Friday, December 30, 2005

Having our cake and eating it too

Americans have a love-hate relationship with science. We love the technological fireworks that are the handmaidens of scientific learning: space spectaculars, digital technology, pharmaceuticals, scientific medicine. We know in our heart of hearts that none of this would exist without the plodding efforts of scientists to understand the world. But we are deeply suspicious that science undermines traditional religious values.

Nine in ten Americans say they believe in a personal God. Among scientists that figure falls to four in ten, and among the members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences it's one in ten. Clearly, empirical knowledge of the world is corrosive of traditional belief, and people are smart enough to know it. So they keep science at arm's length. It has been estimated that only one in ten Americans can be considered scientifically literate. We pick and choose what parts of science we are willing to give our assent, knowing full well it is all of a piece. We seem perfectly willing, as a people, to live with a large measure of cognitive dissonance.