DI complaining psych study linking belief in evolution with less racism

There was a recent psychology study a few months ago that analyzed survey data to investigate whether…

…people’s basic belief in the notion that human beings have developed from other animals (i.e., belief in evolution) can predict human-to-human prejudice and intergroup hostility.

It proclaims to show that…

…low belief in human evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice, racist attitudes, and support for discriminatory behaviors against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ), Blacks, and immigrants in the United States

…and finally, the alleged…

findings highlight the importance of belief in human evolution as a potentially key individual-difference variable predicting racism and prejudice.

My initial reaction to this study was that, while this is easy for me to accept such a conclusion (as I affirm the validity our shared ancestry with other animals), I do think that belief in evolution in general doesn’t stop anyone from being a bigot against the ‘other’. And also don’t like the responses akin to saying “Well actually, creationism leads to racism, not evolution”. It’s more complicated than this. There is no rational justification for bigotry, but bigots will still try to exploit and abuse whatever they can twisting it into supporting their prejudice. That’s why racists use anything and everything to justify racism; from statistics, genetics, religion, evolution, and germ theory. Some creationists would say that evolution is ‘unique’ in this regards since it does give a rationale for racism. However, every time they try to argue this, they merely show a misunderstanding of evolution; e.g. the supposed belief that some humans are “more evolved”, as in ‘better’ or ‘superior’, which isn’t a thing in evolutionary theory. They would also commonly make the mistake in thinking that evolution (as a descriptive theory) has any prescriptive statements on how society should be government; a form of the naturalistic fallacy.

Moving on, after reading the study more thoroughly, I now think that I may have dismissed the study too quickly. Although, they still aren’t saying that the belief of common ancestry itself would inhibit someone from going down the racist rabbit hole. It’s much more subtle. They point out that a common tendency of bigotry is the dehumanization of the ‘other’. To instill hatred by portraying them as “animals” in a derogatory sense in order circumvent our default tendency to be socially kind to others. So, (re-)humanization of out groups is one counter measure to bigotry, but the study also points out that another counter is perceiving oneself as being similar to other animals, or the complete acceptance of the notion that they are are animals themselves. Basically, dehumanizing would be much more difficult if you don’t subscribe to human exceptionalism, and seeing bit of oneself in other animals with a degree of empathy and respect would make one less prone to bigotry. This hypothesis has been supported by previous studies. Here the researchers hypothesize how belief in evolution, specifically shared ancestry with animals, could act as another psychological factor that figures into this.

The link between belief in evolution and prejudice has mostly been overlooked. Instead what has gained considerably more attention is how perceiving oneself as similar to animals (PSSA) can potentially reduce prejudice. We theorize that those who believe that humans evolved from animals, could, as an extension express greater PSSA.

So they aren’t exactly saying that belief in evolution would make one less prone to bigotry, at least not in general. Specifically, they are saying that…

…at least one core tenet of the theory of evolution has the potential to reduce prejudice and intergroup hostility – that is, the idea that human beings have developed from other animals

The fact that they specify this ‘key tenet’ is important. It’s not that belief in evolution in general would be a hinder to racism. One could believe in evolution, but also believe that human evolution was in some way ‘special’ such that they don’t see the animal heritage of humans, e.g. a flavor of orthogenesis (progressive evolution), although this is a frequent misconception and it is not supported by modern evolutionary theory.

SUMMARY: the research was conducted in 8 studies.
Study 1: American GSS focused on American born participants, showing how belief in evolution correlates with attitudes towards African Americans/Blacks (and other out groups) in terms of government aid, affirmative action, and general attitudes and behavioral intentions towards Blacks, and General attitudes and behavioral intentions towards Whites. They also include attitude towards immigrants, LGBTQ, and account for potential covariates (views on animal rights, political affiliation, religion, income and education). Even controlling for covariates, the belief that humans evolved from animals was (though often individually weak, multiple variables were significantly and) consistently associated with less prejudice, less racist attitudes and less support for discriminatory behaviors.

Study 2: Eastern Europe focused on 19 eastern European countries and analyzed how belief in evolution affects negative attitudes towards outgroups (Roma, Catholics, Muslims and Jews), and attitudes towards homosexuality. Denying the theory of human evolution related to reduced acceptance of outgroups (Roma, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews) and of homosexuality.

Study 3: Muslim Countries focused on 25 Muslim countries and analyzed how belief in evolution affects negative attitudes towards outgroups (acceptance of inter-faith relationships), and attitudes towards homosexuality, and views on death penalty and suicide bombing. Belief in human evolution associated with less support for the death penalty and acceptance of intergroup relationships (friendships and marriage). Although no significant association (+ or -) found regarding support for suicide bombing, which due to its rare occurrence wasn’t surprising. Also, they stress that suicide bombing seems to be related to various historical and geopolitical dynamics in different countries and more research is needed to understand this.

