Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Arrogance of the Educated Angers Everyone Else, Even If We Are Right on the Facts

In my church's Sunday School we have been considering creation and evolution. We are having the kind of conversation that you get up in the most highly educated congregation in any town - say, the Presbyterian Church in a small college town, or the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in a bigger city. We studied the details of biological evolution with a scientist. We studied the details of theological attempts to reconcile religion and science with a philosopher. In each case, we follow, and largely accept the increasingly esoteric nuances of the argument. We take for granted that our religious dogma has to fit within our scientific dogma.

Deepak Chopra recently put it in a clear way typical of this view:

The modern world is willing to throw out any number of beliefs about God if the facts don't fit. Science isn't willing to throw out a single piece of data, however, to satisfy an article of faith.


My job as the sociologist in this discussion was to bring in this inconvenient truth: If you ask most Americans "did God create the universe pretty much the way it is now within the last 10,000 years?" 45% say yes. The illustration I used was that every time we go to Walmart (the biggest store in our small town), assume that someone in the aisle with you is a young-earth creationist.

Deepak Chopra takes if for granted that the 45%, our fellow Americans in the Walmart aisle, are not members of the modern world. The arrogance of that assumption really ticks them off. That does not make them right - I don't think they are right. I think, though, that the reaction to that arrogance is what is really behind the political anger that we see now.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I understand how people can be offended if they are treated as if they are stupid because of their beliefs. What I don't understand is if people hold stupid ideas, why they are offended if they are thought to be stupid.

Young earth creationists simply prefer to hold tight to their theological beliefs rather than understand that the Bible is mythology (in the real sense of the word mythology) and not literally true.

I'm a PCUSA teaching elder (and a ruling elder). I'm also trained as a scientist and frankly find those 45% who believe in young earth creationism frankly scary. I don't believe God gave us brains to leave them at the door of the church.

grub said...

Anonymous, you are a perfect example of the arrogance that Beau describes. Thank you.

puff said...

As for Deepak, l find it hard to trust a guru that wears thousand dollar sunglasses, but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least Anon 6:39 believes that it was God who gave us brains...that's something, at least.

Thankfully the so called "stupid" people still have a vote, just like the educated elite, although I'm sure the "educated elite" have their brains running in overdrive trying to figure out a way to change that.

Brendan said...

I suspect the Danville Wal-Mart provides a skewed sample in terms of young-earth creationist population.

peter hoh said...

Anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism run deep within our culture.

I think a certain skepticism towards intellectuals and the elite is healthy. No one should be treated with unblinking deference, especially when they are in a position of power.

This very American impulse can get dangerous, however, when it morphs into unblinking hostility towards intellectuals and anything associated with them. See Skinner, Agnes: "Enough talk. It's smashing time."


How is it that a guy like David Vitters pulls off the "I'm just a regular guy" routine, when his C.V. is more elite than Obama's? Is it just a matter of pandering? Or is something else going on?

Pastor Dennis said...

The young earth creationist is, in many cases, not a "stupid" person. I have an atheist brother-in-law who once upon a time nearly achieved a PhD who doesn't believe we landed on the moon. Something else is going on with this. My brother-in-law is a Vietnam vet who has anger issues and something I think that anger and emotion brainwash intellect. Smugness also brainwashes intellect and CS Lewis touched upon this in his novel "That Hideous Strength". What we have is a war of afflicted intellects. If we are interested in being of help to our world, it may be our task to find out why, though probably very few people will listen to a healthy reason.

Gruntled said...

Anger and smugness brainwash intellect. Yes, Pastor Dennis, I believe you are right. The puzzle to me is whether the anger or smugness are about the subject of the intellectualizing (evolution, moon landings, the government) or whether it is being displaced from something else.

Brendan, could you elaborate about the Danville Walmart?

Anonymous said...

Just because a person is well-educated does not mean that they are kind, compassionate, loving, or even wise in how they use that education.

The fruits of the spirit mentioned in the bible are " love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control"

I notice that intelligence doesn't even make the list.

Brendan said...

You say forty-five percent of Americans are young-earth creationists, and I do not doubt your data. But that percentage is not equally distributed over the geography, political spectrum and socio-educational class strata of America. Danville is a Southern town with a population that skews right-wing and religious, and Wal-Mart shoppers are typically less wealthy than average (even in Danville, where it is likely the main provider of durable goods). All of these push your sample further into YEC territory.

In other words, if you are in the Wal-Mart aisle in Danville and you are not a young-earth creationist, and there are two other people in the aisle with you, I would say it's likely that they are both YECs. Do you disagree?

Brendan said...

"Anger and smugness brainwash intellect"--I couldn't agree more.

Clay Allard said...

Brendan has a point-- perhaps part of the reason that the "anger" is getting worse is because we are increasingly segregating-- YEC's shop/live/converse in one space and evolutionists shop/live/converse in another space. It seems to me to be a prescription for cultural disaster. How can the Church be a bridge across the widening chasm?

Gruntled said...

Brendan: Yes, I see what you mean. About 65% of high school (only) graduates are young-earth creationists, so the Danville average is probably well above half.

Pastor Dennis said...

If I understand your query: as for smugness being related to the fact that one believes in evolution...one cannot be smug about the body of knowledge that is called evolution because that body of knowledge has nothing to do with the person who believes in it. I mean that the person who believes in the proposition can neither add to it nor detract from it. There should be inherently nothing in an objective belief in evolution that is "smugness-producing". But the belief is a badge of belonging, or a badge of resistance; or of inclusion, or exclusion. So might one believe or disbelieve a thing from the motive of taking a side rather from a true intellectual process. And then, how many people who believe in evolution (including me) really understand the science behind what we believe? I had some of the science of the thing all through school and college biology and physical anthropology, but do I believe as a competent scientist? Really? But the formation of stone seems like it should be a slow business, and fossils and the geological record seem to commend slowness and evolutionary change.

Pastor Dennis said...

Sorry for taking so much space. Another measure would be this question: What percentage of the population think about the propositions of young earth creationism every day compared with the percentage of those who think about the propositions of the theory of evolution every day?