More than half of Americans oppose the use of Arabic numerals!

December 29, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Just a bit of fun, but the headline below is true. The survey on which it’s based is reported in this article in from the Independent, which you can see by clicking on the screenshot:(you can register for free with email and a password if it’s blocked; there’s no paywall)

So, here are some results given in the article:

More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey.

Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not be part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.

John Dick, who happens to be the head of Civic Science, issued this tweet with the data in graphic form, which I’ve put below as well:

Now Dick thinks this is an example of bigotry—”Islamophobia,” I suppose. I’m not so sure. Although I am sure that many of us know that Arabic numerals are the numerals we use every day, some people don’t, and, this being America, it’s possible that nobody has told children that they are learning “Arabic numerals.” The 56% figure could thus represent ignorance rather than bigotry, although both could play a role.  But Dick seems wedded to the latter explanation. Regardless, if it is ignorance, it’s pretty appalling. After all, everyone knows what Roman numerals are!

But wait! There’s more. There was so much doubt about this survey’s results that Snopes had to investigate it.

In its headline Snopes says “It’s difficult to answer survey questions if you don’t fully understand the meaning.” I’m pretty sure, from following them, that Snopes is woke,but their assumption that there’s no anti-Arabic bigotry involved is just a guess.

You can read their analysis, in which they reluctantly admit that the claim is true, by clicking on the screenshot below.

But wait! There’s still more! You get this special grapefruit-cutting knife if you read on—for free!


Those were the results of a real survey question posed by the polling company Civic Science. John Dick, the Twitter user who originally posted a screenshot of the survey question, is the CEO of Civic Science.

The full survey doesn’t appear to be available at this time (we reached out to Civic Science for more information), but Dick has posted a few other questions from the poll, as well as some information regarding the purpose of the survey.

Dick, who said that the “goal in this experiment was to tease out prejudice among those who didn’t understand the question,” shared another survey question about what should or shouldn’t be taught in American schools. This time, the survey found that 53% of respondents (and 73% of Democrats) thought that schools in America shouldn’t teach the “creation theory of Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre” as part of their science curriculum. Here are the results:

33% of Republicans, a whopping 73% of Democrats, and 52% of independents thought that Lemaître’s theory should NOT be taught.

Now this question is more unfair, because, really, how many Americans know what the “creation theory of Georges Lemaître” was? If you read about science and religion, or have followed this site for a while, you’ll know that, although he was a Catholic priest, Lemaître held pretty much the modern theory of the Big Bang and the expanding Universe. As Wikipedia notes:

Lemaître was the first to theorize that the recession of nearby galaxies can be explained by an expanding universe, which was observationally confirmed soon afterwards by Edwin Hubble. He first derived “Hubble’s law”, now called the Hubble–Lemaître law by the IAU, and published the first estimation of the Hubble constant in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article. Lemaître also proposed the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe, calling it the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”, and later calling it “the beginning of the world”.

Yes, and Lemaitre did other science, including analyzing cosmology using Einstein’s theories of relativity. He was a smart dude, and should have gone into physics instead of the priesthood. There’s a photo of him with Einstein below.

Why did so many people answer that Lemaître’s theory, which is, as I said, is pretty much the current theory of the Universe’s origin, NOT be taught? Surely it’s because the question identified Lemaître as a “Catholic priest”. That means that people probably thought his “theory” was the one expounded in Genesis chapters 1 and 2—God’s creation. So they didn’t want a religious theory taught in school.

Two points: most Republicans didn’t mind as much as Democrats of Independents, and that may be because more Republicans are creationists than are Democrats. But why did so many Democrats not want Lemaître’s theory taught? Are they that much less creationist than are Republicans? Perhaps that’s one answer. Another is that they are more anti-Catholic, but that seems less likely. But underlying these data—as perhaps underlying much of the data about Arabic numerals—is simple ignorance. I, for one, wouldn’t expect the average Joe or Jill (oops!) to know what Lemaître said.

One final remark: Accommodationists sometimes use the fact that Lemaître got it right as evidence that there’s no conflict between science and religion. I’m not sure if Lemaître thought God created the Universe, but if he did, he might have thought that the Big Bang was God’s way of doing it. (He was surely NOT a Biblical literalist). So yes, religious people can and have made big contributions to science. But that doesn’t mean that religion and science are compatible—any more than Francis Collins’s biological work shows that science and Evangelical Christianity are compatible. I’ve explained what I mean by “compatible” before, and it’s NOT that religious people can’t do science.

In the case of Lemaître, Francis Collins, or other religious scientists, they are victims of a form of unconscious cognitive dissonance: accepting some truth statements based on the toolkit of science, and other truth statements based on the inferior “way of knowing” of faith. And that is the true incompatibility: the different ways that we determine scientific truth as opposed to religious “truth.”

But I digress, and so shall stop.

George Lemaître (1894-1966), photo taken in 1930:

From Wikipedia:

(From Wikipedia): Millikan, Lemaître and Einstein after Lemaître’s lecture at the California Institute of Technology in January 1933.

h/t: Phil D.

