The Rational Gods of Iceland

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CreationismWhile 61% of Icelanders say they believe in God, according to a recent poll, absolutely none  under the age of 25 believe that their personal hairy thunderer created the world:

Less than half of Icelanders claim they are religious and more than 40% of young Icelanders identify as atheist. Remarkably the poll failed to find young Icelanders who accept the creation story of the Bible. 93.9% of Icelanders younger than 25 believed the world was created in the big bang, 6.1% either had no opinion or thought it had come into existence through some other means and 0.0% believed it had been created by God.

None. Zero. That’s pretty astounding and progressive, especially when you compare it to the USA, where 42% of Americans still have superstitious, medieval creationist beliefs, according to a mid-2014 Gallup poll:

More than four in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, a view that has changed little over the past three decades. Half of Americans believe humans evolved, with the majority of these saying God guided the evolutionary process. However, the percentage who say God was not involved is rising.

Well, a lot of Americans also believe in Donald Trump, so one can’t really be surprised at their lack of acuity, scientific education and common sense. There is some faint hope for a growth in secular (critical) thought, though, as Gallup notes:

There is little indication of a sustained downward trend in the proportion of the U.S. population who hold a creationist view of human origins. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who adhere to a strict secularist viewpoint — that humans evolved over time, with God having no part in this process — has doubled since 1999.

I’m not holding my breath for any sudden dawning of mass rationalism in the USA. Not while Trump, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter get any media attention. It’s the home of the truther, open-carry, anti-vaccination, climate-change-denial, Tea Party and the TVangelist movements, after all. The vast majority of wingnut, conspiracy and pseudoscience sites I have seen are American made, too (local blogs notwithstanding).

The British, on the other hand, side squarely with science and rational thought: 70% believe in evolution, according to a 2012 Angus Reid poll (and better yet, 75% of Scots do). Canadians, as one might expect, vacillate between the Brits and Yanks: 61% believe in evolution while 24% are stuck in the greasy muddle of creationism. That’s still one in four and way too high for a modern society. Iceland is the intellectual leader here.

By the way, did you know Canada has its own creationist “museum”? Yep, holed up in a little house on the prairies in Godforsaken, AB. Yeah, it’s on my bucket list too – right after swimming with crocodiles and petting piranha fish with bleeding fingers.

Faron Ellis, a Lethbridge College political science professor, said of Canadian creationist views in politics:

It gives your opponents a tremendous amount of ammunition, to the point of not just discrediting your position on any particular public policy, but also by making you look foolish.

Ellis understates the argument (although Stockwell Day may not have thought so). A public official expressing creationist views in the 21st century makes them look downright stupid, at least in a modern nation like Canada.

But I digress. Older Icelanders are not entirely free of creationist nonsense:

Of those younger than 25 93.9% said the world had been created in the big bang and 0.0% believed God had created the world. 77.7% of those between 25 and 44 years old believed the world had been created in the big bang and 10.1% believed God had created the world. In all but the oldest age category a majority accepted the big-bang theory. Only 46.1% of those older than 55 believed in the big bang, and nearly a fourth, 24.5% believed God had created the world.

So don’t pack your bags expecting to move to the Nation of Rational Thought quite yet. It’ll be a few more years before those 20-somethings are the older generation. Then, if right-wing religious trends in America continue as they appear to be moving, maybe it will be a good place to move to, especially if you’re an American with independent thought.

Creationism is a mind virus that destroys critical thinking. The same could be said of any radical, evangelist or fundamentalist religion. These ideologies view critical thought, open inquiring and free speech as anathema and will fight mightily to prevent such intrusions on their faith. And as an outsider to both the faiths and the nations, it’s hard to tell the difference between, say, the Taliban, and the Westboro Baptists.

Saudi Arabia is, as one might expect, officially Islamic creationist.Many Islamic nations are (although members of the Ahmadiyya sect are not, although how many are in Saudi Arabia, I don’t know, since they are officially persecuted there). I wonder if the Saudis would be more welcoming of the flat-earthers.

Creationism, you see, isn’t limited to Christianity, although it sometimes seems that fundamentalist-evangelist Christianity attracts more wingnuts than other flavours. It certainly polarizes adherents with its binary choices of salvation for one set of beliefs; damnation for all others. There are also Jewish, Muslim and Hindu creationists. Buddhists, generally, accept evolution, but there are exceptions (the Dalai Lama being one).

The Saudis are extreme in many things, and will not likely ever top a poll of rational secularism, let alone one of tolerance. In 2014, for example, Saudi Arabia passed a law declaring all atheists, independent thinkers and peaceful protesters are terrorists, thus hoping to prevent dissent against its rigid orthodoxy. Visiting Saudi Arabia is on my bucket list too, about 12,517 places below visiting the creation museum.*

Jeremy Rosen wrote a piece saying that the age of the earth doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect his personal faith. With which I disagree. I believe facts matter. I believe science matters. Knowing the age, the science, the facts cannot change them, but they are a rock in the sand against the tides of blind faith, superstition and ignorance. They keep me anchored in the reality of the world, and not get swept away by the mythologies and codswallop.

But Rosen did make a salient point in his piece about how the debate around creationism is similar to other polarizing issues:

…what this dispute really highlights is the difference between “emunah peshutah” (simple, unquestioning belief) on the one hand, and belief that is prepared to accommodate science and rationalism on the other. The world in general is indeed divided along these lines on almost everything from climate change to whether a Sunni has the obligation to kill a Shia or a Kofir, and vice versa. It’s not unlike the difference between people who are superstitious and those who are not, between those who choose to follow the herd and those who stand apart. Not everyone has a high I.Q. or a penchant for philosophy. No two people are the same, so why should we expect everyone to think or feel in exactly the same way?

We shouldn’t. But science isn’t faith and facts can’t be ignored or denied by inhaling the vapours of faith or superstition. We should, however, expect that people accept that differences of thought be allowed in an open and democratic society, not persecuted. That doesn’t mean we have to tolerate creationism in schools. If people want to believe in it, they are welcome to do so, but without imposing their silliness on others. Public education is for facts, not faith.

Faith alone is not sufficient to create laws, policies, textbooks, research or governments, no matter what your religious tome of choice tells you. Faith is a private matter; science is public.
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* Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti also banned playing chess this month, muttering it might lead to gambling (Iranian muftis once thought so, too, but recanted). Given that, as an article in The Guardian explains, chess came from Persia and was adopted by Muslims in the 7th century CE, there’s no small irony here. Banning it seems just another of Saudi Arabia’s bizarre and extreme notions:

The region’s clerical establishment figures are no strangers to seemingly strange fatwas, or edicts. In the early 2000s Saudi and other clerics issued a fatwa against the popular Pokemon franchise, and during the 2010 football world cup in South Africa, religious scholars in the UAE said using the widely reviled vuvuzela instrument was forbidden if the sound produced was above 100 decibels.

At least no one is being executed for playing chess. Yet. Given their abysmal human rights record, it won’t surprise me if the death penalty is soon applied to chess players, as it has been to poets.

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One Reply to “The Rational Gods of Iceland”

  1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/22/chess-ban-saudi-arabia-mufti-sheikh-abdulaziz-al-sheikh?CMP=fb_gu

    New piece in the Guardian: Chess is gloriously rebellious. Maybe that’s what Saudi Arabia’s mufti fears

    The real attraction of chess is that the board is a simulacrum of life, where intense battles can be fought with no casualties, where the rules and objectives are clear, where neat geometric certainties replace messy realities. “Chess is my world,” said the attacking genius Mikhail Tal, world champion in the early 1960s. “Not a house, not a fortress where I hide myself from life’s hardship, but indeed the world. The world in which I live a full life, in which I prove myself.”

    Imagine how shallow life would be without at least having learned chess, without at least having played a few games…

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