The War on Science
Kenny A. Chaffin
All Rights Reserved © 2012 Kenny A. Chaffin
The war in the news these days and the public’s attention is on Iraq or Afghanistan but there is a much more insidious war under way, it’s the war on science. Not since the dark ages has there been such a blatant attack on science and reason. This war is being waged on multiple fronts including from theologians, politicians and the public itself, but why? What could any of these groups have against furthering knowledge of the world around us? And what does it mean for our future?
The Theological War on Science
There is a long tradition of war against science by the church. Science has often been a target of theology as in the battles against Copernicus and Galileo and many other scientists throughout our long history. The battle between evolution and creationism is at the forefront of the theological war on science. Despite the fact that all evidence, research and experiments confirm Darwin’s theory of there are still those theologians that argue against it and mount attacks on it. Many of these attacks are efforts to get creationism (i.e. religion) taught in public schools. Fortunately most of the attempts have failed. The most public failure was the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case in Dover, PA where creationism was being forced upon the school by the school board. The board requirement that a statement presenting intelligent design as "an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view" was to be read aloud in ninth-grade science classes when evolution was taught was the primary issue and led to a confrontation with parents and ultimately a court battle in U.S. Federal court.
The Discovery Institute based in Seattle, WA that was heavily involved in this case is a theologically minded and backed pseudo-science front for forcing religion into our public institutions. They use a variety of methods including the ‘wedge strategy’ created by Phillip E. Johnson and intended to break in and spread religion into our schools. Even though the Dover case is closed the attempts to force religion into schools continue and there is no evidence of it waning. Tennessee recently passed and Governor Bill Haslam signed into law what is being called the ‘monkey bill’ which ‘allows’ science teachers to teach alternatives to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The law is intended to: “….allow public-school teachers to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” Biological evolution, global warming, the chemical origins of life and human cloning are listed as examples of such theories in this Tennessee law.
Many other areas of theological assault on science are under way as well – the anti-abortion contingent, the anti-stem cell research contingent, attacks on archeology and history by the Young Earth Creationists, resistance to vaccinations, continued sexual mutilations of both male and female children as well as many other areas continue to be under attack.
The Political War on Science
The political assault is in multiple areas, but the primary one is global warming. Again, despite all evidence supporting it, the opponents claim humans are not to blame and that it is a natural variation in climate. It is interesting then that all climate scientists (i.e. those actually trained in environmental science) agree that global warming is happening and is without a doubt the result of human activity. The deniers throw up their hands and say, “Nothing we can do.” Not only that, they take it further and work to actually block laws which would reduce or control the human activities causing the warming. The scientific evidence shows that the current climate changes are due to fossil fuel usage (automobiles, factories, homes, electrical power generation), food production (methane from cattle and landfills, nitrous oxide from fertilizers), and industrial processes (chlorofluorocarbons used in heating/cooling, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). So why is this a “political” issue? What it boils down to is corporations trying to protect themselves with little or no consideration of the people and the environment. They are paying congressional lobbyists and media companies millions of dollars annually to skew public sentiment and protect their interests. Corporations don’t care about the environment, they don’t need air or clean water; their survival depends only returning an annual dividend to their stockholders.
Other political attacks on science are due to the economy and funding issues. NASA’s budget continues to shrink and projects (such as Mars missions) continue to be cut. Now certainly there must be trade-offs made, but when the NASA budget is less than the annual cost of funerals in the U.S. and equals only half of what is spent on kitchen gadgets each year in addition to being 1/20th of the military budget something is not quite right. It was just announce in June 2012 that the Department of Defense has donated two space telescopes to NASA. Interestingly these have never been flown and are higher resolution than the failing Hubble space telescope. I ask, what is wrong with this picture and know that we can do much better in funding science than we currently do. The NASA budget is only one example, what about school and research grants and funding? They are being cut right and left while ever more money goes into tax cuts for corporations or gasoline subsidies. The research funding restrictions bring us to another interesting political topic -- restrictions on scientific research. I’m speaking specifically here about stem-cell research but certainly it is not limited to that one item alone it is restrictions on anything the conservative religious right feels is impinging on their beliefs. Anything related to abortion, birth control, homosexuality, or similar areas of scientific research. Not only have funds been restricted in these areas, laws have been passed to prevent scientific investigation into possible cures for cancer, aids and many other devastating diseases. These restrictions and limitations of course are from the two-pronged attack of Christian Conservatives and political ideologies of the right despite the constitutional mandated separation of church and state.
