Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Anti-Science Climate of our Times

This stylized image of the Virgin Mary is so great that I
needed to put it here despite that its only 
connection to this topic is the despondent mood that 
it puts me in. (Artist unknown to me.)
Wags and science journalists have been bemoaning the lack of respect Science is getting in political circles. Specifically, how human-caused global warming seems to have receded from being an observation to a politicized conspiracy theory.

My message to scientists is that the lack of respect for Science is the norm, and that relative respectability of the late Twentieth Century was an exception.

There was a period in the late twentieth century when the rapid advance of science and engineering pushed back the popular bias against it. Just ten years ago Einstein was the "Man of the Century." Even then, it was only journalists at Time that said so; others thought war-time politician Winston Churchill just as worthy.

While there is no inherent reason why science and religion need to conflict, partisans have always used scientific facts to batter religion -- just as religion has used scripture to batter science. Just after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, non-believers glommed onto the ideas immediately and used it to justify their pre-existing beliefs.

Aquinas and others have asserted that scientific truths and religious truths cannot contradicted each other. Augustine thought that scriptures should never be interpreted to mean something that is scientifically not so, as discussed by William Carroll:

Augustine observed that when discussing passages of the Bible that refer, or seem to refer, to natural phenomena one should defer to the authority of the sciences, when available, to show what the text cannot mean. In examining, for example whether the light spoken of in the opening of Genesis (before the creation of the Sun and the Moon) is physical light, Augustine says that if physicists show us that there cannot be physical light without a luminous source then we know that this particular passage does not refer to physical light. The Bible cannot authentically be understood as affirming as true what the natural sciences teach us is false.

A central part of the argument of the receding influence of science is that only 6% of scientists are Republican whereas 23% of the general populous are Republican -- Republicans are under-represented by 3-1 among Scientists.

It is not just Republican politicians who hate Science generally and evolution specifically. Recall that the Soviet government in the 1920's battled against Mendelian genetics in agriculture, and set it back four decades. They hated it because genetics emphasizes nature over nurture.

My daughter points out that Republican scientist Kerry Emmanuel is trying to persuade fellow conservatives to give global warming more credence, but he confesses that he may need to switch affiliation due to the opposition he faces.

I wonder why Global Warming has become politicized. I sincerely hope it is not because business interests have compromised politicians into ignoring the facts -- rather like the mercury toxicity analyses in GW Bush's EPA.

Finally, I bet that the bias against the Republican party does NOT extend to Engineers. I don't know why that is. Something about respect for authority.