I was appalled, but not surprised, to read in the New York Times that a number of states have added global warming to the mythologies that they want to be taught in schools as a ‘balanced’ approach to ‘critical thinking’. As some critics have pointed out this is another instance of the creeping attempt to dismantle the separation of church and state that is a part of the American system. Goes right up there with the effort of one state, I think it was Tennessee, to legally define PI as 3.000 — great, hope your buildings stay up.
I have been watching a defense of the subjugation of women among some of my Facebook friends and see something similar — because of the pronouns used in the english language translation of the Old Testament, there is a hierarchy of control established with women at the bottom. Let us not forget how many times this text has been translated both in language and culture from the original to say nothing of politics — read the history of Rome and the councils of Nicea. Anyone play telephone?
I guess at the root of the whole mess is a desire to put evidence-based science on a par with religious beliefs. Or as Mark Twain once remarked: ‘X knows all that can be known and I know the rest’. Personally, given the choice between evidence-based science suggesting something I did not like and a belief that it just didn’t apply to me, I would take the latter if there were no fatal consequences for my faith being wrong. Especially if it were profitable for me to continue down a particular path — i.e. I had an incentive for persisting in the face of evidence to the contrary.
But that is the rub, isn’t it? This is an easy thing to debate where the scope is small and the number of variables can be counted on one hand. But when the scope becomes huge the debate becomes much more difficult and there is plenty of room for faith to fill in the missing or inconvenient variables — regardless of which way it tilts.
The cynic would say ‘follow the money’ — there is certainly enough suggestions that various political projects are motivated by private profit (and colored by it). I am thinking of the wind turbines on the next island — producing intermittent power at several times the cost of a nuclear plant; or the ‘open market’ for electricity that various places are trying to implement (an idea fostered by Enron); or the idea that by forcing more people to do business with insurance companies or outsourcing agencies that costs can go down while preserving service levels; or that exporting jobs and increasing the number of unemployed is somehow good for the economy. The list seems almost endless.
The problem with most of this is that the variables and their relationships are pretty obscure at best [climate change is the messiest] so since evidence-based science only offers peepholes into what, if anything, is going on — the proponents fall back on faith to fill in the blanks and paper over the inconsistencies.
Problem with exposing kids to conflicting ideas as dicta is that they will be memorizing this without the critical thinking skills to make their own decisions about which is ‘truth’ and which is ‘faith’. And since faith is generally free of evidence (except perhaps for sainthood qualifiers and other miracles) there are no guideposts to help them choose between standing on firm ground or trying to walk on water (or air). So in the end the quality of their decisions will go down. Today we probably will not notice it, but over time I suspect things will degrade. It is like my sons’ science textbooks — each province has its own versions of the basic sciences and the order in which concepts are presented are determined by (secret) committee and no longer follow the development progressions of the texts I was taught from. He had an awful time because it became just rote memorization and applying concepts was very difficult. This may have been the intent as it seems while some parts of the world are getting smarter, we are making our children dumber.
So in the end, it might be helpful to remember that we got here as a society by applying the evidence. And followed our faith to fill in the rest and keep us going to find more evidence. That we do not understand some of what we see and what we do see seems inconsistent and paradoxical should not be so distressing. But as long as we insist on simple black and white explanations for very complex problems we will be disappointed. So when a problem is too big we should hold off on being too enthusiastic for simple solutions — including denying the problem. But strive to find other ways forward that leaves room for us to be wrong and correct it. But this is hard, which is why the morons among us yearn so strongly for simple solutions that don’t make them too uncomfortable. I hope they are a minority.