Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Battle Between Science and Religion Goes On

      In Kentucky, a recently introduced bill would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” I agree that a discussion of the last item on the list is an excellent topic for a class in ethics, although I am not sure there is such a class in public schools. Too many right-thinking people think that is a job for the parents.
      Perhaps teachers should take the legislature at its word and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories. Period.
      The advantage, of course, is that such theories express the most up-to-date knowledge we have of how the universe works. And they work. Eliminate all scientific theories and we are suddenly back in the dark ages – no television, no radio and no travel that is not dependent upon horsepower, to name a few things.
      The disadvantage of scientific theories is illustrated by the conversation between Napoleon and Pierre LaPlace. LaPlace had presented a copy of his five-volume work on the solar system to the French emperor. Napoleon said, “Monsieur Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace answered, famously and brusquely: “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la,” “I have had no need of that hypothesis.” And scientists have not needed it since.
      The bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Moore, who said he was motivated not by religion, but by what he saw as a distortion of scientific knowledge. “Our kids are being presented with theories as though they are fact,” he said. “And with global warming especially, there has become a politically correct viewpoint among educational elites that is very different from sound science.”
      Huh? Did I read that correctly? Forget science unless it is politically correct? That statement is so full of idiotic notions that I hardly know where to start. But I will.
      In the first place, Moore has confused the two major definitions of “theory.”

1.) A coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena.

2.) A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of fact.
Definition one applies to all scientific theories – Moore apparently is familiar only with definition two.
      Next, if Moore is not motivated by religion, then why is he tying global warming, which he says is his major concern, in with evolution, which the courts have declared to be a religious idea? That’s easy – because of the courts' stand that evolution = science and “creation science” = religion, he figures he may be able to sneak the latter in under the cover of a subject the courts just might consider to be science.
      As to political correctness, I can picture scientists getting an annual order from the federal government, instructing them what to discover next.
      But assuming that Moore really does not have a religious motive for his bill, what could his motivation be? Among scientists who know the subject best, the evidence in favor of global warming is overwhelming. Could it be that the energy industry – coal, oil, etc. – which has a vested interest in not interfering with the flow of greenhouse gases, has managed to slip a few dollars into Moore’s pocket?
      If he is dancing to the tune of the energy industry, he should look around for that rare class in ethics. Otherwise, he should introduce a bill requiring a discussion of the difference between science and religion. He should then enroll as its first student.

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