Evolution Wars: Debunk II

Second Response to Theistic Evolutionists Rice et al. and Their Criticism of Our 2011-2012 Work on Acceptance of Evolution

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. & Avelina Espinosa

Wrong Way Signal“Suggesting that agnosticism and atheism are belief systems –as Rice et al. do– is like calling NASA a ‘cult’… But Rice et al. go beyond that: they invoke The Clergy Letter Project, rather than pure and proper science education, to improve the acceptance of evolution” — GPC & AE

• First Red Flag: Justin W. Rice et al. (2015) suggest that our research (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2011a, 2012a) on acceptance of evolution in New England (sample of science and education faculty at 35 colleges and universities) is invalid. Yet, Rice et al. conduct a comparable study, four years later, at a single institution in the Midwest of the country, and generate analogous results.

• Second Red Flag: Rice et al. find that “theistic views have a pervasive influence on knowledge and acceptance of evolution,” and that agnostic/atheist faculty hold the highest rates of knowing and accepting evolution (another replication of the Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa research). Yet, Rice et al. bend over backwards, ignore their own data, and proceed to invoke The Clergy Letter Project to endorse theistic evolution in the science class (= creationism in principle, distant creationism, God in the background of evolution), rather than purely secular science education as an obvious choice to securing proper science schooling.

• Third Red Flag: After disregarding other scholars’ studies, Rice et al. present themselves as a more reliable source in the field of acceptance of evolution by highly educated audiences. Yet, Rice et al.’s writing is restricted to proximate, quantitative descriptions of acceptance of evolution. No hypothesis-testing approach, no ultimate causation explanations for the evolution controversy are offered in their paper. These authors’ mission is to sponsor ‘faith’ in science education and campaign for matrimony between science and religion. A Type-I error, conceptual fallacy in their approach.

Back in 2010 when Justin W. Rice et al. suddenly criticized our research on acceptance of evolution, we became suspicious that these authors –whom we have never met at international conferences– had a more sinister motive to attack our scholarly work than simply pointing at academic disagreements. We inferred that our 2009a,b papers in Evolution Education and Outreach (EEO) had taken Rice et al. by surprise, and that the quintet of authors targeted us for having published in an area that became of their interest. But that was not our only misgiving: Rice et al. –we speculated– did single us out due to our openly secular approach to examining the evolution controversy, which contrasted with Rice et al.’s pro-faith theistic-observance of evolution (God in the background of causality: creationism in principle, distant creationism). And, as argued below, it seems like we were correct in our suspicion.

DD Palmer founder of chiropractic 1800s

David Daniel Palmer (1845-1913), a “magnetic healer” and founder of the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Iowa

The corresponding author in the 2015 study, Justin W. Rice, places himself at “Palmer College,” in Davenport, Iowa. However, the accurate name of the school is Palmer College of Chiropractic. Why did Dr. Rice omit the “chiropractic” part of the school in his affiliation? Dr. Rice must be aware –from the news and international lawsuits— that modern medicine questions the scientific rigor of chiropractic. But let’s be factual: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH considers “chiropractic” a health care profession, despite its historical credentials: Canadian David Daniel Palmer (1845-1913) –a self proclaimed “magnetic healer,” who spent time in jail for practicing medicine without a license– founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic (1897), precisely in the town of Davenport. For a comprehensive review of the pseudoscience backbone of this type of all-purpose cure, see “Trick or Treatment” by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst (2008).

For our readers and subscribers we must clarify that we have never peer-reviewed any of the 3 publications Rice et al. have on education topics concerning evolution (one of them is entirely dedicated to us, 2010, to which not only we responded in 2011b, but also professor Antonio Lazcano, who wrote for EEO an extensive analysis of the Rice et al.’s note, in which world-authority-in-origins-of-life, Dr. Lazcano, dismissed Rice et al.’s belief that “evolution is not an explanation for the origin of life”).  We have never chatted about the Rice’s team with our colleagues in the field of acceptance of evolution, not at NSF sponsored evolution meetings/panels to which we have been invited, not at scientific gatherings in the United States, Europe or South America where we have presented seminars, including at the 2013 World Evolution Summit in the Galapagos. Rice et al. –the people– are simply unknown to us.

“… as atheists, we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] have publically rejected all types of creationism, including theistic evolution, creation science, Intelligent Design, BioLogos or evolutionary creation (= para-creationism), and exposed those supporters of creationism in principle and in practice, or proximate or distant creationism in the science class…” — GPC & AE

In addition, we do not have the cultural propensity, nor the tradition to go after specific individuals and diminish their scholarly work just because we have common curiosity about a topic. In fact, the science pie is huge and there is plenty to feast on. [Although, as atheists, we have publically rejected all types of creationism, including theistic evolution, creation science, Intelligent Design, BioLogos or evolutionary creation –which we consider “para-creationism,” and exposed those supporters of creationism in principle and in practice, or proximate or distant creationism in the science class, as we do it below –and for the first time– in our response to Rice et al. 2015]. There is no single peer-reviewed publication by us in which we promote treachery about our colleagues in order to uplift our work, or make it more valid by means of introducing rejection of the academic effort of our peers and, thus, facilitate a free ride for us, alone, without other contributors around. However, Rice et al., with no motivation from our part, have done precisely that in two occasions, first in 2010, and now in 2015 with their most recent paper in Evolution Education and Outreach. [Note that EEO has been an excellent publication venue for us; our interaction with the editorial office and editors has been cordial and we thank the journal for always welcoming our manuscripts].

“…What we have done, however, is to… generate a conceptual, theoretical framework to study the evolution controversy under the Incompatibility Hypothesis…” — GPC & AE

What we have done, however, is to sparkle the investigation of acceptance of evolution by highly educated audiences (i.e. research faculty, educators of prospective teachers, and –to a lesser extent– college students), but only from two specific perspectives: (1) generate a conceptual, theoretical framework to study the evolution controversy under the Incompatibility Hypothesis, which we formulated (2012b, 2013a,b,c, 2014a,b, 2015); and (2) use the highly educated populations –of research faculty and educators of future educators– to explore the impact of supernatural-causation views on the acceptance of any evidence, and for that we chose science and evolution. We discuss the rationale for the scope of our research in numerous of our articles; links to PDFs are redundantly available at multiple sites: Paz-y-Miño-C Lab, Espinosa Lab, ResearchGate, Academia.com, and Evolution Literacy. We can also be followed on twitter @gpazymino @AvelinaEspinosa @EvolutionLiteracy

Keep in mind that other colleagues have previously studied quantitatively the attitudes toward science by faculty at American colleges and universities (i.e. evolution, climate change, genetically modified organisms; see some references below). [It is pointless to dedicate energy to identify who pioneered this research since there is so much overlap of work, although it is true that we have always published 1-4 years ahead of Rice et al.] Therefore, our specific contribution has been significant only in the two areas described above; we have published 15 documents about them since 2009 to present. Now, these two areas, which happen to be conceptually important, have remained unexplored by researchers for more than a decade (the 2000s). Therefore, we are confident that our readers will continue to access our publications in the www venues. Just like evolution, our scientific articles, book chapters and reports will continue to exist despite Rice et al.’s effort to disparage them.

Our First Response to Justin W. Rice et al.

Note that we will never throw the first punch at a colleague and, out of the blue, start targeting a researcher or team of researchers who have never done anything to us. Why bother? Our responsibility is to contribute to the field of research: acceptance of evolution. Unfortunately, we must respond to Justin W. Rice et al. because our academic experience during the past two decades (since we immigrated to the United States), as well as the constant challenges we face to build our careers as Hispanic scientists in a competitive system, have taught us that authors like Rice et al. –motivated either by non-collegial competition, academic greed or pro-theism agendas in the teaching of evolution– will not amend. And we’ll continue responding.

