Scientific Ignorance

2013-10-21

Image credit: “Mary Death” by Matthew Tarpley (www.marydeathcomics.com)

I’m not a fan of organized religion and cults; in many ways, I see little difference between them. In addition to Christian Science, I especially dislike conservative fundamentalist Christianity, and it’s evil cousin radical Islam. Quite frankly, I see very little difference between these two either. While I would never support the forced prohibition of religion and would fight tooth and nail against it, I rejoice in its natural decline when and where it happens, and would love to think that I might live long enough to see it completely disappear–but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

IGNORANCE
The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.1

What sustains conservative fundamentalist religious practice? Plain and simple, I think it is largely ignorance. Fundamentalist leaders thrive on the blind ignorance of their followers. Ignorance gives them power because ignorant people are easily controlled. Why else are they so often opposed to education? In many an election cycle I experienced while living in the United States, I would hear right wing Christian/Republican candidates rail against what they called “educated liberal elites”. Right wing Christian politicians and religious leaders are often opposed to funding public education, and consistently rail against teachers and other educators, and they see little value in advanced education–although many of them seem to have college or university degrees–I guess they just don’t want the rest of us to get the sheepskin. The most radical would eliminate public education entirely and return the United States to the days when children were homeschooled–presumably to not be influenced by evil, liberal, evidence-based scientific ideas. There is nothing wrong with homeschooling–a number of my friends homeschool their children for various reasons and their kids are light years ahead of their peers educationally, but not everybody has the necessary resources or knowledge to do so. So, would these people deny education to those who can’t afford private school, or whose parents cannot homeschool them? So much for Christian charity. And fuck equality or fairness; they don’t want that. That’s socialism, after all.

Conservative Christians reserve particularly scorn for evidence-based scientific study and research, particularly when it comes to the origin of life, Earth, and the universe. After all, why let facts, evidence, and logic get in the way of unbridled ideology? Google “Kansas school board” or “Texas Board of Education” if you want to see how truly stupid and crazy the debate over evolution vs. creationism can be, and what can happen when radical Christians gain positions of power and influence. I consider them to be the Christian version of the Afghani Taliban. Over the years, the United States has begun to fall behind many other countries in its level of scientific education, and interestingly 46% of Americans do not even believe in the theory of evolution.2

Among those who attend church weekly, two-thirds believe in creationism, 25 percent believe in theistic evolution and a mere 3 percent believe in evolution.3

The theory of evolution is based on hard evidence, as observed and studied in the field–no, it hasn’t been entirely proven and may never be. That’s why it is called a THEORY! Once proven 100%, it will be a scientific principle or law–such as the law of gravity is now, or it will be supplanted by something else. So far, the theory of evolution is holding up under evidence-based scientific scrutiny, and the evidence thus far bears it out.

Creationism is largely based on belief, not evidence, and little in the way of logic, although some try to cloak it in scientific language. It is rooted firmly in the belief in an invisible (to all senses) all-powerful, sentient deity that created the world and everything in it between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, give or take a few, and the veracity of a book based in ancient tribal legends, compiled by many individuals–all with their own agendas; translated, transposed, and re-written countless times by many other individuals–also with their own agendas. That book is the Holy Bible. Some creationists believe that humans and dinosaurs existed side-by-side, and cite Bible passages to support that rather preposterous idea. The Bible, in fact, is the sole source of proof for their ideas. To a radical Christian, the only truth is what is contained within the Bible–just ignore all that evidence out in the real world. If it’s in the Bible, it’s true, and the Bible is the infallible word of God. For them, the argument begins and ends there, and quite frankly it is a complete waste of time to argue with them. Facts and evidence will not sway them. You’d have a better chance of success at teaching calculus to a chimpanzee.

My theory is that fundamentalist religious folks oppose scientific study because it is something that cannot be controlled, and it shatters their worldview. Scientific study draws conclusions from evidence. You don’t necessarily know where the evidence will lead, and in some cases it completely upsets scientific orthodoxy. Yes, scientists will often go in to an experiment or field research with preconceived notions, but a good scientist will not allow those notions to cloud their observations if they counter that notion. On a macro level, this can sometimes be a big fight when a scientist makes observations that defy scientific orthodoxy of the time, but eventually, as evidence mounts, even widely held notions are changed.

