There is no more contentious subject in science today than evolution. This fact was brought to light for me in the overwhelming response to my February column on evolution and "intelligent design" creationism. I typically receive about a dozen letters a month, but for this one no less than 134 were submitted (117 men, four women and 13 whose identity was not revealed). I found reading the critical letters mildly disconcerting until I hit on the idea that these are a form of data to be mined for additional information on what people believe and why. Conducting a content analysis of all 134 letters, I discovered patterns within the cacophonous chaos. First I read them quickly and then separated them into about two dozen one-line categories that summed up the reader's main point. I next condensed these into six taxonomic classes and reread all the letters carefully, placing each into one or more of the six (for a total of 163).
Excerpts from the letters illustrate each taxon. Not surprisingly, only 7 percent agreed on the veracity of evolution (and the emptiness of creationism). Nearly double that number, 12 percent, argued that evolution is God's method of creating life. For instance, one correspondent concurred "that evolution is right--but still I see God in the will and cunning intention in the genetic system of all living organisms and in the system and order present in the laws of nature. Seeing all the diversity in the methods of camouflage in animals and plants for an example, I know that there is a will behind it."
This article was originally published with the title Vox Populi.