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Climate Change Denial and the Refusal to Accept Evolution


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Moderation note: 5 posts were moved from this thread to the Earth science forum thread 18580 because they discuss the science of climate change, rather the psychology of why people believe what they do about climate change and evolution.


So, most of you have probably seen people argue fervently against evolution, despite the mountains of evidence in its favor and the more than a century of it successfully dispatching with every challenge thrown its way.


Likewise, you've probably seen countless global climate change denials supported by comments from people who don't even work in the field, or who have some agenda to push, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus across research modalities and across the globe that humans right now are the primary forcing factor in the climate change we are experiencing.


So, this is a psychology thread. Let's hash it out. What are the commonalities among these two types of person? What parallels are there between someone who discounts the human impact and seriousness of global climate change and someone who disregards evolution?


One common theme I sense is source of data. For example, both tend to be more common among neo conservatives, however, that's hardly exhaustive. I sense religion to be a key role, especially in denial of evolution. However, I want to get beyond that and explore deeper reasons... more archaic psychological reasons, and the psychosocial contributors to these phenomenon. This ISN'T a global warming thread. We are accepting AGW as given for purposes of this conversation, just as we are accepting evolution as true. Now, what causes people to deny them, and what are the similarities?


Be honest. Feelings might get hurt, but I personally find that okay as long as rudeness or being mean is not your primary intention. :)

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The Conservatives fear global warming because it means they loose money. The cure for global warming will hurt those people who are currently making money in areas that laws to help change GW would hurt. They also fear that the changes to stop or reverse GW will change the balance or power in the form of Money going to someone other then them. They know they didn't see the change coming in time to capitalize on it and they are too greedy to allow anyone else to make money.


Resistance to Evolution is mostly religious in nature, the religious fear that admitting the truth of evolution will hurt their power base. They want to have a strangle hold on the truth. And truth that is outside the bonds of their religion is a challenge.


The Conservatives, especially the neo-cons, have been mixing religion politics and capitalism so long they can no longer separate these things. It's helps both sides to oppose both ideas, by opposing evolution the neo-cons/republicans gain the support of the religious right, by opposing GW the religious right gains the support of the neo-cons.


The religious right slavishly follows the Conservatives because they think the Conservatives share their values. They refuse to see the only thing the neo-cons and the religious right really share is a need for power and a willingness to lie, cheat, spread fear, and anything else it takes to make sure their constituents follow them without question.

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[initial musings on the OP]


I should probably recuse myself, but....


Cool idea! I wonder if there is a strong overlap between the groups who have strong opinions about these two topics--either way.


Change is the fundamental value--implicit in each of these overarching ideas.


...and in both systems the change is obscure, and it takes work and learning to be able to see the change--to see how, when, and where it changes.


Could it be as simple as the slow, long-term character, and gradualism of the change that makes it hard to "believe?"



I can see the need to rigorously define change vs. variance, to better talk about these ideas....

[Discussion on Evolution may be able to help inform the discussion on CC.]

[& vice versa--for additional or novel evolution modes/mechanisms]

But, knowing both these areas well,

I can see lots of parallel....

Wow! Thanks!!


One parallel that breaks down is the "population size" or sample size that we can look at.

It's more like the planet is one individual of one species, and we're watching it evolve--each year representing a new generation for that species--but we never get to see what other individuals of that species are doing during each generation.

We have nothing to compare the variance with, horizontally across each generation--except models of how a similar individual should vary--containing slight mutations such as different CO2 levels, cloud cover, albedo, etc.



I can see there might be similar determinants of the basic "conservative v. progressive" dichotomy.

...again both involving change....


hmmmm.... :) bbl....

~out to lunch


p.s. Maybe you could have just entitled this topic as CHANGE DENIAL/ACCEPTANCE :)

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As Inow has noted, American conservative Republicans are more likely to doubt evolutionary theory, that the Earth is warming, and that humans have contributed to the warming of the Earth than other political affiliations.


The influence of religious fundamentalism on the ideology of the Republican party is glaring.

Noting that religiosity is negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution, I wonder whether or not a similar correlation exists between religiosity and acceptance of the reality revealed by climate science.


Another interesting parallel between evolution-denialism and climate-denialism is that creationists often quote non-evolutionary scientists who have a superficial understanding of evolutionary biology as experts, or reliable, credible interpreters of evolutionary science(examples would be the biochemist or physician fellows at the DI).

