Ignorance of Science Remains Serious Problem

A Newsweek poll on religious attitudes shows that ignorance of science persists:

Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.

As I noted last August, the United States trails most of the world in accepting modern biology, primarily due to the politicization of relgion in this country. Steve Benen considers the implications:

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Even if most of society embraces bogus science, it doesn’t really matter; most Americans aren’t going to pursue careers in science anyway. A limited elite will understand biology, go into the field professionally, and come up with life-saving breakthroughs for the rest of us. Concerns are alarmist. After all, most Americans have been rejecting modern biology for a long time, and we’ve still been the premier nation for science for decades.

My response to this is two-fold. First, those limited elite will be less and less inclined to pursue science seriously when their teachers are intimidated into ignoring the underpinnings of biology and their school districts won’t purchase textbooks that convey accurate information. It’s a national problem that isn’t going away.

Second, eventually there’s a tipping point. The United States isn’t just trailing potential competitive rivals by a little; the gap is huge and growing. The competitive advantage the U.S. enjoyed is shrinking. At what point does the anti-science push become simply too much of a burden?

Last year, none other than the president used his State of the Union to tell the country that it’s time to take science seriously. “[W]e need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations,” Bush said.

On this the president may be an awful messenger, but the message is right — maintaining our position as a world leader in science will be impossible if the nation rejects scientific truths.

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