Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Uneducated Masses

In a complete non-surprise, more Americans believe in Hell, the Devil, and angels than evolution.

-- 80% of adult Americans believe in God - unchanged since the last time we asked the question in 2005. Large majorities of the public believe in miracles (75%), heaven (73%), angels (71%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (71%), the resurrection of Jesus (70%), the survival of the soul after death (68%), hell (62%), the Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary (61%) and the devil (59%).

-- Slightly more people - but both are minorities - believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (47%) than in creationism (40%).

-- Sizeable minorities believe in ghosts (44%), UFOs (36%), witches (31%), astrology (31%), and reincarnation (24%).

My favorite bit was this part, though.
Slender majorities of all adults believe that all or most of the Old Testament (55%) and the New Testament (54%) are the "Word of God." However, only about a third of all adults (37% and 36%) believe that all of these texts are the word of God.

Interestingly, only 26% of all adults believe that the Torah is the word of God, even though it is the same as the first five books of the Old Testament. Presumably many people do not know this.

I think this speaks to the problems we have in education today. I don't think it's a problem for people to believe in angels and devils and such; that's a matter of faith. I do think it's a problem when a majority of Americans do not believe in scientific theories that are constantly accumulating more evidence to back them up. The problem is that most of these people do not understand what evolution is. "It means we came from monkeys," someone will say. Unfortunately that is not true; that is emphatically not what evolutionary theory says. This is not the post to get into the ins and outs of Darwin's theories, but Wikipedia has a good mostly non-technical article on the subject.

We Americans tend not to respect scientists and experts much anymore, though. We let people who know nothing on a topic tell us how to think. It's the truthiness problem. Facts get in the way of things, so it's easier to ignore them. It's more convenient to feel what the truth is than to confront reality. Now, that's not to say that we should blindly accept everything scientists tell us, but isn't it absurd to say, "I don't care that this person has devoted their entire life to studying this topic. This other person I know who has never studied the subject other than what he read on told me something different and I believe him"? When we have trouble with our cars, do we ask our neighbor who is clueless about cars or do we take it to a car mechanic who has devoted his time to learning how cars work? Of course we take it to a mechanic. I'm sure, though, that if someone found some religious/metaphysical aspect to cars, we'd all stop believing mechanics and asking our pastor or clueless neighbor what the problem was.

We need to get back to at least respectfully listening to experts instead of so easily dismissing them out of hand because some non-expert told us so.

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