Climate-denialists often quote non-climate scientists who possess a potentially-seductive superficial understanding of climate science as though these were legitimate or credible sources of information(examples would be two of the most popular climate-denialist blogs, which are run by an ex-weatherman and a mineral scientist).



A difference between evolution-denialism and climate-change-denialism is that creationism seems to be more obviously religiously motivated(although I have met an agnostic/atheist who did not accept evolution. As far as I could tell, it was from a misunderstanding of the scientific method/peer review, and a general unhealthy skepticism and rebellious streak).

Climate-change-denialism is not necessarily inspired by religious belief, but I suspect that religion does play a large role in fostering anti-scientific sentiments in this case as well.

If you believe the universe was designed by a benevolent deity(as the most popular brand of religion in America claims) with specific attention paid to our planet-- a planet created for human exploitation-- this may be difficult to reconcile with the reality of an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to life due to our own rapacious consumption.


As an interesting aside, the Discovery Institute is now apparently engaged in climate-change-denialism. Combine this with the fact that the founder, and more than one of the fellows are involved in AIDS denialism, and you have a holy trinity of un-reason.

I could swear I stumbled upon an article somewhere linking the DI to anti-vaccination nonsense as well, but I am either mis-remembering, or am unable to find it....

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As an interesting aside, the Discovery Institute is now apparently engaged in climate-change-denialism. Combine this with the fact that the founder, and more than one of the fellows are involved in AIDS denialism, and you have a holy trinity of un-reason.


Well... that's VERY telling. Anything the DI touches is a lie... that's my interpretation, anyway. I had no idea they were denying AIDS, too. That's just ridiculous, really.


Seriously, there is a common thread with these denialist tendencies. I'm all about being skeptical and ensuring you check the facts before accepting the principle. That's just good science. This, however, is ignoring the science, hence by definition is NOT "good science."


Is it really as simple as "religion" that ties these beliefs together?



I don't doubt that as a possibility, but I must admit that it would disturb me on a pretty deep level considering how widespread religious belief is in our culture.

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One thing evolution, AIDS and global warming have in common is they are a blend of science and politics. Most people trust science, because it leads to so many useful things. But many are on the fence when science combines with politics. If you look at the political process, it often involves promises one is not required to keep. It involves rhetoric that appeals to the feelings which can be fear, scandal or warm and fuzzy. The rational person questions whether they just manipulating me to get my vote. Science is not consensus, since the data should stand for itself. Consensus is happens in politics at its best.


If you look at these three issues, in terms of politics, they are much closer to atheism and the democratic party. It was already pointed out the republican party and people with a more religious bent, are in a state of denial relative to that political platform. I am more in the middle. I try to filter out the politics, that is divided down party lines, which is heavy in political doom and gloom. This future prediction is where science becomes more like science fiction, since all assumed future data, is not hard data, like the past data of the real science. That is why politics is needed. If you look at Al Gore, he combines the real data with an infomercial to make it political. The informercial is where science breaks down causing the split at party lines.

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This is several days worth of spit-balling on this topic.

HydroB, your ideas motivated me to add that last third. Thanks!

Another difference between the two major topics, climate and evolution, is that climate change is presented as needing a solution, whereas evolution is not seen as a problem, except by the religious fundamentalists that may feel threatened by the seeming contradictions with Creationism.



...but thinking of the example of AIDS....

Maybe it's simply "government involvement" that is the key characteristic of a cause, problem, or paradigm which motivates the strong reaction in denialist-types. Strong religious fidelity might be just another expression of that revulsion to government involvement.


Free-enterprise ideology sees government involvement, regulation, or competition as anathema, amoral, and abhorent.

It is mainly those religions--which can be interpreted to promote or exalt the material rewards that free enterprise can provide--mainly those religions which are used to support the denialist, anti-government mindset.


I think those religions also provide the source of certitude for denialists who see government as nothing but a transient interference; and a source of certitude that sees intellectualism as also transient--the latest fad--as previous intellectual proclamations (like government edicts) have passed into the passe.



Though now that I think about certitude, I wonder if it is as simple as a spectrum of personality types--personalities with a proclivity to cleave to certitude, or personalities compelled to embrace vicissitude.


That's an interesting spectrum to think about; from certitude to vicissitude. When integrated into a personality, each end contains elements--at different levels--of the other end, like a yin-yang symbol.


~ :)

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Aackk! Our goal is to become the first species NOT to cause its own extinction due to poor houskeeping.

