Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Religion in America. And as a bonus: bad arguments!

I'm very aware that a life in academia is almost necessarily a life that is out of touch with "the folk". I have to remind myself often that In the Real World, abortion, homosexual marriage, and Gettier counterexamples to JTB knowledge are controversial. But sometimes I'm still shocked to see how small my minority is on many issues and beliefs. The BBC has a feature on Religion in America today. Some extremely surprising statistics, quoted from the article:
  • A Gallup Poll released in November 2003 found that six out of ten Americans said that religion was "very important" in their lives. In contrast, in Canada and the United Kingdom, two societies often perceived as quite similar to the United States, only 28% and 17% respectively described religion as similarly important in their lives.
  • A survey done in 2001 by the City University of New York Graduate Center found that 85% of Americans identify with some religious faith.
  • An ABC news poll, done in February 2004, found that approximately 60% of Americans believe that the Genesis creation account, Noah's ark and a global flood, and Moses' parting of the Red Sea are "literally true."
  • According to an ICM poll in January 2004, Americans believe in the supernatural (91%)
  • an afterlife (74%)
  • "belief in a God/higher power makes you a better human being" (82%)
  • God or a higher power judged their actions (76%)
  • "would die for their God/beliefs" (71%).
I find some of these numbers just plain difficult to believe. The author of the BBC piece, a Southern Baptist named Dr. Richard Land, goes on to suggest, in a very strange way, that it's a good thing that America is so religious:
In 1880 Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov that "If God does not exist, then everything is permissible." The history of his native Russia, wracked by the atrocities of atheistic communism for most of the 20th century, serves as a most graphic example of the truth of his conclusion.
The history of Russia proves that if God does not exist, then everything is permissible? What? Did historical Russia demonstrate the truth of each clause? Russia proved that there is no God, and that everything is permissible? Or maybe historical Russia proved that there is a God, thus making the conditional trivally true, because of it's false hypothesis. But if historical Russia did actually prove that there is a God, he might better advance his cause by showing us that proof. He goes on to offer one more argument for his thesis that America is better off with religion (honest, I'm not clipping anything relevant out of these arguments):
Nazism, above all detested religion because it called for allegiance to something greater than the state, namely God.
So, yeah. We're different from the Nazis. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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