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My Senior Honors Thesis in the News

March 5, 2010

I wish. But my thesis – The Scientific American: A Casualty of the Culture War? – is relevant to this New York Times article, “Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets.”

In my thesis I argued that while self-identifying as a bible literalist is the best predictor of denying evolution and the Big Bang, literalism per se is not the cause. In fact, the majority of self-identifying literalists hold beliefs that even contradict a “literally literal” reading of the bible.

If bible literalists were truly interpreting for themselves every word in Genesis, it would seem that the second and fourth days of creation would require them to rethink their stance on the nature of the solar system, an issue on which I have already shown nearly all educated Americans agree. On the second day of creation

God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. (Genesis 1:6-8).

Here we see that the ancient Hebrews thought that the sky was a barrier dividing the terrestrial oceans from the celestial oceans (presumably from which comes rain). Now, one could choose to interpret the heavenly waters as merely referring to clouds, but this interpretation would then be challenged by the fourth day, on which

God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: and the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from darkness. (Genesis 1:14-18)

It is a rare person who, in this day, would believe every word in the above account. For here the Bible states that the sun, moon, and stars are in the very same firmament which God placed between the two waters. Thus if we were interpreting “the waters above” as clouds, we need only point out that the sun is definitely not in between the earth and the clouds. If we interpret “the waters above” as being somewhere beyond the sun, then we obviously cannot subscribe to any modern theories of the solar system. And yet, as shown earlier, nearly as many bible literalists and weekly churchgoers subscribe to the modern model of the solar system as do their most secular countrymen.

So scripture itself is not a good predictor of what literalists will believe in. What is? The involvement of an issue in the culture wars. Once a well-funded organization like Answers in Genesis targets an issue, self-identifying literalists will side with Answers in Genesis and against “secular progressives.” (Yes, this argument is more circular than I’d like, but I think it ultimately works because it points to agency of opinion-makers.)

So here is the important thing: as of 2006, biblical literalism did not predict belief in man-made climate change. But if enough fundamental organizations paint climate change as something that seculars “love” as much as Darwin, then that will change.

And this is unbearably sad. I became interested in this topic in the first place because I thought to myself, “If religious organizations can make half of Americans disbelieve one of the most well-supported theories in science, then couldn’t they make that same half of America believe one of the best-supported theories in science?” And whereas the consequences of evolution denial are mostly limited to the symbolic realm, the rallying of evangelical America to environmentalism would have an enormous impact on real outcomes.

Alas. Apparently the automatic gainsaying of whatever people in San Francisco think is more edifying than responsible stewardship of God’s creation.

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Man, this is clunky:

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses two issues: 1) Do America’s most religious citizens lack faith in science in general, or do they only protest select issues? And 2) what determines on which issues the most religious will disagree with the scientific establishment? Using data from the 2006 General Social Survey, I break down responses to variables measuring faith in/knowledge of science by church attendance and attitudes toward the Bible. I find that 1) most Americans, even the most religious, have faith in science most of the time, and 2) belief in biblical inerrancy is not a sufficient explanation for religious skepticism regarding evolution, the age of the earth, and the Big Bang.

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