British Creationism

In the last couple of years, I have been hearing a lot more about creationism in Europe, particularly Britain. A recent poll apparently has that among the British, “More than half of the public believe that the theory of evolution cannot explain the full complexity of life on Earth, and a ‘designer’ must have lent a hand.” Compare that to the notoriously low rate of church attendance in Britain.

In some ways, I am surprised. In others, I am not.

I am surprised because I am more used to creationism from the United States and Muslim countries especially, and also but less often from not-as-secularized countries outside of Western Europe. From Europe, it used to be I only ran across creationism in fundamentalist enclaves, and, even more significantly, among the Muslim population. Strong anti-evolution sentiments expressed in polls and creationist pressure on science education used to be rare. Now they are increasingly visible.

I’m not surprised because I see “secular Europe” in terms of the decline of the credibility and social influence of organized Christianity. This does not mean that normal human tendencies toward supernatural belief have vanished in Europe, but mainly that they have become sidelined or perhaps channeled into diffuse and socially ineffectual forms.

Latent tendencies can get activated again. So my guess is that when some groups make a push defending creationism and make it a publicly salient issue, common intuitions about design readily surface. Much of this depends on politics: if science is culturally strong, many will passively support ideas such as evolution without necessarily knowing much about it. Otherwise, a politically savvy anti-evolution movement can organize design intuitions in their favor and create pressure on education.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06394155516712665665 CyberKitten

    I find that news article *very* hard to believe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Here is a quote from that article:

    In the survey, 51 per cent of those questioned agreed with the statement that “evolution alone is not enough to explain the complex structures of some living things, so the intervention of a designer is needed at key stages”

    This says a lot about the presence of good science in British schools and British media. In fact one can explain all biological complexity on naturalistic principles alone; at least even the best efforts of the “intelligent design” defenders (Michael Behe et al) to find counterexamples have failed.

    On the other hand it seems to me there is some failure on the naturalistic side too. Many naturalists appear to be claiming that Darwinism implies that there is no designer. But, as Alvin Plantinga has argued, this is not so. Darwinism only implies that there need not be a designer, not that there is no designer. (The proposition “it’s possible that P” does not imply “P”.) So the idea that Darwinism somehow opposes theism is fallacious, and this naturalistic fallacy is pushing religious people away from science, which is unfortunate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04447401108045680545 DamianP

    Indeed, the survey was terribly flawed.

    Theos evolution survey seriously underestimates the British public:

    “The British Humanist Association has criticised research by the think-tank Theos as “an insult to the British public”.

    The research was widely reported earlier this week as showing that “half of Britons do not believe in evolution”. In fact, the poll asked two separate questions about evolution, neither of which presented the option of simply agreeing with the scientific theory of natural selection.

    The survey first asked whether respondents believed in “theistic evolution”. This was confusingly defined as “the idea that evolution is the means that God used for the creation of all living things on earth.” The survey then asked whether respondents believed in “atheistic evolution”, again reflexively defined as “the idea that evolution makes belief in God unnecessary and absurd.”

    Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education, said, “There are very many non-religious people in Britain who understand and accept natural selection, and who may even agree that belief in God is unnecessary, but who would not necessarily subscribe to this idiosyncratic definition of ‘atheistic evolution’.”

    The interpretation that Theos layered on their data went even further, suggesting that atheists were to blame for the spread of “Intelligent Design” and Creationism because they associate evolution with nihilism and the view that there is “no purpose” in life.”

    All serious polls have shown that roughly 75% of the British public accept evolution, which is the 5th highest acceptance in the world (it’s the same poll where the US came second bottom).


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