Study 4: Israel analyzed how belief in evolution affects the views of Israelis on expelling Arabs, preferential treatment of Jews, acceptance of inter-faith relationships, and on peace between Israel and Palestine. Disbelief in human evolution associated with disfavorable outgroup attitudes (having less outgroup friends, expressing greater support for the expulsion of Arabs), more support of preferential treatment for Jews, and less support for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Study 5 Examined American participants belief in human evolution and their attitudes towards different real out groups (Iran, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey) and even a fictitious nation “Panemistan”, using more comprehensive measures in samples drawn from online platforms and more suitable parametrics for statistical tests. The results largely replicated the link between belief in human evolution from animals and prejudice/intergroup hostility…even for a fictional out group.

Study 6 Testing the relationship between the belief in human evolution and perceived similarity of the self to animals (PSSA), determining whether they are conceptually distinct from each other. Belief in human evolution was positively related to education, weakly negatively related to age, and strongly negatively correlated with conservative political ideology. Conversely, PSSA was unrelated to education level and age, and negatively related to income and conservative political ideology, but significantly less so than belief in human evolution. Crucially, belief in human evolution and PSSA were only moderately and positively correlated. Confirmatory factor analyses further validated the hypothesis that the belief that humans evolved from animals and PSSA are psychometrically distinguishable constructs.

Study 7 Testing whether perceived similarity of the self to animals (PSSA) mediated the association of belief in human evolution with prejudice. Specifically, testing the hypothesis that those who believe that humans evolved as a species from animals would also express greater perceived similarity to animals, and as a result would be less likely to express prejudicial attitudes. A causal model was difficult to determine, which the researcher sought to address in the final study.

Study 8 Here they experimentally ‘manipulated’ the participants beliefs on evolution to establish a causal link with increased perceived similarity of oneself to animals (PSSA), and with decreased support for prejudice. One group was assigned to read a piece on human evolution from animals, with visuals of ape ancestors. A control group read a piece on the ‘evolution’ of currency (coins to paper bills); and a third group read nothing. The results show that, while there was no direct effect on PSSA nor prejudice, there was a statistically significant indirect effect in which our post-manipulation increase in belief in human evolution was related to less prejudice. Furthermore, there was also a small but statistically significant sequential indirect effect, in which changes in post-manipulation beliefs in human evolution from animals were associated with prejudice through PSSA.

This study was previously mentioned on this forum. However, I would like to address a blog post on DI’s 'Evolution New’s by Richard Weikart. We all are familiar with the fact that the Discovery Institute (and creationists in general) likes to blame racism on evolution. Specifically, Weikart who has focused his career on blaming evolution and Darwin specifically for the horrors of Nazi Germany, not without receiving criticism [e.g. here or here] I might add. So it is no surprise that they take issue with the conclusions on this study. I also find it not surprising that they don’t take any issues regarding the associations with prejudice against LGBTQ people, but I digress.

First thing that caught my eye is Weikart’s apparent surprise that they authors admit that evolution has been used to justify racism:

Interestingly, however, at the beginning of the study, the authors admit that belief in evolution has been used in the past to promote and justify racism. Clearly the authors — who embrace evolution, but reject racism — find these historical connections troubling. Thus, while admitting that evolution has been historically connected to racism, they seek to counter this by allegedly demonstrating that belief in human evolution today makes one less prone to racism.

We know that evolution has been (ab)used by racists, but that doesn’t preclude whether belief in evolution can be a factor in making someone less racists. I would think that Weikart himself also acknowledged that religion, Christianity in particular, has been abused and distorted to support racism and all kinds of bigotry, while also believing that proper Christianity teaches all humans are God’s children and thus deserving of equal rights and treatment.

This study does not provide an adequate explanation as to why belief in evolution would cause one to be less racist.

This is false. They link belief in evolution and perceiving oneself as similar to animals and how that affects prejudice towards out groups, as I have explained earlier. This is all clearly outlined starting in the second paragraph of the introduction, right after the first paragraph that Weikarts refers to about the admission that evolution has been used to promote racism. So, Weikart doesn’t really have an excuse to not have read past the first paragraph. This is blatant dishonesty.

Indeed, the logic seems backwards. Believing in human evolution typically means that one believes that human races diverged from each other a very long time ago in the past. Those disbelieving evolution would typically believe that humans had a much more recent common ancestor (unless one believes that races were separately created, but I don’t know anyone around today who still holds this outmoded idea).

