Feature Article - August 2015
by Do-While Jones

The War on Science

There is a war on science—and National Geographic is waging it.

Last March, the cover of National Geographic said there is a “war on science.” Although the cover story draws some conclusions with which we strongly disagree, it does make some excellent points which are definitely worth discussing.

History of Science Opposition

There has been a war on science almost as long as there has been science; but the reasons for that war, and the people who have waged it, have changed over the centuries. Here’s our brief history of the war on science:

Cavemen immediately recognized that uncontrolled fire was dangerous; but the benefits of controlled fire were undeniable, so there were few (if any) anti-fire cavemen. The lever, wedge, and wheel weren’t very threatening, either, so there wasn’t any opposition to them. That was probably the only time there wasn’t a war on science.

When Leonardo started drawing ideas for flying machines, some people said, “If God wanted man to fly, He would have given man wings.” There was some religious opposition to Galileo and Copernicus, too.

During the Dark Ages, chemistry seemed an awful lot like magic. Alchemists mixed things together to create new things which seemed pretty spooky to the ignorant masses. Science looked like it was from the devil—so some people opposed it for religious reasons.

Some non-scientists saw a conflict between science and religion; but scientists themselves knew there was no conflict. The great 17th century scientists became scientists because they believed in God. They believed that since God is a god of order, it is good for man to discover God’s natural laws through scientific research. Many modern scientific terms (algebra, alchemy, algorithm) begin with the Arabic word for “the” because they were coined by Islamic scientists. Many great scientists of that era believed in a god.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, science was giving us television, computers, synthetic materials, jet aircraft, better cars, atomic energy, and was even taking us to the moon. All this progress was the result of the scientific method.

The people who were anti-science in the 1950’s and 1960’s were really anti-progress. They were afraid of the bomb. They were afraid robots would take over the world. They feared that technology in general (and the bomb in particular) would bring civilization to an end.

But World War III didn’t happen, and robots didn’t take all of our jobs, so the fear of progress subsided. Scientists gave us all the modern conveniences we enjoy today. We scientists became so revered we were believed by non-scientists to be almost god-like. Eventually, we scientists believed it, too. We “knew it all.” Therefore, if we “scientists say” something is true, it must be true. Experimental proof became unnecessary.

Politicians realized that if they could get scientists to say they were right, people would believe them. Political ideology was supported by pseudo-scientific statements which depended upon consensus and inference rather than actual experimental proof.

National Geographic

The headline of the on-line version of the March National Geographic cover story asked the question,

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science? 1

The real purpose of National Geographic’s article was to advance a political agenda (specifically, government control of carbon emissions). They did that by equating their issue (climate change) with science, and associating their opponents (“climate change deniers”) with people who don’t believe we really landed on the Moon. National Geographic argued that if you don’t believe in man-made global warming, you must not believe in science, and you must believe goofy conspiracy theories instead. (If you have taken a debate class you will instantly recognize this as a combination of “appeal to authority” with “guilt by association,” both of which are tricks debaters use if they don’t have the truth on their side.)

In the same way, evolutionists often claim that if you don’t believe in evolution, you don’t believe in science, and must believe that all the scientists in the world are members of some vast conspiracy to hide the truth.

Whether they are arguing for evolution or climate change, the approach is still the same. Since they don’t have any experimental proof, they appeal to the god-like authority of scientists. They say that anyone who doesn’t believe them is too prejudiced to see the truth.

Despite all this, the National Geographic article gets many things right. It correctly observes,

Science literacy promoted polarization on climate, not consensus. According to Kahan, that’s because people tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs that have already been shaped by their worldview. 2

“We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.” 3

Meanwhile the Internet makes it easier than ever for climate skeptics and doubters of all kinds to find their own information and experts. Gone are the days when a small number of powerful institutions—elite universities, encyclopedias, major news organizations, even National Geographic—served as gatekeepers of scientific information. The Internet has democratized information, which is a good thing. But along with cable TV, it has made it possible to live in a “filter bubble” that lets in only the information with which you already agree.

How to penetrate the bubble? How to convert climate skeptics? Throwing more facts at them doesn’t help. 4

people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values. 5

We believe in scientific ideas not because we have truly evaluated all the evidence but because we feel an affinity for the scientific community. When I mentioned to Kahan that I fully accept evolution, he said, “Believing in evolution is just a description about you. It’s not an account of how you reason.”

Maybe—except that evolution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren’t really two sides to all these issues. 6

We agree with all the highlighted pull-quotes. People do tend to use science to try to reinforce what they already believe. Peer pressure often trumps science. The Internet does let people do their own research, so they are no longer held captive by the propaganda of the elites. All those things are so obvious they don’t need elaboration.

The sad truth is that “throwing more facts” at people who believe in evolution doesn’t usually work. Evolutionists don’t trust in facts—they trust in people who tell them what they want to hear.

But we keep throwing out facts anyway, and evolutionists keep avoiding facts. This National Geographic article, for example, didn’t give any scientific support for their statement, “evolution actually happened.” They just asserted, “There aren’t really two sides” to the issue. They just made the ridiculous statement that, “Biology is incomprehensible without” evolution.

What Achenbach seems not to understand is that he is the one who ignores scientific evidence. He is the one who is seeking out experts who will reinforce his own world view. He is the one in high school who needs to fit in with his peers.

The truth is staring him in the face.

Scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes it’s not taught well, McNutt says. Students come away thinking of science as a collection of facts, not a method. Shtulman’s research has shown that even many college students don’t really understand what evidence is. The scientific method doesn’t come naturally. 7

they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.” 8

Yes, people can trust the scientific method—but evolution can’t be proved using the scientific method. The scientific method disproves abiogenesis (the origin of life) and subsequent evolution into all species of life. If evolutionists did have experimental proof of evolution, the debate would be over.

Later in this newsletter, we will share another email from Sam, in which he unwittingly proves the points National Geographic makes about people believing (without question) absurd things despite the scientific evidence against them. He is a perfect example of someone who claims to believe in science—but is actually waging a war on science.

But before we share Sam’s email with you, let’s consider an email from John.

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Footnotes:

1 Joel Achenbach, National Geographic, March 2015, “The Age of Disbelief”, pp. 30-47, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/science-doubters/achenbach-text
2 ibid., Page 44
3 ibid., Page 45
4 ibid., Page 45
5 ibid., Page 45
6 ibid., Pages 45-47
7 ibid., Page 47
8 ibid., Page 47