“…Who nowadays does not see [the origin of life as part of the theory or concept of evolution], or is caught in the drama of profiting from semantics (i.e. insisting that because scientists do not know exactly how life emerged from the inorganic to… the cellular level, the ‘theory of’ or the ‘concept of’ evolution cannot guide us to hypothesize how all began), is simply removed from productive science…” — GPC & AE

In 2010, Rice et al. published an article in EEO titled “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life.” In it, they criticized our paper of 2009aAcceptance of Evolution Increases with Student Academic Level: A Comparison Between a Secular and a Religious College,” also published in EEO (note that our paper was not about the origin of life, although we referred to it when explaining the scope of evolution). Long story short: the journal had invited Professor Antonio Lazcano, as world specialist in the origin of life, to comment on the Rice et al.’s note. Drs. Lazcano and Juli Peretó co-authored the paper “Should the Teaching of Biological Evolution Include the Origin of Life?” And their answer was –of course– yes. In their writing, Peretó and Lazcano [as they authored the paper] went back to Charles Darwin (letter dated 1871; see facsimile of actual letter; for excerpt see Darwin’s “Warm Little Pond”) to discuss that the concept of evolution obviously includes the origin of life –any opposition to this scientific/historical reality is silly– and that for the incredulous, or uniformed, Darwin himself connected chemical processes with “origin” and, therefore, with diversification of life. Who nowadays does not see it that way, or is caught in the drama of profiting from semantics (i.e. insisting that because scientists do not know exactly how life emerged from the inorganic to the organic and to the cellular level, the “theory of” or the “concept of” evolution cannot guide us to hypothesize how all began), is simply removed from productive science. End of the story: If world specialist Antonio Lazcano (backed up by 37 scientific studies and a supportive international scientific community) says that not only the “theory of evolution” but also the “concept of evolution” (here we are paraphrasing) do include the origin of life, we trust the judgment of the world specialist over the reckless preference of Justin W. Rice et al. (backed up by 8 references, three of them textbooks, and not a single study about the origin of life).

We responded to the Rice et al.’s article in 2011, when EEO published our paper “On the Theory of Evolution Versus the Concept of Evolution: Three Observations.” Relying on 30 references, we debunked Rice et al.’s criticism and moved on [in retrospect, we call that event “Evolution Wars: Debunk I”]. Note that EEO is an open access journal, all the papers mentioned here can be downloaded freely from the links provided.

Our Second Response to Justin W. Rice et al.

“…Readers might be familiar with the principle that ‘it is very easy to fabricate a story, but it becomes lengthy and complex to debunk it’ (although facts always defeat misrepresentation)…” — GPC & AE

Here we cannot be brief: Readers might be familiar with the principle that “it is very easy to fabricate a story, but it becomes lengthy and complex to debunk it” (although facts always defeat misrepresentation). Just take the example of creationism, the claim is so simple (i.e. the Maker, Creator, Intelligent Designer either built the material reality, or just ignited the laws of nature), yet science itself, plus those of us who oppose creationism in all its forms [including the foggy presence of the distant God in the background of causality, or the “harmony” between science and evolution, e.g. Rice et al. 2010, 2015] have dedicated much effort to overcome this pervasive belief (see Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars, Paz-y-Miño-C 2013), but with only relative success at the moment of changing the public’s opinion.

“…[We] value the [Rice et al. 2015] study, respect the data, the numerical analysis, and some of the conclusions…  However, we cannot ignore Rice et al.’s lack of conceptual background, neither their bold endorsement of… religion, or their bending-over backwards contortions to misinterpret results and justify faith-based acceptance of evolution…” — GPC & AE 

Before going into the details of the Rice et al.’s 2015 paper in EEO, titled “University Faculty and their Knowledge & Acceptance of Biological Evolution,” let us state that we value the study, respect the data, the numerical analysis, and some of the conclusions to which the authors arrive. However, we cannot ignore Rice et al.’s lack of conceptual background, neither their bold endorsement of compatibility between science and religion, or their bending-over backwards contortions to misinterpret results and justify faith-based acceptance of evolution (below).

What Rice et al. have found is interesting, but not new, since our research with a demographically more robust sample is by far more informative: 35 colleges and universities in New England (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2011a, 2012b2013c), plus 281 institutions in the entire United States (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2014b, 2015), in contrast to the one single school studied by Rice et al. (2015) in the Midwest of the country.

Rice et al.’s research is more intriguing to us, as academics, than as recipients of their pejorative speculations about our work. Therefore, let us summarize first their scholarly claims. After that, we will dedicate some text to Rice et al.’s allegations, debunk them again –with data, and comment on the flaws of their manuscript.

In the Background of the Rice et al.’s study, the authors state:

“…The view that biological evolution explains life’s origin(s) and that hypotheses become theories, which then become laws are just two examples of commonly held misconceptions…” — Rice et al.

As explained above, Peretó and Lazcano (2010) and Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa (2011b) have already addressed the issue of “life’s origins in the Rice et al.’s note” and its relevance –i.e. “origins” broadly defined– to both the theory of evolution and the concept of evolution. We provided many recent references about this topic in our articles, yet Rice et al. insist that we don’t get it. If Rice et al. were correct, it follows that the authors listed below are wrong. A more parsimonious explanation is that Drs. Rice et al. are way off on this topic. For the readers, who are sensitive to embrace evidence, we recommend the following articles, two of them published in the very journal EEO (note that the Peretó and Lazcano paper is also rich in references):

Follmann H, Brownson C. 2009. Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: from molecules to the origin of life. Naturwissenschaften 96:1265–92. [This article includes 170 references!].

Krauss LM. Cosmic evolution. 2010. Evo Edu Outreach 3:193–7.

Peretó J, Bada JL, Lazcano A. 2009. Charles Darwin and the origin of life. Orig Life Evol Biosph 39:395–406.

Zaikowski L, Wilkens RT, Fisher K. 2008. Science and the concept of evolution: from the big bang to the origin and evolution of life. Evo Edu Outreach 1:65–73.

Now, about the statement that “hypotheses become theories, which then become laws,” something we have never taken seriously, not even stated it that way in any of our publications, we advise Rice et al. to examine:

Lakatos, I. 1978. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, Philosophical Papers Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Lakatos’ 250-pages document explains the connection between theories, central hypotheses, auxiliary hypotheses, predictions and testing of hypotheses/predictions. This is an excellent foundation paper for those seeking to establish a research program. By the way, note that Lakatos makes the distinction between “research programs” and “research fields.” A must read for everyone.

Let’s move on: Rice et al. identify as conceptual components of their paper (they discuss this in the Abstract’s “Background”) the misconceptions about biological evolution and the nature of science. Their entire section reads:

“Misconceptions about biological evolution specifically and the nature of science in general are pervasive in our society and culture. The view that biological evolution explains life’s origin(s) and that hypotheses become theories, which then become laws are just two examples of commonly held misconceptions. These misconceptions are reinforced in the media, in people’s personal lives, and in some unfortunate cases in the science classroom. Misconceptions regarding the nature of science (NOS) have been shown to be related to understanding and acceptance of biological evolution. Previous work has looked at several factors that are related to an individual’s understanding of biological evolution, acceptance of biological evolution, and his/her understanding of the NOS. The study presented here investigated understanding and acceptance of biological evolution among a highly educated population: university faculty.” — Rice et al.