There still are several of those extremely racist groups around. Also, human evolution says that humans share the same set of ancestors just a few thousand years ago. It is a common mistake to believe that, since humans went out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago, humans were genetically isolated from that time on. It’s doesn’t. Genealogies continued to travel back and forth between continents, which means every single one of us share the same set of ancestors that were every single continent from 7 thousand years ago or as recent as 4 thousand years ago. More importantly, Weikart does not provide an adequate explanation as to why belief in recent (several thousand years ago) ancestry as opposed distant ancestry (tens of thousands of years ago) to would cause one to be less racist.

He says that “This is why Darwin claimed that racial inequality was evidence for his theory” (while citing his own recent book). I don’t really care what Darwin said. He isn’t the profit of evolutionism, and he has said plenty of wrong things. Still, while Darwin did express his racial prejudice, regarding the distance of the relationship between all humans, Darwin argued quite the opposite:

“The question whether mankind consists of one or several species has of late years been much agitated by anthropologists, who are divided into two schools of monogenists and polygenists. Those who do not admit the principle of evolution, must look at species either as separate creations or as in some manner distinct entities; and they must decide what forms to rank as species by the analogy of other organic beings which are commonly thus received. […] Those naturalists, on the other hand, who admit the principle of evolution, and this is now admitted by the greater number of rising men, will feel no doubt that all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock; whether or not they think fit to designate them as distinct species, for the sake of expressing their amount of difference. […] If the races of man were descended, as supposed by some naturalists, from two or more distinct species, which had differed as much, or nearly as much, from each other, as the orang differs from the gorilla, it can hardly be doubted that marked differences in the structure of certain bones would still have been discoverable in man as he now exists. Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole organisation is taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these points are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans differ as much from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Fuegians on board the “Beagle,” with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate. […] So again it is almost a matter of indifference whether the so-called races of man are thus designated, or are ranked as species or sub-species; but the latter term appears the most appropriate. Finally, we may conclude that when the principles of evolution are generally accepted, as they surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and the polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.”
— Darwin “Descent of Man”, p. 228-235

Next Weikar claims that the correlation is explained by ‘elitist conformism’:

However, this study does show that there is some correlation between disbelief in evolution and racism (and if anyone reading this is actually guilty of racism, I implore you to jettison it). I consider it likely that this correlation has more to do with sociological factors, rather than ideological factors. People who accept evolution often do so because they want to conform to the prevailing opinions of the intellectual elites. These people would likely be more cosmopolitan and thus less prone to racism. They would also tend to embrace the prevailing opinions of the intellectual elites about racism. If the intellectual elites were largely evolutionists who embraced racism — as they were when “scientific racism” was in vogue in the early 20th century — then such people would embrace both evolution and racism.

Citation needed. Next up…

Secondly, this study uses indicators of racism that are slanted to their own progressive views. Two indicators that they use to measure racism are support for affirmative action and support for government programs supporting blacks. It does not surprise me that people disbelieving human evolution also reject affirmative action and government programs to help blacks. Ironically, many reject these precisely because they oppose big government and even see these as racist measures, i.e., as government programs that discriminate on the basis of race.

While I do think that these two indicators are not perfect. Like, overt racists tend to vehemently oppose affirmative action, but not every objection stems from a racial prejudice. However, in my opinion the argument that affirmative action is ‘a form of racism’ is erroneous. The reason of those policies are to correct for discrimination. Calling the principle on a bully is not bullying the bully. A better (although unrealistic) analogy would be witnessing a race (as in sports) where one had a clear had start over the other, and that after the race is over the reps correct for the head start by setting the finish line for the disadvantaged a bit further back. Although in real life we would redo the race before the race is over of course, but the point is that in this situation calling the correction ‘unfair’ is completely missing the point. The only reason one would say that is if they think there was no unfairness to begin with. That is exactly what people think when they say affirmative action is discriminatory since they believe that we are living in a meritocracy. Hence the saying “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression." I wouldn’t say that this is ‘overt racism’, but I do think that the believing that racial inequality is the result of merit (or lack thereof), rather than differences in opportunity, stems from a subtle prejudice. And there is indeed evidence to indicate that such ‘principled objection’ against affirmative action is “driven not merely by race-neutral values but also by dominance-related concerns like racism.”

