Monday, February 16, 2009

Pew Research on Evolution and Religion

The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life recently published an interesting article on the public attitudes towards evolution among various religious groups. Interestingly, the religion with the greatest acceptance of evolution was Buddhism at 81%. Unitarian Universalism was not listed in the groups of religions, but I suspect they may be even higher because of the emphasis they put on science and reason. The lowest group listed? Jehovah's Witnesses at 8%. The article also listed a number of other useful links to related resources.

People often ask "Is evolution a theory or a fact?" It's confusing because it's actually both. It is considered to be an observed fact from the fossil evidence that life started out as a comparatively small number of simpler forms, and over time gradually evolved into a larger number of forms including some of which are very complex. There have now been a number of cases where the evolution of new species in nature have actually been observed over the course of many decades.

However, the explanation of how this happens, natural selection operating on random genetic changes, is the theory part of evolution. This theory is very well supported by the evidence and is about as well confirmed as the theory of gravity. Yet it continues to generate a great deal of conflict in the public sector because of it's theological implications. Unfortunately, I don't see this conflict being reduced anytime in the near future. According to the Pew research, only 48% of the US population accepts evolution as the most likely explanation of the origins of life on earth. Other polls suggest that this number has actually been declining over the last two decades or so. This is an indication of how much trouble people will have adjusting to the rapidly changing understanding of the world brought on by the exponential growth in scientific knowledge and technology.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Are we really any poorer now? - part 2

In my previous append, I talked about how relationships and trust are an important part of the economy. These are things of value - economic assets just as real as factories and tools. Many of these relationships are formalized in our financial institutions, and their breakdown is directly related to the breakdown of these relationships in our economy.

Another vitally important asset in society is the attitude of people. Do people have confidence in their ability, and confidence that putting in some hard work will pay off? Or is a sense of despair and hopelessness prevalent? The general public attitude can have a tremendous impact on economic well being and growth. But attitude is something that must be built up over time. When it is damaged, as it seems to be now, it takes time to mend.

I don't want to leave this topic with the implication that our society and economy are falling apart. That would be falling into the trap of viewing all value in monetary terms. In reality many of the other components of our society are still doing quite well. I'm not aware of any data showing a significant decline in relationships between families and friends, or in the strength of churches or other civic organizations. Non-profit donations are down, and that will hurt many of them, but for the most part our non-profit infrastructure continues to do good work. Our health care and education sectors are holding together and most people still have access to them. Looking around where I live, I still have the impression that our communities are still strong and providing many of the non-monetary benefits that they were doing last time this year. If anything, for many people the hope and trust in government has increased considerably since last year. Many things of value in our society have been little impacted by the current economic slowdown.