Evolution and Wisdom of Crowds


Conventional wisdom suggests that the primary reason why so many people do not accept Darwin's theory of evolution is that they find it threatening to their religious beliefs. There is no question that religion is a big part of the reason behind the large number of people who reject evolution. But I am convinced that just as often, the cause and effect is reversed: people hold onto their fundamentalist religious beliefs because evolution by natural selection -- the strongest argument against an Old Testament-type creator -- is so counter-intuitive to so many.

I arrive at this conclusion in a somewhat roundabout way. I have long been fascinated with systems that tap into the "wisdom of crowds" -- systems that, in fact, have much in common with Darwinian evolution. Such systems doubtfully conflict with anyone's religion, and yet, I see the same sort of resistance to them as I see to evolution. The arguments against them are remarkably similar.

This hypothesis, if borne out, suggests that advocates of reason -- moderates, atheists, and the science minded -- might consider a different tack if they wish to convince more people to reconsider their fundamentalist, anti-scientific beliefs. It may be easier to first go after this non-intuitiveness, starting with these places where the conceptual difficulty is not exacerbated by the conflict with their comforting and culturally embedded religious belief.

"Evolution-like," wisdom of crowds systems:

Below I cover three separate systems, each of which has strong similarity to Darwinian evolution, each of which seems to elicit a "but it just can't work" response, and none of which conflict with any religion I know of. They are:

Wikipedia -- online encyclopedia that anyone can edit

Prediction markets -- speculative market which predicts future events, such as the outcome of elections