Sunday, February 06, 2005

No Method? Expect Madness

From Natalie Angier's speech "Raising Children with Secular Values in a Religious World," presented December 14, 2004 at The New York Society for Ethical Culture:
Only 13 percent of Americans say that humans evolved from ancestral species, no god involved. Only 13 percent. The evidence that humans evolved from prehominid primates, and they from earlier mammals, and so on back to the first cell on earth some 3.8 billion years ago is incontrovertible, is based on a Himalayan chain’s worth of data. The evidence for divine intervention is, to date, non-existent. Yet here we have people talking about it as though they were discussing whether they prefer chocolate praline ice cream or rocky road, as though it were a matter of taste.
That 13 percent figured stunned me. I forget that the tendency to demand scientific evidence to support one's beliefs is not only not the norm, but nowhere near the norm. But once you understand the importance of following the scientific method, you realize that skirting it is intellectually irresponsible. Skip that step and otherwise intelligent people can end up believing all sorts of nonsense. witness the Heaven's Gate cult. The truth, however, is that many people who would mock those cultists in their black track suits are guilty of the same sort of irrational thinking. It's just that the ideas they buy into are far more popular.

Additionally, check out this NYT story about how evolution is not getting taught at many public schools.
In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.
Additionally, the NYT quotes a 2001 survey, in which the National Science Foundation found that only 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

That's a little more encouraging than the 13 percent statistic, but only because it still allows for folks to believe that God guided or had a hand in evolution. It's all in how you ask the question, of course.

Compare these figures with up to 80 percent of people believing in evolution in other industrialized nations. In Japan, 96 percent.

We've got a long way to go, baby.

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