Rewarding stupidity

By | 2013/05/08

For a while there’s been a photo circulating on Reddit, Facebook, etc., of a 4th grader’s science test in the USA. If you’ve not seen it, here it is:

4th Grade “science” test

According to Snopes, which is a fairly reliable site for debunking or proving what may otherwise be urban legends on the net (the above image links to the article), this is indeed the true content of an exam paper from a christian school in the United States.

Three quotes in particular spring to mind when I think of the above ‘test’. First, Aldous Huxley:

Facts do not cease to exist when they are ignored.

Following that, you have Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said:

You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.

Ironically, the third quote comes from the religious author, theologian and philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard:

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

There seems to be a grievously erroneous mentality amongst some – particularly when such fundamental religious attitudes come into play – that if a belief system doesn’t match reality, then it’s reality that’s wrong. When combined with a blatantly narcissistic attitude that a failure to understand science or technology actually invalidates that science or technology, and the Dunning-Kruger effect, this creates a perfect storm for such unpleasant stupidity to take root.

It’s one thing to have an argument about whether a god does or does not exist. I accept that it can’t be proven, and I believe there isn’t, based on the overwhelming lack of evidence. After all, comparing both ancient religious statements and scientific discovery, what is ascribed to divinity is clearly god of the gaps. And year by year, little by little, those gaps disappear.

Something some religious people – particularly of the bent that produces a ‘test’ such as the above – obsess about fairly regularly is sin. The seven deadly sins are drummed into many christians, for instance: envy, gluttony, greed,lust, pride, sloth and wrath.

In this, the information age, there’s another sin they forget: stupidity. Not where it refers to someone’s IQ, of course – it’s repellent to judge someone based on their intelligence. Where it is critical though is when someone is deliberately stupid, by refusing to acknowledge or deal with facts.

Sadly, there’s a significant cultural and psychological shift required for humanity to get past this. As demonstrated by the continued existence of the flat earth society, and other groups dedicated to rampant stupidity, I’m reminded of perhaps the most single statement I heard during University, from the head of the Philosophy department:

Old and stupid ideas don’t die out, the people who hold them grow old and die.

We’re still, lamentably, at a point where it’s socially acceptable to fabricate whole alternate views of reality as a substitute for the acceptance of reality.

We’re still rewarding stupidity.

Maybe that’s the most stupid thing of all.