132 thoughts on “More than half of Americans oppose the use of Arabic numerals!

  1. The second question, phrased as “. . . the creation theory of Catholic priest Georges Lemaître . . . ” seems purposely worded to get a desired result. If it had been phrased more honestly—the theory of the origin of the Universe by scientist Georges Lemaître—it would get a more accurate assessment.

    In other words, this survey is of little value.

    1. I think you are wrong on this, like Jerry.
      If one knows what Arabic numbers are one’s answer to the survey question is very likely to be: “Yes”, Arab numerals should be taught in school. After all, using them has served us well. So why fix something that isn’t broken?
      If you don’t know what Arabic numbers are you have two choices: You can answer “I don’t know”, or you can answer “Yes” or “No”. If you don’t know what the question is about but don’t want to answer “Don’t know, on what basis would you answer “No”? Because you don’t like Arabs you could assume that Arab numbers must be bad too. So you answer “No”.
      The other possibility for respondents who don’t know what Arab numbers are is that they choose their answer at random (in which case a respondent would be equally likely to answer “Yes” or “No”). But if we assume that people who don’t know what Arab numbers are and who did not want to answer “Don’t know” answered randomly, you can’t explain why the percentage of “No” answers is 56%. It should be approximately (100 – % of “Don’t know” responses – % of respondents who know what Arab numbers are) / 2. [In reality, we don’t know the percentage of respondents in this survey who knew what Arab numbers are. The survey designers should be have included, at the end of the survey, a question that asked respondents to give an example of an Arab number. Then we would know which share of the 56% respondents who gave a “No” answer are prejudiced against Arabs]

      1. But what about the cosmology question? If it is framed as a ‘creation theory’, then it is misleading. ‘A theory of cosmology developed by a Catholic priest’ would have been more accurate.

      2. What is by far the most likely explanation for the “no” answers (and even some “yes” answers) is that the people didn’t know what Arabic numerals are, and thus assumed that teaching them would be replacing and/or having them taught together with “our” numerals. Opposition to this could be because they don’t want to have a bunch of new symbols taught to their children on top of the math they’re already learning, etc.

        This was a dumb survey that shows nothing but ignorance.

          1. That’s my point. It doesn’t show what it purports to show. It’s dumb from the perspective of the researchers’ supposed goals and their claims about the results.

      3. No, not necessarily. When asked whether Hebrew/Jewish traditional numerals should be taught at school in the US or Germany, I would clearly say no even though I do not “dislike Jews” and know and use the Hebrew system where appropriate (in some but not all Hebrew language contexts). But I do not think that random traditional numbers systems/symbols of diverse cultures need to be taught as part of math at public schools, schools should teach the international system currently in use in science everywhere and possibly one local traditional system if still of local relevance.
        What’s more, the question is purposefully misleading in that it implies (via diverse rules of linguistic pragmatics, like “be relevant”) that the Arabic numerals they are talking about are not currently taught at US schools. In fact, the actual number characters used today in Arabic differ somewhat from the form standardized in the West (so much so that Europeans first exposed to them struggle to read them). Even Arab Americans could be misled to think that the Arabic script rendering of the numerals should be taught in addition to what is currently taught.

        1. Did company ask neutrally and hope someone bothered to respond to the questions, or did they hype it? (Or as they say, “teased.” )

          Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show never fails to get comic results from (dimwitted) trumpers at their rallies. What was Civic Science’s introduction to get folk to take the survey in the first place?

    2. 1) It’s for fun, as our host immediately said. 2) for those who didn’t understand the question there was a “No opinion” option available.

      1. the problem being that these ignoramori thought they did understand the question. So the value of the survey is that it demonstrates that ignorance does not prevent people from having an opinion that they believe is correct. IOW they don’t know what they don’t know.

        although I am at a loss as to how anyone can go through twelve (or more) years of “education” without learning, at some point, what arabic numerals are. And yes – the big bang is a creation theory.

    3. That was the point. Both questions were deliberately obfuscated because the survey authors wanted to learn something about the respondents not directly related to the question itself. If you don’t know what Arabic numerals are, you have two choices: admit you don’t know or make up stuff based on what you do understand and perhaps your prejudices.

      Similarly, if you don’t know what Lemaître’s theory is, you’d probably latch on to the word “creation” and give your answer based on your feelings about creationism and it is those attitudes that they are interested in.

      Incidentally, what we call “Arabic numerals” are not really Arabic. The system was invented in India and came to Europe via Arab countries. Arabs don’t use the same actual symbols as we do. For example, when I was in Jordan, I found the number system incomprehensible at first but easy to “crack” because the system was the same and only the symbols were different (corresponding to “Eastern Arabic” in the picture below).

      They even write numbers with the larger magnitudes on the left and the units on the right as we do even though their writing system goes right to left.

      1. I agree. I have almost no science education. I know, however, that our numbers are called Arabic numerals. I learnt that in primary school. The second question I would have been confused by, so I would have looked up the name “Lemaître” to see what he said. Once I knew who he was, I would naturally have wanted his stuff taught. However, without the chance to do that, I would have latched onto the fact he was a Catholic priest and the word “creation”. I would still be confused though because a priest didn’t come up with the creation myth.

