Once, one of my fellow officers asked me, “Your so conservative on so many things, why don’t you vote republican?”
Despite my semi-independent political stance, I cannot bring myself to vote republican. I can forgive them for supporting the American corporate oligarchy. That, at least, is logical; one of the great things about America is that our political system acts as a wedge between the elite and complete power. So a little bit of corruption and coercion is to be expected (and both parties partake). Begrudgingly, I can accept the religious “family” values plank (mostly, rooting for you Mr. Milk).
What I cannot get my head around is science and historical denialism and how it invades and taints many other republican political planks. Global warming, evolution, geology, the list is long. Many times they deny science for two major reasons; a conflict in worldview and the trend of all large enterprises resisting change due to a perceived loss of profits. So I get “why” someone would delude themselves and others but, the “how” always eludes me.
I would hazard to guess that the whole issue revolves around an astounding lack of education amongst the proletariat. Looking back at my pre-university science education, it’s easy to draw that conclusion (although anecdotal evidence is, of course, unscientific). Evolution was never mentioned in my biology classes, the current theories on the origin of the universe were not covered, and even the most basic scientific vocabulary was glossed over. How many of you can differentiate and define theory (in its colloquial use), theory (in its scientific use), or theorem?.
My guess is that science is becoming increasingly complex and complex systems are often hard to understand and counter-intuitive to boot (looking at you quantum physics). I think back to the time of Tesla to the end of the World Fairs. Back then, it was somewhat easier to demonstrate scientific principles with public demonstrations. Tesla was able to assuage public fears of electricity by standing in-between his huge coils (although Telsa did end up losing the PR campaign some years later on direct vs alternating currents when Edison used a brutal demonstration of electric execution with direct current a few year later; shifting public opinion yet again to Edison’s “safer” alternating current). However, my point is that when you can show off your research in the public theater, it requires greater mental gymnastics from members of the public in order to deny what they experienced. But that is not the case today.
How do you show people sub-atomic particles, bacterial quorum-sensing, or bose-einstein condensates? Objects that are too small to see without aid of large and sensitive tools firmly entrenched inside our universities can only be exposed to the public by pictures, drawings, or explanations. Sadly, for the public to understand science today, it requires faith. Not faith in the religious sense, but faith in your fellow-man (to not constantly lie). Thankfully, the scientific peer-reviewed submission process takes steps in the right direction; where ideas are judged by their ability to yield consistent results under controlled testing conditions. But scientists are flesh and blood and science can be corrupted (even subconsciously) by bias, something that the far right is fast to point out.
So here we are in the 21st century of the Common Era, and half of the population of the most advanced society on the planet believes the world is less than 6,000 years old. The world-view of your creationist Christian (although all Abramic religions can play the Young Earth game too, but you’re the majority here), denies Evolution, Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Meteorology, Astro-Physics, and secular history to boot (looking at you Summerians and Akkadians). To me, this is an insufferable amount of ignorance.
Furthermore, the evangelical world-view since the 1970’s have extended tendrils into American historical and scientific debate.
Which brings me to David Barton and the organization, Answers in Genesis. David Barton is a snake-oil sales man through and through, the kind of weak individual that gives people the answers they want rather than the answers they need (facts, in context). Heavily involved with the Texas history textbook selection cycle (since Texas is the single largest purchaser of Text Books, the rest of the Nation usually mirrors the Lone Star State), Mr. Barton has been seen as attempting to assert that America would be better off with a Patrick Henry-esque theocracy. Since I am heavily involved in the culture wars, I have known about Mr. Barton for a while, but the public recently met Mr. Barton when he appeared on The Daily Show on May 5th. I urge people to watch the interview. He favors a remarkably dishonest form of argument called quote-mining yet places a unique spin on the practice.
Quote-mining is where one takes a quote out of context to prove their point, often reversing the intent of the author. On the internet, this method runs rampant; one of the most popular examples is pulled from Darwin.
“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”
To the ignorant, this quote proves than Darwin, the figurehead of evolution, had doubts about his theory and thus, evolution is flawed. But, if you read the full quote…
“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.”
