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29 February, 2012

SCIENCE SURVEY SKEWED ON TRUST QUESTION

The Science and Scientific American Magazines group has produced a rather alarming report on a survey of the public's trust of authority figures.  On a scale of one to five, with five being the most trustworthy, people were asked who would provide accurate information on a range of scientific issues. Surprisingly (maybe not too surprisingly), the results showed that scientists are highly regarded, while religious authorities are deeply distrusted.

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Before getting too carried away with the results of the survey, however, it has to be understood that it was taken from readers of Nature and Scientific America.  This type of sampling bias is rather suspect.  It would have been more telling if the general public had been asked for views on the authorities in question, since science fans would certainly tend to rate scientists most highly.  One reviewer suggested that it was rather like posting a poll about the greatest musician of the age on a Justin Bieber fan site.

The evolution debate has been a hot topic for more than a century, however, and it is not all that surprising that "informed" people are comfortable with the views of pro-evolution scientists.  The rest of the report discussed more details of international views on various issues, and mostly they are positive.  Just keep in mind that these data are from a well-educated and science-friendly audience, and probably are not representative of citizens as a whole.

I cannot leave this post without posing the question: Does evolution really contradict creationism?  There are two parts to creationism.  Evolution, specifically common descent, tells us how life came to where it is today, but does not say why.  If the question is whether evolution disproves the basic theme of the biblical Genesis, that God created the world and the life in it, the answer is no.

Evolution cannot say exactly why common descent chose the paths that it did.  If the question is whether evolution contradicts a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis as an exact historical account, then it does.  This is the main, and for the most part only, point of conflict between those who believe in evolution and those who put their faith in creation.

The scientist-slanted survey did a disservice to "religious authorities" in unfairly tarring them with the distrust brush.

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