Monday, February 24, 2014

Faith and reason

Scientists are not as secular as people think




(The Economist)  TO GREENS, men like John Shimkus—the chairman of a congressional body that oversees work to curb air, soil and water pollution—represent a special sort of bogeyman. Mr Shimkus, a Republican from rural Illinois, is not just staunchly pro-industry, anti-regulation and sceptical of claims that man’s activities menace the planet. He also brings his Bible to work. At a hearing on greenhouse gases, he opened it and quoted God’s words to Noah after the Flood. “Never again will I destroy all living creatures,” God promised. This, said Mr Shimkus, was “infallible” proof that neither man’s actions nor rising flood waters will destroy the Earth. So let’s not worry too much about global warming.

Folk like Mr Shimkus feed a perception that American religion and science are doomed to be in conflict, with unhappy consequences for public policy. For decades, the loudest boffin-on-believer fights involved the teaching of evolution in public schools (a battle the boffins nearly always won), followed more recently by disputes about stem-cell research. Rows about global warming are catching up. In conservative states such as Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma, Republicans have introduced bills urging schools to teach children that there are competing opinions on such “controversial” scientific issues as evolution, global warming and human cloning. 


Ostensibly the goal is to foster critical thinking. But the country’s largest science-promotion body, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has urged states to reject such bills, protesting that the basic facts of global warming and evolution are not in significant dispute. (Even if the policy response to global warming is hotly disputed, as are the ethics of cloning.) Pro-evolution campaigners are blunter, calling the bills a ploy by the political and religious Right to muscle their way into science classrooms. 



Political and religious conservatives do not perfectly overlap. Black churchgoers, for instance, may be stern traditionalists when it comes to morality, yet reliably vote Democratic. Not all conservatives who oppose government action to tackle climate change are religious: plenty of businesses straightforwardly oppose rules which they fear will cost money and jobs. Meanwhile, some strict believers and church leaders think God wants people to take care of the environment; they talk of their responsibilities as “stewards of creation”. But in general the very religious—and especially the third of all Americans who call themselves evangelical or born-again Christians—have been allies for conservatives itching for a scrap with the scientific establishment. Though most evangelicals say that the earth is warming, in polls they are much less sure than the average American that this matters, or that man is to blame. 

Why this should be so is a subject of debate, and until recently a lot of guesswork. Evangelical Christianity is a slightly hazy term ... ► Read the full article in Lexington Column│The Economist



Image: Dave Simmonds│The Economist

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