        1. The second question I would have been confused by, so I would have looked up the name “Lemaître” to see what he said.

          To be honest, I was struggling to remember who Lemaître was, and what his theory was. I blame it on having listened to a discussion of Laplace and his cosmogony a few days ago, and my braincell was getting hooked onto the wrong name.
          Long time, no see round here – and no emails of new entries from your blog. Still got the usual cranium:limb ratio?

      2. Or, you assume that “Arabic numerals” are different from the ones we already use, and thus assume that, no, you don’t want your kids to be forced to learn an entirely new set of numerals in addition to the ones they already use and know how to use.

        1. When my older brother was around 8 [circa 1961], he came home from school and announced that he was learning “cursive writing.” My parents were appalled; they thought that the school was teaching him to write curse words. Seriously. My mother was the one who told me this years later.

    4. It would have been a more accurate assessment of the fact that hardly anyone knew who Lemaître was; which you didn’t need a survey to find out. But it would not have been an assessment of people’s willingness to assert an opinion based on nothing more than it related to a Catholic priest; which is interesting.

    1. I’ve never seen of an alphanumberic keyboard which couldn’t represent the Indo-Arabic number system.
      In fact – and for some this would be the ultimate condemnation – I’ve seen them being used on Russian computers. Obviously they’re part of some horrendous scheme to undermine society.

  2. Well, if they had also asked whether Roman numerals should be taught in schools, at least we would have some basis for comparison. But I guess we’re just Big Banged up, with nothing we can count on.

    1. Roman numerals should be taught in schools

      Well, they’re essential to reading the output from any program written in Intercal.
      COME from Where
      Where :

  3. “Yes, and Lemaitre did other science, including analyzing cosmology using Einstein’s theories of relativity. He was a smart dude, and should have gone into physics instead of the priesthood. There’s a photo of him with Einstein below.“

    Actually, he went into both. However, he worked primarily as a scientist. Most famous is his research in cosmology, but he also worked on cosmic rays, and also numerical analysis. His scientific degrees are all from top-notch institutions.

    1. he also was horrified when people would try to assume his religious beliefs had some kind of connection with the science he did. He was a Jesuit, and that is pretty common among them.

        1. Thanks. I had assumed he was a Jesuit because he went to one of the schools. Not much interested in all that stuff myself.

  4. I tried the question on my wife and she just looked at me for a moment and then said – do you mean one, two, three, four? So no dummies here. Ignorance and bigotry kind of go hand in hand.

  5. Actually, “Arabic numerals” is a complete misnomer. Numbers as used in Arabic today, bear almost no resemblance to the numerals used in the West!

    1. There was no defining time frame. It could have been toes and fingers as to whether ethnic value was determined.

      In my professional opinion a bunch of doo dah.

    2. Among arithmeticians, there is a strong belief, based on some evidence, that the Arabs learned the number system we use from their interaction with educated people in India. I remember (faintly) that there was some scant evidence that the Indians had learned our numbering system from Greeks (in what is now Afghanistan), who’d been isolated from the rest of Alexander’s polities. Maybe we’re using Greek numbers?

        1. That is ambiguous – it could refer to H-O (a free radical observed in astronomical objects at very low pressures), H-O-H (common water), H-O-O-H (a mild bleaching agent), or H-O-O-O-H (giver of nightmares to pilots of Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket plane).
          I’ve got a vague memory of H-O-O-O-O-H being discussed somewhere, but that may have been in terms of it’s impossibility, or having a half-life best expressed in Planck times.

  6. Actually I was encouraged by the answer that was given to the Lemaitre question. I seriously doubt that the majority of people asked actually knew who Lemaitre was and so gave and answer based on the fact that he was a Catholic priest and assumed (wrongly!) that he was a 4004BC merchant! Additionally why did people say that they believed in the creation theory as stated by Lemaitre? There are two possibilities: that they actually knew who Lemaitre was and hence answered accordingly or that they believed that he was a 4004BC merchant! Both groups would have answered the same.

  7. Some truth. Years ago I was taught that number numeral. For a long time Roman numerals were actually taught in arithmetic, so you could read cornerstones and keep track of monarchs and Super Bowls and blood clotting proteins, I guess. So for full marks you had to specify “Arabic numeral” in other uses.
    Not so long ago I was spelling out my e-mail address to a young intake person and to avoid to/too/two/2 confusion said “. . . a…m…Arabic numeral 2″. She gave me a panicked wide-eyed look…”Huh? (OMG Am I supposed to know this?)” She had no idea what I was talking about. “Number 2” was fine.

    1. I might say ‘the usual name of the number normally pronounced in English the same as “t-o-o” ‘.

      While extracting my tongue from my cheek I’d be wondering how she’d react to that silly pedanticism.