Indeed, we all agree that misconceptions exist, including, for example, believing obstinately that in matters of the origin of life, world authorities like Peretó and Lazcano (2010) are wrong, and that Rice et al. (both 2010, 2015) are right when insisting that biological evolution cannot offer hypotheses to explain life’s origins.

“…we all agree that misconceptions exist, including… believing obstinately that in matters of the origin of life, world authorities like Peretó and Lazcano (2010) are wrong, and that Rice et al. (2010, 2015) are right when insisting that biological evolution cannot offer hypotheses to explain life’s origins…” — GPC & AE

Still, Rice et al. fail at explaining in their 2015 paper –actually in the background and in the entire discussion– why the misconceptions about “biological evolution” exist. The authors rely on a purely descriptive approach to continue sketching “understanding of” or “acceptance of evolution” by a given audience. Their findings are not new, as we document below (although they are novel for the specific school where Rice et al. conducted the polls), nor do the authors contribute with a hypotheses-based discussion to propose “why” misunderstandings about science/evolution emerge, or “why” the very evolution controversy occurs in society: not a single ultimate argument is given. Rice et al. have apparently not read the literature about it, or are simply not interested in turning their industrious data collection and analyses into a meaningful exercise of scientific inquiry. Instead, they dedicate 2 out of 3 three articles to attack our work, distracting themselves from making a contribution to science that goes beyond reporting yet another population’s views about science and evolution. There are dozens of such studies, on which we –all of us– have already relied to expand our own research. But it is time to wrap it up. It is time to make acceptance of evolution a coherent, genuine field of research (= basic science, with central and auxiliary hypotheses, Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013a, 2014a, 2015), rather than a status quo exercise to pile up one paper on top of the other. And that is the true scientific challenge ahead of us, rather than the youthful position –Rice et al.’s– “my toddler is blessed, yours is not.”

“…[Rice et al.] dedicate 2 out of 3 three articles to attack [the Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] work, distracting themselves from making a contribution to science that goes beyond reporting yet another population’s views about science and evolution…” — GPC & AE

 

In the Results of the Rice et al.’s study, the authors state five points, none of them new:

  1. “…results show that knowledge of biological evolution and acceptance of biological evolution are positively correlated for university faculty.” — Rice et al.

Yes, “knowing” about evolution is associated with “acceptance” of evolution. Not only our studies with highly educated audiences (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2009a,b2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b), but many others with diverse audiences have shown comparable associations (here we just highlight Miller et al. 2006, Hawley et al. 2011 and Rissler et al. 2014; more about the relevance of these studies below).

  1. Higher knowledge of biological evolution positively correlates with higher acceptance of biological evolution across the entire population of university faculty.” — Rice et al.

Yes, for points 1 and 2 we have already shown positive associations between understanding of science and evolution [note that we recognize the distinction between “knowledge” and “understanding;” in our studies we have assessed “understanding,” our practical preference], with acceptance of evolution for three highly educated populations (New England: 35 institutions; United States: 281 institutions), i.e. combination of research faculty, educators or prospective teachers, and college students (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c, 2014b), as depicted in the figures below.

Here is our report –now 3 years old– of the positive association between level of understanding evolution and level of understanding science: as understanding of science increases, the understanding of evolution also increases (based on Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c; earlier report can be found in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2012a):

Understanding of Evolution AND Science New England Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa 2013

Below follows the negative association between level of understanding evolution and level of religiosity: as level of religiosity increases, the understanding of evolution decreases (based on Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c; earlier report can be found in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2012a):

Understanding of Evolution New England Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa 2013

And, below follows the negative association between level of understanding science and level of religiosity: as level of religiosity increases, the understanding of science decreases (based on Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c; earlier report can be found in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2012a):

Understanding of Science New England Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa 2013

Readers should note that in our initial studies (2012a, 2013c), which were restricted to 35 New England colleges and universities (images above), the sample size of the ‘Educators of Prospective Teachers’ was small (N=53), although we were confident in the results. When we expanded the sample to the 50 states (N=411 educators) in the United States (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2014b), we found an identical pattern:

Understanding Sci Evol and Religiosity 50 states US Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa 2014

Note that Miller et al. 2006, Hawley et al. 2011 and Rissler et al. 2014 have reported –earlier than Rice et al. 2015— a positive association between science/evolution literacy and acceptance of science/evolution (not to insist on the Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa’s publications, which have covered highly educated audiences since 2009). Rice et al. just arrived and with no innovation.

  1. This positive correlation [Rice et al. refer to number 2, above] is also present if the population is broken down into distinct theistic views (creationist and non-creationist viewpoints).” — Rice et al.

First, there are conceptual problems here, and any sharp reviewer of a manuscript would have pointed out: “Distinct theistic views”? Really? Well, yes, of course, creationism is based on belief and belief systems (= theistic). However, “non-creationist viewpoints” labeled “theistic”? What is that?

The latter is so wrong: When referring to the “non-creationist viewpoints,” Rice et al. make a huge conceptual mistake. They include in the “non-creationists” group what they call “Agnostic Evolutionists” and “Atheistic Evolutionists” (“atheistic”? The authors probably mean atheists).

“…in trait analysis of an organism, we never… characterize a specimen for the absence of a trait: the ‘not-having-something.’ And this is Systematics 101. For instance, we do not call placental mammals, the ‘non-marsupial mammals.’ Nor do we call marsupial mammals, the ‘non-placental mammals’…” — GPC & AE

For those interested in biology (like us), the following example helps us explain why Rice et al. are mistaken: in trait analysis of an organism, we never, ever, characterize a specimen for the absence of a trait: the “not-having-something.” And this is Systematics 101. For instance, we do not call placental mammals, the “non-marsupial mammals.” Nor do we call marsupial mammals, the “non-placental mammals.” What characterizes both groups is –indeed– to be mammals (have mammary glands), but what characterizes each group –in respect to the other– is to have either a pouch (marsupials) or a placenta (placentals), among other trait-differences. Do readers see the point? In a trait/character table, taxonomists (they prefer to call themselves systematists) would use the 1/0 [one or zero] or +/- [plus or minus] code for presence of a pouch (1 or +) or absence of a pouch (0 or -). The same applies to presence or absence of a placenta. [Briefly: a dog would score 1/+ for placenta, but 0/- for pouch; in contrast, a kangaroo would score 0/- for placenta, but 1/+ for pouch]. In any event, what characterizes a group is NOT the absence of a trait, but the presence of a trait, particularly only when that group has “that” trait (i.e. only marsupials have a pouch in the belly, with mammary glands inside, and to which embryos and fetuses attach, like in kangaroos)…

“…calling ‘atheism a belief system’ is like calling NASA a ‘cult’…” — GPC & AE

…Therefore, calling the “agnostic” or “atheistic” evolutionists the “non-creationists” might sound cute, but is incorrect [readers might be aware, however, that the terms “non-religious” and “non-believer” do exist, as we use them below, but “theistic non-creationists viewpoints” –as used by Rice et al.– does not make any sense]. It is like calling a human a “non-feathered vertebrate,” or a bird “a hairless, non-mammal,” or even a “non-primate.” This use of terminology is scientifically incorrect, and Rice et al. should have known better before venturing to –so carelessly– criticize others’ work.

“…Rice et al. are theistic-evolutionists, prone to ignore evidence. Regrettably, they consider [both] creationism and science to be ‘belief systems'” — GPC & AE

Second, Rice et al. think that what they call “non-creationists” are characterized by their “theistic views.” [As we quoted them above: “… population is broken down into distinct theistic views (creationist and non-creationist viewpoints).”] We are afraid to conclude that Rice et al. are unaware of the extensive literature on science, belief, religion, agnosticism, atheism… Of course, Rice et al. are theistic-evolutionists, prone to ignore evidence. Regrettably, they consider creationism and science to be “belief systems,” there is no other way to interpret their writing, a view long ago dismissed by scientists and philosophers of science. In fact, calling atheism a “belief system” is like calling NASA a “cult.”

