Evolution, meta-evolution, and persuasion

In general, I strongly prefer reading about the science of evolution, rather than arguments defending evolution against its detractors. The beautiful, rich stories of the evolution of life, supported by interlocking evidence in fossils, rocks, and dna are more interesting than the meta-argument. I don’t run into too many creationists in my usual social circles.
Every once in a while, I bump into some creationism. During the long wait for a car repair the other day, I was reading the fascinating story of Oxygen, in which the rocks, air and climate of the earth have been intertwingled with the evolution of life. On the drive back, flipping the tuner in search of a news station I stumbled upon a “creation science” radio show.
The theory of the creationists on the show depended on an assumption of rapidly varying rates of radioactive decay. They couldn’t explain why decay rates would fluctuate, except that God is all-wise and all-powerful. Moreover, they explained, all of the rock layers on earth, which conventional science attributes to billions of years of geologic story, were actually caused by intense volcanic activity and sedimentary deposition during the Flood 5000 years ago. How did Noah survive on the ark, with all the earth’s volcanic and sedimentary rock erupting and flowing around him? Miracles, of course. God is all-powerful.
Science is somewhat harder but much more interesting when you can’t use miracles to patch up the gaps in your logic.
This does raise interesting questions about information and persuasion. Americans’ beliefs tend to divert from orthodox religion when their personal experience diverges from religious teaching. A majority of young people support gay rights, and in general, people are more likely to support gay rights when they know family members, friends or colleagues who are gay. Their emotional experience overrides religious arguments.
Similarly, according to a a new Pew study, a (narrow) majority of American Christians believe that non-Christian religions can also lead to salvation. When people encounter good people with varying religious beliefs, they conclude that it isn’t plausible that only fellow Christians will go to heaven.
Americans come to support gay right and religious pluralism, based on their personal life experiences. So what of evolution? A person isn’t going to meet an australopithecus on the way to the store, or have a feathered dinosaur as a pet. The beautiful and compelling ideas of evolutionary development depend on basic understanding of genetics and developmentary biology. The case for evolution is made of fact and reason, not personal everyday experience.
There is a disturbing sub-plot running between the lines in Oxygen. Much of the innovative geology and paleontology was done in pre-WWII Germany. Science, of course, came to a halt, when society was taken over by a political movement with demented beliefs. What sort of society can educate its citizens so that a majority supports science?

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