Why Do So Many People Deny Scientific Consensus?

A troubling thing that I’ve noticed over the past decade is the staggering number of people who deny the consensus of scientist.  Whether it’s the science on global warming, Evolution, Big Bang, GMO safety, or the effectiveness of homeopathy, you can find a lot of people who hold superstitious, and unscientific, views even when the consensus of scientists is in strong opposition.

At the heart of this problem are a number of factors, each one contributing, but I doubt that any is likely the root cause. I see several likely contributors, but this list is by no means exclusive: Scientific ignorance, the Dunning-Kruger effect, various personal biases like confirmation and self-serving, along with religious influence.


Visiting the social media pages of various conservative Christian apologists, I see many, but not all, seem to reject Evolution outright. I don’t know if this is because it’s what they believe, or if it’s because of their fundamentalist audience they want to appeal to.  Even when I find an apologist who rejects Young Earth Creationism, or accepting that Evolution is true, it’s not uncommon for them to receive a lot of flack for not holding to a literal interpretation of Genesis. Interestingly, a January 31st poll, done over at Capturing Christianity’s Facebook page, had about 600 responses with 85% in accepting Intelligent Design, and 15% rejecting it.  I find these numbers to be absolutely staggering.  While there are a lot of mainline Protestants (who largely accept evolution) in the US, there is a scary number of fundamentalists who reject certain areas of science.

Whenever I try to point a creationist towards the very strong evidence we have for Evolution, they will largely deny it and declare it to be non-science.  They’re convinced that some super intelligent supernatural being created life, and no amount of evidence, or even the consensus of scientists, will ever convince these people that Evolution is real, and explains the diversity of life we see today.  As far as fundamentalist Christians are concerned, the Bible is infallible, and we should believe a very literal interpretation about the origins of Humans.

We All Rely On The Consensus Of Experts

None of us has the time, or the capability, to become experts in every single field.  There are simply too many areas where extensive study is required to have enough background to evaluate the evidence.  Science is complicated, and in order to have sufficient background to even properly evaluate the evidence can take at least a decade to obtain the necessary credentials.  Strangely, many people think that just reading a little bit on the Internet gives them sufficient background in order to inform their beliefs.

One of the reasons that science has become so successful is because each scientist is incredibly specialized, and are effectively masters of a very tiny subdomain.  These experts have enough knowledge of their domain to be able to effectively debate, among themselves, the evidence, and the theories that are supported by the evidence.

It is, quite simply, impossible to become a master of every possible domain that we want to examine, and therefore must rely on the consensus of experts to tell us what is most likely to be true.

“But That’s Just An Appeal To Authority”

While this may be a common charge, it’s actually not an appeal to authority to appeal to scientific consensus.  Scientists are almost always extremely conservative, and don’t make scientific statements lightly.  If a scientific theory has the consensus of scientists then you almost certainly have a theory that has been debated, and examined thoroughly, by scientists, and that the theory is strongly supported by the evidence.

It’s also important to note that the consensus of scientists is not a proclamation of truth, as science does not make proclamations of truth.  Science makes evaluations of evidence, and tentatively accepts or rejects theories based on the current evidence.  Any scientific theory could be overturned with new evidence, however, we can be reasonably confident that scientific consensus tells us what is most likely to be true about the natural world.

If you care about truth, and want to believe what is most likely to be true, you really have no reason to reject scientific consensus.

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