- By Paul Hughes
I was actually going to write about something else today, but a friend of mine (thank you, Brandon Bible) had posted a link on Facebook to an interesting article at the Huffington Post. The article talks about how in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, Charles Darwin was promoted as a fictional write-in candidate against Representative Paul Broun (R-Ga.). Why would anyone write in a candidate who (obviously, since Darwin is dead) has no chance of winning? It was a “symbolic challenge” to create awareness regarding Broun’s claims that evolution,1 embryology,2 and the big bang theory3 are “lies straight from the pit of hell.”4 Now, almost all my readers know that I am a firm supporter of the above three as areas of scientific study, against which very little (if any) evidence has been unearthed able of disproving (or even discrediting) them. However, believe it or not, I am not going to spend the length of this post defending them. No, there is a problem much more immediately concerning that must be dealt with: Broun has a seat on the House Science Committee.
Now, in America we are all entitled to our own opinions—it is one of the things I love and respect so much about this country. I don’t have any problem with Representative Broun believing that the world is approximately 9,000 years old, and I don’t I have a problem with him believing that the world was created in six days “as we know them.” I have a problem with the fact that he believes those things and also has accepted a seat on a science committee when the things he believes have no basis in actual science. On what basis does he believe those things? He believes them on the basis of the bible, and the word of God. Not only does he believe those things, but he has condemned three areas of scientific study as being inherently evil!
While I don’t believe that science and religion are exclusive, I do believe that when there is a lot of evidence for something and little-to-no evidence against that thing that it can generally be accepted as true. Interestingly, however, evidence for something isn’t what makes it science. The possibility of evidence against something is what makes a topic scientific. What makes God inherently unscientific is that it is impossible to find evidence against God’s existence. This was discussed and debated in the famous case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The Dover area school district had changed its science curriculum to include the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution as the origin of complex organisms; it was challenged in court, and was found to be violating the Establishment Clause of the first amendment to the constitution (see my last blog post for information regarding the clause, albeit in a different, but still applicable, context). The judge ruled against the school district5 and said that Intelligent Design is not science on the grounds that I presented above—that science is the study of things that can be disproven, and that there was an intelligent designer is not disprovable.
I should add that there is a difference between a theory being “able to be disproven” and actual evidence existing that might disprove that theory (or principle, or law). Let us take the law of gravity. It is highly unlikely that we will ever find evidence against the law (which is why it was given the title “Law”), but it certainly would be disprovable. All that would need to happen is I would need to take this computer I’m typing on, lift it up, let go of it, and it not fall back onto the table—the law of gravity would be been disproven. Of course, that is unlikely to happen, but if it did, it could disprove the law of gravity. Similarly, the theory of evolution could be disproven if we found fossilized evidence of rabbits in the Triassic period; similarly, that is unlikely to happen.
Now the problem we are facing is that someone who believes that the bible teaches us “how to run all of public policy and everything in society” holds a seat of power in the American scientific community. Not only that, however, but he also refuses to look at the evidence for things which the educated scientific community at large has accepted. Note that in the video at the end of the Huffington Post article he mentions that “people told him about” the three topics, not that he’s read any scholarly writing about the subjects in question of any sort.
Unfortunately, the problem runs deeper than just Paul Broun—Congressperson Mo Brooks has said in an interview with Science Magazine,6
“… with respect to carbon dioxide emissions, there’s some good associated with that, to the extent that we have higher levels of carbon dioxide. That means that plant life grows better, because it is an essential gas for all forms of plant life.”
That is an interesting point, if a bit simplistic. Here is an article that deals with that exact subject. Mo Brooks also holds a seat on the House Science Committee, but worse than that, he is chairman on the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.7 While the idea that Mo Brooks will be doing more research is one that gives me hope, the last two words in the title of that subcommittee frighten me: Science Education.
Thankfully, the above two people are not the only people on the committee. There are people who believe in the principles of science and the scientific method, and hopefully it will stay that way. But there are others who are not dissimilar from the above two people; there is an article on Mother Board regarding some of the other people on the committee; people who many of us might agree do not belong there. I don’t agree with a some of the sentiment put forward by Vice and its subsidiaries (such as Mother Board), but the article is worth looking over if you have the time. People like those mentioned above and in the Mother Board article threaten the legitimacy of scientific education, research, and funding in America—we don’t want to see our tax dollars going to work against so many years of great and helpful scientific accomplishment. It’s a problem.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embryology ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang ↩
- This and all other quotes of Broun are from the video attached at the bottom of the Huffington Post article. ↩
- http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf ↩
- http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/02/new-science-subcommittee-chair.html ↩
- http://science.house.gov/subcommittee-research-and-science-education ↩