      1. This reminds me of the time I had to spell out my name over the phone. I did not know call signs then, so I decided to use country and state names. China, Hungary, Egypt, Texas, and India went over rather well. But for wye, all I could think of was Yugoslavia. There was no Yugoslavia at the time, and the guy at the other end had no clue. Now I use call signs. It was going well until a woman working for the water people thought my first name was Charlie 🙂

        1. The UK has allocated over £36 billion for its Covid Test and Trace system. When we got a phone call after my youngest daughter tested positive, the caller couldn’t understand the postcode (like the US zipcode) for her school even after my wife spelled it out using the standard “hotel, delta, tango” stuff. When the postcode was finally established the name of the school didn’t match the test-and-trace database because the name had changed more than two years previously. All this, even though the school name etc. and many of the other details the caller asked for were uploaded when we reported the positive test result online in the first place. Taxpayers money well spent, I’m sure…

          Today, the UK reported 183,037 new cases of Covid. I’m not betting on Test and Trace finding their recent contacts, and their contacts’ contacts, etc.

            1. The reason being, quite simply, that the decimal number system has (mathematical) base ten, while alphanumeric systems can have base up to 36. (39 for Cyrillic-numeric systems.)
              That leads to shorter encodings.
              IIRC, the 100,000 possible addresses in America are encoded with 5 decimal characters in a ZIP code, while the AA##(#)AA system used in Britain can enumberate 456,976,000 addresses. Clearly Britain is nearly half a million times bigger than America. Or American ZIP codes has half a million houses in each ZIP code. Or … something more complicated.

    2. Oops, forgot that the inequality can’t be typed as less-than greater-than as WordPress looks inside the angle brackets for a formatting code and doesn’t render the angle brackets themselves. What I meant was “number is not equivalent to numeral”.

          1. We haven’t had the “how do you do the ‘cats paws’ symbol” conversation for a while.
            I wonder how many of this lot break? % ‰ ‱ ⁰¹²³⁴⁵⁶⁷⁸⁹ ₀₁₂₃₄₅₆₇₈₉ × % ⅒ ⅑ ⅛ ⅐ ⅙ ⅕ ¼ ⅓ ⅜ ⅖ ½ ⅗ ⅔ ⅘ ⅚ ⅝ ¾ ⅞ ÷

      1. Here’s some personal sort of confession, but ends related to Ken’s amusing joke.

        Furthermore, my good old Mum is long dead now (she being among those not wishing to use ‘bad’ words, but certainly a person of innumerable good qualities).

        And my cancer of the colon (not cancer of the semi-colon—oops, politically incorrect unoriginal joke), in which I had a particular operation, was many years ago and psychologically it never bothered me because it came as a surprise after the surgeon had already killed it, lengthening considerably a procedure supposed to be merely for a burst appendix (leading to another joke to my fellow ski racers: that I have had a surgical lightening, leading to less weight to slow me down on the uphills—If you hate that one, an even worse one is my response telling those who accuse me of being full of shit that it’s false even by pure logic, because the theoretical upper limit is now being only 2/3 full of shit).

        After that breathless intro, my point related to Ken’s joke is that I have long threatened relatives, who would comprehend the title, to write my autobiography and entitle it

        ‘Number 2 number 2’,

        a common morning ritual for reasons of above 2nd and 3rd paragraphs.

        And here I’d thought my mum had coined the 2-word phrase! My wife and daughter have just informed me it’s common. What kind of stuff are they reading?!

        1. And my cancer of the colon (not cancer of the semi-colon—oops, politically incorrect unoriginal joke)

          Somehow I don’t think the aboriginal inhabitants of the south island of the San Serife archipelago are going to complain – much.
          I’m wishing we’d actually kept that travel special from the Grauniad. They must be worth a few bob now.

      2. Certainly more easily accomplished than an exact value of the square root of 2.

        A recently heard corny joke: If a drummer comes out of retirement, what are the repercussions?

  8. “….accepting some truth statements based on the toolkit of science, and other truth statements based on the inferior “way of knowing” of faith. ”

    Surely saying nothing new to people here, it’s much worse than that, in that the second phrase could be ‘..accepting as true other statements whose negation has been established by the toolkit of science.’

    It’s not as though Jesus sauntering across the surface of a lake, or, more germane, a man, dead for 30 or 40 hours, getting up for a pee and some breakfast.

  9. The most shocking thing from the Snopes report was that 19% of Dems ‘favored bombing the city of “Agrabah,” which, is a fictional locale from the Disney animated film Aladdin’. (Less surprising was that 41% of Trump supporters shared that view.)

  10. The so-called “Arabic” numerals are actually from India as the post notes. But the spread came about, I believe, due to Muslim colonization of the Indian sub-continent.

    I believe that the most inventive of those numbers is the number “0” and India was one of the handful of places, actually maybe less than that, to conceive of the number 0 as a computational device.

    Is any of what I write above incorrect?

    1. I suspect you’re on the right lines. According to Wikipedia:

      In AD 813, astronomical tables were prepared by a Persian mathematician, Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, using Hindu numerals; and about 825, he published a book synthesizing Greek and Hindu knowledge and also contained his own contribution to mathematics including an explanation of the use of zero.

      Of course, al-Khwārizmī’ has another claim to fame in that his name has since been corrupted to “algorithm”.

