any of the options and by treating it the way I did his response would not be counted. So, the better approach is to treat this situation as “none of the above”. Treating none of the above as a proxy for YEC and since a non-domain experts maybe hesitant to give an exact answer to the age questions, 8% is probably the upper limit of YEC in our organization.

So, I redid the calculations and here are the comparisons.
Views vs. College

There is still no real difference based on going to a Christian or secular college. This doesn’t explain any difference of views.

Views vs. Employment

There is a 14% difference on evolution based on natural causes in the original calculation and 13% with the new one. The difference for human evolution 13% and 12% respectively.

Views vs. Employer

The difference between education and ministry is 31% for the old calculation and 28% for the new for evolution with natural causes. The differences are 29% and 26% respectively for human evolution.

Views vs. Expertise

Views vs. Expertise

Expertise is the only area where the new calculation shows any substantive differences. 7% of the full-time biologists affirmed none of the statements. All the full-time geologists picked at least one of the statements and all affirmed an old earth. Engineers, physicists and geologists had a response rate than the biologists and had a higher response to the age of the Universe question.

For the old calculation, there is a 30% difference for the natural evolution statement between biologists and engineers and a 31% difference between geologists and engineers. For the new calculation this changes to 27% and 33%. Human evolution showed similar small changes between the new and old calculations.

So, my original thesis still appears to hold. Employed scientists are more likely to accept the consensus science than retired ones. Scientists employed in areas that are more likely to do basic science, likewise. Finally, the areas of expertise closest to the areas of age of the earth and evolution are also more likely to accept this than areas that are further away. Going to a Christian college versus a secular one has no bearing on whether the mainstream science is accepted.

12 comments to ASA Origins Survey with Correction

  • Terry M. Gray

    Rich, with respect to your very last section, are you saying that “biologists” are experts on origin of life questions (or morality or consciousness)? And that “physicists” are experts on multiverses. I think we need to be careful here (and throughout the interpretation of the survey with respect to expertise). Expertise is extremely narrow and most people have not handled original data or even read original research reports. The average biologist probably should not claim to be an expert in biological evolution, just as the average chemist should not claim to be an expert in electrochemistry. What I think the survey shows more likely to be the case is that experts tend to trust other experts assuming that the state of the art in other fields has the same general dynamic as the state of the art in their own.

  • Terry M. Gray

    Could you remind us what was the definition of “natural” in the survey and what is the distinction between “natural” and “non-natural”? Perhaps Randy could chime in.

  • Randy Isaac

    Rich,
      Thanks for the detailed analysis work. I would suggest a few comments that might make a difference in detail though not the big picture conclusions. First, in my final results I modified the responses to the first question by reinterpreting “skipped question” as “none of the above”. This is because we failed to include “none of the above” as an option and didn’t leave a good alternative for those who did not feel any of the statements were credible. The analysis as you provide interpreted “skipped question” as “did not answer” which changes the percentage somewhat.
    Terry, the meaning of “natural” was left somewhat ambiguous on purpose, expecting people to interpret it in the most immediate sense in which they conceived it. If I had to define the most common meaning for this context, I would say” natural is that which can, in principle at least, be described by laws of nature or which is consistent and reproducible. Non-natural is that which is a singularity or a non-reproducible event that is not describable, even in principle, by a law of nature.”
     Terry, it is true that the more specific you get in the detail of expertise, the more I would expect Rich’s findings to hold. The discipline of “biologist” is so broad that it does indeed cover those who may not be as familiar with, or may not have studied the technical literature, in evolution. Certainly, I suspect many physicists haven’t studied multiverses. I had erroneously considered the multiverse to be primarily a philosophically based perspective until Gerald Cleaver convened that symposium at Baylor last year. It made me read more on the subject and I learned a lot I hadn’t considered before. It’s a very new field in many ways.

