The United States is rooted in the Enlightenment–an era that gave us empiricism and the scientific method. Our approach to government was forged by philosophers who extolled reason and evidence. We have always looked up to scientists, and scientists–who are best able to pursue their ideas in an open culture–have historically flocked to our shores.
“Yankee ingenuity” produced a constant flow of important inventions. Fulton gave us the steamboat; Samuel Morse the telegraph, Eli Whitney the cotton gin. Thomas Edison was credited with more than 1000 inventions. The Wright brothers gave us the airplane. The list goes on and on.
Americans were first to set foot on the moon.
Technology–from the telegraph to the IPhone, from the automobile to your television set– builds upon basic scientific principles. The inventions and advances we take for granted would not have been possible had the country remained rooted in the superstition that characterized pre-Enlightenment Europe. Just as the early colonists rejected the proposition that monarchs were divinely ordained, they were open to the example of men like Benjamin Franklin who engaged in empirical experimentation and scientific investigation.
Okay, I hear you saying. Well and good. What has prompted this particular rant?
I just read a recent survey of the American attitudes and beliefs. It found that 39% of us believe in evolution.
At a time when we are spending billions of dollars on medical and biological research–all of which is based upon evolution–only 39% of Americans accept a settled scientific theory. Indeed, if political rhetoric is any indication, very few Americans even understand the difference between scientific theory–an explanatory framework constructed after painstaking empirical testing–and a wild-ass guess, which is the conversational use of the term.
Thirty-nine percent of Americans are scientifically literate–or at least scientifically literate enough to understand and accept the operation and importance of evolution.
There are many indicators of a nation in decline. The Creation Museum–where Adam and Eve saddle up their dinosaurs to romp through a world created in its current form less than 10,000 years ago–may be the most significant such indicator.
And the most tragic.