More broadly, some 78% of Americans today believe that God had a hand in the development of humans in some way, just slightly less than the percentage who felt this way 30 years ago.
All in all, there is no evidence in this trend of a substantial movement toward a secular viewpoint on human origins.
Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.
Miss USA 2011, the 60th anniversary of the Miss USA pageant.
The Middle Ages (adjectival forms: medieval, mediaeval, and mediæval) is the period of European history encompassing the 5th to the 15th centuries; and normally is marked from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (the end of Classical Antiquity) until the beginning of the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, the periods which ushered in the Modern Era. The mediaeval period thus is the mid-time of the traditional division of Western history into Classical, Medieval, and Modern periods; moreover, the Middle Ages usually is divided into the Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages, and the Late Middle Ages.
In the Early Middle Ages, depopulation, deurbanization, and barbarian invasions, begun in Late Antiquity, continued apace. The barbarian invaders formed new kingdoms in the remains of the Western Roman Empire. In the 7th century North Africa and the Middle East, once part of the Eastern Roman Empire, became an Islamic Empire after conquest by Muhammad's successors. Although there were substantial changes in society and political structures, the break with Antiquity was not complete, because most of the new kingdoms incorporated many of the extant Roman institutions; while monasteries were founded as Christianity expanded in western Europe. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Franks, under the Carolingian dynasty, established an empire covering much of western Europe; the Carolingian Empire endured until the 9th century, when it succumbed to the pressures of invasion — the Vikings from the north; the Magyars from the east, and the Saracens from the south.
During the High Middle Ages, which began after AD 1000, the population of Europe increased greatly as technological and agricultural innovations allowed trade to flourish and crop yields to increase. Manorialism — the organization of peasants into villages that owed rent and labor services to the nobles; and feudalism — the political structure whereby knights and lower-status nobles owed military service to their overlords, in return for the right to rent from lands and manors - were two of the ways society was organized in the High Middle Ages. Kingdoms became more centralized after the breakup of the Carolingian Empire. The Crusades, first preached in 1095, were military attempts, by western European Christians, to regain control of the Middle Eastern Holy Land from the Muslims, and succeeded long enough to establish Christian states in the Near East. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism and the founding of universities; and the building of Gothic cathedrals, which was one of the outstanding artistic achievements of the High Middle Ages.
The Late Middle Ages were marked by difficulties and calamities, such as famine, plague, and war, which much diminished the population of western Europe; in the four years between 1347 and 1350, the Black Death killed approximately a third of the European population. Controversy, heresy, and schism within the Church paralleled the warfare between states, the civil war, and peasant revolts occurring in the kingdoms. Cultural and technological developments transformed European society, concluding the Late Middle Age and beginning the Early Modern period.
Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment
Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment.
Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages. Literally.
Two main things distinguished the post Enlightenment world from the pre Enlightenment Dark Ages.
First, Francis Bacon’s Novo Organum Scientiarum (The New Instrument of Science) introduced a new way of understanding the world, in which empiricism, facts and … well … reality … defined what was real. It essentially outlined the scientific method: observation and data collection, formulation of hypotheses, experiments designed to test hypotheses and elevation of these hypotheses to theories when data consistently supported them. It was and is a system based on skepticism, and a relentless and methodical search for truth.
It brought us advances and untold wealth and health. From one-horse carts to automobiles to airplanes. From leaches and phrenology to penicillin and monoclonal antibodies.
Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality. Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as reality by rightwing politicians.
For example, North Carolina law-makers recently passed legislation against sea level rise. A day later, the Virginia legislature required that references to global warming, climate change and sea level rise be excised from a proposed study on sea level rise. Last year, the Texas Department of Environmental Quality, which had commissioned a study on Galveston Bay, cut all references to sea level rise – the main point of the study.
We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold.
As Stephen Colbert so aptly put it: if your science gives you results you don't like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal. Problem solved. Except it isn’t. Wishing reality away, doesn’t make it go away. Pretending that the unreal is real doesn’t make it real.
And the descent into the Dark Ages is marked by more than global warming. Take austerity budgets. There is an extensive historical record showing that implementing austerity measures in an economic slowdown is counter productive. And this data is backed up by current experience in Europe, where austerity measures have been disastrous. So the data is telling us austerity during a jobs crisis hasn’t worked in the past and isn’t working now. What to do? Pass an austerity budget, of course.
Welcome to the Dark Ages.
The litany of ignorance goes on and on. Teach Creationism. Teach the “controversy” on climate science and intelligent design. Declare deregulation – which was a primary cause of the 2008 economic collapse – to be the solution to it. Preach trickle down economics, even after it has failed every time it’s been adopted; even as we watch wealth rocket up the income brackets.
What’s next? Give the flat-earthers a say. Oh hell, why stop there. Let’s put Earth back in the center of the solar system where it belongs.
We don’t need no stinkin’ science. We don’t need no pesky reality. We just gotta pass a few laws and declare things to be the way we want them to be, facts be damned. You know, keep your government hands off my Medicare.
Second, the Enlightenment laid the groundwork for our form of government. The Social Contract is the intellectual basis of all modern democratic republics, including ours. John Locke and others argued that governments derived their authority from the governed, not from divine right. Governments could be legitimate, then, only with the consent of the governed. Jefferson acknowledged Locke’s influence on the Declaration of Independence and his ideas are evident in the Constitution. Here again, our founders used reason, empiricism and academic scholarship to cobble together one of the most enduring and influential documents in human history. For all its flaws, it has steered us steadily toward a more perfect union.
Now, reason, empiricism and scholarship are the punch line to right wing jokes and jihads. Santorum captured the Tea Party’s hostility to these Enlightenment virtues when he likened a college education to an indoctrination. Thankfully, Santorum is gone, but the embrace of ignorance he advocated lives on.
And so corporations are now accorded the rights of citizenship. Power, once again, is meted out by birthright, not inalienable right. By possession of wealth, not by justice or equity or merit.
Well, the US now has the same income inequality as Cameroon, Uganda and Rwanda, and we’re trapped in this pathetic state – income mobility in the US lags behind most other developed nations.
In short, Horatio Alger is dead, long live Exxon.
We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold. We can continue to discard the Enlightenment values which enabled both an untold increase in material wealth and a system of government which turned serfs into citizens. A system which – for all its flaws – often managed to protect the rights of the many, against the predatory power of the few.
Or we can continue our abject surrender to myths, magical thinking, and self-delusion and the Medieval nation-state those forces are resurrecting.
Republicans and Tea Partiers may be leading this retreat from reason, but they are unopposed by Democrats or the Press.
And in the end, there is a special place in Hell for those who allow evil to prosper by doing nothing.
John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org