    Randy

  • Richard Blinne

    Randy, if you interpret no answer as none of the above you get: 27% difference between biologists and engineers for natural evolution and 21 % for human evolution.  The absolute number for biologists come out as 75% for natural and human evolution and 82% for generic evolution. Your sense appears correct. There are still real differences but they are slightly less by a few percent. My guess is the no response contains both none of the above and do not answer. Next time we need a “none of the above” because neither my nor Randy’s approach is really satisfactory.
    Terry, natural evolution as I use it is evolution with natural causes as Randy explained above. Generic evolution is evolution with either natural or non-natural causes. Whether you consider generic evolution as really evolution depends on whether you consider ID a brand of TE or not. Given the confusion the wording of the survey caused I left both in there so people could decide for themselves which is the best measure of support for evolution.
    Yes, I was loose with the word expert. I was trying to get as narrow as possible given the survey. Given that we see the underscoring effect for consensus evolutionary theory for non-biologists, we probably will see a similar effect for the lesser scoring for leading-edge evolutionary theory. This effect should be a warning that we may be under-appreciating these areas if we had polled sub-specialists instead. As I said in my previous blog post, we mustn’t lean too heavily on these areas because we might be caught unawares when or if the science matures.

  • Richard Blinne

    Terry said, “What I think the survey shows more likely to be the case is that experts tend to trust other experts assuming that the state of the art in other fields has the same general dynamic as the state of the art in their own.”
    If this was true there wouldn’t be such large differences since our starting point is a population with generic scientific expertise. The more narrow I made it the more patent the differences were. You will recall how I was savaged on the e-mail list when I showed deference to the climatologists because I am not an expert. Combining the results here with the AGU global warming poll the lack of cross-domain deference in controversial areas appears to be nil. I clearly am living in the wrong century. I like exploring areas other than my specialization but science is too much a bunch of silos in my opinion.

  • Wayne Dawson

    Randy, might I suggest that rather than “none of the above”, offer a weighted answer, 1 -5 or 1 – 10.  A final category might be “don’t know”. 

    For example, being a physicist and the multiverse issue… It is not my specialty, but both my grandparents were astronomers, so astronomy is certainly a private interest of mine.  Yet given a binary scale, at this point, at least given the evidence I am aware of (which is surely not complete), I do not find it compelling to changing my world view of one universe.  Moreover, which model of a multiverse?  Maybe if you were more specific, it would help.   At any rate, I certainly voted no, but it is not like I would never change my views if I encountered sound reason to do so. 

    On the issue of morality, I am a bit less sure where to draw the line.  I recall in Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene”, he mentions that if you want your children to be altruistic, you need to teach them well.  He recognized that altruism is not a particularly natural result (at least in that book).  Rich’s graph only further affirms that point.   Nevertheless, it remains possible that some of these things we take to be unexplainable have some indisputable natural origin.  A binary answer leaves no room for nuance or flexibility.  Also the question is somewhat mixed.  Care for children, competition and a desire for revenge are things we do observe in animals and may be largely explainable from an evolutionary standpoint. However, does that apply to all kindness? What sort of kindness? Is that the smiley face maneuvers that go on in the world for personal gain and promotion?  (On the face of it, such people can be apparently kind and certainly to the people who can promote them they are.  At least on a local scale, it seems like it qualifies as a “selective advantage” and may very well have an evolutionary origin.)  On the other hand, is kindness to include altruistic sacrifice, ones that cost you?  The question is just too general and the categories too mixed.  If I have to give a binary answer, well then I think I said “no”, because I don’t think everything can be explained by evolution and facile appeals to selective advantage.  If there was a category like “don’t know” or “ambivalent”, or at least a weighted answer, I would have felt more at ease.

    By Grace we proceed,

    Wayne

  • Terry M. Gray

    Randy, I would suggest that you understanding of “natural”, while a plausible one, is not born out by the survey. It seems likely that “natural” means “without any guidance by God” to many people. Hence the difference between Rich’s categories “evolution nat” and “evolution gen”. Of course, some of “evolution gen” includes non-natural processes for some people. I think it is unhelpful to leave the term “natural” ambiguous for this very reason. If “natural” is “natural” the way Richard Dawkins conceives it, then that is very different from the way “natural” is “natural” the way Terry Gray conceives it. My own version of TE and “natural” has God intimately involved in every step. Yes, “nature” is describable by our science, but that in no way means that things happen autonomously, apart from God’s on-going providence, governance, concurrence, perhaps even undetectable intervention. Frankly, I don’t remember how I marked the survey–is there a way of reviewing one’s submission?

