28 January 2006

The Evolution Survey

BBC Horizon has produced a Mori survey showing that 39% of the British population consider either "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" to be the best description of the origin and development of life.

I have seen some criticism of the poll on the basis that it had a sample size of 2000, but that strikes me as sufficient to give a rough idea. Unfortunately, unlike the Amnesty poll I criticised last month, there are not enough published details to say for sure. For the moment I'm prepared to accept the poll findings as probably accurate to within a few percent - that may change if and when the details are published.

What this demonstrates, again, is that the real difference between us and the USA is not what ordinary people think, but the fact that here we do not care, and very often do not know, what ordinary people think. We have an establishment in this country which will reliably unite across the political spectrum to defy the ignorant masses.

Of course, when something like this comes out, the temptation is to say "and a damn good thing". But this might be the exception rather than the rule.

For one thing, ignoring mass opinion means not combating it. To take another example, there are several states in the US which have no death penalty because the people have voted against it - not something that Britain or many European countries can claim.

And for another, democracy really is a protection as well as a threat. On the really important issues, the people are generally better informed than on issues that have little relevance to them, and I trust them more than I trust the Establishment. If Britain was ever in danger of falling into Communism since 1945, and it may have been, the danger came from the establishment, and our best protection was the proletariat.

It seems strange to dismiss evolution as a "minor issue", but really, to the man in the street, what does it matter? It would be catastrophic if biology departments across acadaemia started haring off after "Intelligent Design", but that's not on the cards. In science, the truth can look after itself - those who actually study reality won't be affected.

You could call this situation a failure of education, but only to the extent that the ill-educated are not sufficiently engaged with advanced knowledge that they can see why they must be wrong. Simply ordering them to accept that evolution is true would achieve nothing; it would just look like - and would in fact really be - propaganda. Throughout history, attacking religion has generally just encouraged the buggers. The best way to spread knowledge of science is to use it. That's why, while I sympathise with Richard Dawkins, I often wish he would go back to his wasps - his original research has brought more benefit than telling ignorant people how ignorant they are.

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