The good news: when it comes to understanding natural selection and evolution, the United States does not score the worst in the industrialized world. We rank just ahead of Turkey for second-to-last place.
There is however good news: educators can play a role in altering the understanding and attitudes about science, even among the far right wing conservative crowd.
Some recent research demonstrates that students who are introduced to well taught courses in evolution change their attitudes toward the subject.
This all comes out of a conference in Canada … which attempts to make clear what I have preached forever: science and religion are not at odds with each other; as noted in the article this is not a battle between rationalism and irrationalism. There are plenty of religious people who act very rational, and plenty of people behind science who act irrationally. It is the extremists on both sides of the debate that grab the headlines and further marginalize people into “pro” and “con” camps. As a matter of fact, some of the folks who made some of the earliest breakthroughs in the areas of cosmology and evolution (the two big sticking points between religious conservatives and science) were in fact made by people with rather strong religious convictions.
One of my favorite all-time works of the written language is Stephen Jay Gould’s Nonoverlapping Magisteria. The late Gould was an evolutionary biologist (one of the first scientists to argue in favor of punctuated equilibrium as an evolutionary pathway), a gifted writer, a baseball fan, and an atheist. Unlike folks like Richard Dawkins who intentionally or unintentionally flame the fires of conflict, Gould saw other options. He actually talked with people and refused to stereotype and avoided leaping to conclusions This essay talks very eloquently about the fact that religion and science may have points that approach each other, but that only extremists see any issues, and that a vast majority of people, given close examination of what a bulk of religious people and a bulk of scientists do, would not only not see a problem, but would see that the conflict is largely engineered.
If your faith is strong, viewing the universe through the lens of a microscope and telescope won’t diminish it … in fact it may even strengthen it. If your faith requires physical proof, how strong is it in the first point.