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Rich, Nice analysis, but what’s with the 3D perspective on the bars? It’s attractive in the USA Today sense but severely muddles accurate communication of the data. If you hadn’t said in the text that some of those bars were 100%, I would have guessed that they were closer to 95%. Do you need to review your Edward Tufte books? ; )

  • Randy Isaac

    Wayne,
      We did consider a more complex and weighted scale which would have provided a little more insight. In the end, however, we felt that the additional complexity in analysis and the additional length and time for taking the survey wouldn’t be worth it. In a way, it’s valuable just to know what is your kneejerk reaction? Does this statement have scientific credibility or not? If one hems and haws, then the answer is no, you don’t think it has a lot. Or if you aren’t sure because of a nuanced meaning of a term, then one isn’t very convinced. So a bipolar response really gave us 90% of what we were looking for. And we don’t really need a lot more precision. The message came through loud and clear and I doubt that more explanation would have changed the picture.
      I was surprised that there wasn’t a significant fall off from evolution of plants and animals to biological human evolution. I expected some difference there. I was also surprised that abiogenesis was as high as it was. It does seem that the roots of behavior (and of consciousness, etc.) will be the arenas of discussion in the future.
      Above all, what is striking is the contrast between the responses to the science and the responses to biblical interpretation. The former follows clear lines of expertise, as Rich as shown. But theological issues are all over the map. The only consensus is that there isn’t one. It’s just a very different way of settling that question than there is in science.
      Terry, the survey was anonymous so, no, I can’t trace your response. I suspect not many people interpreted “natural” as “naturalistic” or “denying God’s guidance” the way Dawkins might. Otherwise we wouldn’t get responses in the 60’s. My sense is that most scientists have an ordinary interpretation of “natural” and the philosophical implications of the term are imposed by those of us in the middle of the debate. No Christian in science that I know of thinks that the natural processes of gravity exclude God’s guidance. Maybe we’re all too steeped in the conflict model.
      Randy

  • Richard Blinne

    Randy, speaking of abiogenesis did you catch this in today’s PNAS?
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/28/12423
    “Many aspects of the nitrogen fixation process by photochemistry in the Titan atmosphere are not fully understood. The recent Cassini mission revealed organic aerosol formation in the upper atmosphere of Titan. It is not clear, however, how much and by what mechanism nitrogen is incorporated in Titan’s organic aerosols. Using tunable synchrotron radiation at the Advanced Light Source, we demonstrate the first evidence of nitrogenated organic aerosol production by extreme ultraviolet–vacuum ultraviolet irradiation of a N2/CH4 gas mixture. The ultrahigh-mass-resolution study with laser desorption ionization-Fourier transform-ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry of N2/CH4photolytic solid products at 60 and 82.5 nm indicates the predominance of highly nitrogenated compounds. The distinct nitrogen incorporations at the elemental abundances of H2C2N and HCN, respectively, are suggestive of important roles of H2C2N/HCCN and HCN/CN in their formation. The efficient formation of unsaturated hydrocarbons is observed in the gas phase without abundant nitrogenated neutrals at 60 nm, and this is confirmed by separately using 13C and 15N isotopically labeled initial gas mixtures. These observations strongly suggest a heterogeneous incorporation mechanism via short lived nitrogenated reactive species, such as HCCN radical, for nitrogenated organic aerosol formation, and imply that substantial amounts of nitrogen is fixed as organic macromolecular aerosols in Titan’s atmosphere.”
    It’s interesting to see the organic synthesis in Titan’s upper atmosphere as a possible to clue to pre-biotic Earth and allows for an experiment where our current situation with lots of life (and oxygen!) would interfere with it.

 

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