Amongst some in religious communities there is a pride in ignorance. Atheists are frowned upon for being “intellectuals” and out of touch with the normal, working class people. This pride in ignorance is not the cultivated ignorance that we see as a result of organised religion, but rather a misplaced sense of conflict and segregation.
One can see evidence of this behaviour in polls which question the respondents position on topics such as evolution. For example, a recent Pew Research Poll found that 97% of scientists (unspecified disciplines) agree that Humans “Evolved over time” whilst only 61% of the public share this view.
This, I find astonishing.
To put this into context, can you imagine someone, upon being told by their doctor that they have diabetes, respond by disagreeing and instead choosing to believe that it’s actually just athlete’s foot? It wouldn’t happen.
This alarms me because evolution is fact. Not only does evolutionary theory match the fossil record at every turn, but we can recreate evolution in labs. We have genetics to back up our understanding. Yet this mountain of irrefutable evidence is not enough for some. Why? And just what will it take to change these people’s minds?
So how do we stem this tide of ignorance? The simple answer is education, but unfortunately systemic failures within the education system to push objective facts, and ingrained fear of the truth from community leaders make this difficult. Teachers can teach evolution in schools, only for fearful, misinformed, ignorant parents to turn their students against them.
Another possible option is to simply make the alternative viewpoint unacceptable. Again, we’re dealing with facts, so in the same way espousing flat earth theories is not acceptable, so should be denying evolution. And let’s be clear, this isn’t curtailing free speech, people can say whatever they want, but proliferating misinformation should be seen as a socially unacceptable activity. This may be even more effective than education. Those who reject evolution do so because their religions have offered an alternative. There’s no evidence for any of these alternatives, but they are supported by religious communities. Followers of religions often call themselves “sheep” (The Lord is my Shepherd etc.), and it’s very apt. They follow the consensus in their community, and don’t think for themselves. Let’s face it, anyone who chooses to believe a two thousand year old book which has very little basis in reality over centuries of scientific progress, with accompanying evidence, is not being particularly thoughtful. Therefore, making it socially unacceptable within and around their social groups may have a big impact.