Despite my protestation that most theological beliefs are held with inadequate reasons, I fully support anyone who holds them. It took years of intense information pursuit to detangle myself from the indoctrination of my youth. While I wish I could provide an escape shortcut for some believers, ultimately I’m finding that I have a real peace toward those who hold to some form of theism or another. They are genuinely sincere and I remember thinking as they do.
What I find myself increasingly impatient and intolerant of, however, is science denialism. Science denialists? People who just straight up deny science. People who are not scientists who proudly declare a contrary position.
Specifically, they selectively deny science. The fiber-optic cables, orbiting satellites, microscopic illuminated pixels and etched silicon that allows them to read this blog or tap like on an affirming sentiment overlaying the image of a sunset… whatever, could be faster. The specialized tubing threaded up to coronary arteries carrying a balloon to be inflated and implant a stent to prevent future heart attacks without invasive surgery… it’s a miracle. DNA sequencing that identifies parentage or puts an accused man in prison… undeniable.
However, when identical methods produce results that appear to be in conflict with economic benefit, lifestyle choice, or worst of all… the interpreted meaning of ancient holy books, the scientific method is suddenly in the reliability category of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey played by devious hucksters.
I can’t put my finger on it, but my emotions rise when this happens. I have visceral anger and physical response when an armchair observer thinks they have the secret data that undermines entire fields. As if, somehow, these gotchas have never reached the people spending their lifetimes dedicated to the fields in question. Or, more importantly, never reached competing scientists who could earn a Nobel prize and funding for life by calling out the Emperor’s new clothes.
Obviously, all scientific claims take on the burden of proof. If the evidence is not compelling to you, that is your right, privilege and duty as a skeptic to not accept. Everyone should be skeptical. However, if you do not take the time or effort to actually understand the claims and the evidence, then your conclusions cannot and should not be respected. Worse yet, if you had your conclusions before examining the data… your opinion deserves to be ignored.
(The potential irony of my feelings about science denial compared to my own deity denial is not lost on me. It is why I attempt to be relentless in seeking every argument for a god, every evidence for the Bible. A theist may assert that I’m just not seeing the evidence, as I might say to them about science. But I do all that I can to look myself in the mirror with intellectual honesty and know that I’m genuinely open to my position being challenged and shown incorrect. How sure is a position that refuses evaluation?)
Some deniers appeal to common sense. As if common sense has ever had anything to do with any scientific discovery. Frankly, it is the counter-intuitive nature of the universe that necessitates science in the first place. It is not common sense that the heavy objects and light objects fall at the same rate. It is not common sense that invisible microscopic organisms cause disease. It is not common sense that apparently solid objects are composed of atoms that are themselves largely made up of empty space. Intuition is not a way of knowing. Incredulity is not a counterpoint. Common sense loses to evidence and explanatory power.
Some deniers point to the changing nature of science, as if that fluidity makes its conclusions tentative or unreliable. Science improves. Science corrects. Science welcomes new data. At no time has science ever abandoned a natural explanation for a supernatural one.
Some deniers point to frauds (intentional and ignorant) of the past, well-known methodological limitations or unsettled details as if they might in any way taint other observations or conclusions. To add to the insult, all of the cited frauds, limitations and disagreements were discovered by other scientists… not science deniers. It is what scientists do… attempt to invalidate. Whatever the denier thinks, science isn’t ignoring these points, as science discovered them.
In the midst of this sea of intellectual irritation, I have found soothing solace in the sincerity and mission of ministries like Reasons to Believe and BioLogos. These are organizations comprised of scientists who are Christians who write to an audience of Christians who are not scientists. They believe that their god has revealed himself in two separate but equal revelations — scriptures and nature.
Because these groups “affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God”, I prefer to refer to their resources on topics like
- age of the earth
- common ancestry
- geological refutation of a worldwide flood
- the fusion of human chromosome two
- etc, etc
It removes the fallacy of differing worldview distraction from the equation. Deniers may not know it, but millions of Christians embrace the revelation of creation without threat to their faith.
If you are into science, that’s great. Please take the time to honestly understand and evaluate the claims being made by the communities that dedicate their entire lives to the advancement of knowledge.
If you’re not into science — if you don’t know or care about the magnetic, gravitational and gyroscopic factors taken into consideration to maintain the geosynchronous orbit that brings data to your cell phone — please be humble enough to acknowledge that while neither consensus nor authority is adequate to establish truth, it takes rare insight, aptitude and tenacity to justify breaking with them. There’s a reason why we remember names like Einstein, Newton, Galileo and Pasteur.
(If you think you have some gotcha tidbit in favor of a young earth, anti-evolution, pro-flood thinking, please check it against the Talk Origins index of creationist claims. At least know the counterpoint — whether you agree or not — before bringing it up. On the other hand, if you have something new, I’d genuinely love to hear it.)
If your god needs protection from science, then he isn’t much of one.
4 thoughts on “My Irrational Response to Irrational Science Denial”
Unfortunately, I think an awful lot of people ascribe to the notion that scientific questions are simply matters of opinion and that their first reaction to a given issue is of a value equal to that of people who’ve studied it for years.
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Yup. Drives me bananas. (A fruit that exists only because of science, by the way.)
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There isn’t anything that stirs my desire to intellectually slice someone to ribbons as the vehemently uninformed individuals who cannot adequately explain why they believe what they believe; those who make no attempt to understand counter-claims and contrary evidence before blurting out widely accepted and often community -reinforced – subjective (and thus, distorted) thinking; and those who form conclusions before examining ALL available data (not just the conjecture, speculation and regurgitated opinions of their five closest friends, who happen to agree with above-mentioned conclusions).
Burns me up.
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Well, this is timely. Well said. And I similarly (and I suspect for similar reasons) have to work hard not to be excessively upset by this. I’m bookmarking this for future reference.
It is so hard to figure out where to start when some particular detail creates the denialism, even when a person is well-intentioned (or believes themselves to be).
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