Saturday, June 07, 2014

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind

One phenomenally good news about my fellow Americans is this: 19 percent do not think that god was involved in how we came about.

Yes, 19 percent and that is good news.
Because it is an all-time high, and has doubled in thirty years.
Yes, doubled.
And, yes, in thirty years.

Now for the bad news: 73 percent think that either god created humans or guided the process of evolution from other life forms.
73 percent!

Why is this issue so difficult for my fellow Americans?

In order to think through that, well, this is where the subject of this post comes in.  "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart" is a proverb from the Bible.  "Inherit the wind," which is a part of that, was a play that I watched with two friends last night at one of the oldest community theatres in the country.

The play
is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, which resulted in John T. Scopes’s conviction for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law. Although the play is not meant to be a historical account, the characters of Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Scopes, and H. L. Mencken, respectively. The trial makes for one of the outstanding dramas of our time—and a subject that still resonates today!
A 1955 play based on the real life events of 1925, and which was made into a movie in 1960.  Despite all the Hollywood gizmos since then, it has been difficult to shake loose this bible-thumping creationist belief, apparently.

Why do I relate the 73 percenters to Bible-thumping?  Because, that too was addressed in the survey:

As the Gallup poll notes:
These Americans tend to be highly religious, underscoring the degree to which many Americans view the world around them through the lens of their religious beliefs. Those who adopt the creationist view also tend to have lower education levels, but given the strong influence of religious beliefs, it is not clear to what degree having more education or different types of education might affect their views.
Oh well!

With our continued anti-science, anti-evolution, outlook, we certainly are destined to inherit nothing but the wind!


Ramesh said...

Its not just in evolution ; human propensity to disbelieve in science and a ready propensity to believe in quackery, however ridiculous it might be, beggars belief. I am completely stumped by this. Why is it that any scientifically proven concept becomes so difficult to accept but anything wild is so easy to believe in. Look at the belief in miracle cures, the millions of godmen parading nonsense, the ridiculous superstitions, etc etc.

Is rationality such a difficult concept to accept ?

Sriram Khé said...

How bizarre, right? I agree with you. (What? agreeing with each other two posts in a row?!!!)

The miracle cures and faith healing and the gurus and tele-evangelists ... that is one highly profitable industry, my friend. You and I are wasting our time reading and thinking!

Maybe I should set up an ashram. You can be my finance and admin partner--I say that only because I have a guru-beard whereas you have a funny mustache ;)

Anne in Salem said...

I do not understand why you celebrate the increasing godlessness of our country. I am an entirely rational being who has been religious her entire life. I attend church weekly because I want to, not because I am told to. I am a college graduate. I am not a literal Fundamentalist; I believe the rock is 10 M years old, not that creation began in 4000 BC.

The absence of belief in God would make for a sad society. Much good has been done in this world in the name of God, from someone helping a neighbor up to miracle cures (yes, I believe in them). I do not deny unspeakable atrocities committed in the name of God but refuse to let the horrors of the minority tarnish the work of the majority.

I find great comfort in God and His redeeming mercy. Following Christ is a guiding principle in my life and the lives of many I know. He gives me strength when the burden is heavy and increases the joy in the victories. What is your source of strength?

National Geographic magazine recently published an article about the inner workings of the human brain and scientists' struggle to understand it. Two letters to the editor in response to this article fit this discussion. The first says that the mysteries and complexities of the brain prove the existence of God while the second quoted Carl Sagan: "As we learn more and more about the universe, there seems to be less and less for God to do." Unsurprisingly, I agree with the former. Given nature's tendency toward chaos and randomness, how could this world possibly have come to exist in all its complexity and intricate patterns and interrelationships without some guidance?

I believe the human propensity to disbelieve in science is based largely on shame. It is more acceptable and less embarrassing to hide behind faith than to admit ignorance in the science being offered.

Ramesh said...

@Anne - An awesome comment. I know "awesome" is a much overused word in the online world, but here it is totally appropriate. In a world of polarised views , you state your position so eloquently and with such grace. Bravo.

