Tuesday, October 5, 2010

No Wonder we argue about Evolution and Creationism

Various secular and religious publications, both hard print and on line, have reported on the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life US Religious Knowledge Survey. The survey’s findings do not surprise me.
As the survey’s executive summary notes: “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.”
Many of my friends and colleagues who, like me are Ordained Ministers, decry the generally low level of Biblical literacy and  lack of religious and theological knowledge we encounter in the church, even the congregations we ourselves serve as Pastors. At times, I feel like most of what I preach about and teach about goes in one ear and out the other.
Maybe the low level of religious literacy in the US is not an isolated phenomenon. Maybe it is just one more indication of a general lack of general literacy and dumbing down of the American culture. For instance, according to The Condition of Education 2008, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. students score below average in international comparisons of science literacy. 
A few years ago, I was teaching an undergraduate Introduction to Philosophy course. As an example of our tendency to use imprecise language, I used as an example Pink Floyd’s incorrect reference to “The Dark Side of the Moon”. There is no “dark side” but there is a far side, sometimes bathed in light, sometimes shrouded in darkness, but we can never see the far side because it is always facing away from the earth. During the discussion I learned that a few of the students thought that the phases of the moon were caused by the earth’s shadow. They did not understand the basic celestial relationships of the earth, moon and sun. Nor did they understand the difference between a lunar eclipse and the phases of the moon.
My point is, if high school educated Americans do not know the basic scientific principles that affect them every day, how can we expect them to have a basic knowledge of religion? How can we expect to debunk the bad science and theology of creationism when most Americans are both scientifically and religiously illiterate?

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