    2. It’s certainly true that “Arabic numerals” is a misnomer, as any look at the numerals as used in contemporary Arabic would indicate!

  11. None of this is surprising. Joe Rogan is currently our greatest living public intellectual.

    I highly recommend the satire “Don’t Look up!” on Netflix. It captures the current anti-intellectual climate of this nation perfectly.

    Also, Thomas Lovejoy has died. A lecture he gave long ago at the Field Museum on his forest fraction project was the first scientific presentation that I attended. I’ve never been able to understand his connection to an organization called Artists for Human Rights, which has been described as a front organization for Scientology. Although, I do know he often tried to enlist celebrities to his cause in support of preserving Earth’s biodiversity.

  12. After all, everyone knows what Roman numerals are!

    That’s ’cause they use ’em to keep track of Super Bowls. But even that’s gotten kinda confusing for Yanks since the “L” crept into the count about a decade and a half ago.

      1. Yanks would be completely lost trying to keep track of cinematic versions of Billy Shakes’s Henriad history plays, between the Roman numerals and the Parts I, 2, etc. 🙂

        1. According to my mother, Americans in the audience at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances at Stratford-upon-Avon in the ’70s frequently brought copies of the plays with them and audibly complained about the actors “going too fast”.

          Sadly, Dad can’t remember those days, but shared a house with Michael Ensign which we visited during school holidays and later it always came as a surprise to my sister and myself when Michael popped up in films like Midnight Express, Ghostbusters, Titanic etc. But then according to Wikipedia, Michael’s “a classic example of ”’Hey! It’s that guy!” –a versatile character actor with a long and illustrious career, but who you probably can’t identify by name, or even where you’ve seen him”.

  13. Another is that they [Democrats] are more anti-Catholic …

    That would be quite the turnaround from the old FDR Democratic coalition, when big-city Democratic machine politics was dominated by Catholics — mostly Irish, but also Italians and central Europeans. In those days “Papist” was a slur directed at Catholics (mostly Democratic, mostly ethnic) by the nativist Protestants who constituted the GOP base.

  14. These poll questions reveal a lot about how humans think in a limited information environment. They make assumptions. If one didn’t know our everyday numerals were Arabic numerals, the question will be received as suggesting we replace our numerals with some foreign country’s numerals. Hell no! I would be equally skeptical about some Catholic priest’s creation theory. I recognize Lemaitre as more than a priest but I have no idea what his creation theory was all about, therefore I smell a trick question. I agree with Snopes about poorly understood poll questions. They aren’t worth much.

  15. Perhaps the survey indicates the percentage of people willing to express an opinion when they do not understand the subject.

    They call them “Arabic Numerals”, but they are not the numbers commonly used in Arabic countries. If you are in the Suez canal, looking at mile markers to determine your position, the only numbers that closely match our system are 9 and 1. Their 5 looks like a 0. Their 6 looks like a 7.

    It brings up the issue of why we continue to call our system Arabic, when it is very different than the system used by Arabic writers. Maybe “Middle Hindu-Arabic” would be better, if awkwardly long.

    1. “Perhaps the survey indicates the percentage of people willing to express an opinion when they do not understand the subject” – indeed, its avowed purpose.

  16. How about a survey on whether teaching spelling and writing should be allowed of the main language occurring by evolution from languages of the Normans, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons?
    Or—did Jesus speak English fluently?

    I suppose ‘creation’ and ‘evolution’, and ‘discrimination’ for that matter, are all 4-letter words now, depending on the audience.

    It’s become difficult in a certain country now not to ask a so-called “trick question”.

    1. It’s certainly true. I’ve often thought that the real purpose of political parties is to prevent us from having to analyze each issue separately. Same for electing politicians rather than direct democracy where we vote on each issue. Of course, some people take this sort of laziness too far, outsourcing everything to Trump, QAnon, or the Woke.

  17. I wonder if a question was: should school children be taught the metric system? I suspect a small but significant portion would say no.

    1. Incredible though it may seem, there are prominent politicians here in the UK who see Brexit as an opportunity for the country to abandon the metric system and revert to the old imperial system. It is quite unclear how they think this would benefit us.

      1. It is quite unclear how they think this would benefit us.

        They’re politicians. The important (indeed, only) question that matters to them is not “how would this benefit the electorate?”, but “how would this benefit me?”.
        Sadly, there is a significant part of the electorate for whom doing anything differently to the people on the surrounding bits of land is a vote-winning idea.

      1. In part people are resistant to change. I know I can be. But I suspect it used to be a form of protectionism, but today with computers metric and imperial is no big deal. Here in Canada the locals are ambidextrous when it comes to litres/100 km and miles/gallon. I just have to make sure I know which gallon they are talking about … usually imperial.

        Also I remember decimalization of the coinage in the UK, old people will never understand this 100 new pence to the pound, but they coped with 20 shillings to the pound and twelve pennies to the shilling?

        1. It’s also that Americans often feel no need to do what other countries do, regardless of its merit. Health care and gun control are good examples. It’s the dark side of American exceptionalism.

