why people don't understand and/or support natural selection
Trends in Cognitive Sciences has an interesting meta-analysis of the ongoing controversy over evolutionary theory and intelligent design. Two psychologists and and a philosopher write in to take an educational-psychology and philosophy-of-science approach to the controversy. They have a couple of interesting points that I didn't know about:
Although it is tempting to think the controversy stems only from ignorance about evolution, a closer look reinforces what decades of research in cognitive and social psychology have already taught us: that the relationship between understanding a claim and believing a claim is far from simple. Research in education and psychology confirms that a majority of college students fail to understand evolutionary theory, but also finds no support for a relationship between understanding evolutionary theory and accepting it as true. We believe the intuitive appeal of Intelligent Design owes as much to misconceptions about science and morality as it does to misconceptions about evolution.They go on to explain that most college students believe an incorrect version of how natural selection works, a more Lamarkian theory than the correct Darwinian theory. But even those who get the basics right (mutation allows variation; variation allows selective reproduction; selective reproduction allows evolution, and eventually, speciation) don't necessarily believe that the theory is true. In fact, in some cases the contrary occurs:
Brem, Ranney and Schnidel (2003) found that the overwhelming majority of their participants believed evolution to have negative social consequences, such as justifying racism and selfishness, and negative philosophical consequences, such as denying free will and a purpose to life. These views presumably stem from mistaken beliefs about biology (e.g. that race is a biologically meaningful category or that ultimate explanations reveal proximate intentions) coupled with the naturalistic fallacy (i.e. the belief that one can derive how we ought to behave from a description of how the world actually is).They conclude with recommendations for education, suggesting "lessons from philosophy of science about what constitutes a scientific theory and an empirical test, and lessons from moral philosophy about the difference between empirical claims and moral claims."
It's interesting to consider how such a simple theory has been misunderstood for so long, and how those misunderstandings may have a basis in how we think about theories more generally, and how we view the world and morality...