In the very next sentence, he begins his explanation on how he thinks the eye was formed. Furthermore, in the centuries of scientific advance since then, Darwin’s general idea was shown to bear fruit. But what is inexcusable is the active intellectual dishonesty of the practice. How could you, as an honest person, partake in such a practice? Worse, how could you place yourself in a position of authority and speak known falsehoods. That practice may define politics but, is exceptionally dangerous when applied to science and history. If you have a valid scientific argument, it is made in the data sets and not in copying and pasting random lines like you were quoting chapter and verse.
Back to Mr. Barton, his take on the practice is a bit different. When he quote mines, he backs it up with an authentic historical document. So the quote, in a sense, is in literal context. But, he ignores the historical context. It is easy to point to a Federalist paper arguing for more religious governance and exclude the next 200 years of historical development. His argument eventually breaks down to “The founder’s had slaves, so slavery should still be allowed (if the states choose)”. When you replace “Christian Values” with slavery, the logic is still plain and wrong.
So it was with glee when the May 18th Daily Show featured another historian, Richard Beeman. Click the links and watch the interviews. If you don’t agree with me on who is the more honest and truthful person, toss it up in the comments.
Now we get to Answers in Genesis (AiG), one of the prime drivers in combating evolution through creation “science” and “intelligent design”. Thankfully the courts have ruled against AiG and like groups to date but, AIG is rather adept in evolving it’s strategy. When Creationism was ruled unconstitutional (that document the right loves to claim is sacrosanct) the renamed it Intelligent Design in order to attempt to separate the “theory” (in quotes because they attempt use the scientific meaning but use it incorrectly) from the Abramic God.
When ID came to court, AiG publically announced that they would defend it. And they were quite bombastic in their assertions that they would prevail. Yet, as the trail progressed it became apparent that even the Bush appointed judge would not rule in their favor, AiG unceremoniously withdrew their professional witnesses. Which says a lot about the strength of your argument when you will not present said argument unless the cards are fully stacked in your favor, mainly it says that you know your argument is false. Because if you truly did believe and had evidence, you would argue no matter how receptive your audience is.
So, I cannot currently support a party that embraces these causes. Because this goes deeper than politics, it goes to the core of our society. How can we remain the most advanced people if we are hesitant to teach any fact or discipline that might go against the fairy-tale worldview we grow up with? How can we learn as a people when we only teach our mythical founding story and not the bitter crawl of American history that we walk even as we still, to this day, strive to make a nation that our founders envisioned? We can’t, and if we continue to be content with our ignorance, cocksure in the correctness of our world, the spotlight of history will shift from the United States until a future generation works to reclaim our dominance.
A few months ago, a Chinese missile sub surfaced off the coast of L.A. and launched an ICBM as the president was en route to China as a show of power. Recently they announced their intentions to travel to the moon, land next to Apollo 11 Lander and replace the fallen American flag with a Chinese one. If we continue to let the fundamentalist fringe taint our education and research programs, we will fail. World War II blessed us with a few short gilded decades but, the gold is beginning to erode. The average Chinese middle schooler knows calculus, the average American middle schooler is struggling to grasp geometry. So I argue, even if the democratic policies that you disagree with may impact you financially, does it outweigh the impact on the society you leave behind?
I may be an atheist, comfortable in the knowledge that no magic Disney land awaits me (even if I’m wrong), but I do desire this Nation to succeed. The world is not black and white like many want to believe, true evil and true good are hard to find. We exist in a world of grey, where life is unfair and the powerful and cunning exploit the weak. Yet, I was lucky enough to be born into a society that gives you the chance to succeed if you only put forth the effort; and that is worth fighting for.
So as 2012 looms and while I am stuck in Iraq, please remember that without science, without secularism and naturalism, I would not have the armor I wear, the vehicle that protects me, and the technology that enables me to defeat anything that faces me on the field of battle. My enemy uses the phrase “God wills it”, yet the American military’s kill:death ratio ( a fact, supported by data) says that God usually does not will it, and my enemies suffer for that. We would do well, to learn from their mistakes.