Here we recommend some, among the top one hundred monumental books on the matter:

Lovering, R. 2013. God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers. Bloomsbury.

Philipse, H. 2012. God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason. Oxford University Press.

Stenger, V J. 2012. God and the Folly of Faith: The incompatibility of Science and Religion. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Martin, M and Monnier R. 2006. The Improbability of God. Prometheus Books.

Martin, M and Monnier R. 2003. The Impossibility of God. Prometheus Books.

And third, we have also already shown that level of religiosity is negatively associated with both level of understanding science and level of understanding evolution among highly educated audiences (figures above), as in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa (2013c, 2014b, and in the very Figure 12 of our 2012a paper, which Rice et al. criticize). But here is our bonus data from 2014b, in which we plotted understanding of science and evolution as percentile of the “non-religious” [note that the terms ‘non-religious’ or ‘non-believers’ are properly used here, in contrast to the non-existing term “theistic non-creationists” used by Rice et al., above] (i.e. atheists, non-believers,  and/or agnostics who scored 0.0 [zero] in level of religiosity) New England researchers, educators of prospective teachers in the entire United States, and colleges students in New England [note that the circles in the figure below are aligned between the values 3.0 and 2.0, which denote high understanding of science/evolution for the atheists/non-believers/agnostics]:

Understanding Sci Evol among Atheists Agnostics Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa 2014

And below is our data from 2014b, in which we plotted understanding of science and evolution as percentile of the deeply-religious (i.e. responders who scored 3.0 in level of religiosity) New England researchers, educators of prospective teachers in the entire United States, and colleges students in New England  [note that the circles in the figure below are aligned between the values 2.0 and 1.0, which denote low understanding of science/evolution for the deeply religious]:

Understanding Sci Evol among Deeply Religious Paz-y-Mino-C Espinosa 2014

In conclusion, we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] did report, 1-6 years ago, high levels of understanding science/evolution among the atheists/non-believers/agnostics, and low levels of science/evolution awareness among the deeply religious responders to our surveys, i.e. New England researchers, educators of prospective teachers in the entire United States, and colleges students in New England (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2009a,b2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b).

  1. Greater knowledge of biological evolution also positively correlates with greater acceptance of biological evolution across different levels of science education.” — Rice et al.

This is indeed the case –not new, and several authors have reported it (e.g. Rissler et al. 2014, Hawley et al. 2011). [Again, we recognize the distinction between “knowledge” and “understanding,” above]. We have demonstrated analogous patterns in two ways, the most clear as function of educational attainment and with college-student populations: acceptance of evolution increases with increasing levels of science education, particularly biology (from the freshman, to the sophomore, to the junior and to the senior levels; Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2009a,b, 2013c):

Acceptance Evolution College Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa 2013

Among researchers and educators of prospective teachers, we have only compared them as science/research faculty versus education specialists [and versus college students]: the researchers have consistently shown higher acceptance of evolution than the educators [and than the college students] (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b):

Acceptance Evolution Researchers - Educators - Students Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa 2013

But, that is not all. We have also plotted –in 2014b— acceptance of evolution in the United States by education level, a combination of data from The Gallup Poll (2009), Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa* (New England Faculty, Educators of Prospective Teachers, and New England College Students; see 2009a,b2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b), and Berkman and Plutzer** (Biology High School Teachers, 2010), as follows:

Acceptance Evolution United States academic level Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa 2014

* Source: Paz-y-Miño-C G & Espinosa A. 2014b. Acceptance of Evolution by America’s Educators of Prospective Teachers. NE Science Public: Series Evolution 2(1): 1-92.

**Berkman MB, Plutzer E. 2010. Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.

“If not only us (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b), but also Miller et al. (2006), Hawley et al. (2011) and Rissler et al. (2014) –plus the very Rice et al. (2015)– have shown that Religion is the chief factor associated with rejection of evolution, why do Rice et al. invoke The Clergy Letter Project as the ‘instrumental view’ in advancing understanding and acceptance of evolution? Rice et al. bend over backwards and still manage to bow to religion.” — GPC & AE

And there is more: Miller et al. (2006 download supporting online material) and Hawley et al. (2011) have shown that religiosity is the chief factor associated with rejection of evolution, and Rice et al. ought to honor the existence of these papers:

Miller Scott Okamoto Science 2006 AND Hawley et al 2011

Left: Miller et al. (2006 – download) found “religion” to be the most significant variable associated with negative attitudes toward evolution in the United States and Europe. Right: Hawley et al. (2011) reported that –for a college student sample in the Midwest of the United States– “creationist reasoning” and “conservative orientation” (political and religious) were negatively associated with exposure to evolution, knowledge about it, and positive attitudes toward its relevance. — Click on image to enlarge.

And more recently, Rissler et al. (2014) reported in the very journal Evolution Education and Outreach that “religiosity, rather than education, best explains [college students’ negative] views on evolution.” And that “highly religious students –in the ‘Deep South’ of the United Sates– were more likely to reject evolution even though they understood that the scientific community accepted evolution,” see their data below:

Evolution Understanding Rissler et al Evol Edu Outreach 2014

Rice et al. (2015) ignored all the evidence above and proceeded to give the impression to the reader that their findings were novel. Not only that, as shown below, Rice et al. went for “The Clergy Letter Project” as a promising “instrumental view” to advancing understanding and acceptance of evolution.

But before addressing that, there is one more observation that needs to be made. On May 15, 2015, Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education, posted in the Science League of America portal (part of NCSE) a descriptive analysis titled “Evolution, the Environment, and Religion.” In it, Rosenau plotted the association between ‘support for evolution’ and ‘support for environmental regulations’ by a group of responders of diverse religious backgrounds, and also by atheists and agnostics, the latter two –of course– with no religious affiliation. To facilitate the readers’ understanding of the graph, we have modified it slightly (i.e. we added the vertical and horizontal dashed red lines, the red arrow to point at the placement of atheists and agnostics, and the RED TEXT IN CAPITALS within each of the four quadrats), see below:

Pro Environment vs Pro Evolution Modified from Josh Rosenau 2015

Pro Environment vs. Pro Evolution Views by the religious, atheists and agnostics; graph by Josh Rosenau, data from Pew Research Center. – Click on image to enlarge.

Briefly, the highest pro-evolution views (top right part of graph, the quadrat labeled HIGH ENV and HIGH EVOL) correspond to the atheists and agnostics (the closer-to-the-right circles), who also have high pro-environment views, although not as high as the nearby circles, which correspond to groups ranking slightly higher in “pro-environment” (the closer-to-the-top circles) than the non-believers (such groups include Jewish, Friends, Liberal traditions, Buddhist and –apparently– New Age). [Note that the circles overlap and statistical significance is not given].

The main point here is that, in matters of “support for evolution,” the Rosenau’s analysis shows that atheists and agnostics rank highest, and that all religious groups rank below the non-believers [note in the graph how all other circles are located to the left of the atheists and agnostics]!

