Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The vast majority of scientists believe in evolution

Many creationists insist that many scientists don't actually believe in evolution. Instead those scientists profess a believe in evolution simply because they would be punished if admitted scepticism.

This is also stated as “evolution is a theory in crisis”. One creationist named Dr. Michael Denton even wrote a book with that title.

But that is simply a lie or, at best, a bit of wishful thinking. In fact, it is a bit of wishful thinking that has been propagated ever since Darwin first published his ideas.

An excellent history of such claims can be found at the web site http://home.entouch.net/dmd/moreandmore.htm (April 15, 2008). Here are just a few examples:

"It is true that a tide of criticism hostile to the integrity of Genesis has been rising for some years; but it seems to beat vainly against a solid rock, and the ebb has now evidently set in. The battle of historical and linguistic criticism may indeed rage for a time over the history and date of the Mosaic law, but in so far as Genesis is concerned it has been practically decided by scientific exploration."
- J. William Dawson, The Meeting Place of History and Geology, (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1894), p. 206

"Today, at the dawn of the new century, nothing is more certain than that Darwinism has lost its prestige among men of science. It has seen its day and will soon be reckoned a thing of the past. A few decades hence when people will look back upon the history of the doctrine of Descent, they will confess that the years between 1860 and 1880 were in many respects a time of carnival; and the enthusiasm which at that time took possession of the devotees of natural science will appear to them as the excitement attending some mad revel."
- Eberhard Dennert, At the Deathbed of Darwinism, 1904, cited by Ronald L. Numbers, Creationism In
Twentieth-Century America: A Ten-Volume Anthology of Documents, 1903-1961 (New York & London, Garland Publishing, 1995)

In 1905 a book titled: "The Collapse of Evolution" was published by Luther Tracy Townsend.

A few years later, in 1912, a book with a similar title: "The Passing of Evolution", was published by George Frederick Wright.

Clearly the imminent death of evolution has been predicted for quite some time.

Creationists often base this claim on the fact that a large percentage of the general population doesn’t accept evolution. Polls show that claim to be true.

However even among the non-scientific public, the percentages of people who accept evolution hasn't changed much over time.

In a 1991 poll[1] 47% of the population accepted creationism. Poll numbers have stayed, within the margin of error, around 50% for as long as such polls have been taken.

According to a 1997 poll, the percentage of people who accept the creationist view among scientists is only 5%.

Moreover, this survey included engineers such as computer and mechanical engineers in their classification of people who are considered to be “scientists”. Taking into account only those working in the relevant fields of earth and life sciences, there are about 480,000 scientists, but only about 700 believe in "creation-science" or consider it a valid theory[2]. This means that less than 0.15 percent of relevant scientists believe in creationism. And that is just in the United States, which has more creationists than any other industrialized country. In other countries, the number of relevant scientists who accept creationism drops to less than one tenth of 1 percent.

With supporting numbers as strong as 99.86%, it becomes difficult to accept any claim that the support of evolution, at least among scientists, is diminishing to the point that the theory is in danger of being rejected.

But do scientists simply accept evolution, or do they actually endorse evolution?

We can get some sense of an answer to that question by looking at Project Steve from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

One of the most prolific writers on evolutionary subjects was the late Dr. Stephen J. Gould. (He died in 2002.) Dr. Gould was also a strong supporter of the NCSE.

Some time after Dr. Gould’s death, the NCSE decided to help honor him by starting Project Steve. Here is their description of that project[3]:

NCSE's "Project Steve" is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" or "scientists who dissent from Darwinism."…Creationists draw up these lists to convince the public that evolution is somehow being rejected by scientists, that it is a "theory in crisis." Most members of the public lack sufficient contact with the scientific community to know that this claim is totally unfounded. NCSE has been exhorted by its members to compile a list of thousands of scientists affirming the validity of the theory of evolution, but although we easily could have done so, we have resisted such pressure. We did not wish to mislead the public into thinking that scientific issues are decided by who has the longer list of scientists!

Project Steve mocks this practice with a bit of humor, and because "Steves" are only about 1% of scientists, it incidentally makes the point that tens of thousands of scientists support evolution.

Every scientist who becomes a part of Project Steve must have a doctoral degree in a scientific field (which can include medicine) and they must also agree with this statement[4]:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.

As of April 15, 2008, a total of 875 scientists had signed the Project Steve pledge[5].

