Realizing how different Americans are from everyone else

excavation by isawnyu

Lawrence Krauss on faith and foolishness
[Via Butterflies and Wheels]

Religious beliefs force some people to choose between knowledge and myth, while pointing out how religion can purvey ignorance is taboo.


The fact that the NSF chose to leave out information that demonstrates just how off America is from the rest of the world was something I discussed back in April.

Krauss’ article in Scientific American retells some astounding facts, facts that demonstrate how far many people in America have gone in order to deny the facts around them. Only 45% feel that the statement “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” is true, while 78% of the Japanese and 70% of the Europeans marked true. At least this number is better than the survey in Texas where only 35% agreed. Just think, twice as many people in Japan than in America know that humans evolved.

Similarly, only 33% of all Americans answer the statement “The universe began with a huge explosion.” It was 63% in Japan.

It turns out that Americans actually do know the answers to those statements. Curiously, if the first question is prefaced with ” According to the theory of evolution,…” or the second starts with “According to astronomers, …” substantially more people answer true. So, Americans know what the right answer is. Something else is preventing them from answering the same way everyone else in the world does when the qualifying preface is removed. Something is making them change their answers, even though they know what the right answer is.

Something is depressing the factual responses of Americans to scientific questions. What could that be?

Religion holds the best explanation. When people were asked why they did not believe in evolution the majority gave religious reasons – 72% of them say it is religion The more often someone attended church, the more likely they were to believe the world was only 10,000 years old. 24% of the people who seldom attend church believe that. It skyrockets to 70% for those who attend church once a week.

We have factual data demonstrating that Jericho was founded over 11,000 years ago, with other cities in the area being founded possibly several thousand years earlier than that. Yet most of those who attend church regularly apparently see these facts as lies.

Believing that verifiable facts are a lie is often how Cargo Cult Worlds are constructed. I really wonder how most of that 70% of Americans that believes humans were placed here 10,000 years ago deal with the fact of Jericho?

6 thoughts on “Realizing how different Americans are from everyone else

  1. I am not disagreeing with the articles above, but would like to know what percentage of Muslim-Americans answered the questions. Or what percentage of other religions, for that matter, believe in evolution. Religions need to convince their people that religion is faith and has nothing to do with facts. But, then, I am Roman Catholic and I can believe in the Church AND evolution.

    1. I’lI am not sure if they broke it down by religion. Muslims are 0.5% of the American population from demographic studies. Indications are that, at least outside America, there are many Muslims who do not think evolution is true but hardly any believe the 10,000 year story because the Koran does not have the ‘begat’ timeline that was used to create the Christian one.

      I would be willing to bet that a large percentage of any specific religion disavowing evolution are Southern Baptists. They are the largest Protestant denomination in the US – 15 million strong. Their literal reading of the Bible is an article of faith which leads to anti-evolition and 10,000 year old humanity.

      Of course, the Catholic Church’s accommodation with science has taken centuries. It still banned the printing of Galileo’s works until 1718. It was not until 1939 that a Pope praised Galileo and until 1992 that a Pope apologized.

      Since so many of the fundamentalists are young religions – the Southern Baptists formed as a pro-slavery alternative of the Baptists in 1845 – it may take them quite some time to accommodate science.

  2. Why has religion in this religiosity aspect got such a hold Richard? In the UK if you were running for public office and made a big deal about your church going – you would lose – in America if you run for office and say that don’t go to church you lose?

    At the heart of the republic was the idea that church and state had to be separated too – many of the founders were at least cynical – all had seen the misery that religion had brought to Europe.

    So why this attachment to this type of fundamentalist religion?

    1. Actually, a really fun book called The Fourth Turning provides an interesting model. Briefly, there are four generations – Prophet, Nomad, Hero and Artist – the repeat over 80-100 year cycles. There have been 3 major tunings of this cycle in American history and we are in the 4th.

      About every 80-100 years America goes through a religious revival, a Great Awakening, where religious fervor comes to the forefront (Not sure if something similar has happened in Canada).

      We have had 3 of these in America – 1730-1760, 1800-1840, 1880-1910. By the Fourth Turning’s reckoning, we should be coming out of the Fourth Awakening and we sure seem to be. It happens when the Prophet generations reaches adulthood. The boomers are the current Prophet generation. Perhaps history will mark the Fourth Awakening starting from the mid-60s.

      This religious fervor should start waning, both as the Nomad generation – Generation X – replace Boomers and the Hero Generation – the Millenials – make their presence known.

      The entire book examines this 4 generation cycle that the authors have followed back through American history. What happens every time is that the Hero Generation, as young adults, has had to deal with major social crises, most of the time ending in war – the American Revolution, the Civil War, WW2. In every case, America was quite different after the crises than before.

      The Fourth Turning was written in 1997 but the authors predicted that if their model was right, that there would be a tremendous crisis in America around 2005-2008, one that would lead to an overturning of America. Looks like they may have been right.

    1. Some of the more organized are in the South – the Southern Baptists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and are 16 million strong – but there are other centers for various types of denialism. The Discovery Institute, devoted to destroying evolution, is located right in the middle of Seattle.

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