You may have heard, early last month, that Ireland has passed a new law regarding blasphemy. There also seems to be some confusion on the matter – is this a new law, making blasphemy illegal where it was previously not? Or is it perhaps a reform of an older law, which actually reduces the sanction on this offense from prison time to a fine? Either way, atheists and secularists of all stripes are up in arms, and a lot of them seem to be ignorant of the facts. When freethinkers start leaping to the defensive just from the very mention of words such as “blasphemy”, without examining the details, how can we claim the moral high ground? How are we better than fundamentalists? If we are to debate credibly, we need to be able to marshal the facts. This, in my mind, is one of the most important distinguishing aspects of the sceptical and secularist movements.
So, what are the facts in this case?
The Irish Constitution requires a law making blasphemy an offense. Such a law was not passed until 1961, but did not satisfactorily define blasphemy – this led to the 1999 Supreme Court ruling that the current law was unenforceable. Instead of amending the constitution to remove the necessity of the law, however (which would require a national referendum), it was decided that it would be easier to enact a law that was enforceable. This passed in early July.
So, in effect, blasphemy is now illegal in Ireland, and while this has apparently always been the case, it is now a cogent and enforeceable law with a specified definition and penalty (and a hefty penalty at that – up to €25,000). It will however likely not be operable until late October, due to necessary modifications in the rules of court to accommodate it. There is a significant campaign to repeal the new law, and indeed it seems that there are good reasons to consider it to be in conflict with the constitution – not to mention the European Convention on Human Rights.
All this information is available at the excellent website Blasphemy.ie, and what is presented here is intended as a summary, attempting to clarify a situation which seems to be widely misunderstood.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Blasphemy is now functionally illegal in Ireland. This is a result of recent legislation which did not introduce it as an offense but rather clarified the law to a point at which it was enforceable. This was ostensibly done to avoid the costs of a referendum – which, as mentioned, would be necessary were Ireland to alter the constitution and remove the need for a blasphemy law. But, as Padraig Reidy points out, a referendum is planned for October on the issue of the Lisbon Treaty (a generally unrelated matter) – so why not save a few Euros and combine the two? And why set the penalty for blasphemy so high? Surely if it were a token law for the sake of convention, it would warrant only a token penalty. Does this perhaps hint at an ulterior motive for enacting the new legislation?
I am clearly not in a position to comment on that possibility. Anybody who is would be gratefully welcomed if they cared to enlighten me. Suffice it to say that I have been a little disappointed by the sparse and superficial coverage this story has received – as usual, the reality is a bit more complicated.
To stay updated with this case, head to blasphemy.ie.
Many of you will have heard of Pascal’s Wager; it is one of the more well-known arguments against adopting an atheist world-view. Summarised, it states that it is better to believe in God because if one is wrong, one loses nothing, whereas if the atheist is wrong, (s)he goes to hell. Not only is this a truly cynical way to come to religious belief, but there are certain other flaws also – primarily, the issue of which God.
For instance, suppose you took it seriously, and began worshipping the God of the Bible, the Christian God – quite confident in your now-unassailable position. You can’t lose! If there’s no God, no harm done. If there is, you’re in his good books. However, when you finally meet your maker, it turns out to be Allah. He’s not too pleased about your outspoken worship of a rival God, and you end up in Hell anyway. So much for the wager.
Until recently, I thought this was the best argument to marshal against the infamous wager. Then I was introduced to this elegant quotation from Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180. Which means that this quote predates Pascal’s Wager by approximately 1500 years.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
It is always gratifying to find one’s own thoughts put so eloquently into text.
If you know me (whether personally or simply through my posts here), you’ll probably know I have a fascination with mythology. This extends beyond a mere enjoyment of the stories, into what they can tell us about the human condition, and our cultural history. But recently, I heard a wonderful quote which I’d like to share with you, as best as I can remember it:
“Mythology is a vital part of our history, and must be kept alive. But to claim that one mythology is more valid, or holds more truth than another, is arrogant and dangerous. (pause) Basically what I’m saying is that religion is bullshit.”
An elegant summary if ever there was one. The speaker in this case was a man I’m coming to admire more and more – Heri Joensen, vocalist of the very excellent Faeroese folk metal band Tyr. They’ve always had strong pagan overtones in their music, and he is becoming less subtle and more outspoken about his distaste for religion – particularly Christianity purely due to the history of persecution in Northern Europe around the turn of the second millennium.