As mentioned by the NCSE statement, creationist organizations do indeed publish lists of scientists who support creationism. On April 15, 2008, I visited the web site at http://www.answersingenesis.org/Home/Area/bios/ where scientists who accept creationism are listed. I found a total of 191 names there. That list included a few people who would not be included on the Project Steve list (such as pair of philosophers, a linguist and two publishers) but qualifications are largely the same between the two lists.

First it should be noted that there are more than four times as many scientists just named ‘Steve’ who support evolution as there are scientists with any first name who support creationism. But, since only 1% of the names of scientists have the name ‘Steve” simple math tells us that there are easily more than 75,000 scientists who strongly support evolution compared to less than 200 who support creation. That means that if we only compare these two polls, some 99.7% of scientists strongly support evolution to the point of endorsing the Project Steve statement of support.

If you add up the names of all “creation scientists” listed on all creationists web sites you get somewhere around 700. Again it is possible to quibble with those lists. For example, Dr. Phillip Johnson is included on some lists. Dr. Johnson writes critically about evolution, but his doctorate is in jurisprudence. In other words, he is a lawyer. Few people would qualify that as a scientific professional. Also there are a number of duplicate names. Henry Morris and his son John Morris, as examples, can be found on just about every list.

Even if you decide not to quibble and agree to include those names, clearly over 99% of all scientists strongly endorse evolution.

Do the more influential scientists support evolution?

I presented the Project Steve data to one creationist who responded with this claim – he complained that the Project Steve list only included people with PhDs in a scientific field or a field related to science:

> PhD types do not always reflect our best and brightest.
> They can be very bright. Or, they may simply be professional
> students who persevered.

It is generally agreed that Nobel Prize winners in the sciences are among the “best and brightest”. So what is their view of evolution?

As it happens, there are exactly ZERO Nobel Prize winners in the sciences who support creationism.

On the other hand, in 1983, 72 Nobel Laureates in the sciences signed an "amicus curae" brief supporting the side of evolution in the Edwards v. Aguillard creationism court case in Arkansas.(Amicus curiae - Latin for "friend of the court" - refers to someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information on a point of law or some other aspect of the case to assist the court in deciding a matter before it. In many cases it is a learned treatise on a matter that bears on the case. In this case it included Nobel Prize winners in the sciences who supported evolution.)

At most four Nobel Prizes in the sciences are awarded each year: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology and Medicine, though it is certainly true that many awards are shared by multiple scientists. “Awards in the scientific disciplines of physics and chemistry require that the significance of achievements being recognized is ‘tested by time.’ In practice it means that the time lag between the discovery and the award is typically on the order of 20 years and can be much longer. For example, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar shared the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics his work on stellar structure and evolution from the 1930s”[6]. That means that the award was received roughly 50 years after the discovery that earned the award. Most of the time the award isn’t delayed that long, of course, but because of the time “lag”, people who receive the award tend to be fairly old. Due to those factors, a group of 72 such scientists represents a large majority of living Nobel Laureates at any point in time.

All such data begs another question: do famous scientists support creationism?

In order to find famous scientists who believed in Biblical creation, the creationist organizations are forced to come up with names like Michael Faraday, James Clark Maxwell, Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler[7]. There is no doubt that those were all famous scientists.

However the list of years in which those famous scientists died is also interesting:

Faraday died in 1867, Maxwell in 1879, Newton in 1727. Kepler passed away in the year 1630.

For historical perspective, remember that Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species” was published in 1859. One wonders why eminent scientists who are creationists but who have a bit more than a slight overlap with Darwin’s book can’t be found. Why, for example, aren’t there any who lived during the last 130 years?

If the problem isn’t obvious, here it is: how can you claim someone as an opponent of Darwin’s ideas if they died many years before Darwin presented his ideas, or only had a fleeting exposure to those ideas?

Clearly and undeniably – evolution is far from an idea which is losing support from the scientific community. To borrow from Mark Twain, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

[1] http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm, April 15, 2008.
[2] Newsweek magazine, 1987-JUN-29, Page 23.
[3] http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/3541_project_steve_2_16_2003.asp, April 15, 2008
[4] ibid
[5] As of February 17, 2009, the number of Project Steve scientists reached 1000.
[6]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Prize April 16, 2008
[7] http://www.noanswersingenesis.org.au/aig_creation_scientists.htm, April 15, 2008

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