Chinese History, Creationism and the War in Iraq
In the post The Roots of Anti-Japanese Feelings in China, I drew an analogy between Japanese history revisionism with the intelligent design/evolution issue in the American school system. Andrés Gentry had these comments on that specific comparison:
In free societies, by the virtue of their being free, you are going to hear opinions that you don't like and the social consensus is going to slowly evolve, not quietly under the surface, but openly, right out where everyone can see it. That is a good thing. While I can understand the concern ESWN expresses about Japanese rightists slowly moving the public debate in their direction, I think the connection made to the Intelligent Design (ID) vs Evolution debate in America more concretely makes my point: by publicly debating the merits of ID everyone gets a chance to make an opinion on it and if it proves ultimately a poor explanation for the diversity of life on Earth then it will be discarded. This substantially respects the intelligence of every human to hear all the arguments out there on a topic and then come to a conclusion on his/her own.
I trust humans will ultimately make better choices if they are publicly and freely debated, then if decisions are handed down on high from a group of experts (however intelligent they may be) or from a party (however devoted to the common good it may be). ID is not a serious alternative to Darwinian evolution, but only in a free debate is that point going to be conclusively hammered home to everyone.
I am infinitely more pessimistic. I chose the Intelligent Design example based upon the fact this is the single most robust, immovable public opinion in the United States. Within the scientific community, Intelligent Design has zero traction. Could the world around us have been designed by an Intelligent Being? Sure, it could be. That is neither verifiable nor falsifiable. But from there on, there are no scientific implications. How would you decode the human genome, develop a computer chip or build a nuclear bomb from this theory of Intelligent Design? You couldn't, because you have no specifications about that Intelligent Designer and its Design Methodology. However, if you adopt Darwinian evolution as a possible theory, you can develop scientific theories that are verifiable by scientific experiments which can be replicated by others. The Intel or Motorola chip on the personal computer that you are using to view this page was likely designed by evolutionary algorithms, because the complexity and sophistication of that chip is beyond the comprehension of any team of human engineers.
Over the past 20 years, the Gallup polling service has been asking this question:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- [ROTATE] (link from UNL)
1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,
2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,
3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?
with God guiding
Humans developed, but
God had not part in process
God created humans
in present form
2001 February 37% 12% 45% 6% 1999 August 40% 9% 47% 4% 1997 November 39% 10% 44% 7% 1993 June 35% 11% 47% 7% 1982 38% 9% 44% 9%
Nothing has really changed on account of the information offered to the general public.
In February 2001, Gallup asked: Would you say that you believe more in -- the theory of evolution or the theory of creationism to explain the theory of the origin of human beings, or are you unsure? The answers were:
In 1981, ABC News/Associated Press (via Answer in Genesis) asked "I want taught ...?" with a single response being allowed:
In August 1999, ABC News quoted The Gallup survey (via ReligiousTolerance) with
Here is a 2004 CBS News survey for the same Gallup survey questions:
I regret to say with a great deal of sorrow and chagrin that support for ID/creationism is in the majority in the United States, notwithstanding any information that might have been put out there.
Addendum: (Washington Post) What's Not Evolving Is Public Opinion. By Scott Keeter. October 2, 2005.
Wondering how the American people's opinions on the subject have been affected by the public debate, the Pew Research Center recently took a look at polls conducted by our organization, Gallup and many others over the last 20 years. What we found was that the public has relatively settled views on evolution and creationism -- perhaps surprisingly, roughly equal numbers accept one or the other. Among those who endorse evolution, however, many believe that a supreme being had a hand in the process. Moreover, most Americans want students to be exposed to a diversity of viewpoints on the issue. Public opinion on all of these points has been steady over the past two decades.
Regardless of how questions are posed, polls consistently find that 40 to nearly 50 percent of the public accepts a biblical creationist account of life's origins, while slightly more accept the idea of evolution. For example, in a recent Pew poll, 42 percent agreed that "humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time," while 48 percent believe that "humans and other living things have evolved over time."
Even though it used different wording, a Gallup Poll last year found virtually the same split: 45 percent agreed that "God created human beings pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," while 51 percent thought that "humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life." Gallup first asked that question in 1982, and found 44 percent choosing the creationist option and 47 percent endorsing evolution.
But my sorrow and chagrin rise another notch when I consider another example which I have tried assiduously not to introduce into this discussion. This is infinitely more disturbing in terms of its implications for a free and democratic society. Before March 12, 2005, the EastSouthWestNorth blog was principally known as an Iraq war blog until I decided to relaunch the site. Among the most stunning results on the old site that I have shown people (who always exclaim, "Oh, but these survey results can't be right! We know this is not true!") are the PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll results.
Here are the most poll results from the October 2004 "Americans and Iraq on the Eve of the Presidential Election" (pdf format):
Respondents were told, "As you know, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector selected by the Bush administrator to investigate whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, has just presented his final report to Congress" and were asked what he concluded. The most common response (39%) was the approximately correct one that Duelfer concluded Iraq "had some limited activities that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction, but not an active program." However 39% overall assumed that he concluded Iraq had actual WMD (12%) or a major program (27%).
The objectively correct answer is that Charles Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group found nothing after 18 months and 1 billion US dollars with 1,000+ persons (note: unless you want to count that single botox vial in some guy's refrigerator at home). Even the President of the United States of America is reduced to mumbling about Saddam Hussein might have had the intent of setting up a design for a program to design weapons of mass destruction or some such. Bottom line: Zilch.
The final addendum to the Charles Duelfer report was published this week (Associated Press):
Wrapping up his investigation into Saddam Hussein's purported arsenal, the CIA's top weapons hunter in Iraq said his search for weapons of mass destruction "has been exhausted" without finding any. ... "As matters now stand, the WMD investigation has gone as far as feasible," wrote Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, in an addendum to the report he issued last fall. "After more than 18 months, the WMD investigation and debriefing of the WMD-related detainees has been exhausted."
Next, we have this survey question in the PIPA/Knowledged Networks October 2004 survey: "Please select what you think is the best description of the relationship between the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group al-Qaeda." The survey responses were:
- 9% there was no connection at all
- 32% a few al-Qaeda individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials but Iraq did not provide substantial support to al-Qaeda
- 38% Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda, but was not involved in the September 11th attacks
- 14% Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks.
The objectively correct answer is "no connection" (note: there is the allegation repeated numerous times by NYT columnist William Safire (and the NYT has deftly said that this was an opinion columnist for which the newspaper is not responsible for 'fact-checking') that 9/11 team leader Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence office in Prague, which the Czech intelligence service denied while the FBI said that Atta was in Madrid on that day). Bottom line: Zilch.
Some more survey results from PIPA/Knowledge Networks in October 2003: "Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War" (pdf format):
One reason that EastSouthWestNorth is no longer an Iraqi anti-war blog is that I despair of ever persuading people to see the "truth." How can I turn back the tide of public opinion in the PIPA/Knowledge Networks polls? The objective facts have been sitting out there, covered by the mainstream media and others. What if the people don't want to know the 'truth'? Or they quickly avert their eyes when they catch a glimpse? Or they are incapable of acting accordingly when they are told the 'truth'? Why should it be automatic and axiomatic that once they are shown the 'truth', they will come to the 'right' decision' and act accordingly? This observation is unsettling because it means that 'democracy' in the sense of 'majority rule' may be blind and irrational. I challenge you to reconcile these public opinions with your pre-conceptions about the essential goodness of freedom of press, open society, democracy, and all that.