The evolution versus creationism debate has resurfaced over the last few years in the US, primarily as a result of numerous local school boards’ decisions to modify biology curricula to include more creationism-oriented education. Gallup polls conducted in recent years indicate that as many as 45% of all Americans believe in the that God created the Earth and humans within the last 10,000 years. This belief is particularly interesting since the science underpinning the geological age of the Earth is the same science responsible for much of modern technology.
One of America’s foremost strengths is its respect for individual beliefs and belief systems. If 45% of America wants to believe that the world is flat or that babies come from storks, that’s perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, since technological advancement is founded upon a scientific understanding of the universe, a belief in the soundness of basic science is almost a prerequisite to further study in science and engineering fields.
The principles of radioactive decay that are widely used in geological dating are part of the same physics used to create the atomic bomb and subsequent nuclear devices. Do those who believe the Earth is 10,000 years old refute the existence of nuclear weapons, or deny that 15% of US electrical power comes from nuclear power plants? Perhaps modern medicine is also not of much interest to the young-Earth crowd, as radioactive isotopes and related electromagnetic phenomena are used there as well.
If a plurality of America doesn’t believe in the underpinnings of modern technology, perhaps it’s understandable why the US is falling behind other nations in its education of scientists and engineers. America’s long term position as the center of innovation is further threatened when individual and personal beliefs invade the science classroom. American scientists, engineers, and educators have to do a better job at making clear that without science, modern technology’s comforts cannot be had.