Look at biology, history, natural history, social history....


OTOH, I think it is undoubtable that man is the primary cause, the only cause from my point of view, of massive global pollution and environmental damage. We only have one planet capable of supporting life as we know it and we all have to share. If we trash what we have we've nowhere else to go. So far massive exterminations have occurred as a result of asteroid impacts or volcanic acivity.
Well, I certainly agree with that!


For years your points were my main focus as the central problem for mankind. However, I came to see, after looking at the climate records, that our "damaging" activities were equivalent to several volcanos--running constantly, for centuries.

...And our perpetuation of monocultures is equivalent to a succession of small meteor strikes across the land and sea.


The rapidity with which our climate can change modes is what frightens me the most, so that became my main focus.


Your survey of climate history and averages should look at the averages for the different modes, and not the collective average of several modes.

Also you should focus on the recent (5-10 Mya) history, where the current geography and global eco-cycle adds so much to climate forcings/attenuations.



That the solution to moderating the climate is to clean up the environment and manage the global ecosystem like a well-oiled machine, is just a happy coincidence--right?


~ :)


p.s. ...another happy coincidence: That strategy also works to help with poverty, health, education, energy, and economic solutions.

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Is it really as simple as "religion" that ties these beliefs together?

Well, we all know correlation =/= causation, but the correlation at least is undeniable.


Another interesting parallel I have since stumbled upon is that both climate-change-denialists and evolution-denialists have compiled lists of scientists in completely unrelated fields who dissent from the scientific consensus as though the fact that someone has a degree in engineering(or interior design, or whatever) makes them any more qualified than any other non-expert.

I will refrain from linking to these lists(usually several hundred or so scientists in the cases of both climate and evolution denialists) and simply link to Project Steve, which I think clearly demonstrates why these lists are useless and misleading.

Also, fun coincidental factoid, Obama-appointed Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was one of the first signatories to Project Steve.

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Scientists are there to make life better - a wave of the magic wand and we have more prolific crops, faster transportation, more powerful computers, cleaner water, improved healthcare, better weapons... that's what science and technology is for. A servant to the masses, calling up new wonders on demand.


That's the entire purpose of science. When it starts to prescribe, and even worse, proscribe, the masses turn against it fast. Don't smoke. Don't drink. Don't drive SUVs. Don't have unsafe sex. The last one gets mixed up with what I call "puritan science" - don't eat or drink anything tasty; don't do anything enjoyable. :)


As for evolution, and before that the heliocentric solar system, your average joe sees them as useless talking points. Why doesn't science go back to what it should be doing, they say, and stay away from the other stuff?

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Since I became acquainted with its ideas nearly a decade ago, I’ve tended to cast any “psychology of a political position” question in terms of the model proposed in George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics”. This model proposes that a fundamental driver of individuals’ politics is the relationship she or he learned to have with his or her parent(s), and divides these relationships into two major categories: Strict Father Morality, which goes with the political right; and Nurturant Parent Morality, which goes with the left.


Beginning with the assumption that most people don’t accept or reject evolution, climate change, or nearly any scientific theory through personal scientific testing or expert review of literature, but from authorities, such as science spokespeople and political and religious leaders, the question becomes one of choice in authorities


A prediction of the SF/NP model is that people disposed to SFM prefer their authority to come from individual people, while NPM prefers it to come from the consensus of many. I suspect (but, given the difficulty of testing hypotheses like these, can’t support very rigorously) that this difference is at the heart of an explanation of the correlation of acceptance of evolution, anthropogenic global warming, and science in general with the political left, and rejection of the same by the right, because authorities supporting these propositions are usually somewhat anonymous members of large, consensus-driven, non-hierarchal organizations (eg: the IPCC), while those rejecting them are usually charismatic individuals (eg: Rush Limbaugh).


This phenomena seems to me very robust (hard to alter), because scientific consensuses innately require many people agreeing to them in a peer-to-peer fashion, while denying them can be done by individual or small bands of “rebels” against the consensuses. Therefore, I doubt that very many people with SFM will accept scientific consensuses until these consensus become “common knowledge”, a process I suspect may take generations (30+ years), if it occurs at all.

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The Reality-Based Community: Global-warming denialism as a conspiracy theory


Global-warming denialism as a conspiracy theory


"One largely unremarked aspect of global-warming denialism (as exemplified by
[below] and
) is that it amounts to a conspiracy theory. All of the world's actual climate scientists, and everyone in an a allied field capable of understanding their models, would have to be co-conspirators in the plot, with only a rag-tag group of economists, meteorologists, petroleum geologists, astrologers, and political pundits capable of seeing, and willing to say, that the emperor has no clothes.


