The World Eyes American Ignorance

By Mark Trodden | October 2, 2005 8:08 am

The absurd spectacle of a post-enlightenment society seriously discussing the relative merits of evolution and creationism is being watched with a mix of abject horror and ridicule back in my home country.

Today’s Observer article, describing the plight of rational parents in Dover, PA, who are going to court to defend their children’s right not to be indoctrinated with superstitious nonsense in science class, gives a straightforward picture of how alien the sight is to our less credulous friends.

The final section of the article succinctly summarizes the uphill battle faced by those of us who love so much about this country, but who see the extreme danger of Americans rejecting the world as we observe it to be and embracing a mystical, fanciful and anti-scientific philosophy.

The American world view

64 per cent of people questioned for a recent poll said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution in schools, while 38 per cent favoured replacing evolution with creationism.

40 per cent of Americans believe God will eventually intervene in human affairs and bring about an end to life on Earth, according to a survey carried out in 2002. Of those believers, almost half thought this would occur in their lifetime with a return of Jesus from heaven.

1 adult American in five believes that the Sun revolves around Earth, according to one study carried out last summer.

80 per cent of Americans surveyed by the CNN TV news network believe that their government is hiding evidence of the existence of space aliens.

70 per cent believe it likely that Saddam Hussein was involved personally in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As PZ points out, it doesn’t have to be this way. As Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong puts it (via tild), referring to the similar problems that Kansas has faced in recent years:

Marion from Kansas writes:
“In my state the Board of Education threw out the teaching of evolution a few years ago. Upon election of moderate members, the Board brought it back again. Now conservatives are in the majority again and the whole issue of universe origin is being debated again. This time the issue of “intelligent design” is being brought in as needing to be taught. Is this just another way of bringing in conservative belief about instant creation?”

Dear Marion,

On one level it really doesn’t matter what the Kansas Board of Education thinks, evolution is real and is not subject to majority vote any more than whether epilepsy is caused by demon possession. Yet it is embarrassing to live in a state where public ignorance can force people to deny reality. It will also ill-equip the children of Kansas to live in the modern world. Already American school children are far behind Asians in the field of science. The pursuit of knowledge should never be compromised to protect religious sensitivities. That is where religious tyranny begins.
Intelligent Design is just one more smoke screen. The task of geologists and anthropologists is to study the sources of the life of this world. They should be free to follow wherever their scientific research carries them. If Christianity is threatened by truth, it is already too late to save it. Imagine worshiping a God so weak and incompetent that the Kansas School Board must defend this God from science and new learning. It is pitiful.

The challenge of Darwinian thinking to traditional Christianity is deep and profound. That means that Christianity’s survival depends on its being big enough to embrace a post-Darwinian world. If we cannot then Christianity will surely die. I do not believe that is the fate toward which Christianity is headed unless it becomes that petty, small-minded enterprise that must hide in ignorance and fear lest it be destroyed.

I hope you and others will resist these tactics at the ballot box. If that fails then you have to assess whether or not you want your children to grow up in the environment that Kansas is creating. If not, you might consider moving. I for one hope you will stay and fight for ignorance will not prevail forever, even in Kansas.

I’m not the kind of guy to say Amen, but nice job!

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About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

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