The world celebrated Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday this past Thursday. Darwin, as many know, is known for his revolutionary theory of evolution. Evolution has been unanimously acknowledged by the scientific community and served as the basis of biology. But compared to other scientific theories (yup! gravity is a theory too), evolution gets the step-brotherly treatment from the general population driven primarily from religious dogma.
Surprisingly, according to this chart by Pew Research, a higher percentage of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews abelieve in evolution than atheists (unaffiliated)[via]. Go figure! Does this imply that religiosity does not affect belief in evolution? Probably but it helps to remind oneself that Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews make up for less than one percent individually of the total population and they are more likely to be college-educated and high-income. The religious zealots of these religions are less likely to be in the United States although religious tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism isn’t in conflict with evolution compared to Christianity. High levels of education and income probably explain the Jewish angle. It is still a significant level above the general United States population of which only 48% believe in evolution. The role of religion in social and cultural life in the United States has permeated to the educational system leading to skewed beliefs and results in United States lagging behind in belief for evolution compared to its peers of developed nations.
Sakshi had raised the issue (on Twitter) on whether people really understand how evolution works as opposed to belief. I admit that the Maharashtra school board hardly touched on the topic let alone explain it. If it was taught after 10th standard, I had already opted for a Biology-exempt curriculum of PCM (Physics-Chemistry-Maths) for my 12th boards. Yup, I blame the educational system for not including teaching of evolution earlier but that’s a rant for another day. I would attribute belief in evolution or for that matter, any scientific fact as deferring to the experts whom we implicitly trust. There is much in our technologically advanced society that we do not understand but believe in. Of course, one should make utmost efforts to understand evolution but to merely dismiss it without actually studying it because of its apparent contradiction with your religious beliefs is detrimental to your intellect. On a related note, read Olivia Judson’s Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation delightful, fun, and of course, informative book on mechanisms of evolution.
On the Indian front, if a higher percentage of Indians ‘believe’ in evolution then it is probably due to the fact that there is no competing argument present in the Indian society as intelligent design is in the United States. The level of religiosity in India is similar to that of the U.S. but compared to Christianity, Hinduism perhaps does not impose strict beliefs that believers need to adhere to be considered as Hindus. Science and religion have largely co-existed peacefully in India and although there have been occasional skirmishes, science and education has been left alone. Not surprisingly, belief in evolution in rigid Islamic societies is pretty low too and I’m not sure the United States wants to be in that company.