Uncle Sam and Auntie Science
The following is an excerpt from Richard Dawkins' introduction to The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003. Dawkins is the author of The Selfish Gene, and is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.
For a non-American to be invited by a leading American publisher to anthologize American writings about science is an honor, the more so because American science is, by almost any index one could conjure, preeminent in the world. Whether we measure the money spent on research or count the numbers of active scientists working, or books and journal articles published, or of major prizes won, the United States leads the rest of the world by a convincing margin. My admiration for American science is so enthusiastic, so downright grateful, that I hope I may not be thought presumptuous if I sound a note of discordant warning. American science leads the world, but so does American anti-science. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in my own field of evolution.
Evolution is one of the most securely established facts in all science. The knowledge that we are cousins to apes, kangaroos, and bacteria is beyond all educated doubt: as certain as our (once doubted) knowledge that the planets orbit the sun, and that South America was once joined to Africa, and India distant from Asia. Particularly secure is the fact that life's evolution began a matter of billions of years ago. And yet, if polls are to be believed, approximately 45 percent of the population of the United States firmly believes, to the contrary, an elementary falsehood: all species separately owe their existence to "intelligent design" less than ten thousand years ago. Worse, the nature of American democratic institutions is such that this perversely ignorant half of the population (which does not, I hasten to add, include leading churchmen or leading scholars in any discipline) is in many districts strongly placed to influence local educational policy. I have met biology teachers in various states who feel physically intimidated from teaching the central theorem of their subject. Even reputable publishers have felt sufficiently threatened to censor school textbooks of biology.
That 45 percent figure really is something of a national educational disgrace. You'd have to travel right past Europe to the theocratic societies around the Middle East before you hit a comparable level of antiscientific miseducation. It is bafflingly paradoxical that the United States is by far the world's leading scientific nation while simultaneously housing the most scientifically illiterate populace outside the Third World.
Here you can listen to Dawkins on The Connection.
Here's a Scientific American article about how creationists are influencing state educational standards.
This Scientific American article is called "Fifteen Answers to Creationist Nonsense."
The answer to almost any question concerning evolution can be found here.