Sunday, November 25, 2012

When evidence contradicts faith...

Paul Krugman always writes a great column in the New York Times:
Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us. ...

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education.

First, it's even worse than that. What Rubio said was, "Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries."

Um, say what? Scientists do know how old the Earth is. Geologists can answer that, right now. It's only a 'mystery' if you reject science.

And note that Marco Rubio is on the Senate science committee (specifically, the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation)! Of course, he's a Republican.

And yes, whether he's ignorant enough to believe what he says or just cynical enough to pander to - and encourage - the scientific ignorance which is widespread in the GOP base,... how exactly is one possibility supposed to be better than the other, especially when he acts on the idiotic things he says?

It's not just about the age of the Earth, either:
What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold. ...

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

None of this is exaggerated. I wish it was. Remember the Texas Republican Party platform which opposed teaching critical-thinking skills in school? Their reasoning was that children should come out of school believing exactly what they believed when entering it!

This is the philosophy of a people who want to believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. And they want everyone else to be equally ignorant, too.

But it doesn't just affect them. It affects all of us. They elect politicians who think the same way, and that's been disastrous for America in recent decades.

As just one example, Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and three climate change deniers are all vying for the chairmanship. (It would have been four, but Todd 'legitimate rape' Akins will not be coming back next year.)

And we're at a time when this is the scientific consensus:

As Krugman points out, it's not just science, since they reject - and attempt to suppress - the evidence about economics, too (among other things). Well, they're faith-based, so they still believe in the same policies which failed so dramatically during the George W. Bush administration.

Trickle-down economics is still Republican Party dogma, because faith isn't evidence-based. Faith is just believing. (And it's absolutely no coincidence that fundamentalist religion is such a huge part of the GOP.)

Only cowards refuse to face reality. Only cowards retreat into fantasy like this. I'm not talking about religion, though there's definitely a connection. But we used to keep our faith-based thinking restricted to Sundays. The other six days of the week, we'd live in the real world.

Americans never used to be such cowards, and if we continue like this, the rest of the world will pass us by. Well, no, actually. We're all in this together, whether we like it or not. This kind of ignorance will affect the rest of the world, just as it was our economic policies which collapsed the global economy during the Bush years.

But our influence will wane. And, more importantly, we'll make it harder - far harder - for rational people everywhere to survive and thrive. Don't dismiss this as just 'politics as usual.' This is critically important.

Of course, it is politics. That is, after all, how we make collective decisions. And Republicans are responding to their recent defeat by trying to keep their real opinions a secret. Sure, they still believe the same thing about 'legitimate rape.' They're just determined to stop talking about it, at least until they get back into power again.

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