On Feb. 14, most of the population was focused on Valentine’s Day, but many did not realize that it was Galileo Galilei’s 450th birthday. Lauded as the father of modern astronomy, he was the champion of heliocentrism; namely, that the Earth and other planets all revolve around the Sun. In the modern day, many of us think that we can safely assume this is a universal fact that is known by all of the educated population. However, a survey that was released by the National Science Foundation, just one day after his birthday, revealed some startling results.
One in four Americans does not know that the Earth orbits the Sun. According to an article in TIME Sunday, that equates to roughly 78 million people. The European Union actually did worse, with 36 percent of test takers failing the part of the test that pertained to heliocentrism.
There are many factors at play in these results. With a global population of seven billion people and counting, one is bound to come across those who even still might believe the Earth is flat. As Jeffrey Kluger of TIME explains, sometimes it’s politically preferred that the truth is a fluid concept. His example was if climate change has a healthy number of people refuting its legitimacy, then the fossil fuel industry can continue to function.
The most cited ‘nemesis’ of science has often been religion. However, the same day, a study from Rice University showed that almost 50 percent of Evangelicals believed that science and religion could co-exist, a fascinating contrast to the 38 percent of all Americans who share that sentiment. It is important to note that the toughest conflict here is often between the two furthest points of the spectrum.
What’s important in these instances is to appreciate the value of both sides. One cannot simply say that the other is completely false and unfounded. However, is this a debate strictly between science and religion, or is it a broader debate on how ignorance can foster so persistently in society?
Education, as has been said so often, is so crucial to developing how a child views the world, and more pertinently, other schools of thought. If one can break down the attitude that all sides have, namely that different views are the ‘enemy’, there can be meaningful progress on designing curricula that prepare students to cherish understanding over closed-mindedness. We live in an age of technological, social, intellectual and artistic progress.
We have more access to information now than we have ever had in previous generations. It’s time we harnessed that power for collaborative, not divisive or dismissive, ends.