Scientists have learned that the universe came into being with a dramatic bang about 14 billion years ago, and the fingerprints of this creation can still be measured today.
The Earth formed about 9 billion years later, and evidence of unicellular life can be documented to about 3.5 billion years ago.
Complex species arose from simpler ones over the millennia by a process that one scientist calls the greatest show on earth.
And what a show it is. The diversity of species is breathtaking, and new ones continue to be discovered in unlikely places. Our understanding of DNA confirms what Darwin suspected -- that all living things are related to each other. What should be a humbling revelation has provoked the opposite reaction of some, who display considerable hubris by denying the history of nature.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas apparently views his denial of history as a political asset, and some of his fellow presidential aspirants seem to think so as well. With the nation's concerns over jobs, international competitiveness and a sagging economy, one may wonder whether a candidate's view of natural history is an important qualification to consider. I argue that it is.
Few would disagree that the United States is the world leader in scientific research and development. The positive economic impact of this valuable resource over the last century cannot be doubted.
Scientific innovation improves the quality of life, and it also attracts highly educated people from around the world who want to be in the forefront of their fields. History denial threatens this pre-eminence because it undermines science as a process.
Our understanding of the workings of nature today is founded on the same principles and tools that underlie our knowledge of its past. One cannot simultaneously understand the genetic basis of disease and deny the shared ancestry of humans and apes because both ideas are founded on the same scientific principles.
We cannot prepare our children to compete on the world stage and also teach them that this world is only a few thousand years old because they would be, by definition, unprepared.
Natural history is beautiful because it is true. If this beauty is not reason enough to embrace it, then consider the consequences of a shift in scientific innovation from a home-grown product that we export to one that we import while pining for the good old days.
See you at the polls.
Mark O'Brian is a professor of biochemistry at the University at Buffalo.