Free Science from Religious and Political Attacks
Free Science from Religious and Political Attacks

Anti-Science - Turning People Against Facts for Ideology and Profit


American culture has become increasingly anti-science. Much of this comes from Christian conservatives who reject science because it “disagrees” with the Bible, and much also comes from climate change deniers; but the anti-science rhetoric has worked its way deeply into the broader American psyche, leading to doubt and rejection of science in unrelated areas.

There has always been push back against science, and there have been waves of outright rejection of science, but in the modern era, the growth anti-science culture in America is unique in developed countries. Our allies, competitors, and potential enemies are not waiting around for the U.S. to get over this; they are pushing forward in science and technology. Meanwhile, our anti-science mindset is impacting our education, public health, the environment, and the economy.

The anti-vaccine movement is a notable example. The movement began with a fake and discredited article, and the science is solid on vaccines not leading to autism, and yet people across the pollical spectrum have rejected vaccines to the that long-defeated and dangerous diseases are reappearing in America.

Science can be wrong, but science isn’t just another ideology. It is a process based upon facts, research, and empirical evidence. It is peer reviewed, and unlike religion or other ideologies, it self-corrects. Science is the foundation of our technology and generally our best our only hope to solve many of the world’s problems – from medical issues to fighting world hunger to dwindling resources.

America has been a leader in technology and innovation – we owe that to science, freedom, and opportunity – all things currently under attack in today’s America.

We are undermining education in technology and science. The anti-science rhetoric discourages kids from pursuing science education, while religious politicians are more concerned with pushing creationism into science text books than updating the books with recent science. There is enormous economic and environmental opportunity on alternative energy, but Trump is redirecting the U.S. back to the dying coal industry.

Attacking science and fighting valid scientific results is not new. The lead industry paid for fake science to keep lead in paint and gasoline for decades after it was shown that lead can lead to brain damage and death. The cigarette industry paid for fake science to cast doubt on the clear fact that smoking causes cancer and heart disease. But between religious fanatics going after evolution and the oil industry attacking climate change science, we have reached a critical mass of anti-science propaganda that is permeating our whole culture.

I believe that attacks upon “educated elites”, undermining our education system, anti-science, and the intentional assaults upon facts, truth and the media are all tied together in a cultural push to keep our citizens divided, uninformed, and distracted from real problems. Weakening the attacks on science will help defend the value of knowledge and facts in general. Fighting off the attacks against science may be one of the most important things we can do for the future of this country. So, what do we do?

First, we liberals and people of science must stop attacking the idea of faith. It is easy to look at the religious attacks on science, religious wars, and discrimination justified by religion and want to reject religion completely. It is easy to want to call the faith-based arguments, “stupid”. But that instantly kills a necessary discussion, and it makes people resistant to ideas we present.

Religion is not going away. The Soviet Union spent over seventy years trying to crush religion, and as soon as the Soviet state ended, religion reappeared. Now, the Orthodox Church is effectively the state religion of Russia. Similarly, people of science have hoped that reason would, in time, pull people away from the problems that come with religion; it hasn’t in any way that matters in the short term.

One thing we need to do is to become more politically involved locally. The religious-right is highly motivated and have been very effective at infiltrating school boards and city councils to push religion, revisionist history, and anti-science into our schools. We need to be as motivated and be there to provide opposing views and stop this grass roots attack upon education and truth.

Another thing we need to do is to calmly and intelligently provide facts – every chance we get. And we need to make more opportunities to present the facts. We need to fact check ourselves, lest we get pulled into a anti-fact movements such as the anti-vaccine movement. When we misrepresent scientific facts, we invite opponents to discredit all people speaking out for science.

We need to be able to respectfully and intelligently challenge anti-science arguments in simple terms.

Regarding climate change, we need to keep it simple. Anyone who has sat in a car in the sun can see that the greenhouse effect is real, and it is very basic science that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. There are dozens of real world examples of the earth getting hotter: from melting polar ice to collapsing Antarctic sheets to plants migrating north to rising sea levels

Regarding creationism, we need to challenge the idea that the Bible is perfectly factual. We need reasonable religious people to stand up for science versus Biblical literalism as well.

Disclaimer: the arguments below all assume accepting that the Bible is the word of God and that God exists. I am not trying to argue for either assumption, but we will get nowhere arguing with religious people “that God doesn’t exist”, and we don’t need to. My arguments below are suggested as discussions that can be had that my help reduce the inclination of some religious people to attack science. I have had some success challenging people of faith to read the Bible and question what modern people are telling them about it.

The Bible can be “perfect”, “true,” and “The Word of God” without each word being factually and literally true. The Bible does claim to be the Word of God, and it claims to be true. Nowhere does it say that every word in the Bible needs to be taken literally. The evangelical belief in Biblical literalism is the root of conflict with science, but that is dogma that does not come directly from the Bible.

The Bible says that the Earth was created in seven days, and implies the Earth is only six-thousand years old. That can be “true” and not literally mean six-thousand-years in modern terms. The most obvious answer is that the story is allegory, but many people of faith will not accept that. Perhaps God’s “days” are not our days, but human epochs. Perhaps God manipulates time when creating things, and billions of years of physical aging occurred one day. Perhaps the truth God told the people writing the Bible was simplified for their primitive knowledge. How would they be expected to understand billions of years, dinosaurs, and microbes?

The Bible says the world is flat. It neglects to mention that when God created Earth, He apparently created billions of other stars and planets, some of which also may have life. He neglected to mention Neanderthal and other hominids. He neglected to mention dinosaurs. He neglected to mention asteroids striking Earth and nearly annihilating all life. He neglected to mention the Yellowstone caldera erupting and nearly annihilating all life. He neglected to mention bacteria and viruses. How useful would it have been for the early Hebrews to know about pathogens? Think of the lives that would have been saved with simple hygiene.

The point is: clearly the Bible omits things that exist and matter. The best interpretation for someone who thinks the Bible is all true is that God only explained to early humans the things they were capable of understanding. A less popular but similarly valid interpretation is that the flawed humans who passed on God’s word failed to pass on things that they could not see and understand. There is no reconciling the Bible with fact without these interpretations. The choices left are that the Bible is sometimes wrong or false, or that massive amounts of factual evidence are false – not just science, but basic facts – such as the fossil record or the Earth being a ball of rock that orbits the sun.

The Bible is not even self-consistent. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 give conflicting versions of the story, and Genesis 2 is clearly written from a vastly more misogynistic perspective. The four Gospels also vary slightly in their telling of Jesus’ story. Clearly there is either human imperfection in the documentation of God’s word, or God wants there to be inconsistencies that must be interpreted. In either case, these inconsistencies themselves eliminate any argument that every word in the Bible is precise; and therefore, that religion must conflict with science on Biblical “facts”.

I think most of the Christians who are rabidly arguing against science because of religion have not read the Bible much. Challenging blind-followers to read the Bible and reconcile it with fact is possibly the best weapon we for the fight to defend science and fact.

Lastly, there are the manipulators. I fully believe the rank and file people attacking science have been convinced that science is wrong and it is hurting faith or business; but these people are being manipulated and used by people who have goals. They are being used by people who sow anger and divisiveness for power, influence, and gain. With climate change, these people are those who can profit from another generation of unrestrained fossil fuel use. With creationism, it is pastors and politicians who whip their followers into a frenzy. These people need to be challenged. Unfortunately, I don’t have any better suggestions than aggressively and intelligently presenting the truth.