American Images: Star-Spangled Banner & a Flag on the Moon

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series American Images
Click this photo to see our entire Images of America gallery.

Click this photo to see our entire Images of America gallery.

A single image can evoke emotions, memories—and entire eras.

As part of the unfolding United America book launch, we’ve assembled a magnificent gallery of over 100 images of America. I love them all, but today I picked my favorite one—Buzz Aldrin and the U.S. flag on the moon. My reasons are biographical and scientific, as I will explain below.

Take a look at our new gallery: What’s your most meaningful image of America?

First, a few words about the gallery itself and how you can use it. Every image comes from Wikimedia Commons, which means that you can freely download and use the gallery images. We’ve used these images in small groups as an effective ice-breaker to begin discussions about our core values, based on my new book United America. However, the exercise doesn’t require anyone to have read the book beforehand. (We also provide free downloadable instructions for running this exercise.)

Why is this image my favorite?

I was 15 years old in 1969 when the first lunar landing took place. I was enthralled. I read everything I could find about the astronauts and the mission. Neil Armstrong took this iconic image. It symbolized so many positive American attributes and was of historic significance for all humankind. Years later, I met Michael Collins—the command module pilot—and I thought I had met a rock star.

This image is also my favorite because it represents the core value of symbolic patriotism—an emotional attachment to country evoked by such national symbols as Old Glory and the national anthem.


TONIGHT, Monday February 17 at 8 PM Eastern time, you can tune into the musical performance of Poets and Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Organized by University of Michigan music historian Mark Clague, this performance presents “a musical history of the U.S. national anthem to celebrate the release of a U-M funded recording project that tells the story of an English tune becoming America’s anthem.” The event is part of the elaborate celebration of the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s writing of what became our national anthem. (The performance tonight is open to the public and will be live-streamed.)

What did The Star-Spangled Banner sound like in 1814? Quite different from the tune we know today!

You can hear the 1814 rendition at the performance tonight and on YouTube right now. The 2-CD set includes the 1814 rendition, the English drinking song on which it was based, and 35 others tunes from early American history. (To learn more and to access a wealth of resources, visit

Does seeing the American flag flying or hearing the national anthem make you feel good?

What are your reactions to the image I selected today?

What is your favorite image of America?

Dogs, Bees and Us: A link between cruelty to animals and humans?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
The Humane Society of the United States website

VISIT The Humane Society of the United States website for more information. Just click on this small snapshot fro the HSUS website.

Cruelty is the dark side of human-animal interactions.

Did you know that there is no national accounting of cruelty to animals? We have uniform accounting, each year, of crimes against humans—but not so for animal abuse and other attacks against animals. The U.S. Humane Society (HSUS) reports:

“The shocking number of cruelty cases reported daily in the media is only the tip of the iceberg. Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Although there is no national reporting system for animal abuse, media reports suggest that it is common in rural and urban areas. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.”

Despite the lack of national reporting, the HSUS has collected and summarizes a lot of data from media reports. And, if these reports move you to do something, HSUS provides a Take Action page as well. Of course, most of us are deeply troubled when we hear of such abuse.

And, my question today may add to your concern: Can cruelty to animals predict cruelty to humans?

Researchers are sure there’s a link, as Marc Bekoff summarizes in Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, the book we’re consulting this week. He focuses on the work of Australian psychologist Eleonora Gullone, from her book Animal Cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour, and Aggression: More than a Link. She notes that “mild and isolated forms of animal cruelty may be part of normal exploratory developmental behaviour” in children. But “persistent or recurrent cruelty to animals” is associated with, precedes, and predicts later anti-social behavior, aggression, and violence toward humans.

Once again, the HSUS has helpful information, including various connections between animal and human cruelty. Here are some of them:

  • Animal abuse can reveal people who are also engaged in criminal activities, as well as reveal family violence.
  • Cruelty to animals can be a “warning sign for at-risk youth.”
  • One of the predictors of domestic partner abuse is cruelty to companion animals.
  • A history of animal abuse in childhood may translate into tolerance of interpersonal violence in adulthood.

Have you observed the cruel side of human-animal interactions?

Have you seen a link between cruelty to animals and to humans?

Dogs, Bees and Us: Are we more affectionate with animals than humans?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us

Rob Pasick book Conversations with My Old DogDo you know about Jane Goodall’s “Roots & Shoots” program? Founded in 1991 by the famed primatologist, it is a “program about making positive change happen—for our people, for animals and the environment.” Marc Bekoff, author of Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, teaches for the program, and for years, has done so for inmates at the Boulder County Jail in Colorado. (All this week, we’re looking at Marc’s new book; you might also enjoy an interview with Bekoff.)

