WE CAN’T AFFORD RESULTS LIKE THESE…. Charles Darwin was born 200 years ago today, so it seems appropriate to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions the scientist made to modern scholarship. The LA Times noted today, “Not only was Darwin’s theory of evolution a scientific epiphany, millions of people owe their lives and their health to research that is predicated on Darwin’s insight that human beings share a common ancestor with other species.”

The same editorial noted, however, that a movement still exists that hopes to undermine modern biology. The good news is, their anti-science crusade has repeatedly been defeated in the courts, when they try to get schools to incorporate religious lessons into public school science classes. The bad news is, wide swaths of the public are still confused.

A new Gallup poll found that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution.” One in four say they don’t, while 36% don’t have an opinion either way. There was a “strong relationship” between education and understanding — 21% of Americans with a high-school education or less believe in evolution, followed by 41% who’ve had some college, 53% who have a college degree, and 74% who have a post-graduate degree.

There’s also, apparently, an age gap. Those aged 18 to 34 are most likely to accept modern science (54% believe in evolution), while those 55 and over are the least likely (31%).

I suppose this offers at least some hope for the future, but the numbers are still pretty embarrassing for the country. A bare majority of American college graduates accept the foundation of modern biology? In the 21st century? That’s it?

Reiterating a point from a couple of weeks ago, the country just can’t afford this kind of confusion on such a grand scale. The competitive advantage the United States used to enjoy is vanishing, and conservatives’ anti-science push comes with too high a burden for the country.

The country needs to start taking science seriously again — our economy depends on it — and ignorance costs far too much. The sooner poll numbers like these improve, the better off the country will be.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.