There is little question that the single greatest contributor to our understanding of the material universe and the world we live in has been and remains, science. We can go all the way back to the time of Copernicus and Galileo to find how scientific inquiry has shaped our thinking. Back then, church doctrine held that our earth (and Man) was the center of the universe and everything spun around it. Both men, in their own way, proved otherwise; that our sun was at the center and everything orbited around it. Branded as heretics, Copernicus died before he was persecuted. Galileo wasn’t so lucky and spent much of the latter years of his life, confined.
The foregoing is a classic example among many, of how, through the centuries, the results of scientific inquiry have been met with skepticism if not outright rejection. Fast-forward to today and we see lesser degrees of the same thing: We have groups of people who reject the carefully gathered evidence supporting the realities of evolution (1), climate change and the role of genetics in homosexuality. Over this long history, what is it that animates these anti-science types?
The view held here is that any time science produces findings that challenge the status quo, whether it involves thinking or behavior, there is an attendant impetus for change. And that’s the “rub” because some people not only have difficulty with change; they actively resist it. Indeed, we can posit that there is an inverse relationship between the strength of one’s commitment to keeping things as they are, and the actual occurrence of change. For example, the stronger a person’s belief that homosexuality is a choice, the less likely s/he is to alter that view in the face of genetic evidence. This same negative correlation plays itself out in the behavior of deniers of the wealth of data supporting climate change and evolution.
Here in the US, the deniers can be found all along the political spectrum. But, there is no question that there are heavy concentrations of them among evangelical Christians and Tea Party members. For members of the former group, their objections to science are often rooted in their religious beliefs (2). For the latter group, their resistance follows from a deep distrust of a government that is acting as an agent of change (3). There are even instances where the two intersect as when the government enforces laws that protect gays from discrimination visited upon them by people who object to their sexual orientation on Biblical grounds.
In a very real sense, the culture war that has so divided our nation is, in part, a contest between a group that accommodates evidence-based change, and another that does not. So long as the latter remain committed to standing their ground, evidence and facts notwithstanding, it is hard to imagine that there is any end in sight. In turn, that means that those who “stand their ground” will continue to try to elect government representatives who share their value in the status quo, or even worse, will seek to roll back change(s) that have already taken place. Under these conditions, we cannot move on towards our Founding Fathers’ belief in the ongoing need to form an evermore “more perfect union “.
1. See “A New Fault Line in the Cultural Divide” published at this site on 1-22-14.
2. Religiously-based homophobia flows out of Old Testament verses free of any recognition that in the New Testament, Jesus said not one word against gays or “gayness”.
3. The passage of civil rights legislation is a perfect case in point.