There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
- attributed to Benjamin Disraeli by Mark Twain
Some interesting statistics have been much upon my mind during the last few days. The first set of statistics comes from a New York Times editorial piece entitled God, Satan and the Media that cites the following from a recent Gallup poll:
- 48 percent of Americans believe in creationism, 28 percent believe in evolution, and most of the rest aren't sure, and,
- Americans are twice as likely to believe in the Devil (68 percent) as believe in evolution.
This sort of statistic always leaves me flabbergasted. Only between one in three and one in four people in the United States believes in evolution??? I must live in a sheltered, rarified little world, because most of the people I know and talk to generally believe in evolution.
It also shows me how thin the veneer of modernism is in this country. It forces me to remember that theory of evolution is barely 150 years old, and the Christian and Jewish ideas about the creation of the Earth have been around 10-20 times as long. I realize that the modern world is full of new things, ideas, and technologies, but the quiet vaults of human belief are only starting to change. I'm guessing that among those deeply held beliefs, some cling to the idea that the earth is only about 6000 years old (Anglican Archbishop Usher once famously calculated that according to the Bible, the world was created in 4004 BCE.)
And yet, it also smacks of a certain hypocrisy. As a scientist and technologist, me and people of similar education serve up new ideas and techniques that help to fuel a consumer culture that seems to make many people if not happy, then complacent. People therefore seem to be perfectly fine to live with and consume the material fruits of science, without actually believing in or understanding any of its intellectual tenets.
It's not as if science leaves no "wiggle room" where matters of theology are concerned. I think that those people who are "in the know" where science is concerned are quite happy to concede that things that science explains are a tiny fraction of the things that must exist in the world. I think that many will also concede that faith, in terms of religious belief, seems to be a healthy need and expression of the human soul. I think that to admit to anything else is ego and hubris of the first order.
The other statistics on my mind relate to ideas of marital fidelity and true paternity as cited in the March 26, 2001 issue of New Yorker Magazine and the TLC Network documentary "What Women Really Want". Studies by evolutionary biologists at the University of Manchester in Great Britian and elsewhere now show that between 5 and 26 percent of the children born (depending on the population surveyed) are secretly illegitimate, i.e. the child's biological father is the mother's lover rather than her husband or long term boyfriend. This, these biologists say, is reason to re-think models of human sexuality.
Traditional models of human sexuality liken human mating rituals to the behaviors of large mammals -- the male puts on courtship displays to attract as many females as possible, the females watch, and then they finally mate. The altered theory draws upon new data observed in certain birds and chimpanzees: the female associates herself with an alpha male, who spends all his time building a comfortable living space or place in the social hierarchy for the both of them. She then observes that several very convenient and genetically healthy males are nearby and uses one of them to father her children. So, while Mr. A is off on the commute from Greenwich, CT to Wall Street, NYC to make his second million, Mrs. A is enjoying a bit of frolic with Hans-Peter, the hansome, virile, and strong pool cleaner. Guess who ends up fathering Baby A? Hans-Peter, or so the theory goes.
I have to say, this theory pushed a very primal button in me when I first heard it some time back -- it sort of pushes the idea out there that women have good evolutionary reasons to cheat. I suppose that reaction came out of a strong sense of insecurity I was feeling at the time; I didn't feel good enough about myself to think that I could fully hold the attention of any woman and completely satisfy her needs. Now that I am in at a better place in my life, including in a happy, relatively stable relationship, such fears and insecurities have greatly receded.
Is there any great moral here to be learned? No, except maybe that the world is a different and more complicated place than I usually imagine it. *sigh* Maybe there just are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
on 2003-03-07 at 5:11 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond