Josh Rosenau, Program Director for the National Center for Science Education, is a particularly clear example.
Rosenau takes issue with the National Science Board's decision to categorize people who disagree with the central claims of evolutionary biology (i.e. materialistic explanations for life), but who have a good fund of knowledge about evolution, scientifically literate.
It is my contention that one cannot call a person who adopts these views [evolution 'denial']"science literate." And in a chapter aimed at assessing "knowledge and attitudes" regarding science, it is not sufficient to find that someone knows evolutionary biology says humans share common ancestors with other life, or that astronomers say there was a big bang. A person who thinks calling something "a theory" is discrediting is not science literate (having misunderstood key terms and scientific processes). A person who thinks scientists as a community would hide evidence to advance their theological agenda is not science literate (having betrayed a misunderstanding about how scientific claims are evaluated within the scientific community). A person who thinks it is appropriate to set their interpretation over empirical evidence when asked a scientific question is only arguably science literate (having substituted an untestable theological claim for a valid scientific claim; arguably, such a substitution is a value choice, not a matter of science literacy, but either way it is a relevant measure of attitudes toward science).
Science literacy has to be more than abstract knowledge. To be meaningful, it has to be integrated into a person's view of the world in some useful way. Someone who knows that evolutionary biology deals in common ancestry of life, but who rejects that idea is not able to integrate that knowledge, for instance by connecting new discoveries in roundworms and relate them to their own health, let alone to have a coherent understanding of newly discovered fossil hominids, or other new findings directly related to evolution. Such a person necessarily has an incomplete ability to read and understand science reporting such as would be found in Science Times on Tuesday, or to discuss new research findings and their implications for his or her own health with a doctor.
The NSB's decision to distinguish between knowledge of a theory and agreement with it is a good one. To be scientifically literate, a person should understand the claims that a theory makes and the evidence invoked to support/refute the theory. It is certainly possible, and in fact is relatively common, to understand a scientific theory quite well, and to disagree with it. Einstein's disagreement with some interpretations of quantum mechanics doesn't mean that he wasn't scientifically literate in quantum mechanics. One can understand a scientific theory, and disagree with it. There's no inherent contradiction.
There are many Americans, including quite a few scientists, who are quite well-versed in evolutionary biology (Jonathan Wells, Paul Nelson, Richard Sternberg and Casey Luskin come to mind) who don't agree with some of the theory, particularly the materialistic aspects. But they are quite scientifically literate.
What Rosenau is demanding from the NSB is a litmus test. He wants the NSB to classify people who disagree with the mainstream materialist interpretation of evolution as illiterate, not as scientifically knowledgeable people who disagree about the science.
It's Orwellian stuff. What Rosenau is saying is: 'if you don't agree with us, you're stupid'. They should rename the NCSE the NCMI: the National Center for Materialist Indoctrination.
But here's the funny part. If belief, rather than knowledge, is essential for literacy in a topic, then atheists like Rosenau can be labeled theologically illiterate. They don't merely disagree with theology's premise that God exists, they're illiterate about theology. And the only way they can rectify their illiteracy is to... believe in God. It looks like we'll have to be teaching more religion in public schools. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
But no. Rosenau isn't theologically illiterate. He understands enough about religion, I'm sure, to pass. But his argument suggests a rather severe case of logical illiteracy.
That goes with the atheism.