Florida’s big problem

A poll by the St Petersburg Times reveals that the people in Florida are ignorant. 21% want creationism only taught in the schools, and 29% want both evolution and creationism taught. It’s a horrendous result, and it’s also strikingly different from the results we’ve see in similar polls, which usually aren’t quite so lop-sided.

Wesley makes a good point, that one reason is the form of the questions asked, which set up an adversarial relationship between religion and science and lead people to make a choice between the two, increasing the likelihood that people will break to support their church. He argues that “framing works,” and proposes a different set of questions that, while generally similar, would produce a less one-sided result.

But wait, hang on there — this doesn’t tell me that framing works. It tells me that you can play rhetorical games with polls and get people to nominally agree with my position, or you can tinker with them to get people to agree with some other position. If the purpose of a poll is to get insight into how the minds of the populace are working, neither is very desirable.

I’m looking at the original poll and seeing that I would have no problem answering the questions in a pro-evolution way — there’s nothing to bias me in any crazy way, but I don’t have any pro-religion buttons to push. What I see in the results is that many Floridians do have great, big, easily manipulated religious buttons, and that 69% are abysmally ignorant of the science they are dismissing. Those are important True Facts, and in an important sense the St Petersburg Times poll is better than the one Wesley proposes: the answers aren’t reassuring, but they do expose the ugly reality we have to confront. There is no virtue in designing a poll that doesn’t push the religion button, because in the real world these people are getting the religious message every day and every week, and leaving it out only allows us to fool ourselves into thinking that the superstition and ignorance fostered by American religion aren’t the fundamental source of creationist foolishness in this country.

I think Wesley is looking for a way to frame the problem away, rather than a solution. If framing works, it is only as a blindfold.