The vast majority of Americans think the Christian God created the universe, either just like the Bible says, or through some form of God-controlled evolution. Why is this? Why is it that naturalistic evolution is rejected out of hand by the majority of Americans?
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?
A new study in Cognition, led by Andrew Shtulman at Occidental College, helps explain the stubbornness of our ignorance. As Shtulman notes, people are not blank slates, eager to assimilate the latest experiments into their world view. Rather, we come equipped with all sorts of naïve intuitions about the world, many of which are untrue. For instance, people naturally believe that heat is a kind of substance, and that the sun revolves around the earth. And then there’s the irony of evolution: our views about our own development don’t seem to be evolving.
This means that science education is not simply a matter of learning new theories. Rather, it also requires that students unlearn their instincts, shedding false beliefs the way a snake sheds its old skin…
It seems that the problem is not learning the principles of science as much as it is unlearning the instincts and false beliefs we have. What Lehrer fails to mention is that religion, in particular Christianity, is part of the false beliefs that must be unlearned.
46% of Americans think people like Ken Ham are right. Think about that for a moment. Almost half of Americans think that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. I suspect here in NW Ohio, where God is a Republican and Fox in a real news organization, that the percentage is much higher.
The road to science literacy is one paved with the rubble of literalist interpretations of the Bible. We must tear down and destroy the notion that Genesis 1-3 is good science or that the Bible has anything at all to say about matters of science. This is not an atheists vs. Christianity battle. This is a battle between reason and ignorance.
Look at how science has come to dominate the world we live in. We live in a scientific age, a complex age, an age where it is increasingly hard to keep up with this or that new discovery or idea. But we must continue to press on. Going back is not an option. We KNOW that the universe is more than 10,000 years old. We KNOW that the world was not created in 6 days. We KNOW……and we can not allow Bible literalists, through the public school system and the political process, to drag our children and society back into the dark ages.
I care not what someone believes about God, the Bible, or anything else pertaining to religious belief. These things are matters of faith. However, when it comes to matters of science, I do care what school children are taught. I do care that our government follows good science rather than religious mythology. These things matter, and as Jonah Lehrer shows, we have a long, arduous battle ahead of us.