Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Interesting Survey on Religion in America

Very interesting survey results came out this week, on the relationships between religion and politics in America. The New York Times tells us about it:
In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, a poll released yesterday found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism.

The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points. Teaching of Creationism Is Endorsed in New Survey

Now, what's interesting to me is not the fact that a lot of Americans believe what they've been told in Sunday school. That's not surprising at all. The interesting thing is, well, that the survey would think to ask a question like "Do you believe schools should teach creationism along with evolution, or instead of evolution?" The weird thing is that people think they know what the schools should teach on such a technical subject.

Do you know the difference between a genotype and a phenotype? How about RNA -- can you explain how that works? How does evolution affect the probability distribution of a phenotype over generations? The nucleotides in DNA -- what are they, and how do they work together?

See, this isn't the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This is science. People walking around the streets don't have the knowledge to decide what the school should teach.

Take a different topic. You know, there are several ways to find the solution to a system of polynomial equations -- are they equally good? Which one should the schools teach? Does it matter what parents think?

Of course not.

You don't vote on what to do when an equation has imaginary roots. You don't ask people to come to a consensus on the symbolism in Silas Marner. People don't get to petition the school board to teach that all iambic pentameter should have four stressed syllables. You don't try to make the schools leave out a certain planet, say Saturn, when they teach about the solar system.

And in sex ed, the same thing. There's no argument about whether condoms prevent pregnancy and stop the spread of infections. They do. There's no question about whether homosexuality is a sickness. It's not. These aren't things you vote on, it doesn't matter if most people are unaware of the facts. The school district has the responsibility to teach the facts, not the prevailing popular mythology.

If you're interested in this stuff, I recommend you go check out the full results of this survey at Public Divided on Origins of Life: Religion A Strength And Weakness For Both Parties.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of your best posts, Jim.

August 31, 2005 10:04 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Darn, my kids were hoping that I could petition the school system not to teach calculus and also to only teach literature that they consider interesting- one likes Shakespeare, the other doesn't, one thinks Melville is great, the other one thinks manga should be taught.


September 01, 2005 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

There was a wonderful New Yorker article years ago (1996?)entitled "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, right? Wrong!" It centered on popular opinions about foreign aid. (Most said it was too high.) But most of these opinions were based on the erroneous belief that over 10% of government spending was devoted to foreign aid (as opposed to the true figure of less than 1%). The author argued that forming opinions based on ignorance is not an entitlement.

I'm not saying religious beliefs are wrong or misinformed. But people's understanding of the science of evolution and genetics may be. I'm always surprised when people suggest that faith is not strong enough to withstand advancing science. Who are we to say how a supreme being would choose to create life? Even when life as we know it is dissected into understandable components by science, it remains wondrous and bewilderingly complex.

Worse than not becoming informed before espousing an opinion is the deliberate misrepresentation of facts to support one's view. Those who oppose accurate and comprehensive sex education have certainly bent or ignored facts that do not fit their world view. We don't want our students deprived of critical information because of these "opinions," or swayed by this non-rigorous reasoning.

September 01, 2005 11:11 PM  

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