“The scientific interpretation of evolution is more parsimonious than ‘theistic evolution’ or any other para-creationist view (i.e. creation science, evolutionary creation, Intelligent Design). The scientific proposal is simpler and it introduces the least number of assumptions” — GPC & AE 

Now, we like three things about this graph: First, it was generated by Josh Rosenau, at NCSE, and by means of a completely different method than any of the methods used by the researchers mentioned in this post (i.e. Miller et al. 2006, Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2012b, 2013a,b,c, 2014a,b, 2015, Hawley et al. 2011, Rissler et al. 2014). Second, Rosenau built the figure by processing data previously collected by the Pew Research Center; Rosenau selected two questions to generate his figure from the many queries in the Pew survey. The evolution question asked people to agree or disagree with the statement “EVOLUTION IS THE BEST EXPLANATION FOR THE ORIGINS OF HUMAN LIFE ON EARTH,” and this is the very point Rice et al. (2010, 2015) insist that evolution is NOT about! [Do Drs. Rice et al. realize how spectacularly wrong they are?]…

“…Do Drs. Rice et al. realize how spectacularly wrong they are? — GPC & AE

…The environment question had two components and asked people to agree or disagree with “Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; or Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost” (for details go to Evol. Env. Rel.). And third, despite Rosenau pro theistic evolution interpretations of his graph (i.e. he sees compatibility between science and religion when the data shows the opposite: the more independence from religion the higher the support for evolution), it can also be entirely examined from a secular perspective –which is more parsimonious [simpler than other competing explanations because it introduces the least number of assumptions]– consistent with the Incompatibility Hypothesis (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2012b, 2013a,b,c, 2014a,b, 2015), which, by now, the readers might realize is the “consistent-with-the-scientific-evidence perspective.”

  1. We also found that of the factors we examined, theistic view has the strongest relationship with knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution.” — Rice et al.

Again, not new, just see above, other studies have shown that association: the very Miller et al. 2006, plus Rissler et al. 2014, or Hawley et al. 2011. Note that Rice et al. do not even cite the latter two crucial papers, and only refer superficially to Miller et al. (i.e. in broad statements about rates of public acceptance of evolution in the US), when, in fact, the structural equation models [central to the paper, see images above] used by Miller et al. in the characterization of variables influencing evolution’s acceptance, already demonstrate that “religious beliefs” account for most of the variance against the acceptance of evolution in both American and European samples of public opinions!

“…[the evolution] controversy itself is consequence of the incompatibility between scientific rationalism/empiricism and the belief in supernatural causation: ‘belief’ disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the acceptance of evidence…” — GPC & AE 

However, the new component in this whole discussion –at least from the perspective of our contribution to the field– is the conceptualization of the controversy in the context of the Incompatibility Hypothesis (i.e. Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2012b, 2013a,b,c, 2014a,b, 2015). We have postulated that the controversy itself is consequence of the incompatibility between scientific rationalism/empiricism and the belief in supernatural causation: “belief” disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the acceptance of evidence (the “3Ds + S,” Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2014a,b, 2015). IH is the central hypothesis in this field of research (if we aim at making it a field of basic science), and that is why Rice et al. ought to become familiar with the Lakatos (1978) paper on “The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” (above). This point is extensively examined in our articles and book chapters, and has been presented internationally at the Galapagos World Evolution Summit of 2013 (in fact, the 2014 book “Why Does Evolution Matter? The Importance of Understanding Evolution,” by Cambridge Scholars, editor G. Trueba, compiles the Summit’s keynote addresses; we have a chapter in it, “The Incompatibility Hypothesis: Evolution versus Supernatural Causation,” see also Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c).

In the Discussion of the Rice et al.’s study the authors state:

“What is the driving force behind an individual’s knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution? Some argue that an individual’s exposure to science, particularly to content on biological evolution, has the greatest impact on their knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution. Others suggest that an individual’s theistic view is the overriding determiner of their knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution. Determining the factors (and the strength of those factors relative to each other) that influence an individual’s knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution is an important step in being able to properly address the current issues with Biological Evolution Education (BEE). The analyses described here provide several unique insights into the interplay of factors influencing knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution…” — Rice et al.

“…But, things get worse: out of the 13 paragraphs of text in the [Rice et al.’s] discussion, 9 do not have citations. No wonder Rice et al. are implicitly confident that they are leading the field. Although… to their credit, the authors do cite themselves once… Can the reader hear the crickets?” — GPC & AE

There is not a single citation in this series of broad statements and generalizations. None. This is such a departure from proper scientific writing: each claim written in science must have a supporting citation, particularly in a “discussion” where the authors are expected to contrast their work with the literature, and place the study in scientific context (i.e. the scientific significance). We invite the readers to actually examine the Rice et al. paper and verify the emptiness of the authors’ self-referent discussion. But to be fair, such discussion is not restricted to the paragraph above (= 121 words), that was only an example. The real discussion is 1,694 words long and it includes 15 references, the newest from 2009 (!), although two citations are from 2015: an irrelevant link that does not pertain to science but to endorse religion (i.e. “The Clergy Letter Project 2015,” more about it below), and the relevant Short and Hawley (2015), which the authors forgot to list in the references. But, things get worse: out of the 13 paragraphs of text in the discussion, 9 do not have citations. No wonder Rice et al. are implicitly confident that they are leading the field. Although, again, and to their credit, the authors do cite themselves once in the discussion, as Rice et al. 2011. Can the reader hear the crickets?

Rice et al. close the discussion with their theistic-evolution views about acceptance of evolution and their marriage with religiosity. Here is what they write:

” …Keeping in mind that knowledge and acceptance [of evolution] were positively correlated regardless of the participant’s theistic view, it begs the question “Is the most effective way to improve BEE [biological evolution education] to address theistic views?” The data appear to support answering this question in the affirmative, but whether such action is morally, ethically, or legally appropriate is a question that remains to be answered. In the author’s experience, addressing the relationship/conflict between theism and science can be fruitful in both the short-term and long-term for students. That said, students can certainly be made aware of efforts like The Clergy Letter Project (2015) which advocates for understanding and accepting biological evolution and seeks to demonstrate that science and religion can be compatible. Additionally, one of many rationales for teaching about the nature of science in all science courses, but particularly in biology courses, is address philosophical issues that can reduce resistance to learning about biological evolution and thus enhance acceptance of it…” — Rice et al.

There are so many problems with these assertions, the authors have finally revealed –and bluntly– their communion with supernatural causation [something we had suspected from the very Rice et al. 2010 paper], a not-so-rare position among para-creationist faculty at colleges and universities in the United States. But, let’s examine the inconsistencies in the Rice et al.’s position:

First: In the United States, there is separation between church and state. Anyone working at a public institution –or in acceptance of evolution– is reminded of this by the law itself (see Establishment Clause), or by those of us [and we are many, at least in New England were 70% of the faculty are secular at 35 colleges and universities —our research] who continue to advocate for keeping supernatural causation –in all its forms– out of the science class (= proper education).

Second: “…Is the most effective way to improve BEE [biological evolution education] to address theistic views?” The data appear to support answering this question in the affirmative, but whether such action is morally, ethically, or legally appropriate is a question that remains to be answered…” Really: a question that remains to be answered? The answer, for any honest evolution professional, is NO (see Edwards vs. Aguillard 1987), since we separate clergy from government, belief from fact, and religion from science. Not morally, not ethically, and not legally are we allowed to combine science (the scientific truth) with religion in the science class, or anywhere for that matter, even if a poll suggests that an audience sees facts and fiction compatible. And Rice et al. must know, and remember better.

“…Not morally, not ethically, and not legally are we allowed to combine science (the scientific truth) with religion in the science class, or anywhere for that matter, even if a poll suggests that an audience sees facts and fiction compatible…” — GPC & AE

Third: …In the author’s experience, addressing the relationship/conflict between theism and science can be fruitful in both the short-term and long-term for students.” We have two observations here: (1) The “author’s”? See, another revelation: Justin W. Rice forgot that four other colleagues signed on the paper. Or, alternatively, the coauthors did not correct, with a sharp eye, Dr. Rice’s narrative. And (2), of course, addressing the interaction between religion and science can be fruitful, but only when we do not force evolution to marry supernatural causation, like when “creationists-in-practice” (or even “distant creationists” like Rice et al.) see empirical reality perfectly compatible with faith. And this is a capricious position, unfounded on and contradictory to modern science, and a persistent contributor to the very misunderstandings about evolution in the United States [note that 41% of Americans accept evolution conditionally: God created humans, and 28% insist that humans are not apes; IPSOS 2011). The misconception is right there: to believe that science and religion should date because the public takes pleasure in seeing them together. Back in 2010, Rice et al. manifested this sentiment when attacking our work, which we dismissed rationally and extensively in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2011b.

“…The misconception is right there: to believe that science and religion should date because the public takes pleasure in seeing them together…” — GPC & AE

Fourth: “students can certainly be made aware of efforts like The Clergy Letter Project (2015) which advocates for understanding and accepting biological evolution and seeks to demonstrate that science and religion can be compatible… What about making students aware of the Incompatibility Principle, or the overwhelming scientific evidence –not preferential pseudo science writings by theist researchers, who are a notorious minority in the US and abroad— in support to Nature without a Maker, Creator, or Intelligent Designer? Is “The Clergy Letter Project” the only 2015 reference that Rice et al. can offer in their paper to discuss such a scientifically and philosophically (= philosophy of science) rich topic? TCLP defines itself as an “endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.” And Drs. Rice et al. prefer to cite this enterprise in the shallow discussion of their paper rather than the peer-reviewed publications of scholars, available in the very journal Evolution Education and Outreach.

“…Rice et al. propose to replace… the presence of blunt religion in the science class with theistic philosophy –a pacifier for students and their parents. How about, dedicating the science class to science, and discussing in it scientific philosophy with no theistic flavor? That will be a sincere service to our 21st-century students, consistent not only with the law, but also with our duty, as educators, to disseminate the truth…” — GPC & AE

Atheists Religion Knowledge Survey Pew 2010Fifth: “…Additionally, one of many rationales for teaching about the nature of science in all science courses, but particularly in biology courses, is address philosophical issues that can reduce resistance to learning about biological evolution and thus enhance acceptance of it…” In essence, Rice et al. propose to replace –cosmetically, of course– the presence of blunt religion in the science class with theistic philosophy –a pacifier for students and their parents. How about, dedicating the science class to science, and discussing in it scientific philosophy with no theistic flavor (just see the references above)? That will be a sincere service to our 21st-century students/parents, consistent not only with the law, but also with our duty, as educators, to disseminate the truth. Now, we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] support learning about theism, religion and faith in the context of the historical interaction between science and religion (remember that Pew Research Center polls –of 2010– demonstrate that atheists are more knowledgeable about world religions than the theists; see also Atheists’ Knowledge about Science and Evolution,’ Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2012c). And that is proper liberal arts education, which we sponsor and practice. What we do not sanction, however, is the smuggling of “evolutionary creation” into the science class –a view championed by theistic-evolutionists– by means of reinforcing the idea that “as long as students accept evolution,” their scientifically wrong views about the origin of the universe or life (via a distant Creator in the background of all causality) are “perfectly compatible” with science. And that is exactly what Rice et al. sneakily proposed back in 2010, and now, openly, in 2015.

“…we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] support learning about theism, religion and faith in the context of the historical interaction between science and religion. And that is proper liberal arts education, which we sponsor and practice. What we do not sanction, however, is the smuggling of ‘evolutionary creation’ into the science class…” — GPC & AE 

 

In the Conclusions of the Rice et al.’s study, the authors state:

Well, before quoting Rice et al. again, it is important to remark that the study has quantitative merit. Both the data collection and the analysis teach us much about the landscape: evolution knowledge, evolution’s acceptance, theistic views, and the associations among these variables for the studied population (one school in the Midwest of the US). The authors, however, bend over backwards, once more, in the “conclusions” to close the narrative with a pro-creationism / theistic-evolution message:

“… Finally, [future] studies ought to also examine more deeply the theological views of those who do and do not accept biological evolution. As the Clergy Letter Project makes clear, many devoutly religious individuals maintain a deep commitment to a personal deity while also accepting biological evolution. Understanding this view and how it develops may be instrumental in advancing understanding and acceptance of biological evolution.” — Rice et al.

This is such a contradiction, just after the authors demonstrated, with data in the very discussion, that the “agnostic/atheist” faculty had the highest knowledge of and acceptance of evolution in contrast to the “theist” (who ranked second) and “creationist” (third) faculty, see figure below:

Justin W Rice et al Figure Knowledge Acceptance Evolution

Average scores on knowledge of evolution (K) and acceptance of evolution measure (A) when grouped by groups: creationists, theistic evolutionists, and agnostics/atheists (source Rice et al. 2015).

Rice et al. make a Type-I error in the interpretation of their data [they were able to reject the null hypothesis, however, their research premise was conceptually wrong: their own data can be fully interpreted under a purely secular perspective without any need to invoke harmony between science and religion]:

“…[Rice et al.] are conceptually mistaken and bend over backwards to ‘see’ in their results what they want to profess… Rice et al. distort the meaning of the results before their eyes: the figure above, demonstrates that ‘agnostics and atheists’ have the highest ‘knowledge’ and ‘acceptance’ of evolution, and that the ‘theistic evolutionists’ and the ‘creationists’ rank far below. Not only that, in terms of ‘knowledge’ about evolution the theistic evolutionists and the creationists… are more similar to each another than they are to agnostics/atheists… The problem  IS religion” — GPC & AE 

Blindfolded individual attempting to reach outThe authors are conceptually mistaken and bend over backwards to “see” in their results what they want to profess. This is precisely what we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] call the “3Ds + S” cognitive effects of illusory thinking (belief causes disruption, distortion, delay or stop in the acceptance of any evidence; Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2014a,b, 2015). Rice et al. distort the meaning of the results before their eyes: the figure above, demonstrates that “agnostics and atheists” have the highest “knowledge” and “acceptance” of evolution, and that the “theistic evolutionists” (Rice et al.’s brand) and the “creationists” rank far below. Not only that, in terms of “knowledge” about evolution the theistic evolutionists and the creationists overlap (see error bars in figure), which suggest they are more similar to each other than they are to agnostics/atheists. In fact, this supports our interpretation that religion is the factor causing the 3Ds + S effects in respect to accepting evolution (above), corroborated by the data available in Miller et al. 2006, Hawley et al. 2011 and Rissler et al. 2014. The very Rice et al. state “theistic view has the more pervasive influence on both [knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution] measures.” Yet, Rice et al. manage to bow to religion by finding in The Clergy Letter Project the “instrumental view” in advancing understanding and acceptance of evolution (above).

“…Rice et al. vote for coercing science to adapt to religion. And this is why such position is unsustainable in the long term, it is destined to vanish, as much as all ‘pro-theism-in-science’ movements: theistic evolution, creation science, BioLogos or evolutionary creation, and their awkward cousin Intelligent Design…” — GPC & AE

Darwin's Dangerous IdeaDespite their own findings and statements, which, again, are not new (see our work Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b), Rice et al. continue to campaign for a marriage between science and religion by invoking “The Clergy Letter Project” (2015). Rice et al.’s position is only consistent with a minority of research faculty who endorse faith in their lives (e.g. 29% in New England, Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c). And it is in disagreement with the vast majority of members of the United States National Academy of Sciences (only 7% believe in a personal God, something reported in Nature back in 1998). Yet, Rice et al. vote for coercing science to adapt to religion. And this is why such position is unsustainable in the long term, it is destined to vanish, as much as all “pro-theism-in-science” movements: theistic evolution, creation science, BioLogos or evolutionary creation, and their awkward cousin Intelligent Design. We examine this point in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa (2015).