          1. Florins were the beginning of the end … ten florins to the pound. Who would have thunk?

            I vaguely remember the Winston Churchill crowns being occasionally in circulation, but most likely ended up in collections.

  18. This is like asking people if they think Cyrillic alphabet should be taught in schools. The only thing it “proves” is that the people who said “no” don’t know that the numbers we already use are Arabic numerals. It doesn’t prove anything else, at all. It’s basically worthless.

    1. Indeed – but as I’ve repeatedly pointed out above, our host introduced this post by saying, in the very first sentence, “Just a bit of fun, but the headline below is true.” The whole point of the survey is that it isn’t serious, but also exposes ignorance – those who didn’t understand the question had an option to say they had no opinion.

      1. Yes, Jez; I don’t understand the rancor and repeated corrections that has taken place on this long thread. I wrote the whole thing tongue in cheek but had some tweets and graphs to go on.

        People seem to be loaded for bear during this pandemic!

        1. It’s not a response to you, but to the researchers (and, I’m assuming, the many articles/tweets/commentary we can expect in the coming weeks about how this ridiculous survey exposes islamophobia).

            1. See! I made an assumption that this was a new article, and formed an opinion based on information I thought I knew, but didn’t 🙂

      2. To paraphrase a jerk politician from days of yore:

        There are things you do understand, things you understand that you don’t understand, and things that you don’t understand that you don’t understand.

        Presumably it would not occur to the turds (oops, sorry–got that stuck in the brain)—to the third category to vote ‘no opinion’.

      3. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people who don’t know that the numbers we use are often referred to as “Arabic numerals” (although, as others have pointed out, “Arabic numerals” is itself a confusing term when it doesn’t provide any context with regard to time) thought they knew what “Arabic numerals” meant, and they thought it meant “numerals that are different from the ones we use, and are instead used in Arabic places.” Why choose “no opinion” when you do have an opinion, and it’s simply an opinion based on your own false knowledge?

        In fact, we all have opinions about things for which we lack the requisite knowledge, because we don’t realize that we lack the knowledge. Nobody is perfect.

  19. I wonder if all it shows is that people (present company included) loathe admitting ignorance and, rather than take the safe path of saying “I don’t know”, try to interpret questions as best as we can . . . much like we’re all doing.

    Not exactly proving bias, in my opinion, but rather a very common human tendency.

    Let’s all say it together . . . we don’t know what to make of this.

    Let’s also say . . . it’s fun playing “intent detectives” and working out the purpose of it all.

  20. Just bad polling. Bad questions. People don’t want change in the math curriculum, so if they don’t know what Arabic numerals are, they won’t want them used, whether they’re bigoted or not.

    And what exactly is the question about the “creation theory of Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre” trying to determine? Doesn’t tell us about creation vs. evolution, confounds Catholic vs. Protestant vs. other with the creation/evolution issue, confounds knowledge of Lemaitre’s theory with the creation/evolution issue. Stupid poll questions. Hard to know what the results mean.

  21. I don’t know if this comment is going to be allowed, but I’ll try anyway. I’m sure I won’t persuade many readers of this blog but who knows if it can inspire a few to delve deeper into philosophy ?

    I find this statement:

    “In the case of Lemaître, Francis Collins, or other religious scientists, they are victims of a form of unconscious cognitive dissonance: accepting some truth statements based on the toolkit of science, and other truth statements based on the inferior “way of knowing” of faith.”

    very very confused.

    I think Lemaitre would be quite surprised by the idea that scientific knowledge is somehow in “dissonance” with theism. The “toolkit” of science has absolutely nothing to do with theism or atheism by definition. Theism and atheism are metaphysical worldviews, not competing “truth statements” about physics ! Science is essentially irrelevant to the question, that’s just a category mistake.

    The distinction between “physics” and “metaphysics” is one the most (if not the most) basic philosophical distinction. It’s philosophy 101 really. The repeated failure to understand that from people who are supposedly interested by the question is really baffling.

    God is the answer to the question: why is there a physical reality at all ?
    Science is the study of the inner workings of this physical reality (given that we’ve got one !).

    Again, why is there a physical reality, and why is it intelligible and comprehensible, is a metaphysical question, not a physical one.

    I know, that the usual response from new atheists is the typical “where’s your evidence for God”. This kind of logical positivist view is really anti-intellectual in my opinion (logical positivism has been considered dead for about half a century by the way).

    The evidence is simply the whole of reality we experience. One always has to interpret this reality before concluding whether different metaphysical frameworks are more or less likely to be correct.

    Classical monotheism is a very deep and coherent such metaphysical framework to make sense of the existence of the physical reality, the fact that we perceive it through consciousness, and that it is intelligible to us. Thomas Nagel (an atheist) is supposed to have once said: “Theism solves a lot of philosophical problems !”.

