Americans more prone to supernatural nonsense

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Fri, 2006-08-25 03:03

Americans are more likely to believe in supernatural bollocks than almost anyone else in any other Western country. That's the clear and unfortunate conclusion of research recently published in 'Science' magazine.

Surely proof if proof were needed that freedom is a greater indicator of prosperity than clear-headedness.

That's a graph on the right collating the results of surveying 32 European countries, the US and Japan which reveals "that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact." You might view it as a 'sanity ranking.' Said the study's author of the US's position:

American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalists, which is why Turkey and we are so close.

The result is disturbing for those who value science and reason. Of reason and science and evolution, James Watson, co-discover of the secrets of DNA had this to say:

One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Let us not beat about the bush — the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a "theory" in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. Evolution is a law (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the law of gravity, the laws of motion or Avogadro's law. Evolution is a fact, disputed only by those who choose to ignore the evidence, put their common sense on hold and believe instead that unchanging knowledge and wisdom can be reached only by revelation.

Sadly, the number of people in the world's most prosperous country "who put their common sense on hold" is increasing rather than decreasing. Rationality is on the slide. Twenty years ago the percentage of people in the US who accepted the idea that the earth was created only six-thousand years ago and that Joshua made the earth stop turning for twelve hours were just 55 percent of the population.

But now the number of nutters who believe that what their imaginary friend said is superior to reason and evidence-based science has increased to sixty percent!

It's hard really to know who is the least sane. Those who believe in the supernatural, or those who follow the equally irrational postmodernism lampooned in yesterday's post. Science is under attack on both fronts.

In any case, my heart goes out to anyone with a brain living in Kansas. All I can offer you in recompense is this account of the crucial and highly entertaining cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial, and a link to my own three-part series on Unintelligent Design.

LINKS: Public acceptance of evolution - Jon D. Miller et al, Science Magazine
Unintelligent Design, Part 1 - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Fighting evidence-based medicine with postmodernist bollocks -
Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Darrow vs. Bryan - website for Positive Atheism Magazine

RELATED:
Science, Religion, Nonsense


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Ha!

Olivia's picture

Oh he'll find that out one day Landon, in one glorious moment! I hold high hopes... Smiling

Actually, I meant the creation/evolution debate has nothing to do with snowboarding or making money in my son's eyes.

Well said Claudia

Landon Erp's picture

Though one thing perplexes me...

ATLAS SHRUGGED HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MAKING MONEY?!

---Landon

Inking is sexy.

http://www.angelfire.com/comics/wickedlakes

Superstition and anxiety

Olivia's picture

She was incapable of having a discussion about whether or not religion was correct, or real. This very bright, otherwise intelligent young woman had a self-built mental block about religion that could not be breached by all the powers of thought and science. This girl is the kind of person who grows up to be a doctor or engineer...and simultaneously seriously believes in creationism. [M.L]

My ex-husband and the father of my three children is a fundamentalist christian of the staunchest order. One by one my children have launched into the creationism/evolution debate with me from a christian POV.

I had to make rules around how to have this debate at the dinner table, precisely because of the emotional defensiveness it brought out. I made it clear that I would discuss it with my two oldest because they could be more rational, but my youngest would get her knickers in such a twist, I refused to engage her. (She brought it up at least once a week).

Now, my oldest is through the woods and is reading Atlas plus other Rand books - and she's LOVING it (amen)! My son (16) doesn't really care because it has nothing to do with snowboarding or making money. And my wee drama queen has developed the self control to argue without resorting to ad hominem attacks or causing herself significant anxiety.

When children have been thus exposed and caught in the trap of religiosity, these issues become so damn sensitive. I don't pander too much to their scruples though - it's my job as their mother to name things truthfully, regardless of how they may feel about it. If they choose to hold something on faith, they have to at least admit that they're choosing superstition over reality - especially if it comes from the fucking bible!

Thanks Phil

LWHALL's picture

I also could relate to what Claudia meant when she referred to the "mental effort to try and untangle it" and was remiss in not mentioning it in my last post. That effort goes along with what I spoke of when talking about the fear I experienced.

L W

LW and Claudia, in a way

PhilipC's picture

LW and Claudia, in a way the post I just made was just elaborating or expanding on the valuable things each of you said yesterday...

> why some people cannot

PhilipC's picture

> why some people cannot make the necessary break even when confronted with unassailable facts.