Thinking about this recently, I recalled a teacher I had at A-Level, in Religious Studies. A creationist (and a bloody nice bloke by the way), he objected to the term “Christian mythology”, because he felt it somehow denigrated the religion. I disagreed silently at the time, unsure of my ability to marshal arguments against his position. But on reflection now, it’s not a difficult case to demolish. The real question is, why on earth would Christianity not count as mythology?
Perhaps on first glance it’s a little more subtle (or perhaps dull and boring would be a more honest appraisal) than most mythologies, with highlights being a rather tame collection of stories that would seem unremarkable indeed amongst the vibrant madness that one encounters in those of Egypt, Greece, India, and Scandinavia (to name but a few). But a lack of imagination does not exempt it from being mythological.
It is still, after all, a collection of stories, with symbolism and morals and magic and impossible events. There is no objective reason to place it above any other set of mythologies, and of course the impulse to do so comes simply for one’s own biased regard for that one belief system. Which is why I think it is sad (however inevitable it may be) when one set of mythologies manages to all but wipe out a competing one, and I think that Christianity’s triumph in Europe is one of the great cultural tragedies of history. But why did it succeed? Why did people choose to follow the teachings of the Bible over their own cultural stories?
Well of course, to get the answer to that question we need to look predominantly to the ruling class; it was they who converted first, and passed on that conversion to their people, through force, persuasion, or simply a kind of peer pressure. So the question becomes one of why those in power adopted the new faith from the south. Was it a resonance of truth and goodness they felt? Possibly, I’ll not deny that. But looking at it realistically, I’d say it was more likely that the majority of them simply found it more useful, more expedient.
I don’t think it is too controversial to suggest that most of those in power are there because they sought it. It is hardly a leap to also suggest that those who seek power and attain it do not cease to seek it. Is it any wonder that they chose to adopt a religion which preaches meekness, obedience, unquestioning devotion, and enforces it with fear? I’m afraid I have another quote for you, this time from a novel I read fairly recently. It’s Viking: King’s Man, book three of a wonderful trilogy by Tim Severin:
“…the worship of the White Christ suits men who seek to dominate others. It is not the belief of the humble, but of despots and tyrants. When a man claims he is specially selected by the White Christ, then all those who follow that religion must treat him as if they are revering the God himself… This is a contradiction of all that the God is meant to stand for, yet I have witnessed how, among rulers of men, it is the truly ruthless and the ambitious who adopt the Christian faith, then use it to suppress the dignity of their fellows.”
Simply, Christianity succeeded where other mythologies failed because it was a useful tool by which men might gain and maintain power. Politics has, once again, shown itself to be a (if not the) driving force behind major cultural change. However innocent, bland and otherwise fluffy and inoffensive* a belief system might be, there will always be someone there to exploit it. That’s human nature.
* Though I might note here that, despite the commendable and generally positive attitude of many of its adherents, Christianity isn’t the nicest of religions once you examine the literature. No, sir.
Just a quick thought today, prompted by the news that over 100,000 people in Britain are seeking to reverse their childhood baptism/christening [via AFP]. I sympathise with them, though I myself was never put through such a farcical abusive ceremony (thanks mum!) – but I can’t help but think that by doing this they are imbuing the ceremonies with far more meaning than they deserve.
If I’m right in thinking that these people want to be de-baptised because they have discovered the enormous unlikeliness of the Christian teachings and would prefer to live their lives as rational beings, then why do they care so much that some old chap mumbled some mumbo-jumbo over them and splashed their foreheads with water when they were kids? Surely their seeking of this piece of paper is demonstrative of their belief that the whole ceremony is completely meaningless. The piece of paper is also meaningless, so why seek it out and pay cash money for it? Why do you care?
I fully support the National Secular Society, and if you’re going to donate money to an organisation and haven’t decided which yet, you could do worse than consider them in your shortlist. But I don’t approve of them selling something which is entirely meaningless. I thought they were against that sort of business.