    Now, even if, as I said, science is essentially irrelevant to the question, some aspects of reality (whether revealed by science or not) may fit more easily within one metaphysics than the other. For example, the extraordinary beauty and inteligibility of the natural world (including the fact that science is possible in the first place), the beggining of the universe as suggested by the big bang theory, the extreme fine tuning of the constant of phyiscs and the initial conditions at the big bang for life to be possible, quantum mechanics, the genetic code and the informatic nature of life, are all for me more easily accomodated by theism than by atheism. That’s my interpretation of reality as a whole, including many other of its aspects like morality.

    Under atheism, reality is ultimately a brute fact (a mindless and purposeless brute fact). Thus, because the rest of reality derives from this foundation, all of reality is also ultimately a brute fact and therefore ultimately unintelligible.

    Under classical monotheism, physical reality is the result of a creative intention (analogous to a work of art). Thus, its beauty and intelligibility through our consciousness made in the image of God, makes perfect sense.

    In my experience, it’s really worth carefully exploring philosophy and metaphysics rather than saying that you won’t consider theism unless someone detects God in the laboratory (with a “God detector” ?) …

    1. Sorry, my friend, but YOU are the one who is confused I suggest you read my book, Faith Versus Fact, before you go asserting what or what not I believe.

      Religion makes truth statements (Just counting ChristianityJesus was the son of God, was resurrected, will save us all if we believe in him, was born of a virgin, there is a God, Jesus will return; we have an afterlife) These truth statements, like the Resurrection, are often the very basis of a religion, regardless of other metaphysical beliefs

      Science makes truth statements, too: evolution happened, there was a Big Bang, a molecule of water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, etc. We have ways, called the “tools of science’ to ascertain these truths.

      The ways of supporting truth statements in science and religion differ; the former uses authority, scripture, revelation (apparently you’ve been subject to all these); the latter observation, testing, consensus of observers, predictions, experiments, and so on. These ways of ascertaining what you think you know are incompatible (I haven’t mentioned atheism, notice). Religion can’t even get a consensus: every religion is based on “truths” that are incompatible with the “truths” of other religions (Jesus was resurrected or not; there is one god or many). Religious “truth” statements, therefore, like your belief in a God, are based not on “consensus” evidence but on wish-thinking and propaganda to the young. If you’d been born in Saudi Arabia, you’d have a different religion but the scientific knowledge would be the same.

      Your evidence for God, like the genetic code, the Big Bang (not in the Bible), quantum mechanics, etc. have alternative explanations from science. You just prefer to believe in God, perhaps because you were taught that way or perhaps you have confirmation bias that makes you see everything through the lens of a god.

      You are the one who’s very, very confused as to what counts as “evidence’. How do you know there’s only one God, or a god? Because the genetic code? Give me a break.

      Read my book Faith Versus Fact, which you almost surely haven’t. And you have violated the Roolz.

    2. God is the answer to the question: why is there a physical reality at all ?

      That is like inventing a word and calling it an answer.

      Again, why is there a physical reality, and why is it intelligible and comprehensible, is a metaphysical question, not a physical one.

      If it is a properly formed question at all. How do you know your question is well formed? The word ‘why’ has a concrete meaning in most everyday events we experience, but you are extending its application. What makes you think the word ‘why’ applies?

      The evidence is simply the whole of reality we experience.

      Yes. We experience a world and we have evidence for that, but you are positing a god. How is the world we experience evidence for god? Don’t you think we need a more detailed understanding of what the word ‘god’ means before we can consider physical reality as evidence for god’s existence? How would you know if you are right? Or wrong?

      Classical monotheism is a very deep and coherent such metaphysical framework to make sense of the existence of the physical reality, the fact that we perceive it through consciousness, and that it is intelligible to us.

      What do you mean by ‘make sense’? How would you know if you are wrong in that it ‘makes sense’. How would you find out?

      …the beggining of the universe as suggested by the big bang theory…

      There is no such suggestion. You are extending a classical theory and sticking the word ‘beginning’ into it. Cosmological models make assumptions about the uniformity of matter distributions as well, but we know that those do not work at small scales. That’s okay because they are good classical approximations. But the classical model fails at Planck scales and we do not have a theory of quantum gravity.

      Thus, its beauty and intelligibility through our consciousness made in the image of God, makes perfect sense.

      Your argument reduces to saying that ‘classical monotheism’ makes sense because it makes sense. The crucial part is what is meant by ‘makes sense’.

      There are people of other religions who also ‘reconcile’ their religions with the current scientific understanding of the world. To them too, it ‘makes sense’. The religious people with whom I have interacted want to believe — they desire to believe. Their epistemology contains truth by desire 🙂 That is fine, if it all ‘makes sense’ to them. But then they try to construct arguments to support their position 🙂

      Some people observe the world around them and construct, in their minds, an entity then call ghtyrmlp. Then they say that for this world to exist, there has to be a ghtyrmlp.

    3. Oh, heck, I’ll add my voice to the discussion . . .

      So, jobla73, since you’ve already discounted one of the three “explanations” for the existence of the universe, I won’t include “Chance” . . .

      . . . but, can you differentiate between your version (god or gods) and the idea we’re living in a computer simulation?

      And, if we could “know” for sure it was a computer simulation, how would you feel?

      Personally, how I live my life is unaffected by the consideration of the “truth” about creation.

      Meaning, no matter which I consider, Chance, God(s), or Simulation, it matters not to me. How can it? So, they are irrelevant.

      Seriously . . . other than you desiring it to be so, how do you differentiate between God or Gods, and a Simulation?

      Addendum: you use the term “brute fact” without offering a new concept, but rather changing the description of the very thing you had just spent many words lauding and admiring. But “brute” is a pejorative.

      Do this: replace “brute” with “amazing” or “wonderful” in that paragraph so that perhaps you can come a bit closer to understanding my (and other’s) lack of belief in a capricious and evil god.

    4. This is so muddled that it’s hard to know where to begin. But because Jerry and others have already rebutted many of your points, I’ll confine myself to your abuse of philosophy (I’m a philosopher of science myself)
      – Ironically, while you dismiss Jerry’s demand for evidence as “positivist”, it is in fact your insistence on a categorical separation between physics and metaphysics that is a hangover from logical positivism. Positivists believed they could make a neat distinction between what is “scientific” (meaningful) and what is “metaphysical” (meaningless, unscientific), based on their verification criterion of meaning. But that distinction has been abandoned at least since Quine, along with the criterion of verifiability. Most philosophers are scientific realists, even though “realism” would have been rejected as “meaningless metaphysics” by the positivists. By using inference to the best explanation, you can really support realism, or naturalism, or any other “metaphysical” view with scientific evidence. For non-positivists, “metaphysics” is just a word for science at a highest level of abstraction. But religious apologists like you have latched onto the positivist distinction between physics/metaphysics because it allows them to safeguard a special domain for God that science can’t touch. It’s a convenient immunizing strategy, but it’s bad philosophy.
      – With the old positivist opposition of physics vs. metaphysics out of the way, it’s clear that every religion makes truth claims about the universe and how it came about. These truth claims can be evaluated by the usual mode of ‘inference to the best explanation’ that is used throughout science. Ironically, again, your post unwittingly demonstrate this. After saying that religion and science have nothing to do with each other and that Jerry’s demand for evidence is a “category mistake”, you then turn around and try to adduce all sorts of “evidence” that allegedly comports better with theism than with naturalism, such as fine-tuning, the information in the genetic code, etc. That you don’t even notice this inconsistency is quite amusing. Needless to say, you’re completely wrong, as nothing about the “information of life” or “fine-tuning” suggests that theism is the best explanation of the universe. The “information” in the genetic code arises through evolution by natural selection, and as for the apparent “fine-tuning” of constants, this is often an artefact of our incomplete understanding and is often resolved through better science. It’s the old god-of-the-gaps, with the gaps being filled one after the other as science makes progress, and the theists shoving their deity in every new and temporary gap. In any event, any intelligent deity capale of designing a universe would have to be more delicately finetuned than the universe itself by several orders of magnitude, so your explanation solves exactly nothing.
      By the way, what are the odds of this being Jerry’s birthday today? Surely some cosmic fine-tuning involved here!

      1. It is funny that both the theist and the atheist comment that positivism is dead, therefore disavow a clear distinction between what is empirically meaningful and what is not.

    5. Is it impolitic to ask who created God?

      Is anything true simply and solely because someone thinks so?

      “The palatability of a proposition has no bearing on its truth.”

      – Richard Dawkins

      “Assertions made without proof may be dismissed without proof.”

      – Christopher Hitchens

  22. Since those who opposed arabic numerals probably bring up their phone calculator app to answer such otherwise intractable questions as “what is 2 + 2 ?”, Some enterprising soul should develop a roman numerals based calculator which simply relabels the numbers from 1 to 9 with their Roman numeral equivalents, maybe leaving the zero button blank. 🙂

    1. This argument has already been had, which is why the One True Turing-Complete Programming Language (&TM;) is INTERCAL only accepts input in fully spelled out words, and outputs them in Roman numerals.
      Except for those dialects where ternary I/O may sometimes be mandatory.

  23. I have a rule. `Keep track of reputation of outlets and if they play a foul, skip whatever I might otherwise read. I have successfully saved countless hours “I might have wasted on Salon or Slate or Alternet, all foul trash journalism, which too often reported things that I knew were outright demonstrably untrue, or deceptively tendentious. The Independent is going that direction, too. There are better (left and liberal) alternatives.

    This story is foul, because the survey by “Civic Science” is rubbish, or perhaps native advertisement for that company; clickbait made for a type of smug American liberal. Most people know that arabic writing is very different from the western alphabet (which goes back over latin, ancient greek and etruscan to phoenician), but fewer know that the numerals have more direct arabic origins. A lot of people are going to assume that American kids could be taught some arabic writing, and understandably reject that. It isn’t about numbers or even islamophobia, and is too bad a question to gather any insight. This company is just incompetent.

    The second question about the catholic priest likewise only demonstrates the incompetence of John Dick (the name seems apt) and this company. You cannot tell bias from ignorance apart, and further, you can‘t even distinguish between a correct bias — science teaching should not be religious — from animus against catholocism. It’s worthless all around.

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