Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Darwin's Evolution Has No Traction In America

In a blog article in The New Yorker this week, Jonah Lehrer tries to find some scientific reasons why Americans don't have faith in science, at least when it comes to the question on evolution and the origin of humans.
Last week, Gallup announced the results of their latest survey on Americans and evolution. The numbers were a stark blow to high-school science teachers everywhere: forty-six per cent of adults said they believed that “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.” Only fifteen per cent agreed with the statement that humans had evolved without the guidance of a divine power.
What’s most remarkable about these numbers is their stability: these percentages have remained virtually unchanged since Gallup began asking the question, thirty years ago. In 1982, forty-four per cent of Americans held strictly creationist views, a statistically insignificant difference from 2012. Furthermore, the percentage of Americans that believe in biological evolution has only increased by four percentage points over the last twenty years.
Such poll data raises questions: Why are some scientific ideas hard to believe in? What makes the human mind so resistant to certain kinds of facts, even when these facts are buttressed by vast amounts of evidence?.
I give Lehrer an "A" for effort for using the latest scientific explanations for why the human brain resists scientific thinking. Besides begging the question on why our brains have not evolved to accommodate evolutionary thinking, there might be a far more simpler reason. Americans as a people have a high degree of faith, and science plays a secondary role in their lives, notably on explaining human origins.

Although there might be some hand-wringing among the non-religious that scientific thinking has not beome predominant, I would suggest that the concern is over-inflated. This is just one question, and the result are not only understandable but explainable. A vast majority of Americans have reported a belief in the existence in God, and thus, by default, feel compelled to agree with the biblical narrative of creation.

The relationship between God and the biblical narrative is a strong one, and for believers it would be considered a betrayal of faith to hold a contrary view, even if it makes more sense. It does not necessarily follow that most Americans do not believe in Science for other matters, namely, in improving the lives of humanity. (I would like to see the results of such polls.). They just don't buy in to Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

There's more. For most Americans, Science can never give persons the comfort, solace and answers to the Big Questions that faith in God does, nor could it, since that is not its fundamental purpose; and hence the loyalty of the American people to their beliefs. It has been said that Science is good at explaining how; Religion on why. It just might be that persons in the U.S., an affluent but turbulent nation, are seeking answers to why questions rather than the how questions. Equally important, religious faith has been around since the beginning of humanity; modern science only a few hundred years—a blink of an eye in comparison.

You can read the rest of the article at [The New Yorker]


  1. It's too bad there are no statistics from before 1982. It is my impression that the counterculture joined the fundamentalists in questioning the validity of science. Extremes meet, and leftists joined rightists in doubting evolution.

    The Bible implicitly rejects the idea that the earth is round: "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so" (Gen. 1:9). This account can be understood if we assume the world is flat. It becomes very difficult to picture with a round earth. We may, if we choose, argue that Genesis 1:9 may be read figuratively; however, once we are willing to read the text in a more complex way, we could just as well say that the Bible does not reject evolution.
    There are other passages in the Bible that cannot be reinterpreted in order to find an interpretation that is scientifically acceptable. One such case is found in Chapter 30 of Genesis, where Jacob and Laban agree that any spotted and speckled cattle that are born will belong to Jacob, who then proceeds to increase his share. “And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink. And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted” (Gen. 30:37-39).
    If we were told that the birth of the speckled cattle was a miracle, we could believe it. But there is no way that placing objects in front of animals while they are mating will produce offspring that resemble the objects. Since Genesis 30 does not mention the possibility of a miracle, we have to conclude that it is a story in which science and religion cannot be reconciled.

    1. I would not look to the Bible to answer scientific questions, since Science is far better at it and more accurate. Much of our medical and scientific advancements are due to the Scientific Method and the Enlightenment.

  2. I just HAVE to comment about this because I too have been following Mr Lehrer's excellent interpretation for a greater public understanding of Nobel Economic Sciences Prize laureate dr Daniel Kahneman's (and non laureate, due to unfortunate prior death, but also as mention worthy colleague dr Amos Tversky's) work, (plus am a longtime fan of The New Yorker magazine, athough I have kind of "betrayed" it as of late for Monocle, which, although also of the Conde Nast family, seems to more adequately "speak" to my yearning to take a vacation somewhere FAR FAR away from above the 53rd parallel north latitude where I find myself right now, and so might you, I belive !)...if you will have some patience for my admittedly convoluted & overly verbose written expression style...which I swear to G-d I never use in real life, but I have no idea why I tend to do it in writing...I actually suspect it might be a kind of not so subtle subversive passive aggressive way to express my lifelong held political dissent in regards to written essay type school assignments, including as of late the obligation to respond in writing to various work related e-mails originated from the ranks & spheres from somewhere perpetually "above", plus, in the off work related sphere, by extension, writing by hand socially recommended authentically earnest & original Thank You notes !

    (to follow)

  3. (follow-up)

    Guess what I have been recently reading about the factors which might contribute to a greater inclination for religiosity in a group of people, (which in general might not be a bad thing in itself, but one can also infer possibly detrimental more unfortunate or unwanted extreme consequences) ? Here is an article from The Huffington Post about a recent experiment from the University of Vancouver, BC, you may also have recently heard of, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/intuitive-thinking-religious-belief-analytical-research_n_1457396.html

    I have actually managed to track down the study itself published in Science, and I have found that in order to demonstrate an actual significant INCREASE or DECRESE in religious propensity in the study participants (actually regardless of their religious affiliation or if they might have been even atheist, agnostic, or undecided), the participants were made to watch either

    a) pictures of works of art with not so realistic more ideal proportions, such as sculptor Myron's Discobolus, which predisposes one more for the rapid type intuitive thinking and subsequent also possibly correlated, (according to the study), increase in religiosity, or

    b) pictures of more realistic and/or intellectually challenging works of art, such as sculptor Rodin's The Thinker, which does not allow one's eye to glide so comfortably along those ideal proportions and increseas one's alower and more effort demanding "rational" analytic type thinking, plus subsequent decrease in religiosity.

    I was just thinking about the real authentic contemporary bombardment with photoshopped various advertising media, with really expertly faked ideal proportions that these days most humans are subject to on an almost continual manner, not just in special moments when one might want some moment of respite in an artistic gallery of sorts, (be it more high brow or even just for the "more commen" folk, like gazing at some movie star), and probably even more so in the USA than in any other places of the world, where the appearance of health & youth, denoting also the possible ability to be "useful", (however awful this may sound) & also realistically continually manage in any kind of work, really do matter quite a lot, (being it also largely known that America, although it may be the land of promise for "the tired & the poor & the huddled masses yearning to be free", is really not the very best place in the world for the truly old, the possibly infirm or sick, or in general more vulnerable human beings among us all)...hence also possibly the national characteristic of the persistence of a rather unusual type of fundamentalist religiosity almost at an irrational level at times, of course, also fomented during lively, (and not necessarily bad in themselves either, as a principle, but at times admittedly too strident), political campaigns, etc.

    1. Rudolph: thank you for the information and link. It's interesting but obviously not conclusive, since I suspect belief is not easily explained. Religious belief and faith are not easily explained by Science because the narrative language each uses differs. Essentially, persons are looking for answers that nourish the soul, which Science cannot do.

  4. oops ! I have no clue if the second part of my commentary, which was actually what I wanted to write on topic went through ! It kind of disappeared without me noticing if I got the message about the comment being under moderation ! I will come back & check later, and try to re-write if it did not go through...it was kind of long and serves me right for not attempting to be more concise and to the point from the beginning !


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