In an entirely unrelated topic, I will soon be opening up a service for anyone who wants to be declared “Nice”. If you, as a child, were told by a parent or other authoritative adult (perhaps in a costume) that you were on Santa’s “Naughty List”, send me the small sum of £3 and I’ll happily print you off a piece of paper reversing your status as “Naughty” and declaring you “Nice” – for all the world to see.
In my previous entry on the matter, I discussed how (early) Star Trek acted as a kind of utopian vision for secular humanism. I also showed that, despite how dated it can seem at times, it was always a highly progressive series – particularly in terms of race and gender equality.
This time, I want to examine the numinous aspects of Star Trek – that is to say, the ways in which it preserved the sense of wonder to an almost spiritual level while remaining secular. It is closely linked to the spirit of scientific discovery, and the kind of excitement exemplified by the likes of Carl Sagan in his Cosmos series, and Phil Plait at a new development or line of research. It is an important aspect of science and scepticism which religious people often claim cannot be found outside of supernatural belief systems.
There are dozens of examples I could use to illustrate this point; it seemed that every other episode of The Next Generation involved the crew investigating, researching or just sightseeing at some interesting nebula, supernova or what have you; sometimes it was the premise of the show, sometimes it was an incidental detail along the way – but it always managed to express that they were explorers and scientists first, experiencing the wonder of the galaxy first-hand.
The particular example I want to use today, however, is a little more complex. Those of you who read my footnote on the post-Roddenberry Star Trek in my previous post will know that I noted a drop in secular humanism as a theme after Gene Roddenberry’s departure. What I’d like to add to that is that subsequent series did seem to be more morally complex than TOS and TNG, and, while they were more accommodating to religion, they rarely – if ever – attributed to it powers that it does not and could not possess.
The case of the Prophets of Bajor is a particularly interesting case. Here we have a hugely pervasive religion with a tremendous amount of power over its followers – and incidentally a vehicle through which the series can explore themes relevant to scepticism and religion. The interesting thing is that their “prophets” – spirits or gods, essentially – are real. That is, they are actual beings who reside within the stable wormhole proximate to Bajor.
It is interesting to note the contrast in reactions between the Starfleet personnel and the Bajoran clergy (for want of a better term) to the scientific discoveries made in the wormhole. Both are awestruck, but that’s where the similarities end. The officers, Sisko in particular, are desperate to know more about the wormhole and the beings that reside within in it – from what little they already know, the wormhole is stable because it was constructed by the aliens, and the aliens themselves do not experience a “linear existence” as we do, and thus have no concept of time. The Bajorans remain steadfast in their dogma, though at first it seems that the two can coexist – the spiritual definition of the prophets, and the scientific explanation of them.
But when a religious controversy springs up about the teaching of science in school, the tensions become clear. The question is asked as to why the station’s single school is teaching only about the science of the wormhole and not the spiritual dimensions acknowledged by the Bajorans (a majority of the students, it should be noted). The teacher is adamant that only the science will be taught, and that the school is not a suitable place for spiritual instruction. It’s a great parallel to the evolution/creationism debate.
But to get back to my point, at no time does it seem that there is less wonder and beauty to be found through the scientific perspective as opposed to the religious one. Indeed, it seems as if the religious people, having caught a glimpse of the truth, immediately shut their eyes so as to preserve that glimmer of wonder, and, having instilled it with all their hopes and expanded it with their imaginations, are unwilling to then open their eyes and see the truth of the wonders – which is no less amazing.
The best thing about post-Roddenberry Star Trek is that it becomes more complex in terms of morality and personalities, and therefore far more relevant to the real world. It is no longer a Utopia, but perhaps more of a realistic cultural extrapolation of where humanity might find itself a few centuries from now.
Firstly, if you’ve not read my earlier post on the subject of creationism-in-schools advice being given to Hampshire County Council, go ahead and read up. I’ll still be here when you get back. All done? Good.
I have located a copy of the report I mentioned. It can be found here:
It begins in a reasonable fashion – and in fact continues likewise until the section vaguely headed “Evaluate“. Up until this point, I’ve not had a major problem with anything said, and in fact it sounds like a decent attempt at providing support for conducting a debate on this matter. After that point, however, it all gets a bit Disco.
