Three quarters of Americans believe that the Earth orbits the Sun. Three quarters. That’s almost all of the quarters. It’s practically everyone who is awake at any one time. Good news, huh?
I mean, the opposing view — that the Earth is the centre of the universe, that the stars are merely glimmers of light embedded into a dome-like sky which in no way resembles the ground upon which we tread, and that the sun is a blazing flying fireball moving daily from east to west, giving blessed life-force to man, beast, and flora — has dominated human culture for thousands of years.
Yes, I accept that this view has been identified as groundless for a couple of centuries (well, at least four), but listen: not everyone is going to take a geekish interest in the latest scientific advances. Glass. Half. Full.
These findings are from a new National Science Foundation (NSF) survey, which covered over 2,000 U.S. Americans.
In other results, we discover that “slightly more than half” of the population now understand that astrology is not actually scientific.
This is down quite a bit from the 64% that said so just four years ago, but still, the good news is that it’s no less than it was back in 1983. We need to give people a chance. It’s only been half a millennium since astrology began to be seriously questioned, and the news media still carry those horoscopes every single day.
And 72% of Americans agree with the statement “According to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” Mind you, this figure drops to 48% when you remove the phrase “According to the theory of evolution…” It kind of implies that lots of people know what science says about this matter without going so far as to agree with it themselves.
Similarly, 60% of Americans agree that “According to astronomers, the universe began with a huge explosion,” showing us that they know what it is that astronomers say. But only 39% agree with the statement when you remove the bit about astronomers. In other words, only 39% believe that the universe did actually begin with a huge explosion.
So, is the glass half-full or half-empty?
I think the glass is twice the size it needs to be. Let’s leave it at that.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.