In addition, the pro-theism-in-science position, mostly held by old-school, conservative educators, is in disagreement with the US modern trends of decreasing religiosity among one of the most important target populations in respect to education campaigns: the college students! See, for example, the latest data from CIRP 2014 (the Cooperative Institutional Research Program and the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA), in which 25-30% of all students select “none” for religious preference:

The American Freshman National Norms Fall 2014

Despite all this available information, Rice et al. take the path of The Clergy Letter Project, rather than the correct option, which is our duty to pursue as educators: proper science schooling, with no stoppers of thought or restrains on logic.

“…for the ‘pro-theism evolution fans,’ who contortion around the idea that [religion] is not the main factor fueling the anti evolution movement, we invite them to examine the data… in which every single religious denomination in the United States ranks below the atheists in acceptance of human evolution…” — GPC & AE   

Now, for the “pro-theism evolution fans,” who contortion around the idea that “belief” (=religion) is not the main factor fueling the anti evolution movement, we invite them to examine the data from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2008), in which every single religious denomination in the United States ranks below the atheists in acceptance of human evolution:

Acceptance of Evolution US Non-religious vs Religious - Adapted from Pew 2008

Acceptance of Human Evolution in the United States, Non-religious versus Religious – Adapted from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2008: Religious Landscape Survey – Click image to enlarge.

Readers can find color images of these statistics and links to multiple sites in Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2013c, 2014b. In addition, Open Access image resources (PDF) for media, science journalists, researchers and educators (college and high school) are available at New England Science Public Series Evolution Vol.2 No. 2.

Finally, statements about our work:

Here we comment on the Rice et al.’s allegations about our work. From their introductory “background:”

“Faculty members at major research institutions are not only involved in the instruction of undergraduate students, but many are also active researchers at the forefronts of their chosen fields. Given the expectation that universities and colleges will provide the best possible education for students, we were surprised to find only one data set regarding higher education faculty knowledge of biological evolution (Paz-y-Miño and Espinosa 2011 and 2012). In both studies the authors were interested in measuring the views of college faculty on biological evolution, as well as their views on several related topics (e.g. creationism and I.D.). They used newly developed surveys that they claim accurately measure faculty “views about evolution, creationism, and intelligent design, their understanding of how the biological evolution works, and their personal convictions”. Previous work done in this field [here Rice et al. cite 13 articles from 1987 to 2011] has, however, demonstrated that accurately assessing views and understandings of biological evolution is challenging.” — Rice et al.

This is a mischaracterization of reality. Rice et al.’s agenda is to make it look like (1) there are no studies involving university faculty in this field, and (2) the existing research –like ours– should be dismissed. That leaves Rice et al. alone. Well, not so fast, the studies continue to exist even if Rice et al. advertise to ignore them.

First: quite a few authors have studied attitudes about science, evolution, climate change and GMOs (above) among university faculty (not only us, Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2011a, 2012a, 2013c, 2014b, 2015, but also Ecklund et el. 2007, 2009, Ecklund 2010 –this group has dozens of publications on scientists’ views about science/evolution and religion –note that although we disagree with Dr. Ecklund‘s interpretation of her work [she is a theist at Rice University and pro-theism in science], we do cite her papers when appropriate.

Second: we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] use a combination of questions in our surveys, some developed by others, some improved by us, a few generated by us. And we explain that in our studies (2009a,b, 2011a, 2012a,b, 2013c, 2014b), or direct readers to our past publications or cross references.

“…The purpose of any research, more so [in] polls and surveys, is to assess trends and minimize the margin of error, not to claim accuracy. All polls are based on sampling, which, by definition, leads to approximation…” — GPC & AE

Third: we never “claim [to] accurately measure” anything. In fact, the words accurately, accuracy, or accurate are never even used in our studies. The purpose of any research, more so via polls and surveys, is to assess trends and minimize the margin of error, not to claim accuracy. All polls are based on sampling, which, by definition, leads to approximation. Rice et al. lie when attributing such “claim of accuracy” to us. At this point in our scrutiny of their allegations we must also attribute their remarks to bad-intention foolishness.

But Rice et al. continue:

“For instance, while Paz-y-Mino and Espinoza (both 2011 and 2012) provide an interesting data set, their work has limitations in that it did not differentiate between what types of faculty were responding to the survey. The type of faculty that respond to a survey may significantly impact the conclusions can be drawn from the resulting data. Whether their 244 respondents were non-biologists, biologists, or some mixture of both cannot be ascertained. Second, several of the questions examining viewpoints used a forced choice response with no option of a “none of the above” response, while one question on knowledge used forced choice between five incorrect answers. Neither of these survey question formats is appropriate for determining participants’ views or knowledge (Hawkins and Coney, 1981; Tull and Hawkins, 1993). Therefore, further data on what faculty know, and accept, about biological evolution and the nature of science are needed.” — Rice et al.

Hmm: “…[our] work has limitations in that it did not differentiate between what types of faculty were responding to the survey…” Why should we differentiate between these faculty if the conceptual purpose of our paper(s) was other than making such distinction? Why should we conduct the descriptive research in which Rice et al. are interested? The one they value? This is equivalent –and as ridiculous as– to say “Rice et al.’s study has limitations because they did not differentiate between what types of political affiliation or ideology characterized the surveyed population” [which Rice et al. failed to report]. But those interested in ideology-based responses in surveys (e.g. Gallup, Pew, the very Miller et al. 2006, or even us, see Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa  2015) do care about political affiliation, ideology and other variables to understand broad cultural aspects of those responding. According to Rice et al.’s logic, their own work has “limitations” because it did not segregate the data by political affiliation and ideology (which Gallup, Pew, Miller et al., and even us have done it). Shame on Drs. Rice et al.!

But, let’s get serious. In each of the papers mentioned by Rice et al., we do provide extensive information about the sources of the data (see image below), from which readers can get an idea about where the numbers come from. [Remember that we were not, and are not, interested in examining our samples from the scope Rice et al. wish]. Moreover, colleagues are welcome to request from us data and conduct the analysis they please (of course, we will have to discuss co-authorship). So, not even in this assertion Rice et al. are “accurate.” But, here is the calculating move: do readers see how Rice et al.’s intention is to –via mischaracterization of our work– generate doubt and lead other authors to dismiss our research and be left, by default, with Rice et al.’s? And Rice et al. have done this twice (2010, 2015).

Rice et al. assert: …Whether their 244 respondents were non-biologists, biologists, or some mixture of both cannot be ascertained…— Rice et al.

Here is some homework for Rice et al., how about checking this in Table 1 of our very paper of 2011a (which was actually published online in 2010); the information below could be exhausting for any reader, but the point is to debunk Rice et al.’s half-truth that we [Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa] “did not differentiate between what types of faculty were responding to the survey,” and, therefore, our study had “limitations.” Well, we did not have to make any further distinction, beyond what we needed for the purpose of the paper –although we had the data for it, because we were not, and are not, interested in such type of proximate studies:

Table 1 Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa 2011a

From Table 1 New England institutions sampled in the study by Paz-y-Miño-C & Espinosa 2011a – The information was given as footnote to inform readers about source of data – click on image to enlarge.

Rice et al. continue to remark: “…several of the questions examining viewpoints used a forced choice response with no option of a “none of the above” response, while one question on knowledge used forced choice between five incorrect answers. Neither of these survey question formats is appropriate for determining participants’ views or knowledge…— Rice et al.

