Gimme that Old-Time Selection

Gallop released the results of a poll it took two weeks ago (December 10-12) on Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design. Here’s the result, in historical perspective, from Gallup itself:

From on December 21, 2010 (updated 01:00 PM ET)

The result of the latest survey shows that 16% of the respondents selected the option that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process”; 38% thatHuman beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process”; and 40% that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” 6% had no opinion.

The pure materialistic explanation appears to be at an all-time high, nearly twice the segment of the population that held that belief nearly 30 years ago. But that segment was so small in 1982 that it only took a defection of 4% of the biblical literalists with a conversion of 3% of no-opinions to the materialist column to give the scientific explanation for human origins (in very broad brush) 16% of the population.

This means, however, that nearly 80% of the population believe that a god personally intervened in the process with half of those founding their belief on the (internally inconsistent) first chapters of Genesis.

This report comes a day after the 5th anniversary of the ruling by Judge John E. Jones in the Middle District of Pennsylvania striking down the foolish attempt by certain publicity-seeking but unsophisticated members of the Dover School Board to require the introduction of Intelligent Design studies. The judge, an appointee of George W. Bush, in an exhaustive 139-page ruling, found Intelligent Design to be a thinly-veiled movement designed (not very intelligently, however) to skirt previous federal court rulings holding Creationism a religious belief, which could not be constitutionally promoted by public schools. The decision was in a case entitled Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, and the opinion can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

What does all of this mean?

First, I don’t know what it means that God “guided the process” of man’s descent from other organisms. Nor do the people who answered with this response. I suspect that what was intended by the answer is a statement that the responder believes both in a god and in science. They have never worked out how materialism and theism can co-exist, but they don’t much care.

Second, I suspect that a substantial portion of the 40% who believe in “Young Earth Creationism” have no real concept of the nature of the god they believe in or how that belief is supposed to interact with the many things they depend upon every day, which are based on a material view of the universe.

Third, much as I think they would like to allow an opening in the church-state barrier, most Republican judges would not like to see any religious fiddling around with science education in public schools. As much as Republicans understand that they need their fundamentalist base to get elected, they aren’t about to allow them to do anything that might interfere with their material well-being. And they understand that a school system that subjects science education to the whim of an uneducated populace is liable to do just that.

Finally, I think that even the fundamentalists only nominally believe what they say they do. Forty per-cent of the population is a large enough segment that it could really hold politicians hostage unless they got what they wanted. This is particularly true if those holding opposing views only represent 16% of the population. But they don’t. They are fairly docile when confronted. Indeed, after the Kitzmiller case, the board members who were instrumental in introducing Intelligent Design instruction were defeated in the next election.

An exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Supposedly Eve and a velociraptor in the Garden of Eden. The size of the theropod, however, suggests it is probably a Deinonychus or Achillobator. Oddly, however, it doesn’t show feathers. I wonder if the curator of the Creation Museum has been keeping up with his professional journal reading.

Plus their beliefs are fairly pliable. The easiest and intellectually consistent approach to fossil evidence, it seems to me, would be to deny that it shows past organisms. They could maintain (and I recall some who used to argue as much) that the Devil or God put the fossils there to test our faith. But they don’t. Apparently the appeal of dinosaurs is so much for children that creationists parents can’t deny them. Just like Santa Claus. So they devise a truly bizarre belief system that holds that dinosaurs co-existed with humans and were not carnivores or otherwise threatening to humans. This last point is necessary because otherwise how could Noah have gotten all the animals on earth, two by two, to live for several months in peace on that tiny ark?

This approach requires the adherents to argue that the science behind various dating techniques is flawed, that the sequential record of fossils all over the world is a coincidence (caused as they hopefully and implausibly suggest by “the Flood”), that teeth marks in bones are misinterpreted, and that function did not follow form in ancient animals in the same way it does in modern ones. Wouldn’t my suggestion about false fossils be the more parsimonious explanation? But maybe God abhors an Ockham’s razor.

To me a totally material belief in human ontogengy from a fertilized egg is far more fantastic on its face than neo-Darwinism. But I suppose that the fundamentalists treat it the same way: God directs an organism’s growth along lines that can be interpreted as biological laws.  That must be how fundamentalists avoid going the way of Christian Scientists in rejecting modern medicine.

But I suspect it’s simpler than that. I bet they simply don’t find the issue that important except in defining the boundaries of their group. This is an issue they can use to tell if you are with them or a pointy headed elite that probably wants to take their guns away and require them to buy health insurance for their children. In all other respects it’s not an operative belief or at least one that they act on. Just like belief in the Rapture. If you really believed that someday, really soon, an all powerful god would take a select group from earth leaving the rest of mankind to face the Anti-Christ, would you spend your weekends watching football rather than selling your property and taking up your cross? Or maybe at least do unto others …?

So I conclude that fundamentalists are more interested in self-selection than divine selection. As for me, make my selection natural.

Update [12/22]: The picture from the Creation Museum nagged at me for the longest time,but I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me. Then just now, I realized it. It incorrectly shows Eve as clothed!

There are only two explanations for this mistake. One, the curator and person who constructed the exhibit have never read the third chapter of Genesis. It clearly says there that when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of knowledge they realized they were naked: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (Genesis 3:7, KJV. Even the last verse of the second chapter says they were naked.) Now you could argue that the scene at the museum took place after they ate of the fruit. But two problems arise with that explanation: (1) The clothing Eve is wearing is clearly not made of “sewed fig leaves.” And, (2) how could she have a smile like that? After she and her (common law) husband ate the fruit, they hid from the voice of God. When God called looking for him, Adam explained his absence: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10.) Clearly, Eve could not have been in a good enough mood to be smiling once she knew she was naked.

The second possible explanation for a clothed Eve is that the curator did not want to offend our modern sensibilities with nakedness in a religio-science exhibit in Kentucky. But how could a good Southern Baptist take liberties with scripture to that extent? And as scientists, how could the creationists at the Creation Museum take liberties with Truth? The American Museum of Natural History, after all, has models of naked Australopithecines–male and female together, no less. But that is in New York City, itself a den of iniquity. Perhaps, it’s just illegal in Kentucky to have naked people on exhibit. Surely fundamentalists should get any such law repealed so that they can continue with their courageous pursuit of scientific truth.

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