A perfect example of how evidence-based scientific study works, and how evidence completely can change widely and long-held scientific orthodoxy is the story of the Channeled Scabland in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Washington. This is an area of spectacular beauty that I have been fortunate enough to visit on many occasions. It is a mostly arid area with an unusual combination of geologic features. Scientific orthodoxy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries dictated that the features were formed over many millennia through glaciation and river erosion. After all, that is how most large-scale geological features like the Grand Canyon are formed. However, the evidence does not completely add up to that conclusion in this case, and geologist J. Harlen Bretz put forth a theory that the Scablands were formed by a single catastrophic event: the sudden drainage of an Ice Age lake known as Lake Missoula in what is now northwestern Montana.4 This lake was about the size of the Great Lakes. It was held back by an ice dam that gave way, and in a matter of days, it drained. Bretz’s theory accounted for all of the unusual field evidence that orthodoxy could not explain. His theory was rejected out of hand when he first presented it in the 1920s because it suggested “catastrophism”–a “discredited view that Earth had been shaped by sudden cataclysms rather than by slow evolutionary change.”5, but he persisted in advancing his theory and after a while, the geological community began to accept his theory, and it is now the accepted explanation for the formation of this feature. Human orthodoxy could not control the conclusions that the evidence gave.

It is worth noting that while I was researching source information to cite for the formation of the Channeled Scabland, I came across many websites operated by “Creation Science” purveyors who readily use this example to prove that accounts such as the “Noah Flood” really happened as told in the Bible. These websites are cloaked in the appearance of scientific authenticity, right down to a logo on one that resembled a stylized atom, and even include articles by people with PhD after their names. However, they usually always loop back to a supernatural explanation or the articles are used to bolster the Creationist theory, and they latch on to events like this to bolster their claims of Biblical veracity. Never mind that Lake Missoula was drained due to the failure of an ice dam. Supercooled liquid water did it, not God. Just another way to tamp down the ignorant masses when and if they start to think for themselves and question the veracity of a collection of ancient tribal legends. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there probably was an actual catastrophic flood that forms the basis of the Noah story. Flood narratives appear in many cultures of the area and time of the Noah story, and there is some geological evidence to support the idea that there was a flood. But, I believe the explanation is much more earthly, and to some extent, mundane.

Ignorance will cause people to latch on to any belief no matter how crazy it might be, and to be controlled by the purveyors of that belief. Ignorance caused hundreds to blindly follow Jim Jones to Guyana and drink the Kool-Aid without question. Ignorance took many to their deaths in Waco, Texas at the Branch Davidian compound; and ignorance led the members of the Heaven’s Gate group to commit suicide with the belief that they were going to meet aliens in a spaceship that was supposedly trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. Radical reliers on Christian Science never question Mary Baker Eddy–they follow her over the cliff, with tragic results–their ignorance of evidence contrary to Eddy’s teachings are their undoing. My deepest gratitude lately is for the fact that I always did question Christian Science, and finally when the chorus of doubts and evidence of its ineffectiveness got deafening, I left. Ignorance causes people not to question things that should be questioned. It turns them into pliable sheep that can be led over any cliff. The oppressors of the world love and thrive on ignorance.

Ignorance is the true enemy, and radical religion is one of its nurturers–a parasite that nurtures and feeds off it. Radical religion needs ignorance to survive; it will die without it. The more light that can be shed on the evils perpetrated by organized religion and the dangers of ignorance, the better. Yes, it’s a bright light that can be uncomfortable (I speak from experience), but, as Jesus (or someone writing as him) apparently once said, “…ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). I for one, am very grateful to have been set free by the truth.

____________________

1 “Ignorance” (definition). The Free Online Dictionary. Farlex Inc. n.d. Web. 11 November 2013. <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ignorance&gt;

2 Barooah, Jahnabi. “46% Americans Believe in Creationism According to Latest Gallup Poll”. The Huffington Post – Religion. The HuffingtonPost.com Inc. 05 June 2012. Web. 26 October 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/americans-believe-in-creationism_n_1571127.html&gt;

3 Ibid.

4 “Mystery of the Megaflood”. Nova. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 20 December 2005. Web. 11 November 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/megaflood/&gt;

5 Ibid.

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2 thoughts on “Scientific Ignorance

    • I randomly listened to a few passages. Very powerful, and resonated strongly with me. I think I’m going to order that book now. Also had a look at the Homeschoolers Anonymous site. Wow…some powerful stuff, and the stuff of nightmares too. I only hope that, to coin a CS term, that the error of conservative fundamentalist Christianity will be destroyed as light is shone on it.

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