Another mischaracterization. We do not have to give the option of “none of the above” to “validate” a series of questions. Period! We even state in our papers that “note that definitions [in a given set of definitions about, for example, evolution] are not necessarily correct,” since our purpose is to examine which of several choices is selected by the responders when confronted with restricted options. Again, we do not have to be interested in other authors’ topics of research, or emulate the emphasis of their research, to validate our work. Look, for example the image below (and the figure caption) precisely making this clarification (“note that definitions are not necessarily correct;” source Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c):

Figure 16 Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa 2013c

Source Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2013c – click on image to enlarge.

And then, Rice et al. reveal, once more, the real intention of their statements: “…Neither of these survey question formats is appropriate for determining participants’ views or knowledge… Therefore, further data on what faculty know, and accept, about biological evolution and the nature of science are needed…— Rice et al.

“…Do readers see how blind folded Rice et al. become when looking at reality? This is precisely the outcome of believing in theistic evolution and evolutionary creation: it disrupts, distorts, delays and stops (3Ds + S) the acceptance of any type of evidence, more so when pro-faith authors devote themselves, and fully, to shot-gun marry evolution and religion…” — GPC & AE

Really? We caught Rice et al. again: Since neither of our “survey question formats is appropriate,” now the readers are left with a single choice: the solitude of the Rice et al.’s study in the empty infinitude where Rice et al. emerge as the pioneers of proper research, taking a victory lap, carrying each other on their own shoulders… Where is your “non-of-the-above” Drs. Rice et al.? But not so fast: we could actually agree with the Rice et al.’ victorious tone if they had found opposite results to ours, or something substantially different or new in respect to the research done, not only by us, but also by Miller et al. (2006), Hawley et al. (2011), Rissler et al. (2014), or even Kahan (2014a,b, see below). However, Rice et al. replicated our findings, thus proving the generalization value of our studies conducted at 35 colleges and universities in New England (research faculty) and at 281 institutions in the United States (educators). Do readers see how blind folded Rice et al. become when looking at reality? This is precisely the outcome of believing in theistic evolution and evolutionary creation: it disrupts, distorts, delays and stops (3Ds + S) the acceptance of any type of evidence, more so when pro-faith authors devote themselves, and fully, to shot-gun marry evolution and religion.

In a subsection titled “Qualitative Results,” Rice et al. go after the same story about evolution and origin of life (as in above):

Another misconception identified in the text responses was confusion regarding how biological evolution works. Multiple participants stated that biological evolution includes (or is) an explanation for the origin of life. As has been pointed out in other publications (Rice et al. 2010) this not the case, but it is a common misconception, even amongst some scientists (Paz-y-Miño and Espinosa 2011a; 2011b; 2012).” — Rice et al.

Interesting, Rice et al. call “publications” the single paper of 2010, which not only we debunked (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2011b), but also Peretó and Lazcano (2010) corrected and lectured Rice et al. about why evolution can provide an explanation for the origin of life (above). Rice et al.’s semantic confusion about this topic is irreparable, indeed.

“…do readers understand why is so important for theistic evolutionists, evolutionary creationists, or Intelligent Designers to remove the topic ‘origin of life’ (or of the universe) from evolution (or from science)? Their goal is to claim that evolution and science cannot explain ‘origins.’ Thus perpetuate faith and accommodation forever…” — GPC & AE

But, do readers understand why is so important for theistic evolutionists, evolutionary creationists, or Intelligent Designers to remove the topic “origin of life” (or of the universe) from evolution (or from science)? Their goal is to claim that evolution and science cannot explain “origins.” Thus perpetuate faith and accommodation forever (see our latest Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2015).

To close: Rice et al. are careless when spelling our Hispanic names (both in 2010 and 2015), which suggests inattention to detail, to say the least. But to their credit they are also sloppy in cataloging other references properly (e.g. Aguilard 1999 and Short and Hawley 2015 are mentioned in the text, but not in the list of references). Moreover, the newest citations in their paper correspond to three years ago, e.g. 2012 (Paz-y-Miño CG & Espinosa 2012a); the more recent ones are a pro religion-in-science website (The Clergy Letter Project 2015), a statistical server, and the website Understanding Evolution [which is an excellent online education resource sponsored by the University of California Museum of Paleontology]. All of this in a field that has produced dozens of refereed papers in the past few years (many in EEO), which cannot be ignored; here we just cite four crucial documents (two relevant to the research conducted by Rice et al.), which Rice et al. ought to acknowledge existence (not to mention Dr. Ecklund‘s work, who, like Rice et al., also aims at match-making science and religion; however, Dr. Ecklund’s research program is robust, comprehensive, impressive):

Rissler, L J., S I. Duncan, and N M. Caruso. 2014. The Relative Importance of Religion and Education on University Students’ Views of Evolution in the Deep South and State Science Standards Across the United States. Evolution: Education and Outreach 7: 24.

Kahan, D M. 2014a. Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances Political Psychology.

Kahan, D M. 2014b. ‘Ordinary Science Intelligence’: A Science Comprehension Measure for Use in the Study of Risk Perception and Science Communication. The Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper No. 112, Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 504.

Hawley, P H., S D. Short, L A. McCune, M R. Osman, and T D. Little. 2011. What’s the Matter with Kansas?: The Development and Confirmation of the Evolutionary Attitudes and Literacy Survey (EALS). Evolution: Education and Outreach 4: 117–32.

CONCLUSION: We have responded to Rice et al. in two occasions after these authors, unknown to us, have targeted our research on acceptance of evolution. We have never peer-reviewed manuscripts authored by this group; we have never met these researchers at any national or international scientific meeting; we have not interacted directly or indirectly with these researchers via mutual colleagues; and we have no interest in building an unproductive relationship with them. But, we will respond to their –or any– attacks on our academic careers that are based on attempting to marginalize our work, due to non-collegial competition, academic greed, or because we have an openly secular approach to examining and understanding the evolution controversy. We have an intellectual interest in the evolution controversy and aim at investigating it under an ultimate level of analysis: the Incompatibility Hypothesis (Paz-y-Miño-C and Espinosa 2012b, 2013a,c, 2014a,b, 2015).

*  *  *  *  *     *  *  *  *  *     *  *  *  *  *

Evolution Stands Faith Up: Reflections on Evolution’s Wars By NOVA Publishers, New York Soft Cover. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.comAmazon UK.

Paz-y-Mino-C_Book_Cover_Evolution_Stands_Faith_Up_JPEG“The sweet spot of this collection of essays is the interface of science, history and literacy. Paz-y-Miño-C is, in essence, a champion of rationalism and a passionate defender of literacy standards. His essays deftly weave hard survey data and memorable turns of phrase with evocative imagery… While the essays in this collection are vast in coverage —from climate change to energy policy, stem cell research, vaccinations and, especially, evolution— a clear underlying theme emerges: [the author’s] goal is no less than to counter, through the lens of history and the majesty of rationalism, social forces that sanction ignorance, celebrate denial and… continue to diminish our global status in the fields of science and technology.” Jeff Podos, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA.

“Paz-y-Miño-C  is a firm believer in evolutionary processes. He would like to see decisions made on the basis of facts, not unsupported opinion. He abhors and fears irrational thinking, especially ‘the views of those who see evil in truth and menace in the realities discovered by science.’ He marvels at the intricacy and diversity of life, and how it came about through natural selection… and is clearly frustrated by the unwillingness of so many to see the beauty and majesty in this view of the world and all that it explains.” – Jan A. Pechenik, PhD, Professor of Biology, Tufts University, USA, author of The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species, as Edited for Modern Readers.

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