Most of you have heard of the two cultures concept, articulated more than half a century ago by C. P. Snow. He was concerned about a growing divergence between the sciences and the humanities.
Here’s one quote from Snow that appears in the Wikepedia article:
I remember G. H. Hardy once remarking to me in mild puzzlement, some time in the 1930s, “Have you noticed how the word ‘intellectual’ is used nowadays? There seems to be a new definition which certainly doesn’t include Rutherford or Eddington or Dirac or Adrian or me? It does seem rather odd, don’t y’know.”
What Snow was talking about is a cultural divide among intellectuals. It’s an accurate observation, still relevant today, but in our humble opinion it misses an even larger point — there is a far greater cultural divide that Snow didn’t address.
As you have already guessed, we’re referring to what is revealed in numerous public opinion polls, for example this one from December 2010 by the Gallup Organization: Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism. The title pretty much tells the tale, but this is their lead paragraph:
Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement.
What we’re getting at is that before we consider the cultural divide of Snow’s intellectuals, which is a rather narrow concern as to whether Shakespearean scholars know anything about physics (and vice versa), we should be aware that there is a large number of people who live in utter isolation from anything that might be considered intellectual. Snow is talking about what we might call two “micro cultures” within academia, and we’re talking about two “macro cultures” in the population as a whole.
Creationism is probably the most common belief of non-intellectual people, and thus it can be used to characterize the entire group. They are not merely ignorant (which is excusable), they are fiercely anti-science, anti-reason, and ultimately anti-reality. Creationists are well-represented in both major political parties — 52% of them being Republican, and 34% Democrats. Perhaps the most disturbing datum in Gallup’s study is that among the 40% of Americans who are creationists, 37% were college graduates.
Ignoring an odd handful, creationist college graduates aren’t science majors, except for those who study the Babylonian version of biology at bible college. Our assumption is that most creationist graduates majored in sociology, political science, ethnic studies, postmodernism, feminist studies, community organizing, and other disciplines of similar value. We don’t really know. We do know, however, that merely graduating from college is no assurance that the graduate is educated — not in any meaningful sense. In other words, merely sending people to college doesn’t resolve the problem of the two macro cultures.
Outside of the faculty lounge, the existence of Snow’s two cultures is a trivial issue. The real issue — for our entire civilization — is the immense cultural chasm that exists out there in the rest of the population. Closing that gap is a vital challenge, and it’s not getting done with the educational system we have. We don’t know what the answer is, but the first step is recognizing that the problem exists.
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