Sci­ence as a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal faith

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The modern-day faith in sci­ence makes the most fa­nat­i­cal fun­da­men­tal­ist look in­dif­fer­ent by com­par­i­son. Ever since Charles Dar­win pro­posed his the­ory of macroevo­lu­tion, which even he ad­mit­ted had scant ev­i­dence to sup­port it, the in­tel­li­gentsia have pushed sci­ence as the Fi­nal De­cider of All Things. If you think this is harm­less, see how Al­fred C. Kin­sey’s cooked sur­veys on sex in the 1940s helped launch and jus­tify the still-dis­as­trous sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion. And look at how junk sci­ence is lit­ter­ing Supreme Court opin­ions.

The thing is, sci­ence does not stay still. The­o­ries come and go as ev­i­dence pours in to sup­port al­ter­na­tive views.

Not so with evo­lu­tion. Even when the late, prom­i­nent evo­lu­tion­ist Stephen Jay Gould ad­mit­ted that the fos­sil record ar­gues against grad­ual, Dar­winian evo­lu­tion, he came up with “punc­tu­ated equi­lib­rium.” That is, he spec­u­lated that in­ter­me­di­ate species don’t show up in fos­sils be­cause of sud­den, un­ex­plained leaps into com­pletely new species. As sci­en­tists un­lock the se­crets of the cell, it’s clearer ev­ery day that those leaps would in­volve mil­lions of changes all at once, for no ap­par­ent rea­son.

But I’m not here to poke holes in evo­lu­tion­ary the­ory. I have a larger am­bi­tion, which is to ex­pose the mis­use of sci­ence as a false re­li­gion.

Real sci­ence aims to un­cover nat­u­ral truth and re­quires ex­per­i­ments to test hy­pothe­ses. That’s the sci­en­tific method. An­other kind of sci­ence re­lies on spec­u­la­tion, which can be use­ful when it’s kept in its place. When mak­ing sweep­ing state­ments about events that hap­pened far be­fore any­one’s abil­ity to dis­cern the cir­cum­stances, sci­en­tists should be hon­est enough to in­clude caveats, such as the handy word “the­ory.”

When some­one says “Sci­ence has spo­ken,” he’s clos­ing the door on other pos­si­bil­i­ties. GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jon Hunts­man did that the other day when he tweeted: “To be clear, I be­lieve in evo­lu­tion and trust sci­en­tists on global warm­ing. Call me crazy.”

Well, I’m not go­ing to call him crazy, but not all sci­en­tists be­lieve in evo­lu­tion or man­caused global warm­ing. More than 31,400, for in­stance, have signed a pe­ti­tion call­ing glob­al­warm­ing the­ory into ques­tion. You can see it at pe­ti­tion­pro­ject.org.

Sci­en­tific facts such as grav­ity can be mea­sured. But when it comes to evo­lu­tion and global warm­ing, the con­fi­dence of con­vic­tion comes with a nag­ging bag of unan­swered ques­tions that need to be shut away, along with those ask­ing the ques­tions. For an ex­am­ple of the lat­ter, see the emails from the Univer­sity of East Anglia that call for black­balling global-warm­ing dis­si­dents.

On the bright side, sci­ence is not mono­lithic, which is why imag­i­na­tive sci­en­tists break new ground. Imag­ine, for ex­am­ple, if Sir Wil­liam Har­vey had gone along with the idea that blood was lo­cal­ized in the body and did not dis­cover the cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem, a quan­tum leap in med­i­cal sci­ence.

Or imag­ine that all sci­en­tists were cowed by Al Gore and the United Na­tions’ In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change and stayed silent about glitches in global-warm­ing the­ory, such as the Me­dieval Warm Pe­riod and the fudg­ing of tem­per­a­ture data.

The rea­son I’m bring­ing all this up is be­cause we’ll be hear­ing more in com­ing days about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s re­marks on why Texas schools teach cre­ation­ism along­side evo­lu­tion. Athe­ist Richard Dawkins, who was ex­posed in Ben Stein’s “Ex­pelled” doc­u­men­tary as, well, ar­ro­gant, wrote in The Washington Post about his faith in evo­lu­tion while ex­co­ri­at­ing Mr. Perry. He wrote:

“Q. Texas gov­er­nor and GOP can­di­date Rick Perry, at a cam­paign event this week, told a boy that evo­lu­tion is ‘just a the­ory’ with ‘gaps’ and that in Texas they teach ‘both cre­ation­ism and evo­lu­tion.’ Perry later added, ‘God is how we got here.’ Ac­cord­ing to a 2009 Gallup study, only 38 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say they be­lieve in evo­lu­tion. If a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans are skep­ti­cal or un­sure about evo­lu­tion, should schools teach it as a mere ‘the­ory’? Why is evo­lu­tion so threat­en­ing to re­li­gion? A. There is noth­ing un­usual about Gov. Rick Perry. Un­e­d­u­cated fools can be found in ev­ery coun­try and ev­ery pe­riod of his­tory.”

Mr. Dawkins goes on to chalk up as ran­dom oc­cur­rences the mind-bend­ing com­plex­ity of a mere cell or a bird’s ex­quis­ite phys­i­ol­ogy. Any­thing can hap­pen in bil­lions of years, right? We can even evolve Lady Gaga.

He re­veals the in­ten­sity of his own faith when he claims that evo­lu­tion ex­plains “every­thing about life, in­clud­ing our own ex­is­tence.” Re­ally? Can it ex­plain why we ex­ist at all, where we’re go­ing and what pur­pose we should have? I think the God part of Mr. Perry’s state­ment is what re­ally got Mr. Dawkins’ dan­der up. Mr. Perry says he be­lieves God cre­ated heaven and earth and there’s no way Mr. Dawkins can prove him wrong.

The most prom­i­nent athe­ist apol­o­gist of all, philoso­pher Antony Flew, de­fended evo­lu­tion for years un­til 2004, when he an­nounced that in­con­sis­ten­cies in Dar­win­ism along with DNA re­search re­veal­ing “al­most un­be­liev­able com­plex­ity” had con­vinced him that “in­tel­li­gence must have been in­volved.” There is no way of know­ing whether Flew, who died in April 2010, ever bent his knee be­fore his newly dis­cov­ered Ul­ti­mate Cause, which many of us call God. But he did blow a hole through athe­is­tic smug­ness.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Apos­tle Paul pro­vided a warn­ing about to­day’s blind faith in man and sci­ence. In Ro­mans 1: 20-22, he wrote:

“For since the cre­ation of the world God’s in­vis­i­ble qual­i­ties — his eter­nal power and divine na­ture — have been clearly seen, be­ing un­der­stood from what has been made, so that peo­ple are with­out ex­cuse. For although they knew God, they nei­ther glo­ri­fied him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their think­ing be­came fu­tile and their fool­ish hearts were dark­ened. Although they claimed to be wise, they be­came fools.”

The Gallup Poll re­ports that just 8 per­cent of Repub­li­cans who were polled said they be­lieved in evo­lu­tion “with­out any other in­ter­ven­tion.”

The more Democrats and the press at­tack Mr. Perry for his faith, the more they are go­ing to turn off the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans who agree with him.

Robert Knight is se­nior fel­low for the Amer­i­can Civil Rights Union and a colum­nist for The Washington Times.

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