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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Evolution and America

Is it superstition? Is it ignorance? Is it a failure of educational system? Is it our valuation of being 'cool' as better than being smart or educated? Why do people in the Balkans have a better clue about the science behind evolutionary theory than the average American?

Adults were asked to respond to the statement: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." The percentage of respondents who believed this to be true is marked in blue; those who believed it to be false, in red; and those who were not sure, in yellow.



Beyond that, why is it so hard to integrate faith and science in America? It's not like folks in Sweden, France, or the UK aren't Christians. If anything, they're more homogeneously belonging to a single Christian faith (per country), yet they can integrate their beliefs and the fact that the world is millions of years old while fundie Americans insist the world is just 6000 years old and have a Creation Museum.

I don't know. I don't get it. My wish for America is that we could come to a point where we read the words of the Bible as a text written by men and that we wouldn't take everything said by a man in a church as absolute truth that should never be questioned or integrated with other information sources in the world.

7 Comments:

  • Seeing the Bible as a text written by men isn't going to get you where you want to go, I think; nor is being willing to question the truth of what is said by a man in church. There are some American Christians for whom that would do the trick (at least temporarily), I grant you. But there are others for whom the Bible is a historical artifact was written by men who simultaneously believe (as a historical as much as a theological fact) that the historical artifact was written by men but also contains content communicated by God.

    People like that (such as me, although I am not of the young-Earth persuasion) have all they need to go the young-Earth route, without even getting in to what they hear in church or what they think about what they hear in church or who they hear it from. What you really need to get someone like that to accept a billions-old Earth is textual and literary tools, not scientific ones. The great obstacle for someone like that is not, "But my [religious authority] says Earth is X years old," or "But the Bible says Earth is X years old." The real obstacle for someone like that is, "The Bible implies that the Earth is X years old." Once an intelligent, educated, critical, but believing Christian has gotten that idea into his head, the only really effective way to dissuade him is to argue that the Bible does not, in fact, imply anything of the sort (you can also try to argue that the Bible does imply that but actually means something else, but that's a much trickier business and much less satisfying philosophically to all concerned). And arguing what the Bible does or does not imply, as a text, is fundamentally a literary (because it is a text) and historical/anthropological (because it was written by men) task.

    By Blogger Natalie, at 10:20 AM  

  • My wish for America is that we could come to a point where we read the words of the Bible as a text written by men and that we wouldn't take everything said by a man in a church as absolute truth that should never be questioned or integrated with other information sources in the world.

    The good news is that the Berkeley stereotype of Christianity is untrue. I know a lot of Christians across a wide range of denominations, not one of whom would deny that the Bible was inscribed by men or view any church speaker as beyond criticism. Although such groups do exist, they are simply cults.

    By Blogger Michael, at 1:32 AM  

  • Michael,
    Your comment on the "Berkeley stereotype" is neither borne out by F&J's experience in Eastern Washington (anecdotal) nor by the data in this graph (empirical). The graph basically shows that at least 40% of Americans deny evolution and disregard the science in favor of their beliefs, and that another 20% just aren't sure. So does that make 40-60% of American's "simply cults"? If it's the majority, how is that cultish?

    By Blogger Ammy, at 10:22 AM  

  • At the risk of sounding pedantic, Ammy, you made up the part about "in favor of their beliefs," and extended to get "deny evolution." According to the data you originally linked to, 40-60% of Americans deny macroevolution as applied to humans, which isn't quite the same thing as denying "evolution." And while that certainly implies a religious alternative, you didn't post any data bearing on what these people do believe.

    By Blogger Natalie, at 9:04 PM  

  • But there is one good thing about the existence of the Creation Museum: it made it possible for science fiction author and blogger John Scalzi to visit and then write up a hilarious report--with photos!

    Here's the introduction:
    """
    Imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit. And we’re not talking just your average load of horseshit; no, we’re talking colossal load of horsehit. An epic load of horseshit. The kind of load of horseshit that has accreted over decades and has developed its own sort of ecosystem, from the flyblown chunks at the perimeter, down into the heated and decomposing center, generating explosive levels of methane as bacteria feast merrily on vintage, liquified crap. This is a Herculean load of horseshit, friends, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Augeas.

    And you look at it and you say, “Wow, what a load of horseshit.”
    """

    Visit scalzi.com/whatever to read the whole thing. It's well worth your time.

    By Blogger CKL, at 10:58 PM  

  • So does that make 40-60% of American's "simply cults"?

    I don't see how you got there from here. Please refer to my original comment, which discusses biblical inscription and speaker criticism, but neither graph nor macroevolution.

    By Blogger Michael, at 4:52 AM  

  • Francis Collins, one of the world's leading geneticists, will speak at Stanford on February 5th about science and faith in God.

    By Blogger Michael, at 11:28 PM  

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