Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Discrete Harm of the Radical Right

One can argue the subtleties of politics forever but politics should deal with political issues, political issues related to how the body politic makes its wishes known to the government and its leaders. Science is not a political topic. The truth of science does not attach from the approval of the people nor is it contingent on popular support. Pluto would still be a planet if astronomers counted "votes." Evolution would be a felony to teach in the South of the United States if the beliefs of a significant percentage southern citizens had their way. Even many evolutionists sometimes fear speaking against the inclusion of Intelligent Design---its proponents make it sound like such a "fair" thing to do. We include various theories of the causes of the Civil War, why not various theories on human origins?

The answer? We do include challenges to Darwinian evolution or any other scientific theories when new data become available and when the data can be tested and verified. Science is never a certainty. If you hear a scientist proclaim the truth and the truth for all time, you can know that you are not hearing a genuine scientist. He/she would be a charletan---as bad as the creationists. We can teach competing theories of the Civil War's origins because the causes are mixed and the perceptions of the scholars derive from different sets of data depending on their personal notion of how history works. Is history a function of the great people who lead societies? Is it based on raw economics? Is it based on the interplay of human and natural resources? We cannot state absolute answers to those questions because there is no "scientific test" on which we can base their validity. History employs a scientific approach to gathering data and assessing the data but it is also a humanity with some artistic factors impacting the outcome of the scholar's work. History is maleable in terms of how we reach historical "conclusions," science is not.

Science refers to the laws of science as they describe how the natural world works from the bizarre world of the quantum particles to the unthinkably large "world" of the universe(s). Science provides us a way to understand the cosmos without relying on mythology or the supernatural. It provides answers to the questions of how things work which can be tested and either confirmed or disproven. "Knowledge" which is not subject to verification does not fall within the range of what science can address. On this point alone, Intelligent Design and its more ignorant cousin, Creation-Science, are not suitable for the science classes or the texts because those who argue for the inclusion of those anti-science approaches procalim that their ideas cannot be tested and either verified or disproven. They are clearly based on the Judeo-Christian bibles and are faith based as opposed to being testable theories of science. That those ideas are in the bible does not automatically make them untrue but it does make them unscientific since those "truths" come from a supernatural source which science cannot address.

These battles over evolution and other specific notions of science will continue so long as most Americans employ a mythological paridigm rather than a rational, modern worldview. However, the assault on science and the rational world view that America experienced as a nation during the Bush years especially and continuing in the demogoguery of the Radical Right not only set America back in relation to the work the nation needed to be doing on climate change as well as the work medical scientists should have been doing with stem-cell research but it also contributed to an undermining of reason and science as the language of the 21st Century. The data were conclusive on climate change the entire time Bush was assailing the concept, yet, at the end of his term, Bush changed his position and declared climate change to be well-founded. He changed his mind when there was nothing that scientists had not been proclaiming for years. His change was a political decision, not one based on new scientific data. His position on stem-cell research did not change but that was because his position was based on his faith, so-called, rather than science or the facts. As such, his was not an appropriate basis for establishing policy for the nation.

Too often those who argue for a rational approach to the world and those who rely on the scientific paradigm are political liberals who are so enthralled with the rights of the individual to believe as he/she chooses that they refuse to speak up as louldy and emphatically as they need to when they hear others espouse non-sensical attitudes about and towards science and scientific ideas. American liberals too often forget that the founders of American democracy, on which all the rights of citizens are based, maintained to a person that democracy cannot work without an informed electorate. If as a matter of "liberal" open-mindedness, ideas which threaten the future of America and the future of those children being taught in the public schools are not challenged in the public forum, it amounts to a genuine threat to America's national security. If such a significant threat had its origins abroad, Americans would declare war on the perpetrators. We should do the same at home. Citizens have a Constitutional right to the religious beliefs of their choice. They do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others or on the curriculum of the science classrooms of America.

America has maintained an anti-intellectual attitude throughout its history. In the early years, practical knowledge was required for survival and what the pioneers referred to as "book learning" seemed to have little value. Even then, that attitude was specious but to continue those provincialisms into the 21st Century is an affront to the promise that America once gave the world and the promise Americans made to themselves to strive always for the best. Science and religion need not be at war. Science deals with the natural world and religion is supposed to deal with matters of faith. Never the twain shall meet.

The two approaches to knowledge employ different techniques and seek different kinds of truths. Americans need face this truth if their nation is to continue as a beakon of progress and enlightenment---if, indeed, anyone still looks to America for those inspirations. America was the first government in the world to be based on a secular theory of government without a mention of anything divine. John Locke and Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that nature had endowed humans with natural rights and and then argued for the right to revolt against any government that trampled those rights. Then, to preserve those rights, a new government was put into place. The new American government was not anti-religion but it asserted for the first time that the people were the source of all political power and that the power came from the ground up rather than from the heavens down. Remarkable. And worth a fight to preserve.

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