Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Americans Are A Credulous Bunch

Via Ross Douthat, Many have expressed shock that 18% of Americans were found, in a recent poll, to think that President Obama is a Muslim -- despite the fact he denies this and there's no reason to think he is. However, this is perhaps put in perspective when you consider that 41% of Americans believe in ESP and 25% believe Astrology works.

Douthat quotes G. K. Chesterton, and there's a sense in which I see his point:
“It’s what I call common sense, properly understood,’” replied Father Brown. ‘It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr. Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr. Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible. But I’m much more certain it didn’t happen than that Parnell’s ghost didn’t appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand … ‘”
However, I'm unwilling to give benefit of the doubt to thins such as Astrology the way I might be to a something more generally otherworldly such as whether than can be such thing as a ghost.

12 comments:

Paul Zummo said...

There is a fairly reasonable explanation for polls like this, and I can't claim credit for thinking of it. Just like the polls show a discomfortingly high number of people thought 9/11 was an inside job, the number of respondents who truly believe either that or that President Obama is a Muslim is likely much lower than the polls indicate. What the polls reflect is that people dislike the President to such a degree that they will respond to poll questions in any way that makes the current occupant look even worse.

In other words, a significant amount of the people who say that they believe Obama is a Muslim (or that 9/11 was an inside job) probably have given absolutely no thought to the question, but rather they dislike Obama (or in the other case, Bush), and therefore just blithely say, sure, that guy's a Muslim (or wasn't born in the US, etc).

Maybe that's little comfort, but it does signify that the populace is not so daft as polls like this and the 9/11 ones suggest.

Anonymous said...

Paul, it's simpler than that. These polls can be explained by the simple fact that a lot of Americans are just stupid. After all, 20% of Americans believe that buying lottery tickets is a valid retirement plan.

Joel

P.S. Does this seem harsh? It isn't. Remember, half of the population is below average.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

... Just over a thousand folks to represent the WHOLE NATION?!?

Oy.

Not to even consider that, depending on how you define ESP, _I_ believe in it, and if you define the taking control by outside spirit power to include demonic possession, I believe in that... I ask the saints to pray for intentions, so that is communicating mentally with the dead, and if they were defining "reincarnation" as "rebirth of the soul in a new body after death" then a large number of that could be folks who never heard the term but believe in bodily resurrection.

Darwin said...

Fair point, Paul. Though I'd also suggest it may be the result of people trying to guess. A lot of people don't follow the news very closely (I seem to recall less than half of people randomly selected can actually name the vice president or speaker of the house at a given time) so if someone asked one of them on a poll, "Is president Barack Obama a Muslim," they might just guess based on the name.

I'd agree that some of the other questions Gallop asked about could be subject to various interpretations -- that's why I picked Astrology which I figure is pretty unquestionably an ignorant thing to believe in.

RL said...

...that's why I picked Astrology which I figure is pretty unquestionably an ignorant thing to believe in.

That's rich coming from the son of a man who taught astrology?



:D Couldn't help it...

Darwin said...

Some people teach astronomy, some people teach astrology, and some people never learned the difference.

:-)

RL said...

I bet that was one of your dad's canned responses, wasn't it?

Speaking of stars, there's a cool Android app that has a map of the sky and you can hold it up to easily identify stars and constellations. Your dad would have been thanking his lucky stars if he had that as a teaching aid. :)

blackadderiv said...

Just over a thousand folks to represent the WHOLE NATION?!?

A sample size of a thousand will get you a 99% confidence level with a margin of error of 4%, so that's not a problem. I've often wondered, though, how much simply asking the question to people tends to inflate the numbers (for instance, people might assume that if someone is asking the question about whether Obama is a Muslim then there must be something to it).

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I know they calculate it to be very accurate (well, considering they figure it's off as much as one in 25-- broad stroke accurate?) or they wouldn't waste the money on it; I question it anyways, especially since the polling companies only recently figured out that phoning people up on landline numbers may change the sample simply because so many folks exclusively have mobiles now. (Looked up a sample-size calculator-- the same sample size would be used for the population of Washington to get the same confidence.)

I do think simply asking the question probably inflated the numbers, though-- maybe if the'd rephrased as "what religion is Obama?"

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Interesting:
http://interested-participant.blogspot.com/2010/08/obamas-muslim-roots-are-no-delusion-so.html
Apparently, some American Muslims identify Obama as Muslim, without prompting.

Tony said...

Darwin,

Why do you say "there's no reason" to think he's Muslim? He refuses to attend the national day of prayer events, but invites a bunch of Imams to the White House to celebrate Ramadan.

By his actions since becoming President, he leads one to believe he's a Muslim. When he claims he's a Christian, his actions are speaking so loudly I can hardly hear his words.

Darwin said...

Why do you say "there's no reason" to think he's Muslim? He refuses to attend the national day of prayer events, but invites a bunch of Imams to the White House to celebrate Ramadan.

Those actions are entirely in keeping with the far more likely explanation that he is a basically secular liberal who gets off on multiculturalism.

Frankly, I'd find Obama more interesting (and palatable) if he were Muslim -- but I don't remotely think he is.