The Studied Ignorance of America

The more I think about it, the more I must regrettably conclude that Americans, as a people, are dumb as a tree stump. Well, not dumb so much as stubbornly unreasoning and incurious. I believe that the studied ignorance of our citizenry is, in many ways, at the root of much of what ails this nation. Logic and analysis be damned, we’ll pretty much believe anything we want to believe. “George W. Bush is a suitable leader.” “Iraq was behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11.” “I’m not fat, just big-boned.” “Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.” “Human beings did not evolve from earlier species of animals.” And on and on it goes.

With regard to Americans’ beliefs about evolution, it is worth noting that a study published last year revealed that, as compared to Europe and Japan, “the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution. Only Turkey ranked lower.” That’s right. The only country we beat out was one that shares its name with the wattled fowl we consume on national holidays. It turns out that only 40 percent of Americans fully believe that humans developed from earlier species of animals. By comparison, “in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.” It’s little wonder that this nation can’t produce a decent automobile.

It’s also little wonder that this nation can manage to produce a Creation Museum that embraces the belief that the world is only 6,000 or so years old, humans and dinosaurs previously coexisted, and the Grand Canyon is the product of the Great Flood. Yes, and apparently The Flintstones is not a cartoon but a documentary. Yabba-dabba doo-doo.

Anyway, here’s what Reg Henry of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had to say about America’s monument to ignorance:

Adam, Eve and a fig leaf to cover science

The pursuit of happiness takes many forms and the American people are starved for entertainment. Those two truths taken in combination may explain the Creation Museum, which has just opened in Petersburg, Ky., not far from Cincinnati.

Lacking such an explanation, sensible people might dismiss such an oddity as just another of the devil’s works to lure Christians into making themselves look ridiculous for the amusement of atheists, who are desperate for any sort of fun because they can’t enjoy Christmas.

To the embarrassment of thoughtful believers, the Creation Museum has been built for people who were born yesterday, or more or less yesterday, because they don’t believe in the great geologic periods that spoilsport science insists upon.

It’s enough to make one bemoan the lack of an 11th commandment on the list given to Moses: Thou Shalt Not Be Stupid. But perhaps the Almighty knew that enough sinners would be on Earth without adding the silly, credulous and well-meaning to their number.

Still, the creation of the Creation Museum will give people more entertainment than the usual faith-based attempts to ban such innocent childhood amusements as the Harry Potter books and Halloween as agents of witchcraft. After all, it provides fun for all the family, rather than seeking to ban fun for all the family.

The museum tells a fundamentalist Christian version of Earth’s history, which insists that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and was created in a week. Evolution, heaven forbid, was not involved.

This view poses certain practical problems. According to the Associated Press story, some of the exhibits show dinosaurs aboard Noah’s Ark with the explanation that all animals were vegetarians until Adam committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden.

Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark? I don’t think so. It’s not as if the sanitation crew didn’t already have its hands full without the larger lizards knocking over the brooms with their tails.

Still, I suppose it could be true. After all, a steady diet of salad makes any creature irritable and mean, as I know from my own experience. Why, on my recent diet, I had turned into a Tyrannosaurus Rex by the second week and I don’t even have huge fangs for the giant celery to get stuck in. [full text]


One thought on “The Studied Ignorance of America

  1. The opening of the Creation Museum is certainly a significant event and may have a positive effect on how Americans view science and “museums”–the term museum is actually archaic and means something very different now than it did in the 19th Century, for example. Although surprising at first sight (or is it?) that so few Americans think of biological evolution as good science, or understand what fossils actually are, or what Darwin actually said, in reality I suggest, the population of the United States is much more diverse than that of any of the other countries mentioned. I suspect if for example, Japanese-Americans had been separately polled, or Chinese-Americans, or Jewish-Americans, or any other population group that stresses education and professional careerism, the results would have been different by group than by the heterogeneous mix that is the American population. Similarly if only fundamentalist Christians, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Roman Catholics, or Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, or Muslims had been polled, still different results would have ensured. Of course we would expect 100% of atheists or agnostics to be “evolutionists,” so why the surprise?

    We have the right to believe anything we wish, no matter how silly, mean spirited or just dumb. Because of that right we are able to discover the brilliant, the significant and the world of science, philosophy or anything insightful. Here in New Mexico, we have Roswell and a UFO museum complete with recreations of those little creatures that THE GOVERNMENT wants to keep secret from us. UFO things are great for the Roswell economy. it is also ironic that such a critical piece was written by a Pittsburgh person. Pittsburgh has both a natural history museum (Carnegie) and a science museum. Both have seen better days and are experiencing the challenges of most science museums: declining revenues, less than thrilling management and poor planning. Art museums, on the other hand are generally doing quite well. When you have paintings that are valued in the millions each, you never have a credit problem and world class art is an attraction that is phenomenal. In so far as I know, there is no Creation Science art museum.

    In point of fact, there is a greater issue confronting us wrapped in the fact of a Creation Museum and that is the sorry state of science education in this country and the equally sorry state of what passes these days for “Science Museums” or “Science Centers.” If one were to look closely at supposed science based museums in the United State, we have more of them than any other nation, but we also have more of them that are just horrid. Amazingly few of our science museums have “scientists” (Ph.D. folks who actually do science) on their staffs. Most are competing with all those other distractions in our society: rap music, the internet, video games, sports, etc. And they compete by dumbing down what their “museum” is all about. We have seen these places. They proudly advertise their interactive exhibits or stations or walk through things that look like movie sets. They have few real world exhibits and everyone needs an IMAX theater with a loud, big screen.
    A close look at the Creation Museum, seems to show that it really is not much different in character or “feel” than your average mainline “science center,” (although the “message” has no substance and is a farce. It has the usual glitz and bell ringers, and exhibits that look like Hollywood sets.

    The measure of success in the “museum industry” is numbers of people through the gates and the bottom line and this is true for not-for-profits as well as the ever growing for-profit museum sector. The measure of success in no knowledge based. Who is to blame? Why we all are. Anyone who pays the entrance fee to a “science center” to entertain his or her kids and not ask the critical question: where is the science? I suspect that like most new museums, the trajectory of the Creation Museum will be similar to that of the industry as a whole: good numbers the first year or two and then decline in year three or four. Whether it survive beyond year four is the big question. many museum do not have a good record for return visitors. Of some interest is the fact that little real harm is likely to be done by the Creation Museum if only because the average time visitors spend these days in front of a museum exhibit is less than 1 minute.

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