For instance, it is quite insistent on the difference between creationism and intelligent design, and actually uses the words “the scientific theory of intelligent design”. This is horrifically misleading, disingenuous and false. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory; it is barely an hypothesis (which, incidentally, is the word they use earlier in the report – consistency please?). Almost as bad is their use of the word “scholar” to describe such unthinking dogmatists as Behe and Minnich
What is also telling is that, despite the fact that the language being used seems to be pluralist, it is clear that the report is centered on a Christian worldview. Creationism is defined as “typically” conforming to Genesis and the Bible, whereas “Intelligent Design” apparently doesn’t. There is no mention (except through the most vague implication) that other faiths involve a creation myth. I know we’re nominally a Christian nation, but our non-faith schools are generally meant to be cosmopolitan in this regard.
There are numerous other reasons I dislike this report, including its quoting of William Bloody Paley and not the counter-argument from Dawkins et al; but the main question I wanted answered was: where is this debate intended to take place? In the science class, or in religious education?
I was disappointed. There was nothing there to suggest that this was being proposed as a discussion to have in a particular setting or context. It could well be that this report itself has a context of which I am unaware, and the text toward to top of the report was sufficiently indecipherable to allow that perhaps that information is contained within that section; but if this is not the case, and the debate is being offered regardless of context, then I have to conclude that the news items surrounding this report are misleading.
That is not to say that there is nothing to worry about. This report is indicative of a greatly disturbing trend in our education system: there is no doubt in my mind that this report was compiled by a creationist and that the intent behind it is to push discussion of intelligent design into places it does not belong. That being said, however, there are a few questions that still need to be asked:
1. Where are these discussions intended to take place?
2. Are they trying to get intelligent design discussed as a scientific theory?
3. How seriously is this report being taken?
4. Are there advisory bodies in opposition to, and on the same level as, SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) that are pushing the scientific, secularist viewpoint?
I’m going to do my best to get answers to these questions, but until then I must conclude that the report is deeply worrying, but not as bad as it could be. Intelligent design is still not a part of the science curriculum, and this report doesn’t suggest that it should be.
Being a Hampshire lad by birth, I was somewhat perturbed by the news that Hampshire schools are getting “advice” on creationism. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that fact – but it’s the kind of phrase that sets off alarm bells.
The worry is that it’s a “foot in the door” scenario which could lead to creationism* being taught in the classroom alongside science, and being given equal credence. Of course, this need not necessarily be the case here: at the moment the language being used to refer to this move is stressing advice rather than curriculum.
It is important that teachers know how to respond to inquiries from students about the relationship between creationism and evolution, and therefore an “advice package” seems like a jolly good idea. Exactly how good an idea it is, though, depends solely on the content of the report. I have written to Hampshire County Council asking them for a copy of the report, after having no luck searching online (there seems to be a direct link on the RichardDawkins.net forum, but at the time of writing this there’s a quite serious problem with the website).
So until I find out what is actually advised, I’d like to take a moment to think about what I’d like it to say. Ideally, as far as the science classroom is concerned, I think the advice should be simply about how to deal with pupils’ questions, and not how to raise the subject itself outside of that context. Creationism has no place in the science class. But that does not mean that pupils’ questions on the subject should be ignored or simply rebuffed. It is important that they are informed about why creationism is not science, and why it is not appropriate to discuss metaphysics in the science classroom. Also, I have no problem with creationism – and its relationship with science – being discussed in religious education classes; that’s where it belongs.
What I am afraid of is that this is not the tone that has been taken by the report; that, instead, it advises that it is entirely appropriate and even necessary to discuss creationism as a rival theory to evolution and the big bang. This is the area in which the creationists have been gaining most ground: in simply muddying the waters. The real problem will be that introducing guidelines for talking about religion in the science classroom will confuse rather than inform.
I’m all for getting pupils to discuss these issues, but everything that is done in the context of a science lesson should be science. Metaphysics should be checked at the door; it has no place in that setting.
* I use the word creationism as synonymous with so-called “intelligent design theory” because I hope that by this point nobody has any illusions. They are one and the same.
Before I begin, I ought to warn you that there is no real conclusion or argument to be found in this entry; it is rather intended as a collection of musings hoped to inform but primarily provoke further thought. Most of what is contained herein is part of an ongoing internal discussion I’m holding with myself, and this forms something of an update as to the point that that debate has reached. So open your mind, and read on.
