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RANT FROM APRIL 2008
"The Attack on Science"
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A White House official, not a scientist, edited the report of the chief environmental scientist at NASA. He changed the meaning of the report. Instead of a warning about global warming, it became a suggestion that there was a debate among scientists about the reality of global warming and its causes. It was part of the current administration's direct attack on science itself.

On another front, the administration attacked the concept of evolution, and succeeded in confusing large portions of the public. Scientists use the word "theory" to mean "the framework into which the vast majority of the data fit in a logical manner." But the opponents of science assert that "theory" means simply "hypothesis." "It's only a theory!" they exclaim, meaning, "Even the scientists admit that it may or may not be true!" But real scientists don't believe any such thing.

Atomic theory refers to the framework in which all the chemical elements can be seen in consistent patterns, the periodic table, with its families of related elements and its predictable chemical reactions. No one says of the periodic table, "It's only a theory!" It is simply how it is. It explains how chemistry works. Likewise evolution is the framework into which biological data fit. The data make perfect sense and predictions can be trusted.

The most blatant attack on evolution that I have noticed was described recently on the evening TV news. Fundamentalist teachers brought youngsters into the Denver Museum of Natural History and proceeded to train the kids not to believe the evidence before their eyes. "We don't believe this," the teacher intoned. "What do we believe?" he asked.

"The Bible," the kids chanted, tyrannosaurus and triceratops and diplodocus to the contrary notwithstanding. I was startled to learn that the museum tolerated it. I even wondered if fundamentalists had taken over the management of the museum, as they have the gift shop at the Grand Canyon, where books explaining that God created the Grand Canyon on the third day six thousand years ago are for sale.

Why this attack on science? What's behind it? In the case of global warming, greed is part of the answer. But for the most part the answer is mythology. Authority is granted to a book, which contains stories. "Myth" means "story." One of these stories tells how God created everything in six days. Footnotes to that story, not in the original text, tell when. Archbishop Usher, in the 1400s, calculated that creation took place at 10 in the morning of October 21, in the year 4004 B.C. That note has been added to the myth and is now regarded by some as definitive. So all the evidence to the contrary, all the science which says otherwise, and all the simple logic and good common sense, must all be wrong.

I recall an old teacher of mine, from far away and long ago - Dr. Beverly Kunkle at Lafayette College in 1950 - who challenged me, and it needed doing: "Any lover of truth will follow truth wherever it leads." No authority, no matter of what kind, can ever override that.

And the corollary is, "Believing myths doesn't make them so."

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Copyright © 2008 Harry Willson

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