Saturday, January 01, 2011

Pollarized Nation – Part II

The artificially constructed word, pollarized, is an agglomeration of the word polarized (with one L) and the word poll. This newly contrived expression (my candidate for “word of the year”) accentuates the significance and influence that the polling process has demonstrated as related to politics. While the polling process has proliferated in an increasingly polarized nation, that condition in America is not new, nor is it limited only to politics. Many other issues, from social to scientific, reflect discordance within the American public that is confirmed by …what else? …polls.

Let’s take a topic that made the headlines in early December (an addendum to a story that was first covered in this column over two years ago). As you know, there are such things as “destination” cities, restaurants, retailers, tourist attractions –– locations of such distinction that they attract people even though they may be difficult or inconvenient to access. Some states such as California, New York, Florida, are considered destination locations. But how about considering taking your next vacation in the great state of …Kentucky?


While that state may not appeal to you as your first vacation choice, some 1.3 million fans have flocked to an attraction in Petersburg, Kentucky in the past two and a half years, to view a 70,000 sq, ft. (so called) museum that cost $27 million to build. This edifice, known as The Creation Museum, might not captivate the more scientifically disposed since its predominant objectives are to substantiate the dogma of Young Earth Creationists, and denigrate the concept of evolution. Adherents believe in a strict literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative as outlined in the Old Testament –– God created the earth in six 24 hour days no more than 6,000 years ago; mankind, in the form of Adam and Eve, and all animals were created within that six day period; as a result, man lived and roamed the earth, coexisting with the dinosaurs, and in fact, Noah included dinosaurs when he loaded his ark.


Ah yes –– the ark! Not to be outdone, in order to embellish and insure the “destination” credentials of the state of Kentucky, the governor announced in December that another, even more ambitious enterprise would be created. “Ark Encounter,” a Creationist entertainment theme park devised by the same Christian ministry that built the Creation Museum, is now planned, at a cost of $150 million. Located about 40 miles from the Creation Museum, the main attraction will be a replica of Noah’s Ark, built to the supposed biblical dimensions of 500 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Hey! That’s a humongous ark –– more than one and a half times the length of a football field, about half the width, and three stories high. A 100-foot tall Tower of Babel will be built, as well as other entertainment venues.

A recent feasibility study conducted by America's Research Group has indicated that the Ark Encounter theme park may attract 1.6 million visitors (presumably, most of whom are creationists themselves) in the first year, and is expected to employ up to 900 full-and-part-time staff. On that basis, the Kentucky governor has promised a tax break worth some $40 million (essentially, taxpayers paying that amount to subsidize and help build a religious theme park). Separation of church and state…anyone? But that’s a whole other story.


So, how does all this relate to polling and a polarized nation? For the scientifically inclined, the thought of that many people believing strongly enough in Young Earth Creationism being interested in these types of attractions is bizarre. What do the polls reveal? Before we delve into that morass, it is interesting to view how people view science. Here is what the Pew Research Center writes about a seeming dichotomy between surveys on that subject and the public’s acceptance of beliefs such as those endorsed by Creationists:

“The relationship between faith and science in the United States seems, at least on the surface, to be paradoxical. Surveys repeatedly show that most Americans (84%) respect science [and ‘hold scientists in high regard’], and the benefits it brings to society, such as new technologies and medical treatments. Nevertheless, strong religious convictions can affect some Americans' willingness to accept certain scientific theories and discoveries, such as evolution, and new, life-changing technologies, such as genetic engineering.”


As Shakespeare wrote, “But thereby hangs a tale.” Last year was the 150 th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. This helped to create a number of new polls on public acceptance or denial of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Over the years, national surveys by Gallup have revealed significant information concerning Americans’ fundamental beliefs about human evolution. The most recent, in December, reported that 40 percent of those polled believe in a Creationist literal biblical version of human origin (that God created humans in their current form about 10,000 years ago); 38 percent endorse the concept that humans evolved from less advanced forms of life but God guided the process; only 16 percent believe that humans evolved over millions of years ago without God’s involvement. Thus a total of 54 percent believe in some form of evolution. A small minority of Americans holds the “secular evolution” view that humans evolved with no influence from God—but the number has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today.

As an indication of the polarization, even amongst the polls themselves, a more recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll of three countries showed a much different result with just 35% of Americans agreeing with Darwin’s theory and 41% saying that “God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years. By contrast Canadians were 61%/24% in favor of evolution, and Great Britain was 68%/16% in favor.

If we accept even the lowest number of those expressing Creationist beliefs (about a third of all Americans), how does that correlate to the science poll mentioned above, where 84% hold scientific research and scientists in high regard? A major disconnect is that despite scientific evidence that dinosaurs became extinct some 67 million years ago, it seems apparent that to a great degree, faith in religious dogma trumps confidence in scientific beliefs. If this is good or bad depends on your own beliefs. Yet, I wonder who helped Noah load Tyrannosaurus Rex into the ark. God?


“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.” “I believe there is something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it's the government.” “How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?” “As the poet said, 'Only God can make a tree' -- probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.” “To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.”

Those are some jokes about God by Woody Allen. However the vast majority of Americans would take issue with him on the subject. A Harris poll shows that 90 percent of adults believe in God or some higher authority. In fact, 75 percent believe in heaven, 74 percent in angels, 69 percent in the survival of the soul after death, 62 percent in hell, and 62 percent in the devil. Belief in God is one of the few areas of American life where the public concurs.


Here is a quick rundown on a number of other issues demonstrating that polls reflect not only the political, but also the social polarizations that split our country. (The most recent polls I could find are listed.)
  • ABORTION: Gallup Poll: Pro choice 45%, Pro life 47%
  • EMBRYONIC CELL RESEARCH: Rasmussen Poll; 57% oppose; 37% favor. Harris Poll: 12% oppose; 72% favor

Even the polls are polarized.

  • GOBAL WARMING: Gallup Poll: Generally exaggerated 48%; Generally correct or underestimated 49%
  • GLOBAL WARMING: Yale/George Mason Poll: CAUSED BY: Human Activity 47%; Natural Causes 36%; Neither (Global Warming does Not Exist) 9%
  • CHOOSE BETWEEN THE ENVIRONMENT OR ECONOMIC GROWTH: CNN/Opinion Research Poll: Environment 49%; Economic Growth 51%
  • DEATH PENALTY FOR MURDER: 64% favor; 29% oppose
  • NUCLEAR POWER: Gallup Poll: Favor 62%; Oppose 33%
  • WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: Gallup Poll: Going well or moderately well 43%; Going badly or moderately badly 52% (August)
  • AFGHAN WAR, WORTH FIGHTING: NBC News/Wall Street Journal: Yes 34%, N0 60% (December)
Fast changing opinions.
  • NEW HEALTH CARE BILL: ABC News/Washington Post: Strongly or somewhat support 47%; Strongly, or somewhat oppose 51%.
It would appear that the polls cited above provide adequate evidence for both a polarized and pollarized nation.