Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Our appalling ignorance

Here's an excerpt from an article entitled "Darwin’s Belated American Birthday Present" by Susan Jacoby:

In 2006, a Gallup Poll found that only 30 percent of Americans continue to believe in the literal truth of the Bible, with its six days of creation - a 10 percent decline over the last three decades. It is difficult to reconcile that finding with the results of a 2005 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, indicating that only 48 percent of American adults accept evolution (even if guided by God) and only 26 percent are convinced of the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. If only 30 percent believe that the Bible is literally true, why do so many more Americans reject the evolutionary theory considered settled science in the rest of the developed world?

The answer is ignorance - and Americans may be no more ignorant about evolution than they are about other aspects of science. According to surveys conducted for the National Science Foundation over the past two decades, more than two-thirds of adults are unable to identify DNA as the key to heredity. Nine out of 10 Americans - nearly 63 years after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima - do not understand what radiation is or its effects on the body. One in 5 believes that the sun revolves around the Earth.

This knowledge deficit has nothing to do with religion, but it does point to a stunning failure of American public schooling at the elementary and secondary level. One should not have to be an intellectual or, for that matter, a college graduate to understand that DNA contains the basic biological instructions that make each of us a unique human being or that the Earth is not the center of the solar system.

The chickens will eventually come home to roost, you know. There will be consequences to our ignorance. The rest of the developed world will simply leave us behind scientifically.

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