Half the U.S. population and nearly all Republicans do not believe in evolution or climate change by human agency, both of which are considered settled science. Scientists and many other informed citizens worry about the fact that a majority of our elected representatives in the U.S. House and Senate are science-deniers. How did things come to this? 

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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

Doubt and Skepticism are Good:

Wednesday March 25, 2015

Introduction

Half the U.S. population and nearly all Republicans do not believe in evolution or climate change by human agency, both of which are considered settled science. Scientists and many other informed citizens worry about the fact that a majority of our elected representatives in the U.S. House and Senate are science-deniers. 

How did things come to this? What leads so many who grew up in a country as technologically advanced as ours come to resist facts in favor of other forms of knowing or believing? What is the basis of resistance to science, to evidence-based ways of seeing the world? 

Perhaps it’s the nature of religions. 

Some knowledgeable authorities have denied there is disconnect between science and religion, that the two do not necessarily conflict. Perhaps you have heard the phrase “nonoverlapping magisteria,” an unfortunate construct introduced by the great Stephen Jay Gould, a self-described “Jewish agnostic” scientist of the first rank. 

in an effort to calm the waters between the two contrasting forms of knowing, Gould wrote: 

These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry. (Consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we (scientists) get (to explain) the age of rocks, and religion retains the (right to declaim about the) rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven. (Source: “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archives.)

Few scientists at the time (1999) or now agree with Gould’s diplomacy of interpreting nice at the cost of denying factual reality. Among the earliest critics of nonoverlapping magisterial was Richard Dawkins, who wrote:

Religion transcends morals and values. Religion posits a universe with a supernatural presence in which divine interventions via prayers and miracles represent material claims. Any religion without a controlling deity would be far different from Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions. 

Doubt and Skepticism

Doubt and skepticism naturally lead to a recognition that science and religion dramatically contradict each other. Some may want to pretend the reality is otherwise, but it’s not.  

We have a Republican Party and a large segment of the population clinging to ignorance and magical thinking in good part because religion gets a pass—our customs and traditions largely exempt religion from doubt and skepticism. Religions always discourage their flocks of human sheep from applying doubt and skepticism to their dogmas and rituals. 

I well remember my parochial school classes wherein it was not a compliment to be called a “doubting Thomas.” This likely dates to the 5th century. A doubting Thomas is a skeptic, a doubter who hesitates or demurs to believe without credible evidence. The slur, which is actually a compliment from a rational perspective, has its roots in the legend of the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to ten other apostles, at least until such time that he could see and touch the wounds suffered by Jesus on the cross. Poster about Science

From a secular perspective, Thomas was a man of common sense. Who would believe such a preposterous claim today? Certainly nobody not institutionalized or dependent upon powerful meds.

The natural inclination of children is to ask questions, unless they are discouraged from exercising their curiosities. A personal example might be of interest. When in fourth grade, I asked Sister Lucy, “how did Noah and a few helpers collect all those animals and fit them on one boat and keep them from eating each other - and how did Captain Noah manage to get all that poop overboard and …”  Sister stopped me at that point and said I should be careful not be a   “doubting Thomas.” She also said that if I ever asked another question like that I might be turned into salt. 

There was not a lot of support at St. Barnabas for “doubting Thomas.’ Opposition to free inquiry was and continues to be the reality for children and adults under the spell of religions, everywhere. As a commentator at Addicting Info put it recently,“fundamentalism works best when no one questions the authority and authenticity of scripture. ‘You will obey MY interpretation of God’s word or else!’

Science, by its very nature, questions and is, therefore, the enemy.” 

Conflicts Over Magisteria

Science and religion have conflicting perspectives on endless issues. A few examples: 

If religions were personal and not used by adherents to bend public, policy, there would be no worries. We could enjoy a secular society, wherein church and state truly were separate. This is far from the case in America. Three recent egregious examples of the conflict of magisteria can be offered: 

  1. Judge Roy Moore, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He first gained wide notoriety for placing a Ten Commandments monument on public property - and ignoring a court order to remove it. His latest assault on separation of church/state tradition and law was to declare, as Chief Justice, that the First Amendment only applies to Christians.
     
  2. Jody Hice, a Republican member of the new freshman class in the House of Representatives. Representative Hice stated on the House floor that “blood moons” are fulfilling Biblical prophecies.
     
  3. Pope Francis. The Pope just recognized the International Association of Exorcists,“ declaring the body under Catholic canon law “a form of charity.”

The older generations, in which I am irretrievably stuck, will be gone soon enough. Perhaps our predecessors, freer from stifling customs and traditions that promoted religious nonsense and discouraged any science to the contrary by downgrading skepticism and doubt, will be much more sensible. As Lawrence Krauss hinted, it is “naïve to imagine that we can overcome centuries of religious intransigence in a single generation through education.” He added this: 

One thing is certain: if our educational system does not honestly and explicitly promote the central tenet of science—that nothing is sacred—then we encourage myth and prejudice to endure. We need to equip our children with tools to avoid the mistakes of the past while constructing a better, and more sustainable, world for themselves and future generations. We won’t do that by dodging inevitable and important questions about facts and faith. Instead of punting on those questions, we owe it to the next generation to plant the seeds of doubt. (Lawrence Krauss, “Teaching Doubt,” The New Yorker, March 23, 2015.) 

Doubt and skepticism are foundations of science; faith that informs public policy in democracies is a barrier to freedom and REAL wellness. Consider Ingersoll’s words near the end of his epic speech “The Gods:”  

We are not endeavoring to chain the future, but to free the present. We are not forging fetters for our children, but we are breaking those our fathers made for us. We are the advocates of inquiry, of investigation and thought. This of itself, is an admission that we are not perfectly satisfied with all our conclusions. Philosophy has not the egotism of faith… We know that doing away with gods and supernatural persons and powers is not an end. It it a means to an end: the real end being the happiness of man.

Be well, be free and look on the bright side.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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