I have made mention before of my status as a pagan atheist. It’s not just an incidental matter for me, either; while I don’t believe the Gods or spirits are actual entities capable of any kind of interaction with this world, I believe they are powerful and practically useful metaphors for a great deal of human life. The Gods we choose for ourselves – if choose them we do – represent those principles which are most important to us. For this reason I tend more toward the Northern European pantheon, in particular the Norse Gods. If I had a Sabbath like the Christian Sunday or Jewish Friday, it would be Wednesday, named for Odin, a.k.a. Woden (Woden’s Daeg -> Wednesday) – for he is the figure with whom I most identify.
He is the symbol for wisdom, courage, and honour – among many other things. He is also seen as the guardian of travellers, much as the Christian Saint Christopher. All of these themes are ones which ring true with me: I aspire to be wise, courageous and honourable above all else; I can think of no qualities I would rather possess. There is also an emphasis on respect and reverence for nature in the Northern European religions, which it won’t surprise you to find has particular resonance with me.
So why, you might ask, don’t I just identify with those qualities directly instead of expressing them through the language of mythology and religious faith? It is a good question, and one which I have asked myself on many an occasion. I think the answer, as far as I can fathom it, lies in what I refer to as the “power of metaphor”; that is, the linguistic and emotional force that can be expressed only in terms of phenomena that transcend the physical, evidential world. Humanity is known for being a fickle race, and a claimed devotion to an abstract concept such as justice seems to hold less force, somehow, than a claimed devotion to a deity personifying that concept. It is an appeal to the eternal nature of these ideals as opposed to the sometimes-fleeting nature of humanity’s adherence to them.
Another example of this that I recently found out about (thanks to my friend the Nietzschean feminist) is Laveyan satanism, which again is essentially an atheist religion. The ideals it favours are individualism, a realistic approach to humanity’s darker impulses and an acceptance of these drives as an inevitable an essential component of understanding what it is to be human. There is also a strong element of anarchism, a rebelliousness and hostility toward authority that is reflected in few other mythologies. But it is atheist – and specifically non-Christian, a claim which cannot be made by theistic Satanism – because it entails a commitment to these ideals only, not a belief in a literal Satan or lesser demons. There is much in LaVeyan Satanism which rings true with me and values which are shared by the pagan faith.
On a tangentally-related topic, I also want to address the topic of Santa Claus – not as a metaphor, but as a belief tantamount to religion but treated as a socially-acceptable falsehood. This line of thought comes from listening to my backlog of Point of Inquiry podcasts, specifically the interview with Todd C. Riniolo. He noted an objection to the widely-used argument in sceptical circles that it is little wonder that people are credulous in adulthood when they are raised to believe in Santa Claus as children. It is rarely used as a forceful argument, usually instead forming a arbitrary comment; but nonetheless is worth addressing. Riniolo’s objection is that there is simply no proof that belief in Santa during childhood leads to credulity in adulthood. Indeed, he argues, the “debunking” of Santa constitutes many a child’s first truly sceptical activity.
I thought this was a very interesting point, and it contributed to an ongoing internal debate I’ve been conducting with regards to how best to raise a child in the sceptical mindset. It hasn’t helped me make up my mind on the subject, but has made a significant contribution to the complexity of the issue. Is it wrong to lie to one’s children in this regard, or is it a valuable experience that teaches them that deception (harmless or otherwise) is everywhere and that nobody is to be trusted implicitly? On a personal note, I think I “grew out of” notions like God and spiritualism around the same time as I did the notion of Santa. I don’t recall being annoyed at the deception, either; at some point it just became a childish absurdity and I scoffed at my parents for persisting in the charade.
So would it be better or worse to deny one’s child this experience? Should we rather explain as best we can the lessons that would be learned through it, rather than perpetuate the white lies? At the very least, it seems that the lies do less harm than one might think.
There have been times on this blog when I have alluded to my dislike for the word “Darwinism”. Well, now I have an excuse to let rip with a rant on the subject, courtesy of a new article on BBC News by Andrew Marr:
I have a lot of time for Andrew Marr; I think as a historian and particularly as a presenter of history, he has a great deal to offer. But in this case, he is either ignorant of the facts, or simply creating a controversy for the sake of having something to say on the matter. Because what does his article actually argue?
