Civilization of Ignorance


‘All complex life on earth has developed from simpler life forms over billions of years. This is a fact that no longer admits of intelligent dispute. If you doubt that human beings evolved from prior species, you may as well doubt that the sun is a star. Granted, the sun doesn’t seem like an ordinary star, but we know that it is a star that just happens to be relatively close to the earth. Imagine your potential for embarrassment if your religious faith rested on the presumption that the sun was not a star at all. Imagine millions of Christians in the United States spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to battle the godless astronomers and astrophysicists on this point.

Imagine them working passionately to get their unfounded notions about the sun taught in our nation’s schools. This is exactly the situation you are now in with respect to evolution.

Christians who doubt the truth of evolution are apt to say things like “Evolution is just a theory, not a fact.” Such statements betray a serious misunderstanding of the way the term “theory” is used in scientific discourse. In science, facts must be explained with reference to other facts. These larger explanatory models are “theories.” Theories make predictions and can, in principle, be tested. The phrase “the theory of evolution” does not in the least suggest that evolution is not a fact. One can speak about “the germ theory of disease” or “the theory of gravitation” without casting doubt upon disease or gravity as facts of nature.

It is also worth noting that one can obtain a Ph.D. in any branch of science for no other purpose than to make cynical use of scientific language in an effort to rationalize the glaring inadequacies of the Bible. A handful of Christians appear to have done this; some have even obtained their degrees from reputable universities. No doubt, others will follow in their footsteps. While such people are technically “scientists,” they are not behaving like scientists. They simply are not engaged in an honest inquiry into the nature of the universe. And their proclamations about God and the failures of Darwinism do not in the least signify that there is a legitimate scientific controversy about evolution. In 2005, a survey was conducted in thirty four countries measuring the percentage of adults who accept evolution. The United States ranked thirty third, just above Turkey. Meanwhile, high school students in the United States test below those of every European and Asian nation in their understanding of science and math. These data are unequivocal: we are building a civilization of ignorance.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 22-23

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9 thoughts on “Civilization of Ignorance

  1. This nation has sent a spaceship to Pluto. Perhaps, things with science and education are not as bad in the U.S. as Harris tries to present?

  2. I am watching out for generalizations. That’s why I made this comment. You can’t label all religious people as anti-scientific as Harris is doing. After all, the big bang theory was created by a Catholic priest and genetics was founded by a monk. There may be a problem in some states where they try to teach creationism as science in schools — that should be stopped, of course, but to use these extreme examples to say that we are building a “civilization of ignorance” sounds like exaggeration.

  3. “You can’t label all religious people as anti-scientific as Harris is doing.”

    Harris concerns mainly himself with the following individuals:

    [T]he “Christian” I address throughout is a Christian in a narrow sense of the term. Such a person believes, at a minimum, that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death. Dozens of scientific surveys suggest that well over half of the American population subscribes to these beliefs. Of course, such metaphysical commitments do not imply any particular denomination of Christianity. […]

    I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms. Consequently, liberal and moderate Christians will not always recognize themselves in the “Christian” I address. They should, however, recognize one hundred and fifty million of their neighbors. I have little doubt that liberals and moderates find the eerie certainties of the Christian Right to be as troubling as I do. It is my hope, however, that they will also begin to see that the respect they demand for their own religious beliefs gives shelter to extremists of all faiths. Although liberals and moderates do not fly planes into buildings or organize their lives around apocalyptic prophecy, they rarely question the legitimacy of raising a child to believe that she is a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. Even the most progressive faiths lend tacit support to the religious divisions in our world. […]

    – Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 2

    As for Lemaitre, see this post.

  4. I do find troubling the eerie certainties of the Christian right of which Harris speaks. But I do not see why raising a child in traditions of the patent’s culture is any more harmful than raising a child as an American. Raising a child to believe that she is an American also involves a good deal of mythology and brainwashing, you know, and also “contributes to the divisions in our world”. How disrespect to other people’s beliefs is supposed to solve this problem?

  5. “How disrespect to other people’s beliefs is supposed to solve this problem?”

    What one person calls “disrespect to other peoples beliefs”, the other calls “being critical of other people’s beliefs” – I’m sure you will agree.

  6. Ridicule, sarcasm, insults. I’ve often heard from atheists that “ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule”. I’ve seen the same people ridiculing their opponents from New Zealand for spelling “behaviour” and “colour”. They tell them learn how to spell before arguing. It’s sad.

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