My own position is very similar to yours , although my formal religion is different (Hindusism) and perhaps I am a shade lower down on the religious spectrum than you are. But I, of course, respect and understand Sriram's view too.

Your comment is truly a gem. Probably the finest this blog has seen.

Sriram Khé said...

While Anne hasn't explicitly stated it (and neither did Ramesh) your comments suggest that in that Gallup poll you might have been among the 31% whose preferred explanation is that humans evolved, with god guiding.  Anne writes to that effect: "how could this world possibly have come to exist in all its complexity and intricate patterns and interrelationships without some guidance?"

We humans don't like to think of the world as chaos and complexity and, thus, we find comfort in narratives that provide us with an uncomplicated linear story from the beginning to the end.  Over time, we have dumped by the side many such narratives.  How many among us, for instance, believe in Thor and Zeus?

The power of those narratives is why India's space scientists, who routinely launch rockets and missiles, make it a point to publicly visit the wealthy temple at Tirupati before every major launch.  They draw strength and guidance from the god there, while Anne draws hers from Christ.

In pointing these out, I want to draw a clear distinction between what science explains versus the fragility of daily existence.  Everyday life is complicated for every one of us in our own ways.  Humans that we are, it is not always easy to deal with the challenges that we face.  We then rely on different mechanisms for support and encouragement.  A Ramesh might perform a puja to an idol, while a Anne might kneel in a church.  A sriram meanwhile blames the bad luck of the draw, sometimes gets bogged down in the trap, but mostly goes about with a clear conviction that the cosmos couldn't care.  It just is.  Shit happens!

It does not matter to me at all whatever mechanism people use to live and enjoy life.  But, it matters to me when they bring that personal aspect of life into science and society.  When that religious narrative on creation gets dragged into the realm of science, then a Bruno gets burned alive.

At the end of it all, do I celebrate godlessness?  Yes, but not how a USSR or China forces godlessness.  Not like how the militant atheists want to battle with the believers.  Whatever comforts and encourages a human is fine by me--as long as their personal preference does not become a requirement for how to live my life.  But, unfortunately, that is what ends up happening.  Religious narratives are why girls don't get to schools in Pakistan.  Religious narratives are why we are duking it out on gay marriage.  Religious narratives are what led the legislators in South Carolina to fight a bill that was to name the woolly mammoth as the state fossil and they wanted to note that the mammoth was created on the sixth day.    

A few atheism related posts from this blog:

"I think. Therefore, I am an atheist" where I quoted Weinberg: "science doesn't make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible to not believe in God."

We atheists, too, are awestruck by nature.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali's hilarious interview with Stephen Colbert

On whether South Indian classical music can accommodate atheism

PS: will this comment get a five-star rating from Ramesh? ;)

Sriram Khé said...

Another update that will not gladden Anne's and Ramesh's hearts? ;)

"a correlation between increased Internet use and the decline of religious affiliation. After analyzing data from the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, Olin College of Engineering professor Allen Downey found that the percentage of people in the U.S. population who claimed no religious affiliation increased to 18% in 2010 from 8% in 1990. That's a jump of 25 million people."

Sriram Khé said...

From a study, via, on people like me

"believers trust atheists about as much they do rapists."

Ouch, ouch ouch! That hurts!!!

"Prejudice against atheists is pervasive in the United States. Atheists lag behind virtually all other minority groups on measures of social acceptance. The sociofunctional approach suggests that distrust is at the core of anti-atheist prejudice, thus making it qualitatively different than prejudice against other disadvantaged groups. Accordingly, this research examined political bias against atheists, gays, and Blacks and the affective content accompanying such biases. Results indicated that atheists suffered the largest deficit in voting intentions from Christian participants, and this deficit was accompanied by distrust, disgust, and fear, thereby suggesting that the affective content of anti-atheist prejudice is both broader and more extreme than prejudice against other historically disadvantaged groups."