The majority of it is taken up with what he himself describes as “trivial” comparisons between evolution and religion, such as the observation that the natural history museums of Oxford and London bare a striking resemblance to cathedrals. Religion has heretics, evolution has heretics – Richard Owen. Religions have holy artifacts, evolution has holy artifacts – dinosaur bones. Religious people make pilgrimages, and Darwin’s journey could be compared to such a trek. Marr’s admission of the triviality of these weak parallels points to exactly how useless and arbitrary they are.
After this horrendous triviality, he goes on to what might be called the “meat” of his argument. Which is that the more striking similarity between what he calls “Darwinism” (shudder) and religion is that it “offers both a method and a message”. The method is the scientific method of observation and experiment, contrasted with the religious method of prayer and mantras. The message is about the importance of the web of life, as opposed to religion’s emphasis on, I suppose, nonsense.
He claims that “to deal with the consequences [of climate change and species extinction], we have to turn to scientific evidence, which will be brought to us by – yes – Darwinists.” This reveals the definition of “Darwinism” with which he is working in this article: to my eye, it seems to be nothing more than a synonym for “scientist”. The only criteria by which he judges someone to be a Darwinist is her adherence to the scientific method, something which predates Darwin himself by a good number of years (try hundreds if not thousands).
This is why I object to the term “Darwinism”. Because that’s not what it’s describing. The word seems to describe a dogma whereby one man’s word is taken as unquestionable truth; this is not the case with Darwin, as often it is scientists (those Marr would not hesitate to describe as Darwinists) who are the first to point out the flaws in his theory. Indeed, he himself devoted much of his great work On the Origin of Species to detailing the holes and flaws in what he had produced, challenging if not pleading others to improve upon it. When you use the word “Darwinism” to describe the pursuit of the scientific method, which unavoidably questions Darwin, you are setting up a confusing, oxymoronic term.
So what is the conclusion of Marr’s argument, answering the question he asks at the start, “In this year of his double anniversary, are we in danger of turning Charles Darwin if not into God, at least into the founder of a secular religion?”?
“Darwinism, as I take it, is a creed of observation, fact, a deep modesty about conclusions and lifelong readiness to be proved wrong.
I don’t say it offers everything that religion can. But I do say that, in this respect, it is better.
However we celebrate the old man, we mustn’t let his work crust into creed or harden to dogma.”
So, basically, there is no danger of Darwinism (taken as he takes it, in that oxymoronic way) turning into a religion – as long as we don’t let it turn into a religion.
Thank you, Andrew. That was a truly
tautological useful piece of journalism.
Maybe I’m just bitter because when I heard the TV programme announced upon which this article is based, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, I was hoping beyond hope for some kind of adaptation of the Dan Dennett book of the same name, which I guarantee you is a worthier read.
“More than one-fifth prefer creationism or intelligent design, while many others are confused about Darwin’s theory.”
Right from the start, we have a misleading headline which suggests (not explicitly, but leaves open for misinterpretation) that half of Britons are creationists. In fact it’s less than one quarter.
The real story here is that, to my mind at least, the creationist campaign – particularly that of intelligent design – has succeeded in blurring the issue. While I don’t know that more people believe in creationism, I think more people are under the impression that there is doubt where no serious rational doubt exists. I can’t seem to bring the previous figures to hand, though – so if you know what they were, please let me know – particularly if I’ve got it wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if this poll returned the exact same results as last time, actually. It wasn’t that long ago. Also, let’s not go over the many ways this data could be skewed – I’d at least want to know what questions were asked before trying to draw any sensible conclusions.
I’m all in favour of having these issues out in the open where they can be discussed, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here. Creationists are campaigning to get their rubbish accepted to the same degree as evidence-based theories, and disguising it under the banner of freedom of speech and open debate. Scientists are not blameless, either – more needs to be done to promote the public understanding of science, which would hopefully prevent a quarter of people from simply being “confused” by evolution. Those who bear the overwhelming burden of responsibility here, though, are the media; while there is a great deal of good science on the BBC and elsewhere (Attenborough being the absolute pinnacle), there is too much dumbing-down, and ignoring of science stories in favour of sensationalism and big headlines.
There is no easy solution, nor one single person or group to blame. What I do know is that 50% is too high a proportion of the population to be in any serious doubt about the theory of evolution.