Thursday, August 24, 2006

The drift towards theocracy

Here is a graphic that every American should be interested in, from an article on Public Acceptance of Evolution, by Jon Miller, Eugenie Scott, and Shinji Okamoto, in the August 11 issue of Science (click to enlarge). The blue bars represent the percentage of people in a survey of 32 European countries, Japan, and the United States who agreed with the statement "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

Only Turkey has a lower acceptance of evolution than the US.

The graph dramatically illustrates the extent to which American science literacy and science education have been highjacked by religious conservatives.

In a study referenced by the authors, 78 % of American adults accept natural selection among plants and non-human animals (if the bugaboo word "evolution" is omitted), but 62 % of the same respondents believe God created humans as whole persons without any evolutionary development. "It appears that these adults have adopted a human exceptionalism perspective," say Miller, Scott and Okamoto.

This picking and choosing represents no less than a rejection of the scientific enterprise, which derives its strength from mutual coherence. It is easy to understand why most Europeans and Japanese look on American attitudes towards science with bewilderment and dismay.

Of course, this won't bother American religious conservatives. Just as they accept human exceptionalism, they also believe in American exceptionalism. Our biological origins have nothing in common with other animals, they say; so too is Christian America favored by God above all other peoples and nations as a repository of truth.

In our attitudes towards religious exceptionalism and science, the US is perhaps now closer to Iran, say, than to Sweden, France or Japan.