Saturday, July 18, 2009

A New Poll from Zogby on Intelligent Design and Darwin

A new poll from the Zogby Institute has surfaced dealing with Intelligent Design and evolution. The poll was commissioned by the Discovery Institute and their report is provided here. The poll originally consisted of 44 questions, but only four were chosen from the report. Those that were chosen are very slanted, consisting of either false dichotomies or questions phrased in such a way that those who teach evolution are seen as being against "academic freedom." The first question that the DI focuses on states:
7. Now, I am going to read you two statements about the development of life. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view—Statement A or Statement B?

Statement A: The development of life came about through an unguided process of
random mutations and natural selection.
Statement B: The development of life was guided by intelligent design.
Statement A 33%
Statement B 52
Neither 7
Other/Not sure 8
It is disturbing that only seven percent saw through that one. This is a false dichotomy. The DI refuses to admit that there might be people out there (despite having some of them in their own midst) that are Christians who accept evolution (although it is questionable these days just how much Michael Behe accepts. His two anti-evolutionary books, Darwin's Black Box and The Endge of Evolution have been so horribly received in the scientific community. See here for a a review of the latter) and who reject both options. There is no evidence for either of the first two options. The second question that they focused on goes like this:
4. Would you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory?

Strongly agree 54%
Agree 80%

Somewhat agree 26
Somewhat disagree 6 Disagree 17
Strongly disagree 11
Not sure 4
Although it is a badly worded question, the problem lies in the interpretation of the question, as opposed to the actual results. As numerous scientists have stated, you always want to address the weaknesses of any scientific theory, no matter how sound it may be. But the Discovery Institute is using the answer here to insinuate that there are problems with the theory and that scientists are trying to quash that.

The third question that they picked is this:

5. Charles Darwin wrote that when considering the evidence for his theory of evolution,
“…a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with Darwin’s statement?

Strongly agree 45% Agree 76%

Somewhat agree 31
Somewhat disagree 6 Disagree 18
Strongly disagree 12
Not sure 5
As Ed Babinski notes, in this instance, Darwin is talking about his theory of natural selection and the fact that many more years of work would be needed to verify his observations and theoretical construct. Here is the complete quote:
This abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements...I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this is here impossible."

What one discovers, when reading more is that Darwin had no trepidation about his theory:
I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists until recently entertained, and which I formerly entertained -- namely, that each species has been independently created -- is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable [changeless]; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendant of some other and generaly extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged variations of any one species are the descendants of that species.
He knew that much evidence was lacking but was convinced that one day it would be found. He was right. As Prothero, Shubin, Strahler and thousands of others have shown, there is plenty of evidence for it.

The last question picked goes like this:
6. I am going to read you two statements about Biology teachers teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view—Statement A or Statement B?
Statement A: Biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it.
Statement B: Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.
Statement A 14%
Statement B 78
Neither 5
Other/Not sure 2
Once again, if you ask John or Jane Q. Public which one should be taught, you will get results like the ones above. On the other hand, if you aim that question towards biologists, palaeontologists, and geologists which viewpoint they have, the overwhelming answer would be "A" because they know that there is no evidence against evolution that survives even the most cursory critical scrutiny. This is like asking your average person whether or not string theory is adequately supported by the available evidence. Most people don't know anything about string theory so they can't make an informed choice.

The simple fact is that, over the course of the last twenty years, the Discovery Institute has failed to produce ANY papers that provide evidence against evolution. In fact, the DI has pretty much abandoned the idea of writing papers that counter evolution and focused its attention on getting the courts and school boards to either gag teachers who teach evolution or get the schools to teach Intelligent Design or Creationism alongside it. This isn't science, it is politics, just like this poll.

This is a massive smokescreen to try to make it seem to the average person as if there is a conspiracy against people who don't accept evolution. There isn't. This is no different from their Dissent from Darwin list, which contains ONE palaeontologist. The DI doesn't dare ask the questions in this poll to practicing geologists, palaeontologists and biologists because they won't get the answers they want to hear. How is this approach different from young earth creationism?

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