30 December 2013
Does denying evolution prove it?
Democrats will have a field day with a new survey from the Pew Research Center that shows an increase over the last four years in the number of respondents identifying themselves as Republicans who dispute the theory of evolution. But honestly -- have Republicans really become more superstitious in so short a time? You could say that only if Pew had contacted the very same people it had surveyed four years earlier to verify that specific individuals had actually changed their minds on the subject. Of course, the two samples were equally random -- and for what it's worth it included cell-phone users, so that the result can't be dismissed as a consequence of limiting the sample to old fogies with land-line phones. The new figures that indicate an increased hostility to science may simply have been a matter of the luck of the draw. It's also possible that we're seeing the consequence of an evolutionary process of selection. What if, as the Republican party grows more identified with the Tea Party and its reactionary traditionalist views, and the as Republicans are increasingly expected to be reactionary traditionalists -- as opposed, for instance, to libertarians -- people who might otherwise have identified themselves as Republican, or at least as "conservative," refuse to be identified with the GOP if that means identification with reactionary traditionalism? If so, Pew's findings may not reflect a dumbing-down of the Republicans of 2010, nor their doubling down on points of cultural contention, but a change in the cultural identity of the Republican party, so that the party as a whole has become more reactionary and traditionalist through attrition, with erstwhile Republicans who retain some intellectual scruples or some sense of cultural sophistication, becoming Libertarians or other sorts of independents. Libertarian opinions aren't measured by Pew, but independents as a whole fall only slightly behind Democrats in their belief in evolution, and too many Libertarians take a "Darwin Awards" view of life, I suspect, to have much doubt about the evolutionary process. The Pew survey simply offers another way to measure the increased cultural marginalization of the Republican party, and may give further comfort to Democrats and others if the new stats on evolution prove that many from the GOP are abandoning ship.