Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Defending Science

My father is a member of the American Chemical Society and at the age of 90 he keeps up with (among many other things) Chemical and Engineering News. He was motivated to send me a clipping of a recent editorial. I found it on-line. The editorial is entitled Defending Science:

AN ACS MEMBER recently wrote me to complain about the lead News of the Week story on CO2 and climate change in C&EN’s April 7 issue (page 9). In his letter, the member wrote that regulating CO2 “would change the national economy and decrease our standard of living” and, as such, “it is critical to know whether or not increased CO2 emissions would be a significant danger to the public.”

I chose not to publish the letter for reasons that will become clear in the remainder of this editorial. My correspondent does not think that increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to climate change. To support that position, he cited a paper by Arthur B. Robinson and coworkers at the Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine (OISM) published in the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (2007, 12, 79).

Huh? The Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (JAPS)? What has a journal with that name got to do with climate change? With all due apologies to my correspondent, the answer is: nothing.

Where does one start on this? There really is a right-wing effort in the U.S. to discredit widely accepted science, technology, and medical information. Probably the best known is the Junk Science website of Steven J. Milloy, the tireless antiscience polemicist who started out as an apologist for the tobacco industry and spends most of his time these days claiming that all climate-change research is, of course, junk science. It’s a catchy little phrase that Milloy applies to, well, anything that doesn’t match his right-wing concept of reality....

He goes on to show how this organization and others exist to discredit science. The editorial concludes:

Why does any of this matter? Why not just ignore AAPS, JAPS, and OISM and the noise emanating from them? For the same reason science can’t ignore creationism and intelligent design: The goal of the antiscience movement is to endlessly cast doubt on legitimate science.

Of course there are questions about any scientific theory, gaps in knowledge that need to be filled in, whether it is the theory of evolution or the theory of human-induced climate change. That’s why we continue to do science. But the questions and gaps are not fatal flaws, as the antiscience advocates would have the general public believe. As scientists, we need to continue to make that case. (Read More)

My father sent this clipping to me, a religious professional, because he and I both know that the church is where antiscience gains its momentum. I wonder what it is going to take for the church to address this growing antiscience movement.

Do we need a creed that embraces science? Do we need to develop a theology of science? Do we need a curriculum for children, youth, and adults that provides education regarding science?

Teaching and preaching about the Bible, Jesus, and social justice issues are important. But this is becoming the critical issue of our day. The antiscience movement is a serious threat to life. It seems to me that it is up to clergy who are somewhat literate regarding science to take the lead in promoting scientific literacy.

Evolution Weekend is one place to start. Does your church participate?

What are your thoughts?