Sunday, December 19, 2010
4 in 10 Americans are still Young Earth Creationists/Evolution Deniers; No Change in Attitude in 30 Years.
The latest Gallup poll confirms the dismal news. About 40% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form within 10,000 years. About 38% believe that humans evolved but God guided the process. And a mere 16% believe that humans evolved without God’s involvement.
Some other results, many of which have been discussed here before: Education is positively correlated with belief in evolution. A whopping 47% of those with a high school education or less are young Earth Creationists, while 74% of those with a post graduate education believe that humans evolved on their own or with God’s guidance. Most Americans believe in God, with about 85% of them claiming a religious identity. And the percentages of people subscribing to evolution only, evolution with God, and young Earth creationism have remained relatively stable since 1982.
A few thoughts. First, what the strikingly high number of YECs and their low levels of education should illustrate to us is that our backsliding scientifically, culturally, and historically into some modern form of a dark age is not uninformed alarmism. Humans have a powerful and dangerous urge to be religious. Couple that longing with ignorance and scientific illiteracy and their minds can be overtaken by the most farfetched and bizarre religious fantasies. Part of the blame for these stagnant and dismal numbers lies with science educators and their failure to adequately confront superstition, ignorance, and tribalism. I’ll speculate about the pressures that seem to be contributing to their timidity.
The notions of religious freedom, freedom of belief, and religious identity in the United States have become curiously warped. Legally and morally we want to insure that everyone is able to pursue the religious traditions of their choosing, and to be able to freely affiliate themselves with any religious ideology. But somehow those concerns have morphed into a sense of entitlement on the part of the religious to adopt any half-baked, bizarre religious view they like without any concern for justification, evidence or the truth. Religious belief is all too often treated as a matter of personal taste or preference as if we’re picking from the smorgasbord at Shoney’s Big Boy. There appears to be no reckoning for what you believe other than you want to believe it. Whether or not it’s true, supported by the evidence, or there’s are reasons to believe it are strange, ill-formed concerns. “It’s a free country; I can believe what I want to.”
Any challenges to these beliefs, no matter how outrageous they are, are taken as affronts. It’s offensive to even ask, “Why would you think THAT is true?” Many of seem to think that nothing else is required of us that the mere fact that we choose to believe it. And if anyone presses them for more than that, then they are accused of being angry, strident, hateful, and intolerant.
As I have argued here before, religious freedom should be considered the right to be unrestricted in your investigation of various religious ideas. You should be able to read what books you want, say what you choose, and assemble with people of your choosing. But your freedom of religion does not absolve you of the general requirement on all of us to be reasonable and seek after the truth.
Nor does it absolve you of your social, moral, and political responsibilities to the rest of us. Our fates are intertwined. Religious beliefs inform who my neighbor votes for, who she elects to the school board, which bond measures she supports, how she educates her children (and mine), who she wants to go to war with, who she wants to make peace with, who she’s willing to execute, which laws she supports, and what sort of society she contributes to. If a sufficiently large percentage of our population has their good sense eclipsed by Iron Age religious nonsense, we’re all put at risk.
I think that the only way that so many Americans can continue to believe something as patently false as YEC is that the people entrusted to teach them are either too ignorant, or too timid to hold the bar where it should be.
Here, again, are the facts. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that these are as well confirmed by science at this point as the existence of oxygen:
Approximately 13.7 billion years ago, the universe went from a state of infinite curvature and energy to a rapidly expanding chaotic state, the Big Bang. During the first pico and nano seconds of this period of rapid expansion, the types and behavior of particles that existed rapidly changed as the energy levels dropped. Within a few nanoseconds, the kinds of matter and the way they act settled into, more or less, the sorts of material constituents we find today. Matter continued to expand and eventually, several billion years later, gravitational pull congregates clumps of it together to form stars. Some of these stars are of sufficient mass to ultimately collapse on themselves, explode outward and spray new types of elements formed in their cores out into space. That matter eventually coalesces into smaller stars, planets and moons like our own.
The Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago. (We can find ancient rocks older than 3.5 billion years on all of the continents, and some crystals have been found that are thought to be 4.3 billion years old.) Life in the form of the simplest, self-replicating molecules occurs on Earth around 4 billion years ago. Natural selection and random mutations lead to the evolution of more and more life forms, many of them of increasing levels of complexity. The dinosaurs emerge from this process. The Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods range from about 208 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Placental mammals arise about 54 million years ago.
Modern humans (homo sapiens) originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, 60 million years after the dinosaurs have gone extinct. A variety of early hominid groups vie for survival until all related lines except homo sapiens are extinct.
In 2009, Lady Gaga releases her first album.
Posted by Matt McCormick at 9:18 PM