Monday, September 14, 2009

The shame...

Devout Catholic, released from being
trapped in elevator, goes directly to
Church, is killed by falling stone altar.

The shame of a once great country. There is a new motion picture titled, “Creation,” the producers claim has been unable to find a distributor in the United States. They want you to believe this is because only 39% of U.S. citizens believe in the theory of evolution, therefore, it would be too controversial for distributors to risk showing it. This is all nonsense, but it certainly has generated a great deal of controversy, pitting those who think it’s all just a publicity ploy to try to make an audience for a bad film, against those who believe it actually has something to do with our beliefs about evolution. My comments here have little or nothing to do with this film per se, or with the outcome of this particular controversy. I simply want to reflect on the claim that only 39% of U.S. citizens believe in the theory of evolution.

The 39% figure comes from a Gallup poll conducted in February. The actual results of this poll were: 39% believe, 25% do not believe, 36% have no opinion either way, and 1% did not answer. I wonder if these figures have any meaning at all. It is probably pretty safe to think the 39% represents a better educated, better read part of the population who probably actually understand the theory. The remaining percentages may or may not represent anything meaningful at all. For example, do the 25% who do not believe do so because they truly understand the theory of evolution, and having thought about it, reject it? Without knowing the actual questions asked it is impossible to know what this means. Does it mean they believe in creationism as opposed to the “big bang theory?” Does it mean they don’t believe humans are related to and “descended from” monkeys and apes?” Do they believe the earth is only 6000 years old? Or do they just dogmatically believe the biblical account is the literal truth? Do they, in fact, think at all?

What about the 36% who have no opinion either way? Do these people just not want to be bothered? Do they think it’s a stupid question? Are they bothered by polls and pollsters? Do they just not want to think about it? Have they actually thought about it and concluded that they just aren’t certain? With all due respects to Gallup and their polls I believe for the most part they are not very meaningful and can be misleading.

That said, it does seem to be true that religion in the United States has much more of a following than in most of Europe, and as a corollary, probably has a large population that does not believe in evolution in any form, preferring the biblical account or some variety of creationism. In spite of the geological evidence for the antiquity of the earth (accepted by geologists in the 1860”s!), the presence of fossils, and the archaeological and paleontological records, these people seem to cling to their belief that dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth at the same time (people killed and ate them all, hence their disappearance and the scattered bones?), God created everything in a mere six days, the bible is literally true, and so on. This means they are also anti-science, preferring to believe in superstitions and faith rather than empirical evidence. While most of the rest of the industrial world has moved beyond dogmatic religious beliefs and more and more into scientific modes of thought, the U.S. has lagged behind. We are seeing the results of this unfortunate lapse more and more. Where we used to lead the world in science and technology, we no longer do. Where we used to lead the world in education, we no longer do. And related to this neglect of science and scientific education also comes our falling behind in longevity, in health care, in our attention to our environment and the other creatures that inhabit it along with us, and the general well-being of our citizens. More importantly, we have also become a warlike nation, going out of our way to meddle everywhere in the lives of others. I submit that all of this is related either directly or indirectly to our rather primitive beliefs about Christianity and religion in general, beliefs that urge us to “spread the gospel,” and to “have dominion over the creatures of the earth,” and so on. This downward trajectory began long before the Bush/Cheney administration, but Bush certainly pushed it to extremes of suppressing scientific evidence, denying the obvious, making appointments for political motives rather than scientific or other expertise, and promoting “faith-based” initiatives as the expense of more practical and important means. This in turn was linked to his big business orientation. As Margaret Halsey once said, when a nation depends too heavily on a single institution is becomes primitive. Business has become the primary U.S. institution, bar none. It has insidiously permeated our educational system, our political system, and keeps our obscene military/industrial/political complex going full blast at all times. Thus, along with religion it has even made major inroads into our military forces (now receiving religious indoctrination, being followed by missionaries, and supported by all kinds of private enterprise contractors). The business powers that be have made great use of the religious in their takeover of our society (even though they themselves surely disdain such simpletons). Bush’s claim of a “crusade” was not merely a slip of the tongue. All of our basic beliefs, Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, White Man’s Burden, The Great Chain of Being, The Shining Beacon on the Hill, and others, are related to our Christian tradition and history. What Lewis Henry Morgan said of religious ideas in l877 applies to the U.S., circa 2009:

“The growth of religious ideas is environed with such intrinsic difficulties that it may never receive a perfectly satisfactory exposition. Religion deals so largely with the imaginative and emotional nature, and consequently with such uncertain elements of knowledge, that all primitive religions are grotesque and to some extent unintelligible.”

Thus having, according to Sir James Frazer and others, evolved culturally from magic to religion and finally to science, we are now sliding backwards, reversing the sequence, culturally devolving as it were. And we are beginning to pay a heavy price that will only get worse if we do not come to our senses sooner rather than later.

The chief business of the American people is business.
Calvin Coolidge

Hat-makers commonly used mercury to cure felt for hats. They could not help but inhale the poisonous vapor, thus causing neurological damage like distorted speech and vision. Thus the phrase “mad as a hatter.”

No comments: