Monday, December 05, 2011

The Correlation Between Religious Belief and Science Illiteracy

I have long contended that the Christian Right - and now by extension, the Republican Party - embraces ignorance in a rear guard effort to protect their house of cards religious beliefs from collapsing in the face of hard, objective evidence that the Bible is anything but inerrant. And this willingness to embrace ignorance is often pretty shocking. It also carries over into areas beyond just a simple denial of the theory of evolution - and more recently a denial that Adam and Eve in fact never existed as described in Genesis. Via Civil Commotion, I came across an article on Why Evolution is True that looks at studies that confirm what many of us have long thought. The figures are frightening and one cannot be help wonder how America is going to remain competitive in the world when large segments of the American population are actively making the decision to remain ignorant. Here are some article highlights:

there’s this, from an analysis by David Masci at the Pew Forum in 2007:

When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll.

It also seems obvious that religion impedes acceptance of not just evolution, but science in general—at least that brand of science, like stem-cell research or work on global warming—that threatens religious views. That conclusion has just been buttressed by a new paper by Darren E. Sherkat in Social Science Quarterly, “Religion and scientific literacy in the United States.” Sherkat’s analysis plainly shows that even excluding issues of evolution, religion in America plays a substantial role in reducing science literacy.

[T]he 2006 General Social Survey (GSS) collected by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) here at the University of Chicago, a survey of 4,510 randomly chosen Americans who were asked questions about their race, income, immigrant status, geographic region of residence, gender, urban or rural home, and so on. . . . The GSS also surveyed people about their religious identification and how they interpreted the Bible.

The results, especially for the effect of religion, were striking:

The percentage of correct answers on the science exam was strongly (and statistically significantly) affected by religious beliefs. Those who take the Bible as the literal word of God scored 54% correct, those who see the Bible as “inspired by God” got 68% correct, and those who see the Bible as a “book of fables” got 75% correct. This classification explained 13% of the total variation in science literacy.

■ Dividing up people by religious identification rather than by how they regarded the Bible, we also see strong effects on science scores. Sectarian Protestants scored 55% correct, Catholics 65%, “other Protestants” and non-Christians 68%, and nonbelievers (yay!) 72%.

Fundamentalists are less science literate than those who see the Bible as inspired by God, who in turn are less science literate than those who see the Bible as a book of fables.

Sherkat concludes that: The gap between sectarians and fundamentalists and other Americans is quite substantial. Indeed, only education is a stronger predictor of scientific proficiency than are religious factors. . . .Scientific literacy is low in the United States relative to other developed nations, and this research suggests that religious factors play a substantial role in creating these deficits.

Sherkat also found that Catholicism is a significant factor reducing science literacy . . .

It would seem that rather than worry about immigrants threatening America's future (at least in the minds of the "godly Christians"), the Christianist ought to take a good look in the mirror and grasp that they are one of the biggest threats to America's future prosperity and place in the world.

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