An example political repression and control surfaced recently with regard to a research paper written on the Bird Flu. Under the guise of national security the government bullied the scientists and publisher to pull the paper because it provided information that could potentially be used by terrorists bent on creating biological weapons. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well it might be, but as it turns out the information was already widely available to anyone who went looking for it so this really was an exercise in political bullying of science and scientists. As it stands, there is information readily available on biological, nuclear and conventional weapons that are potentially much more dangerous than this bird flu paper would have been. This exercise really was just another example of the government/politics attempting and succeeding in retarding and restricting scientific research. Other much less public incidents happen on a daily basis. To be fair this particular decision on the Bird Flu research paper was later reversed, but the potential of it happening in other areas, with other papers, with other research has been clearly demonstrated.
The Public War on Science
The public’s war on science may be one you have not considered, but it exists and is just as dangerous if not more so than the others. There is a definite anti-science bias in the population which may be attributed to several factors. This bias likely began with the development and use of atomic weapons in World War II which brought into the public the eye the vast power of science to destroy. It has continued to be fanned by the assault on natural resources, timber, fish, oil, coal, endangered species and the damage industries have caused by using science and technology to reap profits from those resources.
For the last half century there has been a growing public apathy towards science and a significant drop in science and technology class enrollments in the United States. After the cold war and the Apollo moon missions showing our clear technical and scientific superiority to the Soviets and the world we as a society have been less interested in studying and advancing science and more interested in what science can do for us (iPods, the internet, cell phones, hdtv, 3d movies…) but we don’t want to know or care how these things work, we just want them to make our lives easier and more fun. If there is any problem with that we’ll get our government to intervene to make sure we get our MTV!
If there is any doubt about this just look around you, at the devices you use every day – computers, cars, cell phones, Cable TV, internet, etc. How much about those things do you understand, how much do you want to? Cars used to be relatively simple and many people grew up learning about them and how to fix and maintain them, but like most other things in our lives these days they have become so complex due to emission, safety and fuel mileage requirements that they have become all but impossible to repair without specialized equipment (including computers and electronic analyzers). Not to say these driving requirements are a bad thing, but they have taken away the average person’s ability to repair or maintain them; even more so our electronic devices. Our cell phones are an amazing feat of miniaturization, impossible to repair, even to change the battery in most cases.
These advances and the public apathy at putting forth the effort needed to learn science in our increasingly detailed society has made it uncool to be a scientist yet we need them desperately if our lifestyles are to be maintained.
An unholy trinity of theology, politics and public opinion is waging a war on science that if not recognized and stopped will grow and will ultimately take us into a 21st century version of the dark ages -- assuming of course we are not already there.
Kitzmiller vs. Dover: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District
PBS – “Intelligent Design on Trial: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html
Tennessee Monkey Bill: http://www.nature.com/news/tennessee-monkey-bill-becomes-law-1.10423
Creationism in Louisiana: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2011/0602/Teaching-creationism-Louisiana-law-that-skirts-US-ban-survives-challenge
Academic Freedom Bills: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_Freedom_bills
Wedge Strategy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy
Space Telescope: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/hey-brother-can-you-spare-a-hubble-dod-sure-have-two/258061/
About the Author:
Kenny A. Chaffin writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction and has published poems and fiction in Vision Magazine, The Bay Review, Caney River Reader, WritersHood, Star*Line, MiPo, Melange and Ad Astra and has published nonfiction in The Writer, The Electron, Writers Journal and Today’s Family. He grew up in southern Oklahoma and now lives in Denver, CO where he works hard to make enough of a living to support two cats, numerous wild birds and a bevy of squirrels. His poetry collections No Longer Dressed in Black and The Poet of Utah Park and his collection of science essays How do we Know are available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B007S3SMY8. He may be contacted through his website at http://www.kacweb.com.