The news feeds are piping articles across the internets about Americans and their views on matters of science. Of particular interest is the finding that 51 % of respondents expressed a lack of confidence in matters of the big bang and cosmic origins and age. Predictably, scientific models of human origins and evolutionary science also elicited a considerable lack of confidence.
As the linked article in The Atlantic suggests, there is nothing new in America about ignorance of science and its panoply of theories, models, images and data. I’ve come to believe that wide spread ignorance of science may be contracting a bit. Some folks might be a little less refractory to science if gently brought into the discussion. It is especially evident when you engage someone in conversation about the concepts with which they might anonymously criticize in a survey. Often if you can get a person past a key mechanistic concept, their dogmatic view of things may soften.
Scientists tend to look at new things analytically and with skepticism. Others may have a devotional world view. The devotional approach is the programming language of faith in and preservation of doctrines. For the scientist, the goal is to strip doctrines to their bare mathematical essence- a single equation that describes the relationships between variables and fundamental constants. If something is observed, measurements can be taken.
Molecular medicine and microbiology unavoidably force one to come face to face with the plasticity of DNA and the short term variability of genetic change. Resistance to drugs or the spread of BT or glyphosate resistant traits into insect and weed populations are a great entry point for talking about molecular evolution. It also allows one to get away from the troublesome paradigm of Darwin, whose work carries religious baggage for many. Irrespective of what Darwin wrote, modern molecular biologists would have eventually postulated and substantiated evolution from the molecule up, as opposed to the Finch down. The Darwin model of evolution has become tired and a little worn. We really should be giving more credit to molecular biology for advances in the understanding of genetic change.
I think those who have devoted their lives to understanding science tend to forget the tremendous expenditure of time and effort that goes into a deep and quantitative understanding of nature. My experience in teaching and in public outreach in science has been that a great many people are willing to be entertained by presentations on extrema, that is, the biggest, the most powerful, the most dangerous, the most poisonous, etc. Folks like to hear about extreme phenomena and scientists are only too happy to talk about the dangers of black holes or volcanoes or ferocious animals. One can spend an evening talking about such things to a general audience and go home with the impression that the public eats this stuff up.
However, if you closely converse with your audience, you may find in many that their interest is genuine but superficial. They are entertained by the gosh-wow aspects of astronomy, but are unwilling to commit the time and effort to enough study to be competent in a topic. They often only want to see the moon through a large telescope and then go home. This is just human nature and science folk cannot be offended by the slender attention span of the public. Learning science requires a good deal of work and focus. That a large slice of the population is suspicious of the big bang theory suggests that said population has not made the time and energy commitment to learning the science.