The Popularity of Religious Nonsense

WorldNetDaily is reporting on a new poll, taken by ABC, which says that 60% of Americans believe in a literal 6-day creation and a literal global flood. This is a bit unsettling to the scientifically literate, but it should come as no big shock. The average American is likely to get their information not from science journals but from rags like the WorldNetDaily, which is basically an online version of the National Enquirer, but with more right-wing commentary sprinkled in. The article cited above provides a perfect example. In the middle of the article is a link to another WND story about finding chariot wheels in the Red Sea.

The article draws on the work of one Ron Wyatt, who is without a doubt one of the most ridiculous con men of the last century. Ron Wyatt claims to have found the landing site of Noah's Ark, the true Mt. Sinai, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the Red Sea was parted, and even the actual blood of Jesus! He can't actually show you any of those things, mind you, due to fantastic tales of intrigue and hostility that, I think it goes without saying, are directed by Satan himself in his never-ending zeal to bury the Truthtm.

Wyatt is such a fraud that he is an embarrassment even to his fellow creationists. The Adventist organization Tentmaker has produced a webpage debunking most of Wyatt's cons. Christian Information Ministries has also done so, and Answers in Genesis as well.

This is science reporting of the "gee whiz" variety. Truth doesn't matter much, as long as it can be spun as earth-shattering proof of the bible, their readers will gladly lap it up. Unfortunately, WorldNetDaily isn't the only media outlet that falls for this sort of thing. Wyatt's "discoveries" have been shown on 20/20, the Discovery Channel and the Today Show as well. But then we live in a country where millions and millions of people believe that the position of stars at the time they were born determine their personality and their fate, and that made Miss Cleo fabulously wealthy. This shouldn't be a big surprise.

Follow up: The Washington Times is also reporting on this survey. They include this quote, which seems to miss the point entirely:

"These are surprising and reassuring figures a positive sign in a postmodern world that seemed bent on erasing faith from the public square in recent years," said the Rev. Charles Nalls of Christ the King, a Catholic-Anglican church in the District.

"This poll tells me that America is reading the Bible more than we thought. There had been a tendency to decry or discount Bible literacy among the faithful," he said.

"But this indicates a strong alliance among Americans with the inerrant word of God, as opposed to simply the inspired word of God, as viewed in the context of faith tradition," Father Nalls said.

Doesn't it seem a bit odd to call the survey results "positive" and "reassuring" without once mentioning whether the beliefs indicated by the survey were true or not? A literal 6-day creation and a literal global flood are simply false claims, contradicted by enormous amounts of geological and paleontological evidence. The fact that 60% of Americans choose to believe what is patently false can hardly be considered reassuring.

The Washington Times article also discussed other poll results:

Meanwhile, a Gallup Poll of 1,004 adults released Dec. 30 found that 61 percent of Americans believe "religion can answer all or most of today's problems," although 64 percent felt that religion is losing its influence on the nation.

Another Gallup Poll released in November found that six out of every 10 Americans said religion was "very important" in their lives compared with 28 percent of Canadians and 17 percent of the British.

These results lead to a fairly obvious question, I think. Whenever we have school shootings or other episodes of violence in the US, those on the religious right trot out the same answer - it's because we've "taken God out of our schools" or we've "banished God from the public square". They presume, as the poll results above suggest, that Christianity and belief in God or in heaven or hell is the answer to our problems and the key to whether we have a violent or immoral society. Yet the poll results consistently show that Americans take Christianity and belief in God far more seriously than the rest of the Western world. Why then does the US have rates of murder, rape and other violent crimes that are more than double the average rates of those other nations? If lack of Christianity, or "taking God out of our schools", has doomed America to a culture of violence, why hasn't it done this to the third power in those nations whose rates of Christian belief are a fraction of ours?

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