This story seems particularly ironic in light of the Pope's speech in Germany yesterday. While the numbers are tendentious, popular perception in America is that we are recruiting students to the engineering profession no better than Germany. Trends indicate that we will follow Germany's engineering decline.
The irony, though, lies in the fact that where "science" dominates the intellectual landscape, fewer people actually enter the hard sciences. Why is this? As Pope Benedict points out, science depends upon a philosophical framework for its own existence:
Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.
When the philosophical framework is excluded from the outset, it is as though science is cut off from it's oxygen. It can't continue to exist when the fundamental principle of the world is chaos rather than logos. My hunch is that the fact/value dichotomy that the Pope identifies is at the heart of the (alleged) decline in the hard sciences, both in Germany and America. I'm not sure what the casual relationship is, but the correlation of the phenomena in both countries suggests that more is going on than an unhappy accident.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.