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Response to My Readers: Religion and Science

My blog about science illiteracy two days ago has fomented a mini-tempest–and some thoughts.
February 23, 2007

Thanks to all for your comments on my blog, “216 Million Americans Are Scientifically Illiterate.” Thanks even to those who blasted me–it’s always great to have a vigorous debate. (I encourage readers to peek at the comments at the bottom of that February 21 blog.)

It’s remarkable to me that a blog about millions of people being unable to competently read and understand a newspaper article about science has engendered a discussion about religion and about the definition of a “theory” when applied to evolution. The blog does mention evolution, noting that 40 percent of Americans do not agree with the theory. In fact, the United States ranks 27th out of 28 industrialized countries in terms of the number of nonbelievers in Darwin’s theory. Number 28 is Turkey. Given the overwhelming proof in favor of evolution, perhaps more education would bring the U.S. more in line with the rest of the world. I realize that some readers don’t agree with the theory, but I for one am convinced–so are most scientists and the overwhelming majority of people in the developed world. Perhaps we have been indoctrinated and don’t know it, but I don’t think so. The evidence speaks for itself.

The blog, however, was actually about the findings of a political scientist in Michigan who says that millions of people in America, Europe, and Japan don’t have a baseline knowledge of the simplest scientific facts. This might include, for instance, people who don’t know what DNA is, or ozone.

So what does this have to do with religion? Not much, except that a number of readers interpreted my brief mention of evolution as an attack on the literacy of those who do not believe in evolution. I did not mention creationism or any other alternative to evolution, and I never discussed Christianity or those Christians who believe in creationism (which, by the way, a minority of Christians do).

But since evolution has been brought up, I would second those readers who pointed out that theories such as evolution and heliocentricity have held up for more than a century. They continue to amass proof and are as solid as any scientific theories can be–as any scientifically literate person should know.

As NIH geneticist and born-again Christian Francis Collins wrote in his book The Language of God, one answer in this age-old debate between science and faith is to follow the philosophy of Augustine and most Christians: that faith and science are separate. They are two different paths to the truth, say Collins and many others throughout history.

But back to the original point. Before we get too hung up on interpretations of science and religion and definitions of concepts such as “theories,” shouldn’t we first agree that when 216 million Americans know almost nothing about DNA, something needs to be remedied?

Read my interview with Francis Collins in Discover magazine.

For even more on Collins and the issue of religion and science, check out my book Masterminds: Genius, DNA and the Quest to Rewrite Life.

Info about the book and articles on this topic, and much more, is available on my website.

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