You know what they say about New Jersey. No, not that thing. The other thing: Only the strong survive. If this is so, basic science literacy is just barely surviving, though starving, abused, and neglected.
Though I make my home in Maine and have spent years in Virginia and DC, I am a native New Jerseyan. Not only do I trace my cultural origins to the Garden State (I was born in Denver, but we left when I was not even a year old), but I have the rare distinction of being from both North and South Jersey, which, as anyone who has lived in Jersey knows, are essentially two different countries.
So I felt like I knew the place. Jersey. Certainly not the Center of Enlightenment, but still metropolitan, densely-populated, pretty well-educated (save for some blighted urban areas), and generally part of the wall of Blue States that have opted to continue plodding into the 21st Century.
Then Monmouth University releases a poll, and my ancestral pride is smashed.
In its new survey (PDF), Monmouth shows that a meager 51% of New Jerseyans accept evolution, while the correspondingly-jaw-dropping 49% reject it.
It couldn’t be, I thought. That’s not my state.
Only 69% of college graduates accept evolution (and I think I went to college with some of them, and I think they were marine biology majors at that).
Happily, a full 20% consider the Bible to be wholly fictional, which is a little better than the rest of the country, and NJ also improves on the U.S. at large on the literalism question, with 24% thinking the Bible is inerrant, versus 30% nationwide.
I’m still reeling, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. Though Jersey is often thought of as essentially a crowded outcropping of Manhattan, it also sports a surprising rural demographic in the south, where, let’s just say, education is not as highly valued as it might be in, say, Princeton or Edison. There are also many urban areas crushed by poverty and crime that probably get no familiarity with basic scientific concepts. And there is also a substantial conservative bloc of wealthy religious conservatives that keep electing House Members like this guy who want our kids to learn intelligent design in science classes. It’s not San Francisco, in other words.
Monmouth did something interesting with this poll, though, in that they didn’t limit their look at New Jerseyan supernaturalism to the Abrahamic god. They also asked about our state’s pet demon-thing, the Jersey Devil.
Now I spent my teen years right in the middle of Jersey Devil Country — I even lived right off of Jimmie Leeds Road (the Leeds name is associated with the creature, and I was even told as a kid that the legend is that a member of the Leeds family in the 1700s who was impregnated by Satan gave birth to the Jersey Devil… I was told how it came out, flew around the room, screeched, and escaped, and then I had many nightmares). But the only people who ever talked about the thing were my grandparents, and that was just to scare me, which it did.
Well, it seems the Leeds Devil is losing his mythical potency — a mere 11% of South Jerseyans still believe.
And I don’t believe in him, either. That’s right, not at all.
Okay, but I will say that I’m a lot more scared of him than I am of Yahweh. What does that say about me?!