Dept. of Inevitability: Critics of evolution take on global warming

Personally, I think it's a sin to draw the flying spaghetti monster, but I already took high school biology so I'm damned anyway.

Remember in junior high, when the kid who was getting into shoplifting and the kid who broke windows on cars inexorably drifted toward each other? Well, they’re both born-again Christians now, and despite their apparent differences they’ve still got something in common: their complete rejection of modern science. Oh yeah—they’re also united by their complete ignorance of modern science, but ignorance never stopped a concerned American from influencing his local school board. The Times reports that opponents of teaching evolution in schools have expanded their opposition to include global warming, in part because courts have found that to attack only the science of evolution violates the separation of church and state. See? God never closes a door without opening a window, which had previously protected us from the 140-degree supersaturated vaporsphere.

A number of states—Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota; okay, come to think of it, a “tardbag” of states might be the right term—have introduced legislation urging school boards and teachers to “think critically” about evolution and global warming. According to the Times, a bill currently being debated in Kentucky asks schools to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” like evolution, the origin of life, global warming and human cloning. First of all, I don’t think Kentucky is going to lead the way in human cloning any time soon. Second, it’s probable that whoever drafted the legislation meant to say “the advantages and disadvantages of particular scientific theories.” As it is, the bill seems to be asking schools to consider the value of having scientific theories at all, which just happens to be the larger project that Christian fundamentalism appears to be engaged in.

“Wherever there is a battle over evolution now,” says Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Arizona State University’s Origins Intiative, “there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. It is all about casting doubt on the veracity of science—to say it is just one view of the world, just another story, no better or more valid than fundamentalism.” That’s a cogent distillation of the project of intelligent design, and of anti-secularism in general. Critics of evolutionary theory don’t subject intelligent design to the same rigorous skepticism they apply to Darwin, because they’re arguing against proof itself. If they can reduce the theory of evolution* and, by extension, scientific deduction to a series of arbitrary decisions, then they’ve equalized it with the act of picking stories out of a book. The goal is a reason based on faith, and it’s most easily achieved not by elevating faith to the level of science, but by lowering proof to the level of belief. From there, we just need to get together and vote on what is true.

This project—of putting scientific evidence and deductive reasoning on a par with arbitrary choice and received wisdom—is part of why arguments against intelligent design have been so unsuccessful: they’re arguments. You can’t use reason to convince someone of the primacy of reason. Another part of the problem is that most of what Darwinian theory describes happened a really long time ago, and it’s notoriously difficult to gather experimental data about the past. Creationists’ fixation of “gaps in the fossil record” is essentially the demand that we know everything, and that in the absence of such knowledge we concede we know nothing. Global warming, on the other hand, comes with no such baggage. The classic argument against so-called “different ways of knowing”—a trope of postmodernism that has ironically been embraced by fundamentalist Christians—is the hurtling car. If you believe that you can see with your third eye, which the life force of the universe has provided you in order to transcend western materialism, why don’t you step out into the street blindfolded and see what happens? Just as the value of alternative medicine can best be refuted by trying to use acupuncture to cure your appendicitis, so will the ice caps melt whether we believe global warming is happening or not. This is an argument that will eventually settle itself.

Of course, by that time, it may be too late for the patient. The beauty of the incorporation of global warming into the Christian anti-science crusade is that it forces a gut check that Darwin does not. We can safely tolerate the opinions of ignorant church deacons when it comes to evolution, because the work has already been done. Global warming affords us no such luxury. If we, as a nation and as a culture, truly believe in science, we need to tell the biblical literalists to shut up and hand this discussion over to people who can back up their claims with evidence and reasoning. If we don’t, millions of us will probably die. Or maybe not—who knows? Since God created the world and put human beings here to live in it, it follows that he wouldn’t give us the ability to destroy it. The best course of action is to have faith, since we don’t want to make Him angry, and otherwise do nothing. Which argument makes sense to you? Wanna bet the planet on it?

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  1. I don’t believe historians can account for every minute of George Washington’s days. Does that mean that God may have whisked him away in a practice run for the Rapture?

  2. I mean, it’s only fair. I don’t go to church, but I assume they “teach the controversy.” You know, that “virgin Mary” is likely a mistranslation of “young girl,” that the Gospels are legends written decades after Jesus’ actual lifetime, that the Old Testament is pretty clearly a conglomeration of contradictory texts by different authors, that Moses likely never existed. I’m sure they give equal time to those theories, right?

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