America’s credulousness

This weekend again left me bewildered about how, in the 21st Century, American belief systems remain so knowingly blind to science and the exercise of reason. It’s almost as if the scientific revolution and the Age of Reason never really took hold.

The main impetus here comes from the results on science-related issues in a AP-Gfk poll taken last month. More than half (51%) of my fellow citizens have no confidence that the Big Bang was the origin of the universe. Meanwhile, 42% have no confidence that life evolved through natural selection. The flip side of the coin is equally discouraging. Only 21% and 31% of us, respectively, are extremely or very confident in those things. Likewise, only 27% of us are confident that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Perhaps any question this rejection of scientific knowledge stems from belief in the supernatural and not advocacy of some other physical cosmology is eliminated by the fact that 72% believe the only explanation for the complexity of the universe is “a supreme being.”

Also striking me was that, coincidentally, heaven was the subject of the biggest story on the front page of Sunday’s local daily. I know if was Easter (speaking of which, this is worth a look) but my views regarding heaven and nonfiction remain the same. Still, this is less egregious given it is more a matter of faith than something currently capable of proof or disproof like the items above.

Look, I’m not saying people who are religious are stupid. And despite my mention of heaven, I won’t complain (much) about the lack of evidence for many tenets. Yes, I understand what “faith” means but I simply can’t understand blind reliance on it in light of contrary objective evidence. What is most exasperating, though, is the extent to which such knowing rejection (or intentional ignorance) permeate American life and society.

I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.

Carl Sagan, Contact

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