LW and others, it seems as if part of the problem is that it's an emotional and cognitive thing combined, both conscious conclusions and subconscious ones fused and joined. Not only does it seem as if, emotionally, you are betraying the good and order and justice in the universe, but cognitively you were probably never fully taught how to go back and untangle package deals, to correct (or even to identify in every case) mistaken attitudes, premises, associations all the way up and down the line.

It's not like we're taught logic courses in school. Or critical thinking.

I was fortunate in rejecting religion by the start of adolescence and in never having consciously accepted it or listened much, but nonetheless when I would make a point in college bull sessions of shaking my first at the sky and cursing a non-existent God to strike me down if he was up there, I nonetheless felt a certain fear, like I had taken a dangerous risk and jumped off a high cliff into the sea.

I can only conclude that I had internalized some of all those messages over all the years, even while consciously shrugging them off.

Experiment: Try doing that out loud -even now-as an Objectivist and see if you feel any twinge of daring-danger-discomfort all mixed together. All togther now as you read this...shout it out: "Damn you God, you miserable prick. Come and get me if you're up there, you bastard. Strike me down, right now!!"

(What happened? Still there?)

Rex, just curious…

Mark Dow's picture

How are faith based views about religion, which you abhor, any different than your faith based views about socialism?

Rex Wilkinson, ignorance

Rex Wilkinson, ignorance expert.

Wm

Good post Phil!

LWHALL's picture

For the most part people who are believers in mysticism have been subjected to it from birth. They are surrounded with it by family members, friends, and many times co-workers. They are taught through a type of fear indoctrination that anyone who speaks against God is doing the work of the Devil and should be totally tuned out less they put their own souls in tremendous peril. This type of teaching can have a profound psychological impact on anyone who is trying to break free of it, and I am talking from first-hand experience.

At times even when all my rational thought pointed to things I had been taught as being illogical and irrational, I would still experience a feeling of fear which was entirely palpable coursing through me as if I was being warned not to go there, and in a way I guess I was, but it was coming from things imbedded in my mind which I had been taught from as long as I can remember.

Due to the nature of what it takes to break free of the hold this type of thing has on a person, I can totally understand(even if I don't agree)why some people cannot make the necessary break even when confronted with unassailable facts.

L W

The fog

Olivia's picture

It's true that it is a blank out, but for the emotional reasons that Phil speaks of. It's not the blank out that hurts the head, it's the mental effort to try and untangle it.

When my thinking was more inflenced by Mysticism, Objectivism literally gave me a headache. After reading or talking about it, I always felt torn in two and would go into an intense mental dialogue that threatened great change. (The wonderful power of Ayn's writing and reasoning). Smiling

> If I could explain why an

PhilipC's picture

> If I could explain why an otherwise intelligent person would fall that deeply into the clutches of mysticism...maybe I'd know what to do about America. It can't be that they're all THAT stupid, right?

Melissa, I think it's what Rand called a "package deal". Long before the ability to analyze, to think logically is possible, a lot of different things get filed together in the mind. When they were young, for most Americans a lot of things which came from teachers, parents, and church got lumped together in the same category: the smiling priest + being nice to people + not being selfish + Jesus joves you + love and kindness + God + some force that watches over you + nice, melodious hymns + pretty churches + everyone dresses up nice and is very serious on Sundays.

This happened emotionally and a million more things got lumped into that same category. Takes someone of tremendous logical capacity and effort to untangle all that.

It's not evasion.

One difference about America compared to, say, Europe which explains its far greater religiosity (along with a more virulent anti-intellectualism) is the United States never went through a national or historic period of inquisitions and religious wars and so on, so the truly nasty part of religion is culturally forgotten and didn't get thrown into the package and Old Testament religion has long been out of fashion and the Puritans a distant memory. And so the "kinder and gentler" and helpful church has been part of the package. Also, many of the ministers and priests (two bestsellers on NYT right now) -do- try to offer self-help advice which often includes rational things such as stand up for yourself, take responsibility, etc., etc.

Full Marks Peter

Rex Wilkinson's picture

I am delighted to see someone is expressing the voice of reson in my absence.A well put and revealing statement about the sanity of America.And yes I do see your graph as a sanity measure.America scores near the bottom and is slidding backwards even deeper into ignorance.Not a good role model for the rest of the world unless it's what not to do!

That's becuase they haven't

Ross Elliot's picture

That's because they haven't arrived at their views through reason but through dogmatic psycho-fisting(TM).

If the spectacle wasn't so sad, it'd be funny. It's essentially a blank-out. It must hurt the head. Seriously, it must. Like experiencing unconsciousness while you're still awake.

Yep..

jtgagnon's picture

Lance observed: "there are crazy religious people around that's for sure. And in the comfort of their own homes they will proudly denounce evolution to their television sets. But if pressed at all my experience is that these people become uncomfortable and flee."

Most of my family and childhood friends are extremely religious. From time to time, I'll engage them in discussion on a topic like evolution, mysticism, etc. And everytime that happens, they get very defensive, shake their heads vigorously while telling me how obviously incorrect I am, and then (to end it all) they promise to pray for me even harder. They don't necessarily flee, but they do certainly evade. Having an intellectually honest conversation with such types is hopeless.

Ross

Lanza Morio's picture

Ross, there are crazy religious people around that's for sure. And in the comfort of their own homes they will proudly denounce evolution to their television sets. But if pressed at all my experience is that these people become uncomfortable and flee. That's hardly the act of someone who holds fast to a principle. The crazy 700 Club types and the crazy tree-huggers do believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong but that doesn't mean they hold that A is A generally. They have had the negative effect of casting doubt in the minds of the better, well-intentioned people who give their ideas even a little bit of credence. Instead of saying Americans are more "prone" to believing in the supernatural I would say Americans are all-too-willing to give equal time to bad ideas as well as good ideas.

Scientists...

Melissa Lepley's picture

Scientists can be wrong. They can lie, or their words and works can be distorted. It's not wise to put your faith in scientists.

It IS, however, wise to put your faith in science. Although "faith" isn't really the correct word.

Kids should be taught to be skeptical of authority...and to figure things out for themselves. But that skepticism shouldn't be reserved for science alone...include religion and government, and in a generation or two this country might be much improved.

Unfortunately, in the US, if a teacher said anything that might be construed as "your religion could be illogical or faulty"...she (or he) would be lynched by outraged idiot parents.

I knew a girl, in my IDEA classes, who was very intelligent, and completely rational about every other subject on earth...but get anywhere near religion and she'd become completely illogical and...well...crazy. It was like mental epilepsy...give her the right trigger and she'd go into intellectual seizures. She was incapable of having a discussion about whether or not religion was correct, or real. This very bright, otherwise intelligent young woman had a self-built mental block about religion that could not be breached by all the powers of thought and science. This girl is the kind of person who grows up to be a doctor or engineer...and simultaneously seriously believes in creationism.

At the time, I was attending church, and "believed"...but not very much. I was uncomfortable being around her, as if her religious fervor was a contageous cancer that would eat at my brain if I got too close.

If I could explain why an otherwise intelligent person would fall that deeply into the clutches of mysticism...maybe I'd know what to do about America. It can't be that they're all THAT stupid, right?

Melissa

Sandi has it right

John Drake's picture

Education is the problem.  Not that they are necessiarly teaching creationism, but they teach the kids that you can't be too sure that the scientists are right.  My wife, the product of an inner city school system, would probably fall into the "Not sure" category.  Unfortunately, she was told too many times that you can't be too sure if the scientists are right.  Sometimes, they are unethical.  Sometimes, theories are overturned.  Sometimes, scientists just plain disagree.  This is how science is too often taught in schools today.  So when they grow up, these same kids have trouble distinguishing true from false. 

John Drake

Hmm...

Melissa Lepley's picture

What do you think is going to happen to America?

Just exactly what it deserves.

I just wish there were somewhere else to go.

Melissa

Education

Sandi's picture

Education

Actually, Lance, I think it says the opposite.

Ross Elliot's picture

Actually, Lance, I think it says the opposite. It says to me that you have a proportion of society that is staunch on religion and another that is not. Meaning, that the religionists do see right & wrong, black & white. They're just nuts, that's all.

The thing I've always loved about America is that you have the freedom for the nuts and the sane to live side by side in happy disagreement. Plus, you have the wherewithal to get in each other's faces about it without a whole lot of cardy pulling or prissy pretense.

Better that be the price of having a few lunatics than my New Zealand where someone with the let-'em-have-it attitude of a Letterman or Leno, et al., would be arrested for causing offence.

No surprise here.

Lanza Morio's picture

This only reinforces the idea that Americans are terribly uncomfortable with the absolute, the right & wrong, and the A as A. We want our cake and to eat it as well. Nothing new.

This made me very quiet. I'd

gone's picture

This made me very quiet. I'd normally say Holy Shit at this point but I suppose just Shit is better.

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