ATHEISM AND EVOLUTION….In a comment over at Matt Yglesias’ site about the latest efforts of yahoos in Tennessee to pretend that creationism is science, molecular biologist Charles Murtaugh says:

There are two forms of evolutionary thinking in this country, a scientific one which is largely uncontroversial, but understood by relatively few laypeople, and a pseudo-religious one which serves as a bulwark to atheists, as an alternative to religion. And a lot of people who support the teaching of evolution, in my experience, don’t know shit about the science, but they just need it to be true because they don’t want to believe in God.

Now, it’s true that most people don’t understand the intricacies of base pairs and population genetics. On the other hand, most people don’t understand general relativity either. I certainly don’t, since I lack the requisite background in tensor analysis, and yet ? I believe it anyway. I believe it because it is the virtually unanimous view of those who are qualified to judge such things, and listening to people we trust is how we make up our minds about most of the things we believe in. Given the constraints of our three score and ten, what other choice is there?

This is seemingly sufficient explanation for a widespread belief in evolution too, and yet here we have the fairly common view expressed that a lot of people believe in evolution simply because they don’t want to believe in God. This despite the fact that every poll I’ve seen indicates that no more than about 5% of the population is atheist.

Why is this such a common view among religious people? Why do they insist ? rather desperately, I think ? that they are under some kind of persistent assault from atheists when, in fact, 19 out of 20 people you run into on the street believes in God? When Congress approves virtually unanimously a declaration that the words “under God” should stay in the Pledge of Allegiance? When we live in an era sometimes called the fourth great religious revival and in which church attendance is at an all time high?

Why? Why do they feel so angry, so suspicious, and so besieged?