The belief that science has replaced religion as the major judge or truth and falsehood has become a staple of education, both higher and lower. The Enlightenment brought the sovereinty of reason and spawned the empirical method. That big bang set off a juggernaut tht has reshaped Western civilization.
Yet it doesn't work out that way under real life conditions. Note two recent findings from reputable polls: one, from Pew that 40 percent of Americans fit the description of "creationists," thereby rejecting key features of evolution; two, that 48 percent think global warming is "exaggerated," dismissing the assessment of climatologists.
About four in 10 Americans, therefore, are using measuring sticks other than reason or demonstrated results to decide what they think.
Well, you might say, those polls include lots of "uneducated" people. Sure, creationists are 47 percent among high school graduates or less, and 10 points lower for college graduates, but that still leaves between a third and two fifths of college graduates who think Darwin got it wrong. And the biggest gap was between Republicans (52 percent) and Democrats (34 percent).
Global warming skeptics have grown 16 percent since 1997 -- six percent in thee past two years alone.
Is this a comment on education? Perhaps. Maybe high schools skimp on biology and college students avoid it altogether. Yet this wouldn't explain it all. Darwinism as a defining intellectual concept shows up at many points in a curriculum. Teaching about climate change is, by comparison, random and far less included in non-science courses.
Would deficiencies in science lead to this broad dissent? Despite the harrangues against evolution by fundamentalists of one stripe or another, its claims have yet to be refuted. It is one of the most rock-solid discoveries in the history of science. Climattologists and their colleagues are rapidly achieving that high level of certainty.
My guess is that those who rebuff the science illustrate Freud's principle that the irrational side of human character is a powerful upender of the radional side. Certain social cues may trigger this kind of non-rational response for groups of people who regard the advocates of the scientific mind as alien to the culture of faith and respect that they embrace. I doubt that this is a class-based phenomenon. People from various classes cherish the beliefs that have molded them and would be inclined to resent what they saw as an assault on those values. They see others who long ago adapted their religous and cultural settings to accommodate science to the point where their heritage has largely eroded.
When asked if they accept Darwin's theory of natural selection, it's my hunch that lots of people hear the question as an attack: "Do you believe God had nothing to do with creating human beings?" and balk.
The "irrational" need not be regarded as an enemy of humanism; in fact, it can be viewed as the very critique that reasoning needs to attain humanity more adequately. The question since the dawn of the Age og Reason is whether the line can be drawn or should be drawn. While it is clear to me that evolutiona and the science of cliamte change have proven their case beyond reasonable doubt, my back goes up at theories that would reduce all human behavior to material processes. That's when I become irrational -- in a holding pattern.