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Dumb Objectivity

February 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I recently listened to another controversial podcast. It was an interview with Susan Jacoby from the Center for Inquiry which discussed her new book, The Age of American Unreason. The book’s subject is the abysmal lack of critical thinking (or apparently any thinking at all) displayed by a large part of the American population. While this book is specifically about America I think similar criticisms would apply to most other countries, expect for the seemingly greater support for silly religious beliefs in the US.

So what are these silly beliefs? Well various polls have discovered the following beliefs amongst Americans: 50% believe in ghosts, 33% in astrology, 75% in angels, and 80% in miracles. Over 50% don’t believe evolution, and 67% want creationism to be taught alongside evolution in schools. A Gallup poll showed 30% believe the Bible is literally true, but 50% don’t even know that Genesis is first book in the Bible.

So what does this mean? Well I don’t think it simply means that people believe in things which have no real proof. I think it shows a total lack of knowledge and ability to think logically at all. If 67% want creation taught but 50% don’t even know anything about the book in the Bible which mainly deals with that myth then any credibility their opinion might have had seems to disappear.

Its like Jacoby said about the way these people must think: “I don’t know what Genesis is, but I believe it anyway.” America is one of the most religious countries in the western world and half its population don’t even know what the first book of their religious book is? Unbelievable!

You really have to wonder what most Americans do in school (I must emphasise here that the same applies to may other countries and many brilliant people do result from the American education system, I am talking about the majority though) because another survey found that 20% of people think the Sun revolves around Earth!

Jacoby emphasises that anti-rationalism isn’t limited to people of one political persuasion. It occurs in the left and the right. She says Bush was not the problem, the ignorance of citizens who voted for him and allowed him to lie to them is. Of course, it is easy to lie to a population that is so ignorant that only 23% of graduates and 6% of the rest could even find the major countries in the Middle East on a map with the boundaries already marked out! (and yes, I just tested myself – I got them all right!)

One of the causes of this problem is something Jacoby calls “dumb objectivity”. Its often claimed that America is a very fair country. They insist that everyone should get an equal opportunity. That isn’t necessarily the reality, of course, but it is the perception. That fairness extends to the media (newspapers, tv, magazines, the internet) giving equal time to well supported scientific ideas and to alternative ideas which might have very little real supporting evidence.

An example she gave was a cover story in Time magazine regarding end of world scenarios, such as the Rapture, as it they were reasonable. Another would be the idea that creationism should be given equal time in schools with evolution. But if fairness was that important wouldn’t every other creation myth need to be covered as well? Apparently they want to be fair, but not that fair!

Objectivity is great but if a source purports to represent reality then the ideas it includes should be based on reality, not fantasy. Its like saying a course on mythology would probably not need to include a scientific discussion of evolution. Let’s stick with objectivity and fairness but don’t extend it to the point that it achieves the complete opposite of what was intended!

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  1. Nigel Tomm
    February 23, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I’m Nigel Tomm – thanks for interesting thoughts.

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