Intelligent design survey shows evolution erodes morals; but the results are statistically insignificant

Intelligent design-ists conducted a survey showing how evolution had a “corrosive” impact on morals; yet the relationship was actually insignificant.


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The intelligent design movement tries to argue that the origin of species is best explained by the intervention of an intelligent designer. One of their favourite arguments is that believing in evolution has bad consequences. Like the erosion of morals and the existence of Hitler.

The new intelligent design-ist book, linking failing morals with evolution

The new intelligent design-ist book, linking failing morals with evolution

Their latest gambit (complete with the publication of a new book) is to provide some “scientific support” for this argument. So they did what any good scientists would do and conducted an internet survey with a PR company. This showed that evolution had a “Corrosive Impact on Beliefs about Human Uniqueness“.

It turns out there’s a lot wrong with this “research” linking evolution and morals. Like the fact it doesn’t actually compare evolution and morals. But by far the biggest problem is that, despite what the intelligent design-ists say, is that the results of their survey are statistically insignificant.

Statistical shenanigans

Dr Weikhart is a fellow at the intelligent design organisation Discovery Institute. And he has a book coming out. It shows how evolution corrodes morality. In his own words:

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There’s also some rather . . . interesting Amazon reviews on the book

“Richard Weikart’s work effectively draws out the clear implications of humans abandoning the biblical God, who is the very basis of their dignity and rights. This is no mere theoretical discussion, however; Weikart’s meticulous historical research shows—in this book as in previous ones—the devastating results of God-defying ideologies that predictably turn into dehumanizing ones as well. Highly recommended!”

—Paul Copan, Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University, and co-author of An Introduction to Biblical Ethics

To drum up some news and evidence for these claims, the Discovery Institute conducted a survey. This, they claim, shows a clear “corrosive” impact of evolutionary belief on ideas of human uniqueness. Thanks to evolution, most people agree that humans aren’t special and our morals evolved.

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Curious, I went to look at the results of this survey myself. The results are in a separate document. My first thought was that they contain no data on whether the participants accepted evolution. Which seems like a massive oversight. It’s basically a survey saying “a lot of people agree with me” which seems like non-news.

The other big oversight was that there no real analysis of the data done. It was basically “hurr durr, the evolution numbers are bigger”. So I decided to do my own. And they revealed there wasn’t a statistically significant relationship between religious beliefs (which I’m using a stand in as belief in evolution) and acceptance of the idea that:

  • Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other. X(2, N=3,427) = 3.2916, = >0.05
  • Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places. X(2, N=3,427) = 5.01694, = >0.05

So, these results show that a majority of people agree with him; but beyond that they contain nothing of significance whatsoever. So I can breath a sigh of relief. My effort to corrupt humanity via evolution hasn’t been discovered yet.

Morals and Darwin

The statistical shenanigans are the biggest problem with this “research”. But there are countless more.

Perhaps the most prominent one being that they didn’t actually study any connection between morals and Darwin. The participants were broken down by religious belief, not by acceptance of evolution. Whilst it is true that there is a strong connection between religion and acceptance of evolution; it’s not a 1:1 relationship. In fact, 13% of atheists – the group most likely to accept evolution – don’t accept the theory. So there’s basically a 13% margin of error for all their numbers.

evolution

Source: an actual survey

Alternatively, those of you with a penchant for Bad PR might be dubious about the nature of this survey all together. Often, companies will carry out a nonsense survey to get a bit of press for their brand. It’s all fluff designed to get an answer they want in order to whip up a “controversial” survey that’ll get them in the papers. See: “Buy a new television, you’ll have better sex!” says voucher company offering discount TVs

Yet others might just be sketpical of the entire premise of this survey to begin with. After all, just because you don’t like the implications of an idea doesn’t mean it’s false. I’d like to win the lottery, but that doesn’t mean I will. Of course, this is all assuming that there is any real connection between Darwinian thought and morals to begin with. A “fact” that is dubious to say the least.

I could continue on, but I think these points are all overshadowed by the fact the survey doesn’t show anything significant anyway. So I’ll stop.

tl;dr

Intelligent design-ists conducted a survey showing how evolution had a “corrosive” impact on morals. However, the relationship between the two was actually statistically insignificant.

Photo by peretzpup

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