Saturday, November 18, 2006

American public: not a bunch of wingnut puritans

I'm not always the biggest fan of the American public and its positions on things (what percentage believe in the virgin birth again?), but when wingut puritan wackos start acting as if their wack morality is somehow "mainstream", it can be quite refreshing to take a look at what the American public actually thinks. Here's a reassuring tidbit quoted on Feministing:
Of the nearly 1,110 U.S. adults they surveyed, 82 percent supported programs that discuss abstinence as well as other methods for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Half were in outright opposition to abstinence-only education.

Even among self-described conservatives, 70 percent supported comprehensive sex ed., while 40 percent opposed the abstinence-only strategy.

Americans: not nearly as puritanical as the right-wing noise machine would have you believe.


Blogger Heraldblog said...

This reminds me of a study a few years back concerning church attendance. A high percentage of Americans have always reported they attend church regularly - something like 70 percent. But somebody looked at Neilson ratings for Sunday morning television viewing, and found a large percent of church goers were also watching TV at the same time. Conclusion_ Americans would rather say they go to church than actually go to church.

8:24 AM, November 18, 2006  
Anonymous Philip said...

Just curious, do you consider the virgin birth as the absolute touchstone of how someone views religion-vs.-science issues?

The reason I ask is that as someone who does believe in the supernatural, but also believes that miracles have been somewhat rare through history (otherwise they wouldn't be miracles), I've come to draw a distinction between scientific and historical inquiry. In other words science would be very good at analyzing the general question, "Is virgin birth possible?" and, thorough experimentation, suggest what we should expect to see. But it's not really the right set of tools to analyze what happened in such-and-such place at such-and-such time.

There are in fact such tools of historiography, so I'm not just advocating blind faith here -- rather pointing out that I classify miracles as a historical rather than scientific question. Of course the miraculous can't be expected to happen, or else it wouldn't be miraculous.

Anyway, just a thought before you brand all us Bible-thumpers as know-nothing Luddites... ;-)


Interesting point. I think a lot of polling is influenced by people's desire to say that they believe whatever the socially acceptable option of the time is. All of us are essentially lemmings in some form or fashion.

10:37 AM, November 18, 2006  
Anonymous Philip said...

Oh, and by the way, belated thanks for your comments. I was having a rough week last week as you can tell. :)

10:38 AM, November 18, 2006  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Heraldblog: thanks for mentioning that. One thing you learn in Psychology is that self-reported data can be quite unreliable. If possible, you want to get other kinds of data.

Of course, one should keep in mind that TV stations have an incentive to report ratings as high as possible, so maybe there's some exaggeration on that side, too. (Though I think the Neilson company is independent of particular TV stations, they may have an indirect interest in creating an impression of a larger TV audience than actually exists.)

Thanks for stopping by again, phillip. No, I don't consider the virgin birth opinion an "absolute touchstone", but it does strike me as a pretty good barometer of supernaturalist credulity.

I think there are natural ways a virgin birth could happen. Certainly artificial insemination is one example. Or perhaps an unusually hardy sperm could make an unusually long journey. Or two eggs could perhaps somehow get mushed together and form a zygote. But when people say they believe in the virgin birth, I don't think they're thinking of an unusual but ultimately explicable freak occurrence. Indeed, I bet they would balk at such explanations. They think that God used magic power to divinely inseminate a woman. I think this is ludicrous.

I admit that it is not possible with scientific tools and methodology to investigate a specific instance of alleged virgin birth. But given the choice in explanations between magical divine intervention and someone telling an understandable lie about extramarital sex, I'm likely to choose the latter.

It is true that we can't have complete knowledge of specific incidents, but we do know that very often people lie, and that very often people believe things that are compelling but false. It seems to me to be ridiculous to reach for a supernatural explanation when plausible human ones scream out at us. We can't know the truth about every alleged miracle, but we do know that many alleged miracles are hoaxes, mistakes, or otherwise explicable. How we "fill in the blanks" for events of which we have no knowledge is an epistomological problem certainly, but it seems to me that some variation of "the rules that apply in places we can see also apply in the places we can't see" is a pretty useful heuristic.

I'm curious, phillip: What are some of the few historical events that you consider to be miracles?

11:58 AM, November 18, 2006  

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