Most of the glibertarians, cultural conservatives, and gadget-heads who constitute the useful idiots around the core oil-and-coal-company global-warming denialist constituency would be horrified to imagine themselves playing the role of 9/11 Truthers, or RFK Jr. pumping the thimerosal/autism link, or Thabo Mbeki claiming that AIDS isn't caused by HIV. But all four "movements" are alike in depending on
(Holocaust denialism is similar in that respect, but different in being almost entirely insincere: the Holocaust deniers seem to be saying, "Hitler didn't kill all those Jews, and I'm glad he did.")


One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn't firm.] I haven't seen any data on the overlap between global-warming denialism and creationism, but thinking about Sarah Palin and her fans you'd have to guess at a strong correlation between the two beliefs.


Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it's fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.


And yet the Washington Post continues to make op-ed space available for flat-earth climatology.


There's legitimate dispute about what to do about global warming, how much to do, and how fast to do it. And there's uncertainty in the models. (Though that uncertainty, the deniers seem to forget, means that the models might be too modest, as well as too alarmist, in their warnings.) But denialism doesn't promote that serious debate: it merely introduces fake uncertainty, which makes it harder to see all the real uncertainty. "


Via Swans on Tea



"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. " :)

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Global warming is real. But the future is analogous to a glass of water that can been seen as being half empty or half full. The consensus sees the glass half full of gloom and doom. The fear causes one to want immediate action. Fear is based on the fight-flight reaction and is the strongest emotional potential. It needs quick action to reduce fear as fast as possible.


Global warming also has a bright side, which analogous to the glass being half full. This side of the coin is not stressed. The lower emotional potential is longer acting in time, which is why some appear to drag their feet. It is denial, but in the sense of denying consensus fear in favor of a calmer emotional potential. If you had a fire in a theatre, the more we panic the more likely we create a stampede because we only think right in front of us. If you stay calm, everything is more orderly.


Relative to the bright side of global warming; some of the major concerns of the future of the earth is human population growth, food and water. A warmer earth with more CO2, means more rain and more fresh water, more habitable land, and more crops for food. A warmer earth can better support a larger future population. But the glass is only half full, and there will be natural disasters until we reach steady state. But with modern early warnings, fewer humans will die compared to not being able to meet the futures needs for food and water for billions of people.


For example, say hurricanes and flooding increases. We can evacuate people from critical areas. The average hurricane may cause 10-100 fatalities. But with cooler temperatures, the earth can't produce as much food or fresh water and that could lead to hundreds of millions of casualties down the line. Say we lose the parts of the coastline, but large areas of Siberia, Canada, Greenland, etc. become more open to farming, the world food supply will increase for the future needs. The change will occur like lava flowing; slow. With early warning it will be more of an inconvenience until it reaches the warmer steady state. Then the earth is posed for the future.


When under the spell of fear, urgency can only see the short term, because that is how far in time fear looks, since it is naturally designed for immediate resolution. The current solution may be the best choice, in terms of the short term mindset of herd fear, but it may not time project enough to be the best solution in terms of a longer time scale. The analogy that comes to mind is one feels threatened, reaches for a bat and clubs someone. Based on 5 seconds of time, this may be the best solution to resolve fear. But based on the next 10-20 years it may not be the best choice.


One of the differences between conservative and liberals is time scale. Conservatives, like the name implies is long term or long time cycles. Liberal is more short term, and rapid change, so I can see the basis of the dividing line, with fear more appealing to a lower time scale set point.

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Okay, let me put this out on the table...



Is it possible that people who deny human induced global climate change and who deny the process of evolution by natural selection are too stupid to understand them and the consistency of data which we have in support?


I'm not sure stupid is the correct word, i like to use ignorant by choice, these people are not stupid, if they were they wouldn't be so effective in convincing others of their party line, They are ignorant by choice, they choose to be ignorant about certain things so they can oppose them in good conscience, most of the people who really lead the anti Global warming drive have something to loose via the admission of global warming and or the technologies that would allow something to be done about it. The religious get involved because they take the stance that God will not allow us to ruin the Earth and it's our god given right to do what we want with the Earth. Both ideas converge via chosen ignorence.....:shrug:

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