Tricky Stats

One of the letters in this weeks New Scientist reports the reassuring facts that, despite the antics of various school boards and the attempts of numerous kook religion sites, Creationism is in decline. This is good news, and personally I would like nothing more than to think it was true – in fact if you base your analysis on my personal experience, then hardly anyone believes the creationist nonsense.

Sadly, I am not (yet) fully convinced that this is the true description of the world.

Now, the letter in NS helpfully produces some figures to support its claim. This is nearly always a good thing but this time it seems to be a touch confusing. Look at this:

Since the 1980s in the US the fundamentalist opinion that Adam and Eve were created a few thousand years before the pyramids has held fairly steady at between 43 and 47 per cent, with the lowest value occurring in 2007.

OK, it seems reasonable to take from that sentence the idea that creationism fluctuates around 45%, give or take 2%. While it is reassuring to see creationism is at its lowest last year, that is not really a decline.

Interestingly the numbers are compared with:

The number believing in human evolution under the guidance of God has stayed between 35 and 40 per cent.

The number agreeing with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god has risen from 9 or 11 per cent at the end of the 20th century to a high of 14 per cent in 2007.

Sadly, this is less reassuring. I am not sure how three effectively stable sets of numbers can be used to show creationism is in decline. Equally, (admittedly ignoring the variation with the start figure of proper evolution) the numbers all show basically the same variation. Going from 11% to 14% is not a significant change when 47% – 43% is described as “fairly steady.”

As far as I can see, from the three sets of figures here, the numbers are all basically “steady.” All have about a 5% spread which seems to fluctuate. This is, in itself, not a downward trend for creationism.

Can anyone else show more positive figures?

Equally lacking in comfort to the rational is the information that, in the worlds only superpower, a nation with the ability to destroy every living person:

Remarkably, the number taking the Bible literally has steadily sunk from about 40 per cent in the 1970s – nearly matching those who then favoured the Genesis story – to between a third and a quarter.

So, at best, 25% of people still take the Bible literally. Wow. Scary wow.

A wierd contradiction

A blog seems to find the answer to why the Virginia Tech massacre took place in Genesis.

In fact, this blog claims that the answer to life the universe and everything is in Genesis. Well, it has the merit of being longer than the 42 answer.

I admit to first assuming this “everythinhg is in genesis is true blog” was a joke. The blog says things like:

You see, when we accept Genesis as it was meant to be taken—as literal history—then we understand that death, disease, and violence are intrusions into this world, and that they occurred after Adam was created……However, we still have to recognize that we now live in a fallen world where we have just a taste of what we really asked for in Adam, when the head of the human race disobeyed God’s instruction not to eat the fruit of one particular tree.

I admit to being a bit sheltered in my own little world, where most peopel would laugh at this sort of stuff. (I am still gagging from exposure to Debbie Schlussel’s blog and this blog is relatively just silly. It doesn’t bear comparison as a view of the dark side. All the same, these aren’t the sort of people you meet in everyday life. or would want to.) So I can’t help being amazed by this fundamentalist stuff. In fact, I am pretty sure these Bible literalist beliefs would give the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi serious pause.

What is so hard to understand is that these people appear to be able to write in English – in full sentences – with spelling and grammar. In blogs. On the Internet.

Now, anyone who’s tried to publish a blog knows it requires a certain level of skill. The constant technical trials of this blog are more than evidence enough of it not being the simplest thing in the world. And before you can even start you have to have mastered some other complex tasks:Learning to read. Learning to write. Running a PC. Getting an Internet connection. And a host. And so on.

My point here is that lots of people who aren’t stupid can’t do these things.

So how can this level of skill possibly co-exist with the capacity to believe, nay insist, that myths are true? Even toddlers don’t believe Red Riding hood is true. And most of that story has more credibility, at least until the wolf puts on a bonnet, gets into bed and starts pretending to be somebody’s grandmother.

Genesis starts out with a ludicrous story and gets worse. A talking snake, a magic garden, an apple which holds all the knowledge of good and evil, a boat with two of everything, a man who offers up his son as sacrifice, a magic list of rules appearing on a stone table …. (I am flailing a bit here because I’m not sure what goes in Genesis and what’s in Exodus or whatever.)

We would assume a small child was bit slow if they couldn’t recognise this sort of thing was a fairy story.

But ADULTS? Adults who clearly have the brain capacity to master the reading and writing and blogging skills. How did they manage to get these skills without any form of reasoning circuit in their brains? Truly the world is full of marvels.