What does Marc Bekoff’s experience with inmates tell us?

“Many inmates find it easier to connect with animals than with people,” writes Bekoff. “Animals don’t judge them.” The inmates “trust and empathize with animals in ways they don’t with humans.” To model healthy relationships, Bekoff tells the inmates about the social behavior of animals who live in groups, such as wolves, and how they cooperate with and depend on one another.

But, I think, the observation that it’s easier to connect with animals extends beyond the prison population.

“People are able to express more emotions and physicality with their pets than with one another,” says Rob Pasick. A practicing psychologist and consultant, Pasick also is author of Conversations with My Old Dog.

We play with, touch, and talk to our pets in ways that are outside social norms for most human-to-human interactions. “Pets give us permission to do things that would be made fun of” otherwise, says Pasick. Pets can be “substitutes for interactions we wish we had with people,” but that society does not value, sanction, or permit.

Do you know people who connect more easily with animals than humans?

What does this tell us about society and what we value?

Evolution: Will this story evolve over time?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Evolution
Gutenberg Bible Genesis 1 1

EVOLUTION OF THE CREATION STORY: “In principio creavit deus celu et terram,” said the Gutenberg Bible when media technology evolved to the point of producing books with moveable type. Or, “In the beginning god created heaven and earth.” But, this process wasn’t perfect in 1454. The first lines of type did not fit neatly on the page. The red phrase, “Here begins …” ran over into the second line. So, in setting Verse 1:1, a typesetter couldn’t fit the full word for “heaven,” which was “caelum.” He only had room for the letters “celu” and a hyphen was placed over the “u” to imply the final “m” in the word. Nor was the word for God, “deus,” capitalized by this typesetter. These finer points were fixed in later editions.

Every culture has its creation stories—explanations about the origin of the world and everything in it. These are often called creation myths by Westerners—even though we know that one person’s myth is another person’s truth. This week, we’ve examined Americans’ beliefs in two creation stories: human evolution by natural processes versus the biblical account of creation.

Which one is the myth?

So far, we’ve talked about Bill Nye the Science Guy’s upcoming debate with the founder of the Creation Museum, how proportionately fewer Republicans now believe in evolution, how views about evolution versus the biblical story of creation correlate with religious affiliation, and how many Americans who believe in evolution see the hand of God in the process.

Another fact from the Pew Research Center survey we’ve consulted this week are that younger Americans are more likely to believe in evolution, compared to older Americans. The “intergenerational replacement theory” says that beliefs in a population change when younger cohorts replace the older cohorts that are shuffling off this mortal plane.

Does this mean that we’ll see more evolutionists and fewer creationists in the future?

American’s beliefs about evolution have not changed much over the past 30 years, according to Gallup trend data. Before reading more, note that Gallup’s questions are worded differently from Pew’s, so we see differences in their figures. Gallup asked respondents to choose one of three statements. Each statement is a different story about the origin and development of humans.

Which one would you pick?

1. “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.”

2. “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.”

3. “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

In 1982, 44% of Americans chose number 3, the biblical story of creation. In 2012, 46% made the same choice. The highest proportion during these 30 years was 47%, the lowest 40%. In other words, there isn’t a clear trend up or down.

Over three decades ago, 38% of Americans chose number 1, the intelligent design or divine evolution explanation. In 2012, 32% agree. Not much trend over these years, either.

In 1982, 9% of Americans chose number 2, the view of human evolution as a purely natural process, such as natural selection. In 2012, the figure was 15%. This is a modest trend leaning toward the natural evolution explanation—but only a modest trend.

Will more American be evolutionists in the future?

Will many Americans always believe in creationism?

Will beliefs about evolution … evolve?

Evolution: Natural process or supreme guidance?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Evolution
Charles Darwin's 1861 to 1863 Voyage of the HMS Beagle was a journey of discovery that eventually changed modern science. This painting was made during the voyage by Conrad Martens

Charles Darwin’s 1861 to 1863 Voyage of the HMS Beagle was a journey of discovery that eventually changed modern science. This painting was made during the voyage by Conrad Martens

The majority of Americans believe in evolution—that humans and other living things evolved over time. But those who believe in evolution don’t agree on the process.

Is evolution entirely a natural process?

Or, is the hand of God—or some supreme being—guiding the evolutionary process?

