Excerpt from INTELLIGENT DESIGNER: EVOLUTION FOR POLITICIANS, the chapter entitled Why is Scientific Literacy of Such Importance?
There may be public debate over “environmental issues,” but in the end Mother Nature will decide how much rain to deliver and when to deliver it, how much corn can be produced on an acre of Iowa farm land, and whether to bash New Orleans into oblivion or break San Francisco off the country and dump it into the Pacific Ocean. So “debate over environmental issues” really translates into a contest between what we know and understand about the way nature works and what we want to have happen. In other words, scientific literacy shapes the contest between reality and desire.
This contest between reality and desire is perhaps the most important reason of all for a nation’s citizens to be, on the average, scientifically literate. Scientists have a certain mindset, one that is governed by evidence, observation, and technology, and in which interpretations or conclusions are always subject to modification based on additional information. In the vast majority of cases, this scientist’s approach to his or her profession carries over into everyday life outside the laboratory. Scientists certainly are not alone in exhibiting this particular type of behavior; artists, attorneys, and physicians, indeed virtually all of us, tend to view the world through lenses shaped by our professions. But we need to remember the fundamental nature of science: an exploration of the universe using falsifiable assertions as the primary working tool, assertions that are developed within the context of a general explanatory theory such as evolution.
This basic nature of the scientific enterprise generates some rules about evidence used to support assertions. Put bluntly, the scientific mindset demands falsifiable assertions and observations that will test those assertions. Scientists typically heap scorn on assertions that cannot be falsified, good examples of which can be found daily in American political discourse and indeed throughout American domestic policy of the Third Millennium. Scientists are equally scornful of assertions for which the supporting evidence is exceedingly flimsy, borderline unattainable, or subject to severe sampling flaws. Some such assertions are so burdened with ideological baggage that studies to test them, while technically possible, are not always politically possible. Again, our public political discourse provides many illustrations of such assertions. Here are a few familiar ones:
(1) Abstinence-only sex education in public schools will significantly reduce sexual activity among teenage children, unwanted pregnancy, the incidence of sexually transmitted disease, and abortion.
(2) A combination of standardized testing and threatened punishment for low performance on such tests will significantly improve the levels of math and science literacy among American school children, especially the most disadvantaged ones.
(3) Reducing taxes for the wealthier Americans will improve the economic status of all Americans.
(4) Some kind of a national health care program will bring economic ruin to the United States.
(5) Prescription drugs purchased in Canada are a public health hazard.
(6) Elimination of prayer in public schools leads to moral decay of the nation.
(7) Hollywood is eroding American moral fiber with its never-ending supply of sex and violence.
This list could be longer, and with a little bit of effort, any American could add to it just by reading the newspaper or listening to the radio. Thus we are besieged with assertions that seem to be congruent with our internal logic yet to the scientific mind fail for all the above mentioned reasons.