Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Darwin and the PoMo Creationists

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (whew, exhausting titles) just did a sophisticated poll on American attitudes toward creationism and the teaching of science in public schools.

They found that nearly two thirds of Americans are open to the teaching of creationism along with evolution in public school science classes.

The poll defined creationism by a number of statements including "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

42% of the respondents held strict creationist views (world 4000 years old, etc, etc).

48% thought that humans developed through evolution, and about 20% of the overall total thought that evolution was guided by a Supreme Being.

The article didn't account for the other 10% of the population that didn't get with either option. I'm guessing they went with Gozer the Magnificent from "Ghost Busters."

Social scientists at Pew tried to explain why a lot of people who accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution would be open to teaching creationism in the classroom.

One of them called it a reflection of "American pragmatism."

"It's like they're saying, 'Some people see it this way, some see it that way, so just teach it all and let the kids figure it out.'"

Since when do scientists talk like ValGirls?

I hope the pragmatic explanation is true, but I wonder.

Has the post-modern movement and its attacks on reason and science gotten a little out of hand? Sometimes useful reform movements can get so out there that they become worse than what they hope to replace. Even when the post-modernism wears a conservative Christian disguise. Maybe especially then.

How can 42% of Americans believe that the earth is 4000 years old and that present species have existed since the beginning of time? Wake up, little Suzy....

Seems like a surprising number of people don't grasp their basic science and even fewer grasp their basic biblical literature like the profound and truthful myths of Genesis that were never meant to be scientific descriptions.

I'd love to hear any thoughts on this.


Blogger Jason said...

If you look at the details of the demographics of the survey, it explains the results. They asked twice as many people in the south as they did any other region. A disproportionate number of people in the survey believe the Word of God is literal. If you look at the details for reponses on the east and west coast, its more what you would expect, but they are under-represented in the 2000 people asked. So to me, the conclusions drawn from the survey aren't really valid, and seemed to be intentioanlly biased.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

I took a quick look at the methods and demographics of the report today and you're right. The sample from the south is disproportionatly large--twice as large as it should be. So I adjusted the numbers and gave the south appropriate representation and here are the new numbers:

37% of Americans reject scientific explanations and believe present species have existed in their current form since the beginning of time (full blown creationism)

Roughly 60% of Americans believe creationism should be taught in public school science classes alongside evolution

Slightly better, I guess, but still alarming to me. Particularly that latter number.

And when you look at other similar surveys taken in the past year or so, the numbers come out very similarly--basically 2 out of 5 Americans reject scientific explanations for the development of life and believe in mythical "explanations" that have nothing to do with science and were never intended to have anything to do with it.

And even scarier to me, all the surveys show about 3 out of 5 Americans actually agree that religious mythology should be taught in public school science classes. Hey, why stop there? Let's start teaching Genesis in math and perhaps during PE classes as well.

I love the writings of Genesis, but they are cheapened and their real meaning is distorted when they're forced into duty as a "scientific" explanation of biology and the development of life. I can see no real good coming from this cultural current that seems to be gaining momentum.

More in my next post on the ups and downsides of post-modernism--which I view as the latest in a long line of "romantic movements"--and it's sort of wierd partnership with conservative Christianity these days.

But in the meantime, I'd love to hear other thoughts on this stuff. What's the buzz in people's churches, among your friends, etc. Do these poll results ring true? Are others concerned about these cultural attitudes and trends too?

2:50 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

The buzz among my friends is that 37-60 % of Americans are right-wing nutcases. They (my friends) forward each other email alerts about teaching creationism in Kansas. Bashing creationists is a popular dinner conversation topic.

is an interesting article about Michael Ruse. Ruse is pretty much the only author on this subject that I can stomach right now.

will look forward to hearing more about postmodernism and conservative Christianity.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Take a look at the article rwam suggests about Michael Ruse. It's right to the point.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I will take a deeper look at that article tomorrow.

I have felt caught in the middle of this issue for a while and often feel embarrased by folks arguing on different extremes. It seems like a delicate issue for some folks so I don't think I have shared in depth with anyone about my understanding of Genesis or my thoughts on evolution.

As one coming out of a science-heavy education, I know I know very little about what evolution actually is and how it works. But it seems that a lot of people feel theatened by something that they don't understand and assume concludes things that it doesn't.

12:05 AM  
Blogger jon said...

I wrote a research paper about this in grad school a few years ago, and it ended up being the most important paper (at least to me) that I've ever written. Basically, the conclusion I came to was that Christian fundamentalism is especially strong in the US, and Darwinian fundamentalism (the inclusion of purposelessness, randomness, and amorality in evolution, and the refusal to accept even minor criticisms of the theory) is especially strong in the US. As a reaction against the Darwinian fundamentalism, the Christian fundamentalists hold their positions even stronger, and vice versa. I think it's become a completely unworkable situation, and it can have a terrible influence on people's faith. You have the people who are raised to tie Christianity to Creationism and then reject Christianity when they begin to feel evolution is right, and you have the people who reject Christianity because they believe the evolutionist claim that evolution disproves God, and you also have the people who reject Christianity because they believe Christians must be stupid. The only hope is to educate Christians on clear Biblical understanding (Galileo preached wonderfully on this 400 years ago, and St. Augustine preached wonderfully on this 1600 years ago) and get scientists to stop making philosophical/theological claims based on a scientific theory.

12:21 AM  
Blogger jon said...

Now that I've read the article...

yeah, what he said. Although I think that the negative "evolutionism" statements have been even stronger than what he suggested (besides Dawkins, Gould and Sagan were great sources for inflammatory quotes). And what makes him think that Intelligent Design isn't being taught in the classrooms? I'm sure it's being taught all over the place (it was briefly taught to me in 7th grade and my teacher wasn't even religious), and I really doubt a Supreme Court decision would cause a teacher who wasn't teaching it to start.

12:29 AM  
Blogger anhomily said...

"PoMo Creationists" is not a phrase you hear every day. Isn't creationism more of an "anti-modernist" sentiment, in that it is simply against modernist scientific theories like those the Darwinian fundamentalists propagate? I hope that "we postmodernists" (reminds me of Nietzsche's "We Philologists" - Wir Philologen) are more than "anti" in our "post"-ness. I suppose the populist version of post-modernism may have the attitude that all speculations about our origins are equally absurd, so why not teach creationism (it does sort of de-valorize the "oppressive discourse" of logic, one could argue). Furthermore, why not teach something that is not "scientific" in a science class - aren't our divisions of subject matter sort of arbitrary. The fact that Genesis has been used "scientifically" or as a source of scientific knowledge for centuries - whether rightly or not - is reason enough to address its content in a science class. What makes a text scientific as opposed to religious, poetic or mathematical.
Of course this level of analysis may be a bit advanced for a 4th-grade Life Sciences class, though...but then again, isn't any teaching about "the beginning" (presuming the teachers would even agree that there is one)?
In any case, as we all know 99% of statistics are fabricated or falsified, so as a college stats prof. once told me, "Rely on statistics in the way a drunk does a lightpost - for support rather than illumination."

8:33 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Good point, Anhomily. That issue of whether current creationism is "pre-modern" or more truly "post-modern" is what I'm going to touch on in my next post.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

At the risk of sounding cliche, I think that Brian McLaren is dealing with this struggle in A New Kind of Christian and The Story we find ourselves in. I think it does a great job of introducing conservative Christians to the ideas of evolution and more science influenced thinking. But I know that many modern and pomo folks have already dismissed Brian's stuff. Unfortunately some of his statements about salvation put him too far left for him to be taken seriously. But when I read his books earlier this year, I felt understood by somebody. But the first several chapters of the story we find ourselves in is all about this very topic.

2:23 PM  
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