The natural process that Charles Darwin had in mind is “natural selection.” Natural selection involves variation in traits, differential reproduction, and heredity. Suppose, for example, that there were two kinds of humans: cautious and happy-go-lucky. Cautious humans would be more likely to survive and reproduce. Eventually, all humans would be cautious rather than happy-go-lucky.

About one-third of Americans (32%) subscribe to the explanation that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection,” according to the new Pew Research Center poll we’re consulting this week.

About one-quarter of Americans (24%) believe in evolution but say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.” A variation of this argument is “intelligent design,” wherein God is a clockmaker who designed the system and then set it in motion.

White mainline Protestants are evenly split between these two views of evolution, according to Pew. Thirty-six percent say evolution is due to natural processes only; 36% say that a supreme being guided evolution. (Overall, 78% of white mainline Protestants believe in evolution.)

The same is true for White Catholics—33% say evolution is a natural process only, and another 33% see the hand of God. (Overall, 68% believe in evolution.)

Two groups take clear sides. The majority of the religiously unaffiliated say evolution is a natural process and that a mechanism like natural selection accounts for it. Most white evangelical Protestants believe in the biblical story of creation; among the few who believe in evolution, most say that a supreme being guided the process.

Are you surprised that white mainline Protestants are equally divided in their explanations of evolution?

And that white Catholics are also evenly divided?

If you believe in evolution, do you subscribe to natural selection or do you see the influence of a supreme being?

Evolution: Your religion might reveal your views

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Evolution
A 19th-century Bible etching shows God personally creating the world.

A 19th-century Bible etching shows God personally creating the world.

Tell me your religious affiliation, and there are good odds that I can describe your views about evolution versus a literal reading of the Bible’s creation story. Overall, 60% of Americans believe in evolution, but there is considerable variation by religion. Who’s most likely to believe in evolution?

Are the religiously unaffiliated the biggest believers in evolution?

Surprisingly, they aren’t. Seventy-six percent of the unaffiliated believe that humans evolved over time, according to recent Pew poll. But that’s two points less than the percentage of white mainline Protestants who also believe in evolution: 78% of white mainline Protestants say that humans have evolved over time. Only 15% pick the biblical creation story.

Other Protestant groups are at the opposite end of the spectrum on these issues. Only about one in four (27%) of white evangelical Protestants believe in evolution, with the larger majority (64%) opting for the creationist stance. Black Protestants are next, with 44% saying that humans have evolved over time and 50% believing that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning.

Catholics are in the middle. Majorities of white Catholics (68%) and Hispanic Catholics (53%) believe in human evolution. About a quarter of white Catholics and three of ten of Hispanic Catholics are creationists.

Are you surprised to learn that white mainline Protestants are the least likely to be creationists?

If you believe in evolution, do you attribute it to natural processes or is there room for supreme guidance?

Evolution: Why are Republicans becoming creationists?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Evolution
An anti-Charles Darwin cartoon published in 1871.

An anti-Charles Darwin cartoon published in 1871.

Is science slowly—but inexorably—undermining religious explanations of the world?

It’s not—at least for Republicans. More Republicans today believe in the biblical creation story than Republicans did in 2009, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Then, 39% of Republicans said that human beings and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, while the majority (54%) said that humans (and other livings things) have evolved over time. Now, however, only 39% of Republicans believe in evolution, and 48% believe the biblical story. Why are Republicans becoming creationists?

Democrats and Independents have not changed their views since 2009. Then, about two-thirds of Democrats (64%) and two-thirds of Independents (67%) subscribed to the evolution explanation. Today, the proportions are about the same (67% and 65%, respectively). The shift in attitudes has occurred for Republicans, not for those of other political persuasions.

How can we explain the shift for Republicans? Pew analysts have wrestled with the question, which they reported in the Pew Fact Tank. One possibility is that Republicans in 2009 and Republicans today are different demographically. So, researchers looked at that question and found the demographic profiles are very similar, with the exception that today Republicans are a little older. Their religious and ideological profiles are also very similar.

Maybe the shift in opinion occurred only for the most religious Republicans. It turns out, however, that it didn’t. To the contrary, the shift towards creationism occurred mainly among less religious Republicans.

In short, we don’t know why more Republicans are becoming creationists. Perhaps it’s not one thing that explains the shift, Pew analysts say; it could be a bunch of little things that changed in such a way that it adds up to a big shift in opinion.

Why do you think more Republicans are creationists now than before?

Why haven’t the numbers changed for Democrats or Independents?

Have your views about evolution and creation changed over time?