Amoeba’s Lorica: The Age of Denial (A Rich Emotional Life, Part 2)

I am an unabashed creationist, young earth believer. I cannot scientifically prove my beliefs, but the science community continues to trip over itself to disprove my ideas, and in the process helps to solidify my beliefs. I strongly approve of scientific method, and I won’t discount good science with strong experimental evidence. But, I won’t for one second take poorly conceived extrapolations as fact, as do many of my thoughtful, highly-trained fellow believers, even if it defies the current (and usually incorrect) scientific reasoning.

Here’s to REAL truth …

      – Comment on OpEd piece by Adam Frank, New York Times, 21 August 2013

In the essay cited above, titled “Welcome to the Age of Denial”, Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, adds his voice to the list of scientists and science allies who are concerned about the decline of scientific and technological literacy in these Untied States, who find themselves faced with, in his words, “… a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.”

Frank’s creationist commenter could not have illustrated Our society’s confusion about science more succinctly. To say how, perhaps it needs to be said out loud what the first assumption of science is:

the universe and everything in it works perfectly well, and has always worked perfectly well, on the basis of its interplay of matter and energy (i.e., its physics) as it occurs and is observable today.

No divine agency can be invoked to explain how the universe works, because a divine agency, by definition, transcends the observable “laws of physics”, and the scientist assumes that these laws cannot be transcended. Consequently, scientists don’t believe anything (though they may say that they do out of habit). They have ideas and test them, and discard them without a backwards glance (well, maybe one or two) if they don’t work. One cannot proclaim a belief that is inaccessible to testing (usually because it invokes a divine agent) and simultaneously talk about using the scientific method to evaluate it or claims against it. Creation science is an oxymoron.

Unfortunately, as Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has already argued, belief systems resonate with human emotions in ways that the scientific method does not, indeed, YFNA thinks, must not – lest “science” become ‘just another belief system’ in the eyes of We the People, and lose even more face than it has already. It is this emotional dimension that science defenders miss, YFNA thinks, when trying to puzzle out how come, as Frank writes, more of Us believe in special, divine creation of the universe, and disbelieve in global climate change resulting from human activities, today than 40 years ago – despite agencies like the US National Science Foundation spending big chunks of their scarce research dollars on so-called “outreach” activities intended to get more of Our citizens onboard with science.

Yes, the practice of science has its emotional side. Without a sense of wonder, there is no incentive to ask questions about nature, and without imagination, there can be no questions to ask. And a Richard Dawkins can wax eloquent about being moved by phenomena of nature, without the need to invoke a divine agency to thank for them. But a Richard Dawkins can also whinge about how difficult it is to organize folk with like minds to his – ‘herding cats’ were his exact words in The God Delusion. The emotions of scientists, YFNA postulates, tend to be individualized, while those of the belief systems against which they rail tend to be communal.

Now ask which of these groups will form the more effective army.

A Facebook commenter on Frank’s post wrote about how easy it has been through history for technologically savvy societies to unravel:

.. Islam went through three bright and glorious golden ages of intellectual advancement, that gave the world a wealth of science and art — yet look at the Islamic world now.

The commenter neglected to mention the event that launched the now-prevalent “fundamentalist” streak within Islam: the sack of Baghdad by Mongol armies – armies of an “unsophisticated” people united by a firm belief that they, the Mongols, were destined, called even, to inherit the earth.

YFNA continues to worry that folk, like Frank, who call for scientists to become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas, may be biting off more than they can chew. Consider:

1. Jesus of Nazareth could claim that “his burden was easy, his yoke light”. Stephen Hawking, not so much. Science is hard, and no amount of rah-rah-rah is going to change that fact. Indeed, the scientific method itself promises that productive science will become progressively harder over time.

2. Most careers in science are, YFNA thinks, dodgy to poor economic choices, especially for those without a significant subsidy (e.g., inherited wealth, or a spouse with a ‘real job’).

Faith communities have long known of the “Billy Graham effect”, where recruiting drives (the Billy Graham “Crusades”) actually resulted in net losses of people, as the converts discovered that their new faith came with the same old problems. How much more will this be a problem for “science crusades”, especially when folk discover that their Bachelor of Science degree might earn them almost as much as they could have gotten as a kid fresh out of high school, signed up as a trainee manager at a fast food palace.

As he noted earlier, YFNA postulates that science would be better off not engaging in the general shouting and chest-butting that society in these Untied States has become. He is convinced that any such contest between rookie scientists and world-champion belief systems can only lead to further contraction of science. Only by getting Us to step back from Our worship of emotions will We stand a chance of propping reason and evidence as the principal means of doing business. He only wishes he had a way of accomplishing this.

Meanwhile, since we are entering an Age of Denial, we may as well have a song for it … Dance of Denial

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