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Date: 2006/02/16 01:14:52, Link
Author: Pangloss
A non-sequitor, and year-old news, but the topic heading seems the ideal place and I've never noticed anyone refer to the item before.

Check out:

for a short article on the genetic 'etymology' of snake venom.  Highly complex but far from irreducible, analysis suggests that it is, genetically speaking, a brew of secretions originating in several organs.  How clever of the snake.  In many Australian Aboriginal legends, the Creator has the form of a snake (at least they can prove the snake exists).

Date: 2006/02/16 01:22:12, Link
Author: Pangloss
Nothing is more embarrassing to a Darwinian than the logic which dictates the evolution of belief in the paranormal.

Date: 2006/02/16 01:34:08, Link
Author: Pangloss
That's an old spoof.  In contrast with outrageous claims by genuine creationist-types, the article follows a coherent logic, assisted by the fact that the author knows his stuff.

Date: 2006/02/22 01:59:27, Link
Author: Pangloss
The geographic separation from Europe, and the wide open spaces between settlements for much of American history engendered a feeling of isolation.  This was compensated for in part by the 'chosen people' attitude already mentioned (along with the factually based foundation myth of the First Pilgrims), as well as a vigorous 'frontier mentality', influenced by the very real hazards and challenges of life lived on the advancing fringe of 'civilisation'.  The two threads combined to encourage strong community-binding traditions, which still exist in many forms, particularly in the interior of the country.

One example is the church-going culture.  Another is the way in which high schools have become the focus of community-reinforcing secular activity.  (An American interschool sporting event I observed way back in 1978 appeared as something between a military parade, a Broadway production, and the Olympic Games in miniature.  Reflecting on the earnest enthusiasm of the crowds, I offer the observation that the distinction between a wave and a salute is less marked in America than in Europe.)

America grew up as a community of villages, at the same time as village life throughout Western Europe was becoming more cosmopolitan.   If you take the leap from that concept to suspecting that the relative proportions (between America and Europe) in the population  of village idiots is growing apart, you might not be far wrong.  I read a report last year that found American religious communities (defined often as no more than a few dozen families congregating around a pastor with a particular perspective on the Bible) are increasingly rejecting 'intermarriage' with people outside the group.  

As the world becomes a scarier and climactically more chaotic place, we can expect the trend to insularity and dependency upon religion to worsen.  America is ahead of the pack in the 'Western' world, with the closest comparisons to be made with Islamic nations.  For example, in Indonesia, marriage across religious lines is even against the law (or so I read just this week).

Australia is somewhere between America and Europe in its religiosity.  Around 70% say they believe in God, and around 25% accept the Bible stories.  This high number is, I think, not so much due to a tradition of fundamentalist churches, as to the under-emphasis of science at the early stages of education.  In the earliest days of the country's settlement by Europeans, the churches took control of school education and have remained a significant influence, with about 25% of students attending church-run schools, mostly Catholic in the Irish tradition (the Catholics even set up their own university a few years ago).

Most of the church-run schools don't push a biblical-literalist line, but by force of repetition for whatever purposes, the Bible stories seem to impress themselves more strongly upon many young minds than factually-based information.  Nevertheless, church attendance has recently been creeping up (it's around 15-20%), and all of the growth has been in the 'evangelical' segment of the faith market.