Noted evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne recently wrote about religion reducing science literacy in America. As he says, "It’s palpably obvious that acceptance of evolution is impeded by religion." What's really interesting, and what he points out in this article, is that religion impedes ALL scientific literacy, not just the controversial topics like evolution, stem cell research, and global warming that one might expect due to their being in direct conflict with some religious teachings.
The study that Coyne cites also reveals that scientific literacy is lowered in correlation to the degree to which the Bible is literally believed. In other words, fundamentalists score the lowest in scientific literacy, other Protestants and Catholics somewhat higher, and non-believers the highest. (Go atheists!)
Coyne goes on to say:
I suggest that the willingness to believe in fables and superstition makes one more resistant to believing things that are true, especially when those things fall into a category, “science,” that can be perceived as a threat to belief systems based on superstition. Regardless, Sherkat’s data provide additional evidence, as if we needed any, that science and religion are incompatible.
I tend to agree with Coyne that science and religion are incompatible. This is not something I walk around stating, because most of the people I know are religious, and many of them very intelligent. But really, how could they possibly be compatible? Religion makes a virtue out of believing something that cannot be seen, tested, or proven: faith. Science, on the other hand, is a process for understanding what can be seen, tested, and proven. It's about gathering as much evidence as possible to construct a reasonable explanation for something. Yes, this means that our scientific understanding of things changes as our ability to gather and interpret information evolves. Science never claims to know all the answers or to be unquestionable in the light of new facts.
Why do I care about all of this, and why should everyone? If it were really as simple as "everyone believing what they want to believe," I would not have so many gripes about religion. But the historical and current impediments of science by religion disallows me to leave it alone. Michelle Bachmann, one of the candidates for Presidential nomination for the GOP, displays a glaring lack of scientific understanding with comments encouraging the teaching of Biblical creationism alongside evolution in public schools:
What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don't think it's a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.
What she is condoning is not teaching two scientific theories, as any reasonable person knows. The debate about teaching creationism in school is not a "scientific issue", it's a Church-State issue, which those supporting it would realize in about five seconds if the suggestion was to teach any other religion to children as science.