It's tempting to draw that conclusion, and many of my liberal and atheistic friends believe it. Bill Maher was on O'Reilly in a fairly interesting interview and in that interview where Maher scoffs a little at religious belief O'Reilly charges him with elitism. Maher thinks he's so much better than typical Americans according to O'Reilly. O'Reilly paints himself as if he's in league with the so called "rubes" that Maher would ridicule.
The fact that 44% of Americans in a 2006 poll believe that man was created by God as is less than 10,000 years ago doesn't help matters. Another 2006 international poll on beliefs regarding evolution had the US second to last, worsted only by Turkey.
I happened to be at a church last night that was spending the evening showing that the whole universe was created about 6,000 years ago. It was very much geared towards children. I spoke with some of the members after the talk and told them I was an atheist interested in understanding their viewpoints. They were very much warm and otherwise reasonable people explaining to me how the evidence really does show that the universe is young. Look at the limited amount of river deposits at places like the Mississippi River. Look at the earths gravitational field and how it couldn't have decayed to the present value over billions of years.
The correlation I tend to expect would be that as a nation becomes more industrialized and more prosperous it becomes less fundamentalist. But that's not true in the United States. We're an extremely fundamentalist country. You'd probably have to go to Saudi Arabia or Iran to find a similar level of widespread religious dogmatism and the shunning of science. Why is that? Are Americans simply idiots?
I don't think that is correct. As I continue to peruse the results of polls I'm surprised to find over and over that the American people hold views that are quite sensible. This is often in the face of intense propaganda meant to convince them of other views. So take NAFTA, for instance. I recall the wall to wall cheer leading on behalf of NAFTA both from Democrats and Republicans. The media was lock step. Somehow the American people as a whole recognized that it wasn't good for them and didn't want it. They opposed it at a 2 to 1 rate. The general consensus as I understand it is that NAFTA has been harmful to the poor of all countries involved. But not for the rich. The income gap between rich and poor continues to grow as a consequence of NAFTA and other policies. Income gaps in the United States set another record in 2009. It appears to me that Americans understood that this would happen even in the face of intense propaganda. How did they know that?
Or take the war in Iraq. The media was generally uniform in accepting governmental claims regarding the war. Even still the American people supported the war as implemented by Bush at only a 33% rate (sadly I must admit that I would have been among the supporters). The view of the American people is pretty sensible. They supported war with UN authorization.
The United States, being the most powerful country in the world, naturally is subjected to propaganda to an unusual extent. Naturally many powerful people have a vested interest in controlling the will of the world's most influential public. So for instance when a UN fact finding mission reports that the IDF shot an American citizen in the head execution style, this simply is not going to be widely reported. The reason is because many powerful and wealthy people (such as those that belong to AIPAC) prefer that this story not be told because it doesn't serve their interest. Americans are often uninformed about basic facts known widely throughout the world. But the rest of the world is not subjected to the kind of intense propaganda the US is subjected to.
So what about this belief that mankind is no older than 10,000 years or that evolution is false? Why are these opinions so widespread in the United States despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? The answer is probably somewhat complex, but I tend to think that powerful and wealthy interests have something to do with it. Religion is largely thought control. Wealthy interests naturally benefit from certain kinds of thought control. And also from keeping the population ignorant. I'd be curious to understand if this plays a part in the off the scale non-scientific beliefs held by Americans.