Yesterday’s Salon ran this depressing piece: “Sorry Neil deGrasse Tyson! Over Half of Americans don’t believe the Big Bang theory.” (I have blogged on this topic before in, “Does It Matter If We Know the Truth.”)
Briefly the Salon article discusses the results of a recent poll on American’s beliefs in various scientific truths. (I use the word truth instead of theory to contrast the scientific meaning of the word theory–the most certain truths we have—with the ordinary meaning of the word—a hunch or guess. The major scientific theories—evolutionary, quantum, atomic, gravitational, relativity—are true beyond any reasonable doubt.) Such polls reveal a fundamental truth—most people don’t want to know, they want to believe. Thus they lie to themselves and others about the best-tested ideas, the most likely truths we have.
Of course such surveys aren’t new. I read this column from the New York Times more than ten years ago. It informed me that American are three times more likely to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus as in evolutionary theory. This is difficult to fathom. I understand that some want to believe in the former and not the latter—well not really—but to actually believe something contradicted by all available evidence rather than something supported by mountains of evidence from multiple sciences is simply … breathtaking. If these science doubters could just be transported back in time to the middle ages—when people prayed for cures and then died miserably—they might change their minds. Life is difficult without a germ “theory” of disease.
That humans have such limited intellectual capacities is depressing. To survive and flourish humans must solve exceedingly difficult problems. Such problems are hard enough to solve when we accept the facts—and impossible to solve when we reject them. Perhaps we will slowly get smarter, or artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation will save us. This is what I’ve always hoped as a transhumanist. Yet, given that most Americans are scientifically illiterate, it is hard not to despair.
But just when despair engulfs us … there is always the cosmos to uplift us. This video is brought to you by science and technology … the true bringers of miracles.