First: What was the purpose of this report?
The new report “Science and Engineering Indicators 2008” has just been released. This is that biannual report by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Science Resources Statistics under the National Science Board that reveals the state of science education, research and development trends, health of the science and technology industry, and the understanding of science among children and adults in the United States.So the purpose of this report is to just determine where we stand in terms of education for America's kids and how adults interpret science, at least as of 2006. Right? But please note:
Being a collection of surveys, the report cautioned readers that some of the information is “subject to numerous sources of error and should be treated with caution.” Remembering these are survey results can offer insights into some of the seeming inconsistencies in the findings. What people say and what they do, or are able to do, sometimes differ.So while we may find some insights in this report, we must be careful how we apply the results of this study to the entire population of American students.
So let me summarize the results here, if I may, as percentages:
- Adults who said they closely followed science and technology news: 15
- Compared to other topics: science ranks after all of these: weather (50), crime, community, health, sports, government, Washington news, international affairs and religion
- Adults who said all radioactivity was man-made: 30
- Adults who believe lasers work by focusing sound waves: 55
- Adults who didn't know the big bang theory of the universe's origins: more than 66
- Adults who knew that the father's gene determines the sex of the child: less than 66
- Adults who believe the sun revolves around the earth: 33
- Adults who did not know how long it takes for the earth to go around the sun: 45
- Adults who think astrology is very scientific or sort of scientific: 31
I just find this completely and utterly appalling. How can you leave high school and not know these things?
Apparently, the first problem is understanding how science is done and realizing that someone being affiliated with an academic institution doesn't mean that person is able to automatically do good science or identify it. Which means that not only do we need to do a better job of education kids on science (and get them to buy into it and understand why it's important to know it), we need to be educating adults as well.
Now, as a Christian, I will fully admit there is tension between the teaching of science when it tries to answer the questions of how we got here and tries to give only naturalistic answers, because that is all science is allowed to give: science can only reply with those answers it can get from nature. That is the definition of science in our day and age. That is why I say that naturalism is antithetical to belief and not science. Science starts with the scientific method, and the existence of God is outside that (it can, with work, be discussed within the realms of logic and philosophy).
But science has great value. I know many Christians will say science should disappear and biology textbooks that teach evolution should be banned. I will not say that. I would never ban a book (although I might limit which ones are available to my kids, as is my right as a parent to watch over their development). Science has provided wonderful improvements in medicine, public health, technology, and travel. So I believe science should be well understood by our society given that many of the technologies and privileges we have come from that science.