2015

2 December 2015: GOP presidential candidates are fact-challenged

GOP presidential candidates are fact-challenged

Faith (or religion) and science comprise the two essential strains of western thought. Science is fact-based, and grounded in reality. It deals with observable data, and theorizes and extrapolates based upon that data. Its conclusions are peer-tested in order to factor out human biases that might creep into findings. Scientists, after all, are humans, not robots or computers.

Religions, on the other hand, offer answers to that which science does or cannot. They are the antitheses of science. Metaphor, allusion, allegory, and symbolism provide the crux of their treatises simply because they focus on the unprovable. That’s why religion is taken on faith.

Some people of faith might debate, for example, the number of angels able to dance on a pin’s head, but scientists would not waste their time given that while there is proof for the existence of a pin, there is none for angels.

A Christian might wonder in awe about the hundreds of loaves of bread Jesus was able to extricate from the small basket he blessed after his Sermon on the Mount. A scientist, though, might marvel about how powerfully moving his message was that it moved the crowd to became generous with the bread it had already had on hand.

Religions are matters of choice. For in the end, no one knows the ultimate post-death reality. Science is universal and as such its principles apply to every aspect—including humans—of existence. Thus, we know that regardless of how one prays to whatever transcendent power—God, Allah, Shiva, et al—if one splits an atom, he is going to create a very unpleasant experience for many and cause immense environmental destruction.

For good reason, science is taught universally in our public schools. There is no need to give it constitutional protection, unlike religion, because of the aforementioned reasons.

But while they take different approaches to understanding existence, they can harmoniously co-exist. Many people of faith accept the posits and theories of science: gravity, the electro-magnetic field, nuclear energy, evolution, and climate change, and scientists are not de facto atheists.

It has been vogue over the past few decades to assess students and the schools they attend on the basis of their performances on standardized tests. “Rigor” has been one descriptor bandied about by the testers. In other words, unless kids know the facts, they are not very bright.

That standard seems not to apply for aficionados of the Republican presidential aspirants who on a blind test on their scientific acumen scored quite poorly. In fact, they’re dunces.

The Associated Press asked eight climate and biological scientists to score the scientific truth of statements made by all the major contenders. The smartest kid in the class unsurprisingly is a girl. Hillary Clinton got a 94 percent. The brightest boys were Martin O’Malley with a 91 percent and Bernie Sanders with a 97.  All Democrats, by the way.

Leading the fact-challenged Republican band is Jeb Bush, who had the only passing grade among them with a 64. That’s a D in most classrooms, but an F in my old Catholic grade school.

In descending order among the dunces: Chris Christie, 54; John Kasich, 47; Rand Paul, 38; Carly Fiorina, 28; Marco Rubio, 21, Donald Trump, 15; brain surgeon Ben Carson, 13; and Ted Cruz, 6.

About Cruz, Penn State professor Michael Mann said (without knowing his identity), “This individual understands less about science than the average kindergartner.” As for Trump, Jim McCarthy of Harvard and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science called his statements “nonsense,” and University of California professor Emmanuel Vincent said,” The candidate does not appear to have any commitment to accuracy.”

Voters that are disinterested in facts will dismiss the findings as elitist pointy-headed blather. For those that insist our leaders base their policies on evidence and not fairytale musings, the findings of this survey are alarming.

While our president needs not to be the smartest kid in the class, he/she does need to be able to distinguish truth from fiction and speak accordingly. And on that standard, the potential GOP standard bearer fails miserably.

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