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The Politicians’ War On Science

It's a war both Red and Blue.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

November 28, 2012 - 12:00 am
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As another example, recall that the Obama administration declared a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf after the BP spill, citing a scientific report that its authors later claimed had been doctored to come up with a recommendation that they never made. Now that’s what I call a “war on science.”

But getting beyond the bipartisan nature of taking science’s name in vain, I disagree with Slate’s analysis:

So Obama believes in evolution, and presumably he’d like to teach it in the nation’s public schools, while Rubio suggests that “multiple theories” should be given equal time. But even so, both men present the science as a matter of personal opinion. Obama doesn’t say, Evolution is a fact; he says, I believe in it.

Well, he shouldn’t say that, because evolution is in fact not a “fact.” It, like gravity, is a scientific theory. And it is perfectly philosophically legitimate to say [as Rubio does] that alternate theories should be taught in school, but it should be done not in a science class but in one on comparative religions (of which science is one). That there is an objective reality about which we can discover things through scientific methods is not a fact, or “truth,” but an axiomatic assumption. Science is a form of faith, but in terms of understanding the natural world, and forging new artificial creations from it, it is a very successful and powerful one.

Scientists should recognize that their role is not to dethrone God, but to understand the natural world, and part of that recognition would be the essentially religious aspects of their own beliefs. They cannot prove that there is an objective reality whose nature can be determined by asking questions of it in the form of repeatable experiments, or that the entire universe obeys the same laws throughout as in our local neighborhood. These are axioms (among others) on which their faith (and my own) rests. But their faith is not intrinsically antithetical to God; it is orthogonal to it. One can believe in both God and the scientific method (and evolution), and one can believe in neither.

Beyond that, the notions that public policy should be based on science only, or religion only, are both wrong. Despite the attempts to square that circle, ethics issues cannot be determined by science alone (or in some cases at all), while issues of technology, offspring of science, should certainly be informed by it, tempered with the needs of both liberty and public safety. The Founders, in their wisdom, recognized the role of both science and God in public affairs, but too many of their successors don’t seem to. Of course, given the democratic nature of our republic, that, in turn, is largely because their constituents won’t let them. And as long as we have public schools, there will be an ongoing political war on what is taught in them, and by whom.

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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