Fundamentalism threatens to return America to third-world country status, to make us a third-rate also-ran. If Christian fundamentalists have their way, in fifty years, China and Europe will be the world's centers of scientific leadership and economic power, and America will be the country that once was great. And by "fundamentalism," I don't mean the American stereotype of some Iraqi waving a rusty old musket, I'm talking about the ultra-right American Christians, who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Science is the opposite of fundamentalism. How can a scientist go to work in the morning, have an open, inquisitive, logical mind all day long, and then go home at the end of the day to then study a religion that contradicts facts s/he knows to be true? Hold beliefs that are plainly wrong? It's impossible. Those who choose a fundamentalist faith cannot be scientists, and those who choose science cannot be fundamentalists.
(Before any of you jump in with Francis Collins' book, The Language of God, don't waste your time. Collins is an embarrassment to scientists everywhere. He may be an expert geneticist, but as a philosopher he'd be sent back to kindergarten. It's a disgrace.)
Fundamentalism wouldn't be a problem if it stayed in the corner, away from politics, where it belongs. As long as fundamentalist ideas are kept away from our schools, and our national public policy, they're harmless. But the fundamentalist religions also have a meme that says, "Spread me!" They don't have a live-and-let-live policy; rather, fundamentalist Christians (and Muslims, but in America it's the Christians that count) believe that we all have to adopt their religions. They want their beliefs to control our society and be enshrined in our laws.
And that's what is starting to drive us back to the dark ages. Religion has been making more and more inroads into American politics, and one of their success stories is that they've severely damaged the science curriculum in American schools. I've been stunned at the ignorance of some of my children's college-age friends in basic scientific principles, stuff that was taught to all kids of my generation.
Fundamentalism begins by teaching anti-rationalism. At an early age, the children of fundamentalists are taught to reject logic, to accept a vast mythology on faith alone, and to ignore glaring flaws and contradictions. Whenever faith contradicts facts, children are told to that faith wins, that they must ignore the evidence that is plainly before their eyes. When the faith contradicts itself (like, why are there two conflicting versions of Genesis??), they are told that their faith isn't strong enough yet.
If they want to believe that stuff, fine. But when they start damaging our schools, and interfering with our public policy, that's where the danger starts.
Today we live in a wonderful world of engineering marvels and medical "miracles." I'm 54 years old, an age that in a Shakespeare play was called an old man, yet I take a vigorous march up the mountain by my home 4-5 times every week. My neighbor drives a gas/electric hybrid car. Yesterday I read about a private company testing a rocket engine for space flight. The CERN Large-Hadron Collider, a true marvel of science, was fired for the first time a couple days ago.
Not one of these marvels could have been invented in a fundamentalist society.
I like living in an America that leads the world in technology and invention. I've devoted my career to science and medicine. It would be a shame if, in fifty years, the America that my grandchildren will inherit is a third-world country, made so by Christian fundamentalists who deny science, and forced their mythology on the rest of us.