Finally…

…some of the findings in this study were not all that clear-cut. In the section where they examined attitudes that were clearly racist — a section called “Feelings Towards Blacks” — the most recent surveys showed that in two of the three categories there were no significant differences between people who believed in human evolution and those who disbelieved. The two that showed no difference were “how close the respondent feels to Blacks” and “how White individuals felt about living in a neighborhood that was half-Black.” In those two categories, those believing in human evolution were no less racist than those disbelieving. The only category that showed a significant difference was in attitudes about interracial marriage.

That’s from the portion of study 1 where they examined data from 2000-2018. Reading from the portion dealing with data from 1993, 1994 and 2000: “Controlling for the same covariates, belief in human evolution was positively associated with sympathy towards Blacks, β = .08, SE = .03, p = .037; but not with admiration towards Blacks (p > .05). Further, belief in human evolution was associated with increased willingness to live close to Blacks, β = .15, SE = .05, p = .003; support for a relative to marry somebody who is Black, β = .25, SE = .06, p < .001; but not for interracial marriage in general, (p = .105). Belief in human evolution was also negatively related to support for segregation, both in terms of the belief that Blacks should not push themselves in society, β = - .07, SE = .03, p = .042; and that Whites have the right to segregate neighborhoods, β = -.07, SE = .02, p = .026.”

What this difference could mean is that racial prejudice in people who don’t accept evolution was more pronounced (and more significantly distinct from the views of those who do accept evolution) further in the past. I don’t find that particularly surprising, and I also don’t see how this undermines the central thesis the paper.

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The study itself does not surprise me at all.

Hmm, that the DI would object also does not surprise me.

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A follow-up.

I have been thinking about Weikart’s assertion that the correlation of disbelief in evolution and racism that he…

…consider it likely that this correlation has more to do with sociological factors, rather than ideological factors. People who accept evolution often do so because they want to conform to the prevailing opinions of the intellectual elites. These people would likely be more cosmopolitan and thus less prone to racism. They would also tend to embrace the prevailing opinions of the intellectual elites about racism. If the intellectual elites were largely evolutionists who embraced racism — as they were when “scientific racism” was in vogue in the early 20th century — then such people would embrace both evolution and racism.

Weikart gave no evidence for this claim. Still, I was curious and started searching for papers on relation between attitudes towards authority and acceptance of evolution (or science in general). If Weikart is right, then an authoritarian mindset (more respect for, acceptance of, or conformity to authority opinion) would correlate with belief in science. However, what I found was quite not that.

In a 2021 paper by John R. Kerr, Marc S. Wilson show that "the ideological attitudes relating to (right-wing) authoritarianism (authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism) and group-based dominance (defined by Sidanius and Pratto as “the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the domination of ‘inferior’ groups by ‘superior’ groups” ) predict disagreement with the scientific consensus in several scientific domains." They also show that "these effects are almost entirely mediated by varying combinations of ideological (political ideology, religiosity, free-market endorsement, conspiracy thinking) and science-specific (scientific knowledge, trust in scientists) constructs, depending on the scientific issue in question. Importantly, a general distrust of science and scientists emerges as the most consistent mediator across different scientific domains. Consistent with previous research, the ideological roots of rejection of science vary across scientific issues. However, these roots may share a common origin in ideological attitudes regarding authority and equality.

In another 2021 study by Flávio Azevedo, John T. Jost says that "(a) conservatism and social dominance orientation were significant predictors of distrust of climate science in > 99.9% of model specifications, with conservatism accounting for 80% of the total variance; (b) conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, religiosity, (male) sex, (low) education, (low) income, and distrust of climate science were significant predictors of skepticism about science in general (vs. faith) in > 99.9% of model specifications; (c) conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism, (low) education, and distrust of climate science were significant predictors of trust in ordinary people (over scientific experts) > 99.9% of the time; and (d) General system justification was a significant predictor of trust in scientific experts (over ordinary people) 81% of the time, after adjusting for all other demographic and ideological factors."

So it doesn’t seem that authoritarianism is correlated with accepting the scientific consensus. Although, a potential issue here is what exactly Weikart is referring to with “conform to the prevailing opinions of the intellectual elite”? Is he referring to the tendency to accept the claims of perceived authority figures, or just simply trusting scientists - or experts in general - like I trust that my auto mechanic knows how to fix my car (or - in his case - experts who Weikart happens to disagree with)? Perhaps, this is rather like how conservatives use the term ‘elitist’ so vaguely such that it refers anyone with giving off the wrong vibes (at least to conservatives), like how Hillary Clinton is an ‘elite’ but Donald Trump (a billionaire who lived in a New York penthouse) is not an elite [borrowed observations from here and here]. So, Weikart’s claim here may be too vague and garbled to be taken seriously to begin with.

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