When I first arrived back in Arizona this past July one of the ugliest things to greet me was an obscenely large billboard next to the local McDonald's that promoted a fallacy palace in Kentucky called The Creation Museum, a modern establishment that honored science as preserved the Book of Genesis. For folks who wanted to know more about the dinosaurs that rode on Noah's ark, the "museum" represented a rare educational opportunity. The billboard has since come down, but the inadvertent tribute to P.T. Barnum remains open in Kentucky, slathering the suckers with hokum while gleefully taking their money.
Daily Kos posted an interesting chart today that summarized research conducted in 2005 by the National Geographic Society. The study involved surveying thousands of people across the United States, Europe, and Japan on the subject of evolution - specifically the degree to which citizens of each country believed in the concept of evolution. The exact survey question was: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." Not surprisingly, at least to me, the United States came in at thirty-three of thirty-four, barely edging out the country of Turkey.
Of the thirty-four countries surveyed, Iceland came in with the highest percentage of its citizens who believed in evolution. Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden each had over 80% of respondents who believed the theory of evolution. In the United States the result was half of that at 40 percent. When similar research dating back to 1985 was taken into account, results showed that the number of Americans who considered themselves "unsure" about evolution actually increased during that 20-year span.
The countries as ranked by their belief in evolution, from highest percentage to lowest, were: Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France, Japan, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Hungary, Luxembourg, Ireland, Slovenia, Finland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal, Malta, Switzerland, Slovak Republic, Poland, Austria, Croatia, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, United States, and Turkey.
Why is the United States so reluctant to embrace what most of the world sees as "accepted"science? The NGS study listed three reasons: First, America's tendency toward fundamentalist Christian views creates a large pool of people who believe in a literal translation of the Bible. If Jonah was in a whale, then, by Jehovah, Jonah was "in" a whale! Second, and closely related to the first, people with right-wing political views, i.e. the tea-baggers, also tend to be rigid in their religious beliefs. And third, Americans are not very well educated in the area of science. Researchers in a 2005 study found that while 78% of Americans agreed that plants and animals had evolved, 62% also believed that God created humans without any evolutionary development. That study stated that fewer than half of American adults can provide a minimal definition of DNA.
So, to summarize, we are rigid and unenlightened in our religious beliefs, carry our political beliefs over onto religion, and are woefully lacking in scientific knowledge. Barnum had us pegged, and so do those hucksters in Kentucky.