The Mathematician handed me an article from the Scientific American, and then stood back and watched me guffaw. The article in question was a discussion of the relative impact that Galileo and Darwin had on society. Which one was bigger?
First, it’s a dopey question, but on top of that, this little bit of silliness: one of the panelists claimed that Galileo was the most influential, because (and I’m paraphrasing) only fifty percent of Americans believe in evolution, whereas eighty percent believe the earth orbits around the sun.
Think about that for a minute.
Now, the Darwin thing I’m willing to let go, though I don’t believe it. A much smaller proportion of the population identifes as creationists, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.
The claim is that 20% of the American population does not believe that the earth orbits the sun.
I don’t believe this. I just don’t. I’m taken by this urge to stop people on the street and ask them a T/F question: does the earth orbit around the sun? I can predict that some small percentage will just look puzzled and have to think about it. These are the same people who can’t put France on a map (much less Iraq), and who don’t realize that the fact that there was a World War II, there must have been a Word War I. Or this person, quoted on Overheard:
Like, New York’s Technically a State Of Mind, Right?
College student with Boston accent: Yeah, I was reading this article in like Newsweek or something, that ranked the states from smartest to dumbest. Massachusetts was in the top ten.
College student with Miami accent: What about Florida?
College student with Boston accent: Florida was like, 47.
College student with Miami accent: Out of how many?
Overheard by: Still Laughing
Some people just aren’t interested in the wider world. Maybe the student with the Miami accent knows everything there is to know about sailboat rigging, but slept through every geography and social studies class. The temptation is to laugh (okay, I did laugh), but I think it’s a mistake to assume this person is intellectually a zero. Narrow, yes. But more than that, who knows?
The earth orbiting around the sun is to me so absolutely undebatable that I put it on a par with things like, the sun rises in the east or the earth is round. Further, some people may deny they believe in evolution for religious reasons, but no such baggage has been attached to Galileo. I hope.
Does that 80% sound weird to you?