The left used to portray John Howard as hostile to multiculturalism. But as Michael Gawenda points out in today’s Age, while Howard wasn’t so keen on multiculturalism of the subsidies for Bolivian folk dancing variety, he was quite happy with the implicit multiculturalism of religious schools. And conversely (though Gawenda does not say this), while the left liked the multiculturalism of ethnic differences, it was (and is) often quite hostile to religious belief, particularly when reinforced by religious schools.
And few religious beliefs get people more upset than creationism or intelligent design. Gawenda comments that:
Given that some faith-based schools in Australia — unlike schools in the US — teach creationism and the pseudo-science of Intelligent Design as legitimate alternatives to evolutionary theory, how many will mark the Darwin anniversaries [of Charles Darwin’s birth and publication of his evolutionary theory], let alone celebrate them?
In all probability, a significant number won’t. For that John Howard can take some credit. What an irony, given that this was a PM determined to roll back multiculturalism.
But how much does it really matter what ordinary people think about where humans came from? Even most of us who would say we subscribe to Darwin’s theories would not be able to correctly answer even quite basic questions about the evolutionary sequence and how many years ago the the various stages of evolution occurred. I wandered through an exhibition on Darwin only a few weeks ago in Toronto, but I have forgotten already most of what I learnt there.
I don’t need to remember, because no practical decisions in my life turn on knowing this level of detail. It’s not like being misinformed about how disease is spread, or the dangers of playing with matches near flammable chemicals, or other scientific facts that that if known could spare me harm or gain me benefits.
Evolution is more like whether life exists on Mars or not, a matter of curiosity rather than practical concern.
Yes, knowledge is better than falsehood. Creationists are legitimate targets of scientific scorn and ridicule. But among the many wrong things people believe, that man was created by God does not seem to be exceptionally harmful.
What do Australians think about evolution? Over a number of years the International Social Science Survey put this proposition to its respondents:
Mankind evolved by natural selection from lower animals, as Darwin’s theory suggests.
The results were:
Definitely true: 16%
Probably true: 36%
Mixed feelings, not sure: 27%
Probably not true: 12%
Definitely not true: 10%.
In the US, where